Everyone on the finca is exhausted and dreaming of sleep. Nino woke us all at 4 this morning when a family of armadillos marched across his path sending him up on his hind legs neighing with everything he had. We all ran to see the armored family scamper off on their stubby little legs. Vigil was extremely agitated since armadillo soup is his favorite.
We returned to bed when not more than ten minutes later, a large open-bed truck pulled up to the house amid the darkness. Our corn pick-up had arrived. I turned the exterior lights on, while the men dressed and started organizing the corn sacks. I made a large pot of extra strong coffee. I thought, I’ll just see them off and then I can crawl back to bed for a few hours.
The bags weigh 200lbs, and yet every man seems to able to manage them. They have a method where two men pick up the sack at either end. One swings it up in the air where it lands on the back of the other man with a thud. The bearer then trots while bent in half to his destination . I don’t know they managed 113 (final count) bags this morning, but they did. They took a long break, all of them sweating and stripped down to their shorts. Evers was assigned to ride to Usulutan with the truck to monitor the weighing. I suddenly felt a pang of quilt and decided I should go too. Evers had only had three hours sleep and he could easily miss a few hundred pounds in his delirious state.
We arrived at the buyer’s warehouse at 7:30. There were already trucks lined up, but we had an appointment, so we were first in line. Senor Prado, who represents the corn factory up in the capital shook my hand and said he needed to do a humidity test. I reminded him that Don Beto had already been by yesterday to do just that and we had agreed to a firm price. As I was talking to him, I noticed four of his men had stuck small PVC tubes into several of the bags to extract a sampling of kernels. They stood in a circle shaking the corn in their palms. I heard whispers of “humedo.” I looked at Prado and told him our corn had been drying on the stalk longer than anyone in the area, and it was as dry as desert sand. I actually tried to say that in Spanish. He didn’t understand, but he got the gist of my tone.
I took a headcount of all the people involved from our workers to Prado’s. Forty-two men and me. I put my smile in my pocket as these were experienced hagglers, and I felt a little out of my element. The men started unloading our corn which made me a little nervous as I did not yet have a firm confirmation on the price. I was wondering if I was going to get taken advantage of. I found Prado again and pushed the topic of the price. He shrugged a little and told me to wait. I found Evers and told him to stop the unloading of the corn. Prado’s father showed up at that moment who turned out to be a blessing. He was very courteous excusing his son’s abruptness and grabbed a humidity tester from his car. He went through the same motions with the PVC tube, put it all in the machine, and turned it on. 9 out of a possible 14. Very dry. We shook hands on the price and proceeded.
Prado invited me to sit down next to Jose who was in charge of weighing so I might take my own tally. The men stacked two to three sacks on the scale, and then we all carefully watched until the beam reached its equilibrium and floated in mid-air. 400 pounds, 423, 398, 450, 324….Don Juan, driver of the truck, corrected Jose several times and I gave him a wink. “I may not know how to read, but I know my numbers,” he said. Total weight came to 15,903 pounds.
Prado and I added up the weights independently until we both arrived at the same figure. Not an easy task on a tiny hand-held calculator which is all they had. He wrote me out a check and Evers and I headed to the bank. The teller disappeared with my check and then presented the cash wrapped in brown paper. He nodded to a guard who said he would accompany me to my car. It wasn’t that much money, but I wasn’t going to argue. Usulutan is known for being a shady town.
The afternoon was spent shuttling just-picked cherries, wet beans, dry beans, almost dry beans, and pulp. By the end of the day, the patio is bean free, the corn is sold, money stuffed under the mattress (just kidding), and the men can sleep in their beds tonight. It is a small break from what is our new routine for the weeks ahead.