Today I learned a lot about simplicity at the farm (la finca). After spending the morning at the school getting oriented to their philosophy and style of teaching, we drove through town with Emilio, our neighbor, and Mary, a nurse at the clinic. We brought with us a few buckets of beans in the back of the pickup, and, of course, we were also in the back of the pickup, sitting on the side. Later, talking with Mary, we found out that sitting in the back of a pickup is illegal, just like in the US, and that drivers can lose their licenses and incur a fine. However, if the police are even around, they don’t seem to care because everyone piles into the back of pickups as the preferred means of transportation.
When we got to the farm, we carried the buckets of beans in to a shed where we found el molino (the mill). Here is where they grind up the beans and seeds into a very fine flour, which is then used to provide sustenance to malnourished children and adults. The mill itself is a small machine with a feeder funnel and two small millstones that rotate because they’re attached to an axle, which is belted to a nearby motor. One person pours the beans and seeds into the funnel, while another uses one stick to hold the belt in place and another stick to push the beans down. The ground beans and seeds spit out from the grinding stones and is collected below at a surprisingly fast rate.
A few things struck me about this process. First, getting to know Mary a little more made me stop and appreciate the level of simplicity with which people conduct their lives and the level of commitment each person has to the community. Mary is a nurse in the health clinic and is currently running it by herself because one of the Sisters from the mission, who normally is in charge of the clinic, is in Colombia with her family. So, Mary’s daily responsibilities range from clerical work to the treatment of patients who come in from Guaimaca and the surrounding villages. Today, however, Mary made the time to collect the beans and seeds from a house where they were toasting (to dry them out), drive up to the farm with her buckets, and grind the beans and seeds into flour. Even though el molino works pretty fast, it is still a very time consuming process.
Mary, however, was the epitome of patience and cheerfulness. Even though our Spanish is not very good, she talked with us on our way to the farm, explaining and answering our questions about Guaimaca and showing us where the fields start and what grows there. She is one of the people I really appreciate because she takes the time to slow down for us and really listens to what we have to say, even if it’s not correct and she has to decipher it. In addition, as I previously mentioned, grinding flour from soy beans is time consuming and must not be very interesting after doing it as many times as she has. However, it is an essential function because it provides pinol de soya for local malnourished children, a very nutritious drink that includes soy flour ground at the mill, rice, oatmeal, and sometimes milk. This drink sustains the malnourished children who come into the clinic with their families, helping them to survive and grow. After grinding the soy beans, Mary and the other workers ground up a mixture of other types of beans and some seeds, which make a flour that is used to prepare another type of drink for the adults. This drink is also very nutritious, and is for people who find it difficult to maintain a healthy diet due to economic poverty.
We in the US are so far removed from this simple way of life that it would never cross our minds to grind the flour we use for baking. Most of us probably don’t even know where our flour comes from, but people like Mary plant seeds of these plants, tend them until ready for picking, pick them, toast them, bring them back to the farm for grinding, and then finally use the flour for a drink that can sustain several people for an extended amount of time. Most importantly, Mary enjoys her job and is genuinely happy. How many people do you know who would be happy if told to go to a smelly farm and grind up beans?
Life here is much simpler. That sentence is both an understatement and a misnomer, because people here deal with more in a day than many of us in the US do in a month. One of my hopes for this year is that, by living simply and in solidarity with the people of Guaimaca, I will develop my own appreciation for the simple things in life. Additionally, many of the people I have met have priorities in the most important places-- como la familia, la communidad, el Dios, la educacion-- the list goes on. Mary is one of these people who is devoted to her job, to the church and mission, to the health of those around her, and to the simple things in life. Last week, during our reflections at Stonehill, one of my answers to the oft-repeated question “What do you hope to gain from this experience?” was invariably “perspective.” Even after only three days here, I can see that I will gain the perspective I desire through people like Mary.