All in a Day's Work...
Trip Start May 24, 2008
4Trip End Aug 23, 2008
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When we arrived at the farm after bouncing around on a dirt road for about twenty minutes I thought how beautiful it was
But walking on the side of a hill with armloads of aloe that can be surprisingly heavy with the sap running down your arms and the sharp edges of the leaves digging into your skin loses its novelty very quickly. Especially once you look down and see your ankles covered in little black bugs...and your arms...and hands. Now, I would just like to say that I have come a long way in my bug tolerance. I can kill my own spiders now, and have become skilled in roach extermination as long as I have a big heavy book or shoe or insecticide in hand. But I also have a history of reacting very very VERY badly to bug bites. When normal people are bitten by bugs, they get an itchy red spot that goes away within a few days. When I get bitten by bugs, be it ants or mosquitoes or mystery bugs in Laos, I swell up, turn red, and am tormented by itchiness for no less than a week. When I saw my body covered with these little black bugs, I did not panic all at once. At first glance they seemed like little gnats. But when I swatted at them, leaving streaks of blood and smushed bug guts everywhere, I realized with horror what kind of bug I was dealing with. I knew them well from Costa Rica
After a few hours, I was covered in a mixture of blood, sweat, aloe, and dirt. I had torn my pants on some barbed wire at some point, and I had had enough. Ok, I got it. I had my experience. Ready to go home now. But I didn't want to be the whiney gringo who couldn't stand a little manual labor, so I didn't say anything, just sent out a big thank you when it started to rain and everyone made their way back to the truck. Relieved to be getting out of that bug infested farm, I gathered with the others, smiling. And then I heard the gasps and disbelieving giggles. One of the women grabbed my arm and held it for inspection, and when I looked, I wanted to cry
But there wasn't much time to feel sorry for myself because we still had a lot more work to do. First we went to a partner farm nearby to collect some more cuttings, though they had more than enough workers to transport the leaves and spare me from any more hard labor. But then we went to another farm owned by COMUCAP. The rain had stopped, the sun was out once again, and the view of the valley falling away from the farm was breathtaking. It was definitely the most beautiful farm I'd been to yet...but also the one with the steepest hill down to the aloe plants. As Dolores, Niria, Ariel, Jorge, and I made our way down to the uncut plants, I wondered who exactly was supposed to make their way back up that hill with the sacks of aloe. Luckily, I soon found out that it wasn't me
The aloe was good and healthy down there and Dolores was determined to cut enough to finish off the 10,000 pounds that we were supposed to deliver to the processing plant the next day. So when dark clouds started to gather and thunder crashed practically on our heads, she was determined to keep working. When the rains started to pour down, we still kept working. I was told that I could go back up the hill and wait in the little house where the real workers were keeping dry, I refused. I was determined to see this through to the end. So on we worked until Ariel finally told us that we had enough. Already soaked through to the bone, everyone grabbed sacks to lug back up the now very muddy little trail to the truck. Well, everybody except me. I said that I could take a sack, I wanted to prove my dedication, but they entrusted me instead with the knives. Great. Images of falling in the mud and stabbing myself immediately started flashing through my mind. I think I would have preferred the weight of the aloe on my back, but they wouldn't let me carry anything else. I think my fellow workers felt sorry for my patheticness and wanted to give me a break. Little did they know that I'm not the most coordinated person when walking up or down hills or stairs, or anything on an incline or decline for that matter
Luckily I made it up the hill without disaster, shot a dirty look at the real workers waiting in the cabin, and waited for the others. Next came transporting the newly cut aloe from our small truck to the big truck that would transport them to the processing plant. And yes, it was still raining. A lot. By the time we all made it back to the office seven hours after we left, we were freezing, soaked through to the bone, covered in mud and aloe, and splotchy red from bug bites and scratches. Oh yes, I had definitely had my experience with aloe production. I had gotten out of the office and gotten my hands dirty as I had wanted. And though I wanted nothing more than to take a shower and I was seriously dreading dealing with the weeks of torment that were surely to follow lending my body to an all you can eat buffet for the bugs, part of me was kind of proud and happy about the whole day. After all, I had made it. And even though my work days are still generally filled with meetings, planning for meetings, arranging meetings, and devising strategy, my whole life does not revolve around staring at a computer screen anymore. In the almost month since I have been here I have participated in two marches, I have acted as a translator (definitely an adventure considering my still limited Spanish skills), I've bounced around in the back of various pick-up trucks, and now I have helped harvest aloe vera. The adventures continue as I learn something new every day... and I will never again take for granted the nicely packaged plastic bottles of aloe vera that line grocery store shelves...not EVER again!