March 26, 2013 Leave a comment
…photos by Bruce Thorson
Frederic Estemar lives with three of her six children up in the mountains, about an hour’s drive from Borel. The road is dusty, rocky, rutted and bumpy. In some places the bumps will knock your fillings out. Using a hoe and a machete, she and her children clear a large garden of weeds and other growth. They are getting it ready to plant sugar cane. All the farming is done by hand. The crop will be used to feed themselves, their pigs and leave some crop leftover to sell. To get to the garden they walk about 20 minutes down the mountain from their home. Estemar, walking barefoot, never breaks stride as she walks across rocks and streams to get to the garden.
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln soil specialist has told Estemar the soil she tills is good soil and has the potential to yield good crops. He instructs her to not burn the piles of weeds and brush but to spread it as mulch around the base of the banana trees. Every day the 20-minute trip up and down the mountain is travelled to bring up water, carried in a five-gallon bucket on one of her children’s heads. It is used for drinking, cooking and cleaning. To take a bath requires another trip down to the stream. Each morning she walks down to feed and waters the donkey and moves it to a new location for grazing for the day.
Her home, with its three small rooms, is perched near the top of the mountain. It sits on a foundation of rock, which was chiseled and chipped away with pick axes to make it flat for the home. Its walls are caked with what is now dried mud. Life is simple. Most of the day is spent sitting in chairs, on the rock or on the ground talking with other neighbors in the mountain community. Estemar has no husband. One of her husbands died; another she told to leave when she grew tired of him.
Meals consist mostly of rice and beans, and sometimes adding tomatoes, onions and potatoes. These are cooked over an open fire outside the house. Cooking each meal, about twice a day, is a long ordeal. Before each meal, one of the children has to go find wood, mostly twigs and small branches, to make the fire. It takes about two and a half hours to prepare and cook the meal. Eating takes about five minutes. Cleanup takes another 45 minutes or so.
For Estemar, who is 45 years old, and her children, life is hard. She keeps praying for someone to come and help her. She doesn’t want another husband. She wants a friend to help her. To be a better farmer, she needs better tools, better crops and a lot more strength. To get money she sometimes walks several hours down the road to the town below and begs. On a day when I showed up to photograph her life’s routine, I brought her a bag of rice and beans. She was thankful as she had no food that day to feed her children or herself.
A church is a short walk from her home. She goes there on Sunday for the service. Faith is important to her. To have a better church, in the morning, just as the sun is rising, she goes to sweep out the dirt.
To have a better garden, she prays for a tiller.