Monday, May 19, 2008

confusing thoughts

Part of the angst and general discomfort this week came from a –largely theoretical – internal debate. Some friends are thinking of buying a farm and are looking for partners. The farm is almost on the border with Panama and has coffee and cacao, pejabaye and platanos and pasture. It’s 17 hectares all in and would probably be split, partner wise, into several hectare pieces. I could probably scrape together enough for a hectare – in California I made that money in 3 months of working. But that’s not really the issue. There are several issues: money, moral, community, lifestyle.
It’s a working farm. Right now the money comes from cacao and coffee, but that’s only enough for the farmer who is on his own. Clearly split between several partners with western conditioning it would not be enough. I need to make a living and while I dream and work towards self sustainability in my foodstuffs, I can’t give up my computer and music and my internet access, plus money for vet bills, grains and flavourings I can’t grow and savings for emergencies. I would have to work my hectare to give me a living which means change of use and this would require initial investment, plus I’d have to be on site which means building some form of living space. While I can probably scrape together the purchase price, I don’t think I can get enough to see me through until – and if – I could make money. It’s too far away from here to continue working at the school, without a car or at least a motorbike I couldn’t get into town.
Then there’s the moral issue. I personally feel conflicted about owning land. I can’t really explain it, it may be a responsibility issue, it may be a commitment issue, it’s probably many things, but it just doesn’t make sense that anyone could own a piece of the globe – how is that possible? I can see owning a house, owning things, but land? I guess it’s a facetious argument: one doesn’t own it in the same sense that one owns one’s car or one’s ipod, but it’s a stumbling block for me. The concept is just an abstraction. I can understand working land, living on it, loving, it but owning it means very little to me. At the same time I am incredibly grateful to those folk who do own land and allow me to be on it. And to live work and play on it. Rather than own I’d prefer to do work trade. My family made their living buying and selling property, they would be horrified to hear me. They would be delighted if I were to buy land, they would see it as an investment, as security. But this requires that I would at some point sell it. While this makes sense if I were to buy an apartment or a house in an already established / developed area, it doesn’t make sense with farm land – unless I were to sell it to developers in which case it would no longer be farmland in which case it would be the wrong thing to do. Then there’s the argument, but if I don’t buy it then maybe it will go to developers. Is it my moral duty to save it? One can go many places from here: it has been farmland for about 50 years, is it my moral duty to return it to forest; is it my moral duty to make a reserve or to give it (return it?) to the indigenous people who live on a reserve which borders this land; is it my moral duty to leave it as is and not further develop / build on it? Do I have a moral duty to do anything or is all this moral duty stuff solely ego and a way for humans to feel good or bad about themselves depending on inclination? You may imagine that the moral issue is the one which has brought the most confusion this week.
The community issue is an interesting one. I have been looking for community for years. I have an image of what constitutes community, but the truth is I generally withdraw from community at the first opportunity. I’m a snob with expectations, am highly critical of myself and others, and woefully dismissive. There are 17 hectares, ostensibly there could be 4 or 5 families living on this land, if it continued to be a working farm. (That’s 4 more houses = more development, more water, more resources.)How would that be? My friends are nice people, they are trying very hard to do the best they can. They also have a very tumultuous and precarious relationship and I would be a fool to rely on them for anything.
The lifestyle issue. This is probably the simplest. I would change from working for someone else to relying on myself, I could see if my ideas worked. It would be a great challenge on every level, it would be exciting and difficult.
None of this could happen for at least a year. I made a commitment to dear friends to be here for at least a year and I love where I am. I have a great place to live, I have space to grow my garden, I have access to town, I have a job I like. Why would I want to change? To prove to myself I could. To maybe save a piece of land. To live a dream. To have more. I said this was largely a theoretical debate. While I find myself puzzling over ways to do it – and there are many puzzles, I wish to simplify my life and this isn’t the way to do that. Yet even as I write the fantasy of possibility remains. Yes, it’s been a disquieting week.