Minga Gringa

Every now and then, the community of San José de Payamino will get together to cut the grass of a communal area or the large dirt track that once was a road. Throughout a day of slashing grass and weeds with machetes, men, women, and youths down fresh and fermented chicha to give them strength.

This communal work is what's known as a minga in Spanish, and it is not an activity unique to Payamino nor do they always consist in cutting grass. Throughout Latin America various forms of minga take place, although in Peru and Ecuador they do usually imply some kind of agricultural work, rather than any other communal labouring. In Ecuador a minga is almost inevitably followed by chucheki (Kichwa for hangover).

Last Saturday, here at the Timburi Cocha Research Station we had a minga of our own, since the forest is apparently trying to reclaim our camp. We did hire three locals to come help us tend to the station's desperately overgrown state; however, in a traditionally Payamino style, they did not show up (we later discovered the community had coincidently decided to clear the road that day, so we'll forgive their absence). Nonetheless, we proceeded with our minga, although admittedly not for as long as a proper South American one, as our gringo hands are prone to blistering and none of us are anywhere near as efficient with a machete or as fit as the locals. My wrists certainly feel as if they'd been battered and bruised.

I think us gringos (foreigners) did ourselves and the station manager, Javier, proud in our three hour mini-minga. Though the following Monday, we were put to shame by the three local lads who then came to help and managed to clear nearly the whole station of grass in half a day's work.



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