Saturday, November 28, 2009
Back from the Milk Farm....
27 noviembre 2009
Hello! It’s been forever since I’ve posted, I know…a full 4 weeks I think. But, rest assured that I made it back safe and sound from the milk farm, and it was an incredible experience. And wow…I don’t even know where to begin. I guess we can start with right now and work backwards. I got “home” to San Jose on Wednesday afternoon, and went immediately to an internet café to catch up on everything that had been going on in the past 22 days since I had had any kind of internet or communication with home, besides one night when my parents surprised me and called me from home. Then, Thursday, Thanksgiving day, I had class from about 8-12. And, although it sounds cruel, it was actually great to see everyone all together again and to share stories about all of our very different experiences. After class, in honor of thanksgiving, some friends and I went downtown and ate at KFC – fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits and sweet tea. Not quite the normal Thanksgiving feast, but still gave us a little comfort of home.
Currently, I am in the middle of packing up everything and preparing to say goodbye to my family on Sunday afternoon – which I am not at all looking forward to. They truly have become like a family to me here, and saying goodbye to them is not going to be easy. However, the goodbye Sunday will be made more bearable by the fact that after they drop me off, I will be on my way to the airport to fly to CUBA where I will be spending the last 8 days of the semester before heading back to the states. I am EXTREMELY excited about this trip, to say the very least. It’s been a long process getting this trip approved, and throughout most of the semester, it has been up in the air whether we would be able to make the trip this year or not. But in the end, I guess that just adds to the excitement that we all have now that we are finally going. We have special visas on the basis that our program LASP is a religious organization, and while in Cuba, we will be staying at a Baptist center and will be having various site visits, lectures, etc. Our professors have emphasized very clearly that this is not a vacation, but a part of our academic semester.
So…the part I’m sure you’re all more interested in hearing about is my 3 ½ weeks on the milk farm. I am now a true, bonafide cowgirl! My sister Anna’s first question was, “Did you actually milk cows?” Yes, I did. Lots of them. Among many other things. My family had 35 milk cows, 1 bull, about 20 calves, 4 horses, 1 HUGE mother pig, 8 baby pigs, about 25 chickens (plus 7 chicks that hatched while I was there), 4 dogs, and a pet crocodile that lived in our laguna, was named Coco, and came when they called it. My family consisted of my mom Marcela, dad Jorge, sisters Evelin (12), Maria (10), Julieth (8), and a 18 month old brother Mauricio. They were a very loving, very fun family. I will not lie and say it was always easy having 4 little siblings around the house (especially because 1- since I didn’t have classes, I was with my family from sunup to sundown, literally, and 2 – because I was like their new favorite toy). Nevertheless, they were sweet and adorable, and I truly grew to love my family.
At the lechería (barn where we milked the cows), my main two jobs were generally washing the cow utters before milking – they were generally caked in mud, because it rains constantly there – and putting a chemical called yodo on them after milking, to prevent infection. I also learned how to properly rope a cow’s hind legs (to prevent being kicked while milking), how to inject the cows, how to milk by hand and by machine, how to take care of the calves, and most importantly – I became highly proficient at shoveling large piles of cow manure. Who needs LA Fitness or the Sawyer Center when you could just carry pounds of cow manure and sweep out a cow barn instead? The only problem with this scenario was that whenever we were not at the barn we were in the kitchen, so any benefit gained from the work was immediately lost upon arrival at the house. However, I did learn how to cook a lot of traditional foods – gallo pinto, empanadas, tortillas, rice and beans, traditional soup, bread, arroz con pollo, and fried yucca (like potato chips, but with yucca plant instead). So that was also very fun. Other than work, cook, help around the house, and study, I watched a lot of Spanish TV with my family. And, in a spirit of honesty, I must admit, that I am officially a heathen, because not only have I net been to a church service in three weeks (mass only happens once every other week in my town and was canceled the one time we were supposed to have it while I was there…which my family didn’t seem terribly upset about), but in addition to that sin, I also became painfully addicted to my first soap opera. I don’t think I can recall watching more than 5 minutes of any soap opera previously, but my entire family, from my 8 year old sister to my 34 year old dad, cleared their schedules to watch Doña Barbara at 6pm every Monday –Friday. Such is the life of a small town I suppose.
I could write for days and never finish telling about my experience, but I’ll just save you the pain and tell my favorite memory here. You can ask me about all the rest when I get home (in less than 2 weeks). One day one of our calves died, and apparently you can’t eat them if they die on their own, so, logically, they decided to feed the dead calf to Coco, our pet crocodile. And of course, my sister Maria insisted that I come watch and take pictures. So, watch I did, as my dad drug the calf down to the laguna, and my grandpa sliced it open with a machete, reached in and grabbed large chunks, called the crocodile, and threw the chunks out to her. Then, my sister insisted that cow intestines are apparently exceptional fishing bait, SO, naturally, we took advantage of the situation and went fishing. I won’t lie and say that didn’t make me slightly queasy; however, I caught my first fish ever (which I also learned to scale, gut, and fry) , so I suppose it was worth it.
Anyway, my time on the milk farm was a blast in many ways. It definitely had its hard days, as it is not easy living for 22 days not only in a completely foreign context, but without any contact with friends or family, or even any English-speaking person for that matter. I had a lot of time to reflect, and learned a lot about myself, as well as learning about and experiencing a reality and way of life so completely different from my own. It was a blessing in many ways. I am still processing the experience in many ways, and in addition, I am sure I have left out some important details, but for now…that’s a brief summary of what has been going on in my life since I posted last. I would love to talk more about it in person, but for now, that’s the story of Erin on the milk farm! I hope all of you were able to enjoy a great Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, and I will look forward to being in far closer communication with you all when I return to the States in two short weeks. Thank you as always for your prayers and support. God bless.