Jane Rose, a British volunteer took part in a KVT workcamp near Jyväskylä in 1981. Over 30 years later, she can still remember the spirit of Midsummer, Finnish words learnt during the camp, and of course, sauna!
I signed up for my first (and only) KVT work camp in 1981- having been to two work camps/international seminars in Viittakivi International Centre in previous years.
We work campers became part of an artisan community for two weeks, living in an old school in the middle of a forest: I remember a weaver, a teacher, and some musicians… The original work plan was for the campers to get fallen trees/logs out of the forest for the winter wood supply for the community. All the campers did that work for one day. Hot, sticky and mosquito-ridden work! Happily for me it was then thought that cultivating relations with neighbours would also be a necessary area of work, so the 3 girls in the camp were sent to a small neighbour farm to help with hay work. Were we too poor ‘forest worker’ material?! The farm was run solely by a widow and her son, so our labour was a real bonus for their harvesting. Our job was stacking the cut hay onto stooks to dry in the traditional way.
One of the benefits of this ‘new’ work was that the elderly emäntä provided us with a wonderful lunch as well as coffee and pulla in the afternoons. This was the setting where I learned my first two Finnish words, ruokaa and kahvi, when the lady of the house stood on the doorstep and shouted them at us. Of course, we responded by immediately downing pitchforks and galloping towards the door. No-one in their right mind refuses traditional Finnish countryside fare.
Funny memories: on the Saturday of the midsummer weekend, the whole community being stuffed into a room with a TV and all the curtains closed to watch the Wimbledon men’s final!!! I really didn’t get it! In Finland!
Mixed sauna– I had already learned to enjoy sauna in Viittakivi, in the company of a multitude of women… (a ‘sacred’ place of sharing) but mixed sauna took some getting used to for an innocent British girl. In British culture (at least at that time) you locked the bathroom door before taking any of your clothes off. Many people, including me, had never seen their parents naked.
Final evening, sitting around a bonfire outside in a night-less night; one of the community smoking an apple (hollow reed attached to a hollowed-out apple filled with tobacco) and one of the campers strumming a guitar. One of the musicians in the community took up his clarinet, begin playing and then wandered off into the forest, still playing. The haunting melody came back on the breeze to those of us round the fire. Like a scene from Tove Jansson. The spirit of midsummer. I didn’t then understand too much about Finnish winter and why the midsummer light is so meaningful and poignant; just like the music on the air.