Back When I Was Going to be a Farmer

April 27, 2010

“Have you ever planted potatoes Papaito? You should try if you haven’t. You plant one potato, and many grow in its place. It’s a great investment. I have a very vivid memory of clearing space between my mother’s Calla Lilies and Carnations for my potatoes. The flowers took too much space, and how useless they were! I wanted to grow carrots, potatoes, and spinach.”

Dear Papaito,

This time I must really promise to be brief, and keep my promise. It is the end of my MA program, and I should be writing my thesis. However, I do not feel too guilty writing to you because it is not like other MA students do not take breaks from writing. I suspect many of them have TVs at home, or watch tv series and movies on their laptops. Or go out. Or something. This is my leisure time.

Maria Bernardita looks beautiful this morning, and the more I look at her, the more convinced I am that the name suits her perfectly. She has just reminded me of how, upon a time, before I knew academia existed, I was going to become a farmer, the kind who has a small farm, grows her own vegetables, raises chickens and milks cows. I grew up in the city, in a large house in downtown Quito, nested in a perfectly urban landscape. But I was very attached to the soil. Not ‘the soil’ in metaphorical sense (I was a kid, what did I know?) but to the soil, as in dirt, tierra, o lodo, wherever it was found.

In my house there was dirt in the garden, and in my mother’s flower pots. I attacked both.

I must have been seven or eight when I began planting corn in my mother’s flower pots, and potatoes in my mother’s flower garden. It was my father, I believe, who gave me the idea. My father had a house in the countryside, an hour or so away from Quito. Sometimes he’d take us there when my siblings and I visited him (twice a month, after my parent’s divorce). I loved that place, and I loved spending time in the little orchard he had in the back of the house. But whatever time I spent there was not enough, so I decided to plant vegetables at home, where I could see them grow day by day.

Have you ever planted potatoes Papaito? You should try if you haven’t. You plant one , and many grow in its place. It’s a great investment. I have a very vivid memory of clearing space between my mother’s Calla Lilies and Carnations for my potatoes. The flowers took too much space, and how useless they were! I wanted to grow carrots, potatoes, spinach and corn. But corn grew really tall, so corn was too conspicuous for the flower pots in my mother’s fancy living room, with its Middle Eastern decor. Corn could only be planted in the garden. And it did grow, mind you. The plants did not just die on me. I was a very skilled farmer-to-be.

On one occasion I even harvested a couple of ears of corn. Tiny ones, but ears of corn nonetheless. I am trying to remember what I did with them… I might have asked Maria, the maid, to cook them for me, and probably ate them alone, without sharing them with anyone because, as I said in my previous letter I was a mean selfish kid. If I’d been Khadija, my older sister, I would have shared them with my siblings. But I surely was not.

So Maria Bernardita reminded me of this illustrious past of mine because, aside from vegetables, I also wanted to plant a tree like Maria Bernardita in my garden (note how I made it mine by marking my territory with potatoes and forcefully displacing my mother’s flowers), but that is a different story that I will keep for a future occasion, inshaAllah.

Okay, thesis now.I promise!

J.

PS1. In the picture you may catch a glimpse of our garden in Quito. The day I took that picture (winter 2009) I was teaching my youngest sister how to spot wild berries in our garden.

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