Thursday, March 22, 2012

A load of manure and we're off to San Geronimo

As I've griped probably one too many times (in Spanish, the verb is quejarse), learning about your workplace when nobody speaks the same language as you is really difficult. That's why I like field trips so much - hopping into a vehicle with one of my co-workers with nary a clue as to where we're going or what we'll do when we get there. I just say yes to every opportunity and figure it will all add up to knowledge.
Yesterday, the task was to deliver 25 giant sacks of chicken manure to campesinos in a little pueblo called San Geronimo. There are several dozen little pueblos in the hills around Copan Ruinas, often along roads that you or I would likely consider  rough hiking trails through the bush were we to encounter one in Canada. The road to San Geronimo was definitely in that category, requiring us to drive through a river, negotiate narrow little climbs that almost stalled out a 4x4, and steer around obstacles that included tire-eating ruts, scary dropoffs and herds of cattle.
But first we got to go to the egg farm to get the manure. I'd been curious about the place since I first passed by it a few weeks ago while out for a walk, because the little bit I could see from the road gave the impression that it was a much kinder, gentler type of egg farm than you use in developed countries. but it doesn't welcome visitors. And it was - still a prison of sorts for the chickens, but at least one with fresh air, natural light, lots of room to move and dirt to scratch.
The manure costs 25 lempiras a sack, about $1.25. We loaded 25 bags into the truck - OK, I just stood around like a girl and let the two guys do it, I admit - and off we went to deliver the stuff. My organization works with the poorest of the poor around Copan, almost none of whom have trucks for picking up their own sacks of manure.
One of the big tasks for my organization, the Comision de Accion Social Menonita, is to help local farmers get better yields. Growing beans, corn and coffee on tiny little plots of land is a tough way to make a living, but the use of natural fertilizers and different planting processes helps. So CASM first leads a workshop to demonstrate and encourage better strategies, and then follows up with the farmers who want to give something a try. The farmers can't afford to pay for fertilizers, but they either barter goods in exchange for the manure or volunteer their time and labour for a future project.
The farms of Honduras look nothing like the farms back home. In some cases, the campesinos don't even own the land where they live and work. The production area is typically very small, often on an extreme slope, and either irrigated using rough-hewn systems that channel river water or completely reliant on the rainy season from May to September.
But the people in San Geronimo have a slightly better setup - still crazy slopes and really basic living arrangements, but at least they've got title to their land. And they've got Honduran sunshine, which at this time of year produces a bounty of coffee, tomatoes and watermelon. The next round of crops will be beans and corn, which need the rains to flourish.
Someone from wealthy country like Canada wants to be careful throwing around terms like "poor but happy," but there is a certain ever-present cheerfulness among the people I've met in these little communities. The children work as hard as the adults, and every day must be a slog. But for them it's just the way it is.
I don't doubt they'd give it up in a heartbeat for a hot shower and running water, steady electricity, a flat-screen TV and a vehicle to drive up and down those steep roads they spend so much time walking along. But they don't have much time for pining about what they haven't got.
Truck emptied, we bounced back to town. It was a good day.

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