L is for Labour

fieldOne of the first things I noticed when moving here was how hard people worked.

I didn’t have a fixed idea on what Galicia would be like, we had moved without so much as having a clue about the culture,  because we had made the decision based more on a oh doesn’t this look nice and oh this would be quite an adventure kind of basis than on anything sensible.

But if I had given it a lot of contemplation beforehand, then I’d have thought that most things would have been left until tomorrow, because Spaniards stereotypically are portrayed as mañana type of people. That, and they’d be really chilled out all the time drinking sangria, having siestas and eating tapas in between bullfighting. And all men would be called Manuel.

Nothing could be further from the truth in this village. I have no idea about the rest of Spain but in this village it is work that counts. And not just a bit, people revel in slaving away on the land and other backbreaking work.

And mañana?  Everything has already been done, yesterday. In some cases, last week.

In January work starts with tending the vines and digging over the vineyard, replacing the supporting stakes and binding the vines to them with willow twigs.  That’s just a warm up. In February/ March the early veggieplot season starts, followed by potatoes the end of March,  maize in May,  haying in June and July, (after which they have a few local parties) then it’s time for harvesting everything and last but not least the pigs get slaughtered and they’re all off chorizo making.

And in January they start all over again.

One of the first villagers I saw at work was my antique neighbour.  I couldn’t possible call her old or ancient, because she was a work of art, bless her soul, in more than one way. I’ve never seen anyone work like she did.

She used to tell me to check up on her in the evenings just in case she’d fallen in a ditch somewhere while weeding her potato patch .

After having been here for a short while, I noticed there was a kind of informal competition taking place who could work the hardest. Keeping up with the Jones’  Galician village style.  All the women would show off who had the most potatoes to plant, whose plot had just been dug over, and with that came the million and one health issues. Villager C suffered from a terribly painful condition in her joints,  yet continued working anyway, all the while making sure everyone knew how much she had done.

The entire village was at it in some shape or form.

Eager to fit in, I joined in.

My hands suffered the most.

I worked them on borrowed land until they were calloused, I washed my clothes by hand in all seasons without using gloves ( causing chilblains and nasty cuts) and dug over the land by hand rather than taking up someone’s offer to do so by tractor. Just like the rest of the village women I wore the village uniform, in my case a blue and white checkered wraparound pinafore ( not black, only widows wear black).

We cooked on wood so had to gather and chop  wood too and we had no running water so I was also working my upper arms carrying water around, daily.

I even tackled  bramble bushes with my bare hands ( OK I’m making that one up, I used gloves but always ended up with my arms looking like I’d been severely self harming )

I’m not sure what I tried to prove, but after a few years I came to my senses and realised that although I could come out on top in Keeping up with the Villagers, I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to be in the race.

Suddenly  it seemed all a bit silly. What was it exactly I was trying to prove? That I was capable of suffering too and that I could do it better? That I was one of them?

Sometimes suffering can become a choice.  Most of the villagers don’t need to work themselves to the bone anymore. They all have pensions and could live quite comfortably doing a lot less work on the land.

But the saying here is “hay que sofrer”, one has to suffer. I agreed with that for a bit to fit in, but nowadays when they say that to me I respond that it’s more important to enjoy life while you can.

My potatoes can wait a bit longer, even though everyone else has planted them already. Besides, it’s raining.  I’m off to the hot springs instead.

One thought on “L is for Labour

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