Mid-February Update from the Center for Ecological Agriculture by Volunteer Lindsay Emi

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Lindsay Emi. Lindsay is a writer and student from Los Angeles, California. She is eighteen years old and a volunteer from Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program in Bolivia. She will spend six months in Cochabamba volunteering with Mano a Mano, and then attend Princeton beginning in the fall of 2017, where she hopes to study English and creative writing.

This is Lindsay’s 6th post; below are her first four posts:

  1. Mano a Mano’s Second Large-Scale Distribution Event in October: Ceremony and More Behind-the-Scenes
  2. My First Week at the CEA – Lindsay Emi
  3. An In-Depth Look at CEA’s On-Site Agricultural Training Workshops
  4. November 28-December 4: Two Kinds of Visits to the CEA
  5. When the Rain Won’t Come: Farmers Receive Agricultural Training and Workshops in Omereque

February 13-19, 2017: Departures at the CEA

by Lindsay Emi

For the past year, Leandro has worked and lived at the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA) as a farmer and to support the work of CEA and its agronomists and engineers Camila and Víctor. The CEA has literally been Leandro’s home; he lives in a repurposed and renovated shipping container with his wife and five children just inside the CEA’s gates. While Camila and Víctor often work in design for projects to be implemented in communities or plans for the CEA’s expansion and development, Leandro’s primary work for Mano a Mano is in maintaining and taking care of the CEA. He works a full week, several hours a day, to maintain all of our crops, livestock, and infrastructure.

Leandro, working at the CEA

Leandro, working at the CEA

I’ve been so fortunate to get to know Leandro; I see and work with him every day I’m at CEA. He was one of the first people I met at Mano a Mano, and I consider him one of my mentors and bosses at CEA. I think the first thing I ever did at CEA was clean out the cow pen. Leandro was helping me, and we were both shoveling and scraping the bottom of the pen. After basic questions like my name, where I was from, he asked me, ‘hablas español?’ and I hesitated. I said something to the effect of not really, not yet, but I’m learning, and he nodded thoughtfully. I barely understood or spoke any Spanish. Leandro’s first language is Quechua, and although the Spanish of Quechua speakers can sometimes be pretty clear to me, on the other hand, my error-riddled Spanish is usually more difficult to understand for Quechua speakers than it might be for Spanish speakers or especially for Spanish speakers with some knowledge of English. So for the first two weeks, we struggled to communicate, for that reason and for my lack of what I call my CEA vocabulary—the amalgamation of farm-related words that I’ve picked up over these months.

But since October, since that first day and first week, Leandro has been endlessly patient with me. Usually, I go to Leandro for my day’s tasks, whether it’s weeding or cutting alfalfa or watering the greenhouses, and Leandro will stop his work to explain and show me what I should do. In those first few weeks, Leandro would speak slowly, demonstrate the task at hand, and correct any mistakes I made. And as I slowly got better at Spanish, I became better at communicating with all of my CEA colleagues, better at following directions and doing my day’s work. I’ll always remember conversations that I had with Leandro about the US and our families, as we cut alfalfa together, talking about other volunteers and my counterpart Asia from last year’s program, or telling him about my mid-course travels as we took the sheep out to pasture. I’ve gotten to know his family a little more too, including his wife and children; they have also chatted with me, unlocked the door for me nearly every morning, even shared some of their food and fruit with me.

After a year at Mano a Mano and the CEA, February is the last month of Leandro’s time at CEA before he moves on to other work.

Leandro and his family have shown me so much kindness, are always grateful for the work I do no matter what it is. I know I’ll miss seeing them everyday, helping Leandro and trying to make his own work a little bit easier. And I’ll remember and appreciate everything I’ve learned from Leandro about not only agriculture but also the effort it demands to do it conscientiously and sustainably.

We’re also saying goodbye to two volunteers this month, Natalie and Daniel. Natalie, our volunteer from Canada, has been an incredible help to Mano a Mano Internacional. For the past three months, she has worked in the CEA, assisting with farm maintenance and sorting medical supplies, and has also helped us research, assemble, and translate information and materials on nutrition and anthropometrics that we will use for impact assessments in our beneficiary communities. After more travel through South America, she plans to return to Canada and eventually attend graduate school to study occupational theory.

Daniel, a university student from Peru, came to us from the organization AIESEC. He worked with us and lived at CEA for six weeks, and was extremely important in keeping the CEA maintained through the holidays. His experience at Mano a Mano and the CEA has fostered his interest in agriculture and permaculture, Daniel says, and will serve him well in his continued studies in environmental engineering and industry. Both Natalie and Daniel have been extremely hard workers and wonderful company, and I’ve really enjoyed my time with them.

All of us at Mano a Mano Internacional greatly appreciate their help, will miss them, and wish them well in future endeavors.