Ecstatic Dance, Microbiotic Eating With Hippies in Middle-Of-Nowhere Belgium

Ecstatic Dance, Microbiotic Eating With Hippies in Middle-Of-Nowhere Belgium

“Help wanted: building an ecological project and humanity with permaculture and children playing in the gardens and trees, giving people a peaceful place for drinking tea, relaxing and community sharing… free energy, communication, natural food and consciousness… We welcome people with a positive mindset, believe in a sustainable world and are motivated to help this project thrive and shine”.

“I like nature, peace, tea and thriving and shining.  Vegan meals won’t be a problem for me”, I thought, then promptly connected with and accepted an offer to volunteer at this eco-house in middle-of-nowhere Belgium. Since the host was new on workaway, I had very little idea what to expect- goats, farmland and moderately liberal hippies was my best guess.

I arrived at the tiny train station, wondering where Nancy could be hiding on the small platform and hoping she could find me with my backpackers gear since I had no idea what she looked like and my cell phone was buried deep in my pack. Fortunately, she popped out behind a pillar with purple leggings, brilliant blue eyes, youthful but with the weathered skin of a gardener. She steered me to her enormous white van and clanged pots together as she made room for my bag in the backseat. Her very bouncy Sheppard appeared to me looking at me curiously, his half-black, half-white face angled for examination but he was too busy leaping around to really figure me out. Fortunately, “Mitch” liked me enough to share a seat with me on the ride home and Nancy told me that contrary to what his puppy energy suggests, Mitch was actually 30 years old. “He eats all macrobiotic like us, beans and rice and pea soup and vegan dog food with no sugar. He ate a piece of normal toast once and was so sick for 5 days that the vet thought he may die”, she explained solemnly, “I gave him love and miso soup and look at him now!”. Indeed, Mitch was the poster child for a macrobiotic diet, with his shiny fur, mischievous eyes and speedy legs.

Hippie house... looks harmless

Hippie house… looks harmless

The ride to her house only took a few minutes, past suburban looking houses and flat farmland. We pulled up to a modern A-frame house with lots of skylights and large windows, whose modernity surprised and relieved me. “At least I wouldn’t be spending the winter in a rural love shack,” I comforted myself. But then I walked in the door and a colorful, semi-abstract painting of a nude, elderly and slightly rotund couple greeted me.

Entrance of the hippie house!

Entrance of the hippie house!

As I got the grand tour, I started to learn hippies are far from free either. “We don’t eat sugar and we ask that you don’t bring it in the house. Our last workawayer loved to eat sugar and pasta. He didn’t follow that rule and it didn’t work out,” she clucked disappointingly and appeared to be praying for the salvation of his soul. “We shut the doors, especially the toilet door, to promote the flow of feng shui. We don’t like electricity and wifi waves messes with our brain. It just makes my energy go….”, she buzzed her lips and flapped her hands around frantically. Her tables were covered in crystals, dried, flowers and children’s art.

Some of the rocks and art in the house

Some of the rocks and art in the house

I spotted a toy house in the corner and asked whether she had a kid. “Yes, Iaaz was my golden boy but he died”. She spoke about it so warmly that I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly through her accent until she directed me to a shrine in the corner of the room covered in old photos and a candle. “He died in a swimming pool. In May. I love to talk about it”. I wasn’t sure how to react so I passed along my condolences complimented her on what a beautiful boy he was and how happy he looked in the photographs. All of a sudden, the plastic playset in the background, which stood abandoned except for bunnies hoping around its base, seemed to lurk ominously through the morning mist, kind of a depressing thing to look out at when you wake up for morning breakfast. The thought of staying in his old room seemed even stranger.

Surrounding farmland of my stay in Belgium

Surrounding farmland of my stay in Belgium

Macrobiotic Eating
“Are you hungry? My partner Bernard will soon be joining us for lunch”. And sure enough, he arrived on cue. A tall, thin man with Beethoven hair and plaid bellbottom pants just a tad bit too short. He evaluated me with piercing blue eyes and didn’t say much throughout the meal except to help Nancy with occasional translations or clarifications. As she dished out assorted vegetable-based dishes, she explained some basics of macrobiotic living. “We believe you can eat whatever you want but it needs to connect with how you feel. We believe in pairing the ying with the yang,” pointing to the pickle she explained, “the sweetness of the apple brings the ying which we balance with the sour yang of the sauerkraut”.
Since she thought I may be tired from traveling, she concocted a carrot, mochi and kale soup to make me go “wheeeee!” (apparently the sound one makes when they are re-energized after eating soup). Mochi is a sweet rice that the Japanese use as an ice cream topping or in other desserts. She uses it as an energy booster, especially on days she dances, an activity I’ll get experience. We ate a pureed pumpkin and beet dish, which she gestured does great things for your digestive system, and we washed it down with “mice hair tea”. My eyes bugged out in shock, “hair of mice?”, but eventually she explained she made the tea from maize (corn) hair, and it turned out to be thick, sweet and surprisingly delicious. Macrobiotic breakfasts felt more foreign me– I don’t usually eat cooked vegetables and miso soup at 7 AM—but in general, the food was my favorite part of my stay.

Photo I found on flickr associated with macrobiotic eating haha.  Photo courtesy of

Photo I found on flickr associated with macrobiotic eating haha. Photo courtesy of Arktoi.

Ecstatic Dance & Other Community Events
Nancy planned my arrival so my first full day coincided with a dance session and a healing and meditation evening. To prepare for the dance, we prepared pea soup and the macrobiotic tea equivalent of Gatorade as a community meal for attendants after the dance. We lit tea candles and arranged pillows around a pile of crystals and a vase full of flowers. It turned out that only one person showed up on time for the dance, a sweet-looking grandmother named Julia in a grey cardigan and bifocals. Her ordinary appearance reassured me that the dance session would be manageable for someone like me. We began on our pillows, warming up with a few stretches, a slowed down version of the sun salutations and a few “ohmmm”s. Out of the blue, the music changed to tribal drumming and Indian chats. The women stationed themselves in front of the big window, shining their hearts toward the sun, breathing deeply, exhaling a mighty roar and pounding their chests. Nancy shouted about Julia’s forceful howl and my more tentative whimper, “This exercise is for our strength! May we be mighty like an Indian chief!”. Once our fists satisfactorily trampled our abdomens, the music changed to buzzing bees and bird chirps. Nancy instructed us to pick a bloem, absorb the beauty of our flower and dance with it. I cradled my pink petals and awkwardly rocked back and forth, trying to sway in the imaginary wildflower wind. Nancy waltzed around the edge of the room, dramatically dipping her “partner” with energetic flourished. Julia started out slowly, rocking her plume like a napping baby. With each song, the dances got more flamboyant… we spun around like drunk ballerinas to the Nutcracker Suite, played air guitar to U2 and marched like soldiers to Sousa waltz. “This is kind of fun”, I thought, feeling carefree as a child, and justified the event to myself, “why shouldn’t middle-aged women devote an a couple hours during the workweek to dance with each other?”.
Suddenly, Julia was no longer conservative. A cardigan flew across the room, socks fired off her feet, like fireworks, and suddenly she was prancing barefoot across the poop-filled backyard and making love to one of the trees in the back. I distracted myself with inventing an elaborate dance move in the corner that would avoid eye contact so she won’t wave me over. Meanwhile, Nancy started rolling around the floor, like a dog trying to rid itself of fleas. In the company of middle-aged ladies who appeared to be tripping on drugs, I changed my opinion, “Nope… not normal” and hoped the rest of the session would pass quickly (but two hours of mandatory recreation felt like eternity).
The evening “healing and meditation” session was in Dutch so most of it went over my head. It drew a larger crowd of 5-8 middle-aged people dressed in chunky oversized sweaters. We wrote our problems on slips of paper, put money in an envelope and shone flashlights on the pile of our problems and soiled cash. Silently. For 10 minutes. Then we repeated a prayer six times, with very little dialogue with the attendants. Then we drank “mice hair tea”. Then out came the flashlights. Then Katie decided she needed to go to bed.
So my three days with the hippies certainly exposed me to a very different lifestyle. I would consider incorporating some of the practices, like macrobiotic eating, in my daily routine. But in general, I found the experience to be very isolating. Nancy and Bernard lived according to a long litany of rules that made no sense to me and I felt like I was constantly doing things wrong. When I offered them some water in the morning, Bernard replied, “We don’t drink in the mornings. Miso soup is all we need”. When we harvested watercress from a nearby stream and I gathered the plants in a shoulder bag, “Don’t squish them under your arm! You’re making them sad!”. When I cooked the kale, “This is a wok. In a wok, the vegetables are supposed to dance. Make the kale jump!”.

One of the friends I made during my stay.

One of the friends I made during my stay.

I don’t give up easily but three days were enough to convince me that hippies aren’t free either. And despite all the rules and regulations, do these practices really make the world a better place? Why refuse to eat eggs when you have chickens in your backyard? Why refuse to eat the vegetables your neighbors grow because they aren’t certified organic? Instead, a 16-wheeler delivers their produce and crazy rice concoctions, importing ingredients from Japan or who knows where. The macrobiotic meals were healthy and delicious but it required all day to prepare enough dishes to create balanced and filling meals. If you’re going to spend your life in the kitchen, what’s the point of living a few extra years? Now that I know a hippie house in Belgium isn’t where I belong, the journey continues to find my proper place in the world.

Song of the Moment: Roses by dEUS (band from Antwerp, Belgium and one of the many tunes that played during the dance party)

If YOU want to stay with hippies: I won’t mention the name of the exact site I stayed since I’m not sure I painted the most flattering picture of their operation, but I do think they have good intentions and an interesting message to share with the world. However, workaway or WWOOFing (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) allows you to connect with farms and hosts around the world, including some nudist placements if you want to go hardcore hippie (I got to wear clothes haha). You can probably experience of an alternative lifestyle without traveling across the world and I’d probably recommend trying something closer to home. Although I was in Belgium, I didn’t feel like I got any of the cultural benefits of being in another country. I think rural towns disguise some cultural differences, especially if your hosts eat food that is atypical of the region.

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