Lessons from the Farm
A few weeks at the farm here, I and the other volunteers have been surreptitiously watching the lives of the paid workers on the farm.
Minda, one of the 7 regular farmhands, is in her late 30’s, with 4 children. Her husband abandoned the family some years back. Now the children live with Minda’s mother somewhere far away and Minda can only visit them every 3 months because she can’t afford to take time off from work. She makes 5000 pesos ($105) a month for her 6 days a week of farm work. She rises at 5am every day and I see her slowly walking in Wellington boots that dangle in rubbery shreds from her feet, with Manuela, another farmhand.
Minda lives in a shack on the farm. Tin walls and tin roof, wood framework, the whole thing is mostly open to the outside. She sleeps in a hammock under the one lightbulb in the house, cooks outside on her wood fired stove, and enjoys an incredible view of the mountains, sunset and jungle farms.
One morning, I offer Minda a cup of hot Milo. She sits and drinks. Afterwards, I realized she probably cannot afford to ever buy the Milo chocolate powder that Erik and I drink every day while we are here at the farm.
In the US, most of us can walk into a grocery store and choose food from around the world, in season or out of season. We could have chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner if we wanted. We could sit down with a half gallon of ice cream or buy the best vitamins and protein powders. While here on the farm, when I want black tea, or a ‘treat’, some salted peanuts or chocolate bar, I go buy it. The people here in Mt. Province, they grow their own rice, vegetables, fruits and animals, and this is what they eat.
Almost 5 months in SE Asia has brought home to me that most people in the world do not live with the comforts of a developed country like the USA. Everyone wants what the US has, but most people do not have it, and cannot have it.
There’s a American cultural belief that we ‘pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps’, worked hard, saved money, and slowly built empires. What about all the Filipinos that work 6 days a week, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps more hours than I can imagine? Seems to me it’s just be tearing their rubber boots to ribbons.
Most of my life, I have longed for ‘community’, togetherness, connection with other humans.
I have had a few versions of it, growing up in a religious community and then later, living with various roommates in shared rental situations. I was always searching for the perfect community, the perfect people, the one’s who could fit me. That’s not the way it works, is it?
Always, the people are not quite right. They need to have the same values as I, be sensitive to my needs even when I can’t express myself clearly. They need to not have any neuroses, nothing ‘annoying’ about them.
At Layog Farm, I was thrown into living situations with people from all over, with different living habits. Our common ground was interest in travel and/or farming.
As the weeks passed, my annoyance flared up, and then, gradually, it died down. I laughed with them, ate good food with them, and worked side by side. I understand that what I focus is on is what my reality is. I choose to focus on the richness and complexity of each human, to enjoy their good qualities.
The annoyance faded, and when I finally left the farm early one morning, wiping peanut butter off of Felicity’s nose as she handed us a bag of top quality local coffee, I realized that I was going to miss everyone I’d come to know here at the farm.
And that is when I realized that I might finally be ready for community living.