Working with sugar cane

Edward Katz - Brazil


March 10, 2014

Already it has been 2 months or so that I have been working on farms in Macacu, Brazil.  I’m finally starting to know what I’m doing and feel accustomed to the work.  The picture above was taken as I was working with a Biluca, a man who with his father and other helpers makes cashasa from sugar cane; cashasa is a kind of hard liqueur made from the sugar cane.  Biluca would do most of the field work and his father would be tending to the cashasa keeping a fire going as part of the purification process; boiling fermented caldo de cana or sugar cane juice (which if fresh is actually very good).  I worked with Biluca so most of my work was harvesting the sugar cane as I’m doing in the picture or pressing the sugar cane in a huge machine that acts overall like a juicer, sqeezing out all of the sugar juice from the cane.  On other occasions I would help to attend to fields of cane or peanuts by either weeding or planting.  I was able to learn how to make cashasa step by step which was really cool, they even made me try it a few times which I didn’t like.  They found that hysterical, but it’s definitely an acquired taste I’d imagine.

Part of the process of harvesting sugar cane was to cut it into 2-3 foot sections and bundle it up to be pressed out when we got back from the hill.  In the picture I’m carrying a bundle down to the cart.  I learned very quickly how strong these farmers are even though they don’t look it because each bundle weighs upwards of 50lbs and they lift them like it’s nothing.  On one of my first trips up to hills I tried to pick up a particularly heavy bundle of cane.  As I lifted it I started losing my balance and leaned backwards more and more until I fell backwards into a pile of dried leaves with the bundle on top of me.  It wasn’t a problem just slightly embarrassing as I struggle to lift it again and see Biluca laughing his head off at the cart as he watched me slowly fall under the weight.   A later day on a particularly steep field as we’re trying to gather up already cut cane and strip it of its dried and dead leaves, the whole time thinking my usual thoughts as how I never imagined sugar cane as being so slimy and also so sharp in places, Biluca grabbed a section of cane and started beating at the foliage on the ground.  My friend Mitchel who was also working with us that day and I looked in confusion at Biluca.  He stopped and lifted up a tiny dead snake on the end of the section and told us that it was poisonous and then through the snake into the forest.  Mitchel and I looked at each other and then immediately started looking into the half a foot of dried leaves that surrounded our feet in horror that we had no idea what could be slithering around under it all.  Biluca then threw at me another snake!  I caught it unknowingly only to see it was just some rope, but he thought it was funny, I didn’t.  Little moments like these are great to show the kind of attitude you would always find in the neighborhood of Macacu.  Most of the people that live there have hard jobs that are very demanding, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying them.

A few weeks ago Biluca started working at an ice cream factory which he does every summer and so I can’t continue to work with him until he returns.  But not to worry, my friend David who is another Brazil fellow moved in with a family in Macacu which gladly accepted the help we both could offer.  So David and I switch off days in which we help out on their farm with Marinyo, David’s host father and Mario, his younger host brother.  This farm is very different from working with Biluca because it’s not focused on sugar cane.  Instead it’s more of what you picture if you think of a family farm, with many crops and animals to take care of.  So there is a greater diversity of work to be done with this family and I’m in high hopes to come back with a basic understanding of what it takes to work on a farm.

Edward Katz