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Running With Water
written by: Nick Gerrard
I lean over and un-cover the ham, take my stone-ground knife out and slice thin slithers from the sweating beast.
-Shara! Dish out the eggs.
-Turn the coffee down, Maria.
My guys are gathered around the oak table, in a little cottage tacked onto the end of the stable blocks, in the corner of the stone courtyard. Each are in various processes of dressing, some rubbing eyes, some leaning on the shoulder of others and dozing. Others are pissing or brushing teeth. The early risers are already walking horses from pens to fields.
I pock my head out and shout above the clopping.
-People! Breakfast is ready.
On the table is a black iron pan full of fried eggs; plates of sliced avocado, blood tomatoes and slightly stinking salami, all floating in olive oil. Huge crusty loaves are ripped apart and lashed with orange butter. And finally little bowls of olives and cold roasted peppers, and bowls for coffee and left-over cake to dunk.
-So, four guys are on Horse duty, that’s you Sajila, you Jose, and Petr and Veronica.
-We need some supplies today, so Leonel and Sue take the 4 by 4 and go round the other farms. I’ll make up a list.
-Yeah, all the bushes will be arriving today, so we need to get started on the digging, it’s a huge project guys, so let’s get going as soon as possible, there’s a lorry load of helpers coming from town, Elvira, you supervise them OK?
-Also, we have the eco-friendly spray for the olives, came yesterday so we need one guy on the tractor and two spraying. After we meet for lunch we should all be able to get stuck into the bush planting.
-And don’t forget someone has to go to the cooperative collective meeting tonight, anyone?
-Don’t all volunteer at once!
I had been in Spain for four years. I had come over on a boat. I paid all the money I and my father had managed to save. We worked on our small farm, I and my five brothers and sisters. We worked hard there for the family but we also studied, our father wanted us all to have an education, so we would all tramp the 4km to the village school through the dust. We farmed food for our family table, and also flowers, hundreds of flowers, that were collected every week, to be sent to richer parts of Europe.
We had enough to live on, just. Just enough to eat and wear clean clothes; my mother was always washing and repairing our clothes, we always looked neat. But I saw my mother go hungry sometimes, I saw her give the little ones her own bread, smiling. So, my father put some money away each week, just a little, from extra work he could get from the big house. And I started collecting after school, collected cans, and bottles and paper, to sell.
So, we paid a guy the man in the big house introduced us to, and I took a boat at night across the straights, dodged searchlights in the gloom.
We made it onto a small beach and ran to meet another man, who rushed us up the beach and through a forest of sand and small trees. We spent the night in an old farmhouse with no roof. I was sick from the crossing, and ate the last of my mum's flatbread, and drank mint tea from a dirty tin off a makeshift fire until the man came back and stamped it out. The next few days we slept in the day, in abandoned homes. We scrapped together roots to eat and filled up vessels to drink. In the night we travelled over fields, up hills. We crouched when we saw lights or heard engines. I was in the open but had never felt more closed in.
Then we arrived at our new home. We were put up in a huge old barn, with bunk beds and one shower, and a toilet-hole stinking out the back.
We worked, under the plastic; mending, cutting, weeding, spraying, picking, sweating.
Long days from sun up to down, the heat was almost unbearable, I fainted a couple of times. After we ate what we could and slept for as long as possible.
We had one day off which we spent washing clothes, cooking and sleeping. Sometimes we wandered into the village to get supplies, and would sit for a while, just a little while, and take a coffee and a chat, speaking in hushes to avoid suspicion, and dreamed of home, and tried to raise a smile, but more often we brought a tear.
The pay was low, and the work back-breaking; from the heat, I got headaches, from the chemicals I got burns, from the wet and cold I got coughs, from the tiredness I got bad dreams.
I worked, I tried to save some money to send home but it was very little.
I got to know some local people; introduced by Spanish workmates. I sat and watched the football on a flickering TV in the local farmer’s café; we drank a few beers as we ate free tapas, and shouted together at the screen.
After 6 months I was offered a job by a local guy, Joao, he worked on a small cooperative farm that had horses and olives. Run by six families, who shared the land and the work. They all lived nearby in small buildings.
He was a nice guy, let me stay in a small caravan he had on his land which was touching the snow. I tended the horses on the mountainside, and took care of the Olives in the groves and sometimes helped do work around the friends’ houses. The work was hard but pleasant. I shared meals with the families, and went to local fiestas, and drank wine, and danced again, and slept long.
We spent days fixing old stone walls, stripped down to our shorts, the wind licking my face as I looked out in the direction of home.
After this day I felt part of the mountain somehow, part of a family. I felt I belonged. I felt that at last the work I was doing was worthwhile; hard and back-breaking but it was for our benefit, for my benefit.
I worked for another year for Joao and the families and learnt a lot. I learned to share and work with others. I was happy, part of a community again, and I was able to help my family back home at last.
I then met a girl, a graduate from Madrid. Maria had come back to her family’s village. There was no work for her in the city and she didn’t want to leave, but there was nothing to keep her there, only fraying ties. She was helping her family on their small Finca, nearby our own little community. Maria had a natural affinity with horses. That’s how come we spent time together. She came to love the village; we would take trips up the mountainside on horseback to sit among the apple trees, sip wine. We chatted about our differences and of what we had in common. We spoke of our disappointments our failed hopes and passed olives between our lips.
I came from Madrid, first to visit my family and their farm. It was an escape from the city. We came every year to escape the heat of the city, the drone of the city. Back in Madrid, I worked hard for my degrees, sociology and Psychology. Always studying, always being pushed by my father. Then when I left University there were no jobs, nothing. All my friends were in the same fix. We had done what was expected, studied and studied, with the promise of a good job, money, security. Now the banks had wasted all the money, now there were no jobs.
I felt bitter. Bitter towards my father most of all, he had made me follow his rules, his way. But his promises were empty. I blamed him and his generation. They had lost the money; they had allowed the greed to win out. Now, what was left for me? Nothing!
So, I went to the finca to escape, my degrees worthless, but my love of horses eternal. I could feel free there. Could feel useful there, my life had worth. My Father had shut up! He couldn’t complain anymore that I was wasting my life away, dreaming my life away in fields of fancy.
I met Hamza; we worked together in the fields, spraying the olives, shovelling horse shit. And riding, always riding. We would go for long treks through the thin forests a little way back from the sea. To little cantinas, for a salad and steak from an outside grill. We sipped little sparkling wines and always had a jar of our olives to share.
We got a little money together and moved to Merinaleda.
One hundred kilometres from Seville lies the small village of Marinaleda. We heard the Mayor was a good guy. We heard that the village had no unemployment. That everyone worked and people were given land to work, with low rents. We heard how he expropriated land and buildings long left to rot. And created a communal way of living. We heard he took over supermarkets when people needed food and buildings to help the homeless.
Marinaleda is a place where the farms and the processing plants are collectively owned and provide work for everyone who wants it. We were given a mortgage for only €15 per month.
We attend football matches in a stadium emblazoned with a huge mural of Che Guevara, Once a month we have 'Red Sundays' when everyone works together to clean up the neighbourhood. We work our little place, grow olives, breed horses. We work with friends and help others.
We have a little Finca. Four old buildings we did up, with stables for about 15 horses. There are twelve of us living here. We live collectively and are more of a family than a business. Everyone chips in; everyone has enough to live nicely. We give horse lessons to guests, who stay in the old farmhouse in the corner of our fields. Or who come from the cities for a day or two and stay in town. We harvest olives, organically, and sell them abroad and to Madrid and Valencia.
-I don’t have any with me.
-You have to come with us.
-But, he lives near here; he runs a collective farm…
-No papers then he comes with us.
-You are not a foreigner.
-And because he is, he immediately gets taken away.
-We are just carrying out the law.
I sit in this detention centre now, weeks have gone by.
Sitting and doing nothing, waiting. For the red tape to be cut, for the kicks to stop, for the verbal diarrhea to be wiped. Stuck in a no man’s land.
-Get the fuck up!
-I said up, scumbag.
-I am now legal here, check the records.
-We can find no records, so until then you stay here, or we send you back.
-I said shut the fuck up!
I sit on the roof, with my fellow inmates. With the placards and rocks. I sit and wave for the cameras, and look out to the horizon and remember and hope.
One day Maria walked me on high, around steep crevices, through over-grown pathways.
At the top were pools, fresh and natural, we took long drinks.
Maria showed me what to do; I had to free up the wells, open up the drains, un-clog the stone guttering that hung out over ravines.
Let wild the ancient channels that followed at the side of sparsely beaten tracks that irrigates the life of the Alpujarras.
We had to run with the water, jog along with the ghosts of the Moorish Acequias.
This was an annual thing. Every early Spring the old farmers and their young brothers, sons, cousins would all have to do it. It was like a rite of passage for young men. A way for a man to get in touch with the workings of the mountains.
We freed up the first pool, and a trickle started, I worked faster, and a flow followed. I ran.
We ran to the first blockage and kneeled and quickly threw branches and stones and leaves over my shoulders.
The water continued on. We ran after.
The water was always ahead of me. But I learnt to wait. I learnt to clean it all away, and catch the water up. I learnt to keep the water at bay; I cleared until I was ready to let it loose.
And then, after a few hours, we cleaned the troughs ahead for hundreds of yards, and walked back.
We let the gates open, and down the track we ran, with the water by our side, we ran together.
I ran with Maria. I ran with the spirits of my forefathers, I ran with my family, I ran without fear, without a border or a frontier. I ran with the breath and breathed with the beat of the mountainside.
We jogged with Ghosts, running with the water.