Innovation. It was not covered in any of the training seminars, but it is a good way to describe the general mentality of the Belas Association- innovators. From my first day I can see that it exists in this group of farmers. As I tour the fields of Associacao 7 de Abril 1 I notice a smaller plot of beans.
I ask if it is also contracted to Vanduzi Company. Ricardo tells me those are his leftover beans. He is experimenting and trying to save seed because the only source of green bean seed comes from Vanduzi Company. Local seed suppliers do not carry it. I hate to ask, but I do- “Is this hybrid seed?” Ricardo looks confused. Perhaps it is my pronunciation of hybrid. One of the CARITAS staff members accompanying me for the day repeats the question. Someone else repeats it in Shona. “Yes it is.” I inhale and exhale and decide to give a straight forward response. “You know that hybrid seed won’t reproduce true to form.” Silence. A nod. Does it mean he knew that or is waiting for more?
“If you plant the seed from this who knows what kind of bean you will get and, well, it is also planted right next to your dry beans which could also confuse things due to cross-pollination.” He seems to remember hearing this some place before, but masks his disappointment. I say, “Well you have a great experiment going. Perhaps you will develop a new breed of bean that will be perfect for the Belas District. It will be called Ricardo I.” He laughs and says “I might be able to make a lot of money from that.” Determination. Next time I will bring Ricardo at least ten varieties of green beans for his experiment. Maybe some yellow and purple ones as well.
The group turns out to be great actors. I shouldn’t have been surprised given that I immediately picked up on their willingness to innovate. Turns out they also improvise. I give a general scenario for a sale.
One person plays the buyer, the other the seller. The goal is for the seller to close the deal to their advantage. Even when the role play takes place in Shona I understand what is going on. Rafael tries to swindle me at my market stand. He talks to me in a loud rude way. I ask him “senor why are you to talking to me in that loud voice.” At the end of the scene he claims he has no money and actually tries to walk off with the bags full of vegetables. I get loud applause for chasing him down and taking back the vegetables.
We take turns and change the scenarios. A whole sale buyer from the city calls Simao on his cell phone to buy cabbage. A buyer shows up at Lucia’s farm demanding a good deal. I play a lost city person who shows up at Ricardo’s farm and wants to buy lots of vegetables. We switch back and forth between Shona and Portuguese depending on who is playing the roles.
Many times Rafael volunteers to be the buyer. We start calling him “the swindler”. I learn a lot from him. Much of what he improvises is likely reality. “You need to lower your price because I arrived here late in the day and now it will be difficult for me to get a ride back to the city. I will have to wait all night”, he tells one woman playing the seller. At first she caves in until we all begin to shout at her “tell him that’s not your problem if he made a bad plan!” I love this afternoon. We laugh. We talk. We discuss. And in the end we dance, improvising without music.