Gabriel sits down with me to eat lunch, and I ask him, “Are you prepared to go to Nicaragua this upcoming week?” “I am busy preparing the projects. It should take eight years to complete, I have five projects to set up there, and three in San Carlos. So Tuesday, or maybe even tomorrow, we will check if the rice will be ready.” Gabriel begins to explain the rest of the formula. I feel like I should be taking notes between my mouthfuls of cabbage. I want to ask how much of everything, and if you have to mix it together in a special way, but I concede with, “Tomorrow or Tuesday, you are going to prepare it? Can I watch?” “Yes, yes, of course. That’s why you’re here.” I breathe a sigh of relief.
He says that he had started teaching this formula to farmers all over Zarcero, that he could have made millions, but he wanted to give them a present, he wanted, to teach. And then, someone took this idea, and started a business, selling small bottles of the microorganisms for 20 dollars when it only cost 2 dollars to make each bottle. He shakes his head. “In Nicaragua, there is no way people can afford that. I want to make it way cheaper for them. But, I know the empresas will get mad at me again.”
“Why did they get angry at you?” I ask.
“Well, after I started teaching this to everyone, I was being interviewed, I was on the radio and the television. Stupid,” he says. “I should have known better. Well, people stopped buying chemical fertilizers from the empresas. Demand went way down, and that’s when I began receiving threats. They called me on the phone, and threatened to kill me. That big greenhouse on the top of the hill,” he points, “he was my friend, but the chemical businesses gave him money to kill me. He put venom in my coffee, and of course, as you know, I drink a lot of coffee, (he does drink a lot of coffee) it is my fuel, and he tried to kill me. So then, I got nervous. I got nervous and I got quiet. That was ten years ago, so that was when I went to Japan. I went to Japan to study and learn. (He is always talking about Japan). Now I am back, and that’s why I’m going to do work in Nicaragua. It is safer for me there, but they could follow me. I have to be careful.”
Day 2: Gabriel shows up at my work using my host-sister’s boyfriend’s car to collect 4-gallon containers for the formula.
Day 3: Finally, we are back. I have escaped the tomato farm early after another day of hanging mercates. (Although, there is one thing out of the ordinary: Carlos’s father’s girlfriend tells me that her sister apparently wants to “conocerme” (get to know me/meet me) and go on a weekend trip with me). It is 2:00 pm and we are heading out before it rains, shuffling quickly, (as is Gabriel’s normal pace.) Gabriel again carries his machete in hand, waving it around like a wand as it serves as an extension of his hand when he talks. I had been wondering last time why he had carried one, and this time he explains: “For wild animals. Here, at this altitude, there aren’t culebras, but just in case. In Nicaragua, also for people, for thieves.” Shuffle, shuffle, stop. Wild mustard, we eat some (spicy arugula taste). Shuffle shuffle stop. A shoot growing off a tree. (also medicinal). Shuffle shuffle stop. Avocado tree. Gabriel explains how to combine two species of avocado. When we arrive at the first rice packet burial, Gabriel sticks the machete in the ground.
We descend. I am like a child awaiting my first Christmas present. Gabriel takes off the rubber bands and uncovers the fabric covering. Sure enough, purple bacteria have colonized a spot along with a faster spreading yellow color, and two small spots of green. Wow. As we uncover the other packets, the yellow bacteria is most prevalent, called celulitica. One of the packets has gone missing, and Gabriel claims it was a thief. “It was a thief, how unlucky. It was a thief,” he repeats. (Upon leaving, we find the empty container. An animal, not a thief, has eaten our rice.) What do you know? It is milking time right as we are leaving, meaning we join the train of cows back up the cow path. It is slow moving, and Gabriel prods the last fat slowpoke cow every so often. She is so large that we hear the “tick” of the electric fence shock her once, twice as her sides bump against the wire. Of course, she stops to pee, and even as we back off hurriedly, the pee splashes up at us from the concrete path.
Gabriel has collected almost all the ingredients he needs, but we stop at the nearest lecheria to fill up the gallon jug of milk so that it hasn’t yet been pasteurized, and has good bacteria brewing. We get warm milk right out of the now-pumping milk tube. Gabriel covers it with his rain jacket (since the company Dos Pinos that buys milk from every farm in Zarcero won’t let you sell milk to anyone else but them), and the owner waives off Gabriel’s attempt to pay him. Gabriel runs off once more to get molasses from a neighbor, and we are ready. In case you want to make some:
Gabriel’s recipe for organic micro-organism fertilizer
450 g bread yeast (Gabriel says the bread yeast addition was his invention, that he did an experiment, one with the yeast, and one without, and his yeast addition had twice the amount of bacteria as the other)
250 cc alcohol (to accelerate fermentation)
200 cc vegetable oil
20 g salt
2 L milk
2 L molasses
4 eggs (or blood)
15 L warm water
dash of soy sauce
6 packets of forest micro-organism rice
The most important part is that once you have combined everything and put it in a large container (it must be plastic with a cap) you have to open the cap of the container every hour for 24 hours or it will explode. After 5 minutes of closing the container, sure enough the sides and top have swelled. Every 45 minutes or so, Gabriel jumps up from watching TV, saying, "Casi me olvide" and then grabbing me to show how much the container had swelled. (I'm not sure how every hour tonight is going to go). Last time, he said he fell asleep at 1 am by accident and it exploded all over the kitchen. In 24 hours, Gabriel says, 48 generations of micro-organisms will have reproduced.