By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – I have quite a few intellectual projects on the backburner because I’ll have a bit more time in the future: many interesting and useful books that I would like to read and I can’t get a few pages in; jobs around the house that demand my attention; and dozens of other things that I put off for a bit or entirely because I prioritize what’s important, urgent.
The three most pressing things right now are:
First of all, support my family with the basic, at least, because I have three children, a wife who depends on me financially, and I even have to support my parents from time to time. A great odyssey, there’s no doubt about that, in this difficult country, where people’s work is the only dirt-cheap thing there is here.
Secondly, trying to be useful to my country, to the change that Cuba needs to move towards a democracy, contributing ideas, pushing consensus among Cubans, helping people to understand our complex reality and cooperating to try and get our citizens active in “public affairs”.
It’s just that I dream of a better country, where we wouldn’t need to emigrate or steal in order to have what we dream of and in order for that to be a possibility, we have to stop delegating responsibility and learn to take part ourselves.
Third of all, it’s my life mission to be happy, or as happy as I can be amidst all of these problems. Keeping myself as healthy as I can in both body and mind, without hate, resentment, regrets and resignation. On the contrary, with a lot of resilience, faith in the future and confidence in the value of what I and we do. Without such a life philosophy, you’d get dragged into the daily confusion and being efficient and proactive becomes impossible.
And where does farming come into all of this?
I really like agriculture, but more as a hobby. If I do it commercially, or to make a living, it’s because tough economic times force me to. As a result, it fits in with my three life priorities, which are the foundation of my life strategy.
I farm as an extra to make ends meet and support my family, because what I earn from my intellectual endeavors would only be enough to support myself, and it wouldn’t be enough for my large family. But, it’s not a burden. My family is my oasis. My children’s and wife’s love is an incomparable refuge. As well as my parents’ company, who live next to me or my sisters and nephews and nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles, everything, is extra. This is how I live my life, surrounded by family and I feel loved.
Quite regularly, someone who knows me will talk sadly when they see me farming, dirty sometimes, with my old palm leaf hat and old work clothes. They say things like: “With everything you studied, it’s a crime that you’re out here working the land.” But I tell them that I’m as happy out here in the field as I am when I was behind a microscope or a laminar flow bench in the labs when I worked as a biologist. I even sing when I’m farming. But they don’t get me.
I understand crops and the work it takes to get a good harvest, just like I know about the human anatomy, molecular genetics or ecology. I don’t really think of myself as a farmer, because that’s not my main identity. However, I have always had the countryside around me, ever since I was born. Even though my father and grandfather were workers, of trades and at a sugar mill respectively, they never broke all ties with farming.
We inherited two hectares of land from my grandmother, which she had inherited herself from her father, and he from his, my great-great-grandfather called Ramon Segura, a son of the Spanish who didn’t support the Mambises in their cause, because he preferred to keep ties with Spain. That was his right. The 1902 Republic respected private property and it is still privately-owned today, being a horse ranch, and then divided among the descendants.
The alluvial soil is very fertile, one of the best in Cuba for tobacco farming (and I’m not exaggerating). My plot isn’t very big, in commercial terms, but it helps us to get by. It would be a great help if we were able to sow what we need to, but we can’t because of high theft rates. Only tobacco, which you can’t eat, and is hard to steal because of the process it needs to be of high commercial value, and little patches of other things.
I will plant tobacco again this year. My problems from two or three years ago still haven’t been completely resolved, which made this business riskier than gambling for me and I was forced to retire. However now the most important thing is that the company is valuing the product a lot more fairly because of a lapse in its production. And because there are very few options to “invent” on the side, I’m trying to get a loan for a small “plot”, which is hard to do amid so much bureaucracy.