In the blink of an eye, I was seven years old again, bouncing along on the rough dirt road to my grandfather’s ranch. There I was seated lazily on my sister’s lap in our old blue pick-up, counting the kangaroos that passed. The thick groves of eucalyptus trees lined the single road to our 10,000 acre ranch. Their leaves gently waved in the billowing breeze that carried the raw aroma of the ranch, the scent of my childhood. Unexpectedly, I had returned.
When I decided to travel with my host family to the coast, little did I know that I would also arrive in the “land “down under”. Squeezed in between mi abuelito and mi mama, I bounced along a less familiar dirt lane to our family’s bananera. In total, the Martinez’s own almost 100 hectares of banana fields principally in the Los Rios province. Luckily, we had arrived to the production shed just in time. The 25 workers were filling the last truck bound for Guayaquil’s port that night. Boom. Slam. Splash. Boom. Slam. Splash. The rhythm of the empacamiento,”packing”, filled the hot air. I took a deep breath and stood in disbelief watching the thousands of bananas pass through the workers hands in a matter of seconds. For the workers, not paid on salary or by the hour, the steps and objectives were simple: load as many packed boxes into the camion. “truck”, as quickly as possible. As my grandpa explained to me, “Ellos…ellos ganan por camion por venta.” (They earn by the truckload.) They first cut the individual hands from the stalk and bathed each hand, as a banana bunch is called, in an antiseptic pool. Next, the hands were inspected, doused again in a cleaning bath, weighed, packed in boxes, and loaded into the readily awaiting truck. The workers themselves were bathed in sweat, women and men alike worked side-by-side, a perfect ticking metronome of human capital. Seeing that every hectare produced 40 stocks of bananas weekly, yielding 280 forty-pound boxes monthly, and packing 500 boxes into a single truck with a maximum shipment of 5 trucks per day, the work adds up.
As I wandered out of the production shed, I wondered when these families of empacadores would have the chance to celebrate the New Year. I recognized the necessity of their hard work, but I found myself on the far side of production. Like my time in Australia, I was too young and too inexperienced to be of any real help, rearing the cattle or in the assembly line. Even if I was, I figured, things seemed to be running smoothly enough. Still the hard work of the laborers fascinated me, just as it had on our ranch a decade ago. With a fleeting breeze, I looked around. From shoots of textured brown stocks and vivid green fruit, the banana kings emerged from the soil two by two. The larger and fruit -bearing of the two trees, called the mother, is marked by the campesinos on its trunk when the stalks of bananas are mature. The latter, el hijo or son, remains a loyal reminder to the seasons past. I snapped out of my observations as my grandpa called to me, “Sienita, ya viene el aquacero” (Little Siena, here comes the downpour). With that, the sky shattered, hurling down shards of rain that chased us back to the coverage of the truck.Abuelito drove slowly through the groves back to the main highway, through the numerous huecos, “holes” filled with dark water, over a fallen palm. I reflected on the circle of life, the easy way the trees produced one week and rested the other, and couldn’t help but to think of the circle my own life had made. Without a doubt, I knew I had found my home away home.