I spent two weeks volunteering on a farm in Las Tolas, a village of about 150 people, near Mindo.
The farm was run by Luis, a local in his late twenties and the first in his family to be taught how to read and write. Our days were spent milking cows, planting, clearing land and constructing pathways, all by hand.
Luis’ parents owned the farm, an elderly couple in their seventies. His mother spent her days in the kitchen, blaring salsa music and caring for her husband. She was a shy woman with an unforgettable smile, and though her Spanish was basic (their first language is Quechuan) she told me lots of stories, including the fact that she’d had 12 children and only 6 were still alive…
On three out of five mornings during my second week, the calves drank all their mothers’ milk before we could milk them. Baring in mind that this is the family’s primary source of money, that’s a big part of their weekly income. Was Luis angry, upset? No, he looked a little deflated but just said – ‘Oh well, tomorrow is another day. As long as we’ve got enough to eat, the rest doesn’t matter’.
‘The rest doesn’t matter.’
The simplicity of their lives was moving.
Here’s a little story I wrote after several days of being ravenous:
Yesterday I went on a hunt for some meat.
It’s been a week since I’ve had a nice hunk or even a little chunk of animal protein. I wouldn’t usually complain but lugging bamboo around like a mule on a diet of just rice, beans and sweetcorn has left me feeling a bit weak.
I heard the nearest village was a 40 minute walk away, certainly worth it for a $0.69 packet of mortadella – think congealed cows’ toenails and pig lard shaped into perfect (I’m in the middle of Buga Buga remember) round slices.
So I trudged along the windy, dirt road, the dust adding an interesting crunch to my chewing gum, fantasising about roast chicken.
50 minutes later, no sign of the village… Another 20 minutes, I was then told. Bloomin’ Latinos and their concept of time. Unfortunately, there was less than an hour left of daylight so I had to turn back empty handed.
I didn’t cry but it was a long walk home.
But then as I approached my village I saw a little shop I hadn’t spotted before.
‘Mortadella?!’ I cried.
None left, but he did offer me 3 frankfurters for $0.50. How could I resist? In my excited state, I ate the first one still covered in cellophane, only noticing when I couldn’t chew my last mouthful to a pulp. Bless.
Having chowed down another weiner, I noticed two street-dogs having a scrap. I tried to unlock the front door unnoticed but the larger one started jumping on me, growling and scratching my shoulders. I dropped my bag, perhaps he could smell the sausage?
Luckily, after a mini-heart attack (me, whilst also praying he wouldn’t give me rabies) the dog lost interest and myself and the final frankfurter made it home unscathed.
Was it worth it?
Well I felt like jelly for a good half an hour afterwards (I think being bitten by a poodle in the playground aged 7 still haunts me) so I’m sacrificing sausage for something a bit less provocative tonight. Rice with a side of mash probably.