Sunday, 16 January 2011

Average farmer or Brazilian Ray Mears?

It takes a certain type of person to live on a farm in Brazil.

It is not just because of the 3:30am starts, and the long working days that I say this, but also because you can spend weeks, and sometimes months with only yourself and one other person as company. It is a lonely life out there in the sweaty heat-blasted fields where you put your body through torture each day (there are no weekends on a farm).

Take Carlinho for example, he grew up on a farm with his parents and his six brothers who all started milking cows by the age of seven. He continued to milk cows up until very recently when his joints started to suffer from arthritis. What this means is that when he clenches his fist he has very little strength in it at all. I guess that is what milking cows for every day of your life does to you. This arthritis is aggravated even more when he sits on a horse for a full day – which is a shame as he started riding horses by the age of three and is amazing. I remember seeing him chasing down some Bezerros at great speed, stopping on a pin prick causing the horse to skid before he quickly changed direction. It makes me feel embarrassed of my equine skills (that means riding them by the way, not any other thing your filthy mind can come up with).

Despite his debilitating arthritis, Carlinho still has amazing physical endurance. Under the sun at it's highest he is able to dig a three metre deep ditch and carry heavy loads. I'm not saying he doesn't build up a sweat, just that he keeps on going until he is finished (or there is a whiff of cachaca nearby).

All the farmers I have met here have been working on a farm since they were children. Their parents grew up on a farm and started at the same age too – because of this they often find it hard to adapt to city life. Once they get to the city they get itchy feet as there is nothing for them to do – they just can't seem to relax. It seems to me that if you never grew up on a farm here it is almost impossible to become accustomed to it's hostile environment. In my time here I have seen Carlinho kill rattlesnakes (I get the impression that as far as snakes are concerned people are of the opinion that if you don't kill it when you see it, it will just kill someone else later - dead is most definitely better), helped him set controlled fire to a field (I never thought that my arson skills would come in so handy), and kill bats (we all know my reaction to that...), all of which I have to be honest I never thought I'd see, let alone do. He's also partial to the illegal act of hunting for caiman alligators but I won't dwell on that too much (he doesn't want me to). All I will say is that it's his favourite meat...

Despite his evident adeptness at killing animals, when it comes to his cows you can tell he doesn't take the step lightly. He understands them and cares for them and won't let you harm them (unless they are a bull, then he is quite happy for you to have a crack at it if you dare). When it was time for me to kill the bull he initially didn't want to be a part of it. It was only my lack of rifle skills that enticed him into the game. I think it's quite nice that he's not completely edgy.

When you put this all together you would probably get the impression that he is a monster of a man, but he isn't. He is shorter than me and far more modest. He loves to have a laugh (usually at someone else's expense) and of course have a bit to drink. I think he just likes to take one day at a time and not bother to think about the future.

But all of this is normal here for a farmer – if you didn't act in this manner you would never be able to do your job, it is a necessity. If you didn't know the countryside and how to deal with it you would be screwed – if something happens to you, or you get bitten by a snake it's a good hour and a half trip to the city at least. By the time you arrived you're more likely to be dead than alive. Almost all the farmers have their marks which show the lifestyle they lead, a scar here, a snakebite there, but they all shrug it off as part of the natural order of things. Carlinho is obviously a good farmer as he does not have any outwardly visible scars.   

The story which I think probably best shows the attitude of farmers is when someone died on a neighbouring farm a couple of years ago. This farmhand was arguing with the farmer and went a little bit mad (so the story goes), smacking his head against a wall and killing himself. What with it being on the farm there aren't really any mortuaries around, so the only thing the farmer could do is pick up the body, put it in the back of the car and drive the long distance to the city with the windows wound down and the hope that there wouldn't be too many flies. The moral here being that farmers here do what they have to no matter what to get the job done whether they like it or not. Either that or don't kill your farmhands on the farm.

There is no doubt farmers here are all a little tough in the head, and maybe being a bit like Ray Mears is the norm for them - something I'd probably do well to learn from!

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