perryma191's Travel Journals


  • Currently in Rural Areas, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Spring 2011

This records my learning experience in Costa Rica.

Interview in San Luis Abajo

Costa Rica Rural Areas, Costa Rica  |  Apr 28, 2011
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 "And now the whole world lives in big houses. But who in these houses knows how to plant?" 

I walked a good forty-five minutes down the dusty, unpaved road to San Luis Abajo: past the school painted with rainforest mural, past the church behind iron fence, and past those huge-eared Brahman cows by the municipal water installation.  I finally got to the house of Don Guillermo*, where we had an interview scheduled for the morning.  As I walked up the street, the kids--5 or 6 ranging in ages from 4 to 12--clustered together near the driveway entrance having recognized me.  The dog that was with them however, did not recognize me.  Back hair raised, he growled and barked until I gave him a firm "Vayase!" ("Go! Leave! Shoo!").

"Esta su papa?"

"Si, en casa."

As I approached the house, Don Guillermo came out in rubber boots, jeans, and a navy blue t-shirt.  He is stocky, standing 5' 7", with short curly black hair, mustache and goatee.  He welcomed me inside his home.  The bare cement foundation (painted red) and also the corrugated tin roof were typical of most Tico households in San Luis.  The house had been built with government support, and new shiny steel bars made up the house frame.  This was a divergence from my own house built of wood.  The walls, painted a simple white, were bare of decorations.  The television sat in the living room, divided from the small kitchen area by counter space.  Two separate bedrooms broke off from the main room.

We sat together, the children playing sporadically, smiling, attracting attention to themselves.  Dona Maricella came in with coffee, giving me a big hug and a beso.  The older sons, Juan, Milton, and Noe each walked in at odd intervals giving handshakes and hugs.  I had only visited this family once before for an afternoon of work, and already they had fully welcomed me into their home as I would an old friend.From what I had learned of Tico culture, it would have been rude to just get to business right away.  We talked of the family, and how one of his sons living in Colorado (not the state) would be around today.  We talked about my professor and how he was a great friend of the family.  I also learned the whole family was going to the river later.  It was Sunday after all, and what else do you do in San Luis on the weekend?

After a good fifteen or twenty minutes, and after several more family members and friends had come in and out with greetings all around, I brought up the interview."So my project is about farms and how they help families meet their needs.  I have my questions here on this sheet, and I want to let you look at them if you still want to participate."I handed him the folded sheet of paper with a dozen or so questions about what products are produced on the farm, what foods are important for families, and a few relating topics like these to cross-generational continuity and way of life (not phrased like that of course).  He looked the paper over silently as I sipped my coffee.  He agreed, and the children were told to go play outside.  I turned on the recorder and we began.  

He owns no farm; a landowning neighbor allows him to farm about 2 hectares.  There is a small square of land near his house, and the larger chunk of the parcel is a half an hour walk down the road and up another mountain.  He grows a variety: chamole and tiquisque (tubers native to Central America), corn, beans, plantains, bananas, sugar cane, bamboo, and a few other things.  What he grows goes to feed his family (he has 11 children, some of whom are now adults, but many of whom are children), and shares a little bit with all the neighbors.  He also sells to Quakers in Santa Elena (or perhaps to friends; in Monteverde, Quakers are referred to as "Los Amigos").  He grows organically, because chemicals are bad for health.

The rhythm of work changes throughout the year.  When it is time to plant, he works the land almost all the time.  Because it is the dry season (or was at the time of the interview), there is less to do.  At this time of year, land needs to be cleared for maize and frijoles, the two of which are planted together.  However at this time of year, he tries to find off farm work, and there is almost nothing.  This season, he has found work cutting posts to build a corral for his landowning neighbor.  This salaried work is helping him greatly, but he mentioned once the corral is built, there is no more work to do with it.  The lack of dependable salaried work is a stress for him and his family.

I asked what he would like to do with the land five years from now.  He would like to grow more on the parcel closer to home.  As of now, it is a barren dirt patch.  He cannot afford to pay for municipal water to irrigate his fields, and is working on setting up tubing from the river, but that too costs money.  He will save and work on that, but until then his planting is restricted to the rainier months.

The interview took a dramatic turn when I started asking about farming through the generations.  He learned the art of planting from his father, who learned it from his father before him.  And so I thought about this chain.

"What will your children do?  Be farmers or something else?"**

"Bueno, my kids?  Well if they want to study, then I'll put them to study.  But if they don't want to study, I won't put them to study.  My son Milton, he likes to plant.  And so he comes with me, and he learned how to plant.  That's it.

"Because you see, there's a big problem.  A big problem.  Almost nobody wants to plant, and so the earth isn't going to produce!  Today they know only how to work with their fingers (makes a typing motion as if at a computer).  Rice, beans, chamole, they don't know how to plant it!  I know how, I'm a campesino.  And its good to study.  But it's important to know how to cultivate the earth.  And if my son tells me, 'Papi, I want to study, I don't want to learn machete', I will say, 'fine, I'll put you to study.  But first you learn to use the machete, and you learn to use the shovel.  Learn it for me.  And then, he'll know.  And we need to teach it.  Because the times pass.  

"And here, we are very poor. I live a life of poverty; I am a poor man--but I know how to plant."And for example, back then (the good old days) everybody had food.  Everybody had a cow, had a chicken, had rice, had beans, corn, sugar, and so everybody ate!  And my father didn't have to buy any of it!  That's how it is.  And now the whole world lives in big houses.  But who in these houses knows how to plant?"

We finished the interview, I turned off the recorder and relaxed a little bit.This was incredible, I realized.  I was interviewing a man in Spanish, which I have been learning since only January.  I was understanding most of what he was saying, and feeling his passion for farming, and pride for way of life.  And yet, it didn't end there.

After the interview, I was served lunch, soup with fish.  And after that, we all went down to the river.  I could hardly believe how quickly and kindly Don Guillermo's family had welcomed me into their home, had tolorated my questions, had fed me, and brought me out for a family outing.  This day left me astounded by the goodness of people.

*Names changed to protect privacy of informants.

**The following is at times excerpted, and not translated directly.  To the best of my ability, I preserve meaning.

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  • Interview in San Luis Abajo

    April 28, 2011
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