Tales of the Pandemic
This is the story of Jamile and Dorian, a couple from Espírito Santo who lived in a beautiful apartment facing the sea in Praia de Itaparica, in the city of Vila Velha in Espírito Santo. In a quick reading, we can conclude that their life was going very well, in a phase of life with the 3 children raised, stable and both over 60 years old. However, as no one expected, the pandemic came, and with it confinement, and above all the fear of being infected with covid-19. Faced with all this, the immediate solution was to refuge in the interior of the state. But, did the withdrawal make up for it, and how is the couple’s life going three years after the move? I decided to accept their invitation and spent a few days with them to find out how this change was and how they are today.
Strategic exit heading north
“Do you think I had the structure to stay on a 7th floor stuck looking at people from up there?”
It was mid-March 2020 and Europe had already announced confinement, also known by the English term lockdown. In some countries, the measures were tougher than in others, but the result was always the same – Everyone stays at home. Contagions did not stop growing and with them the graph with the number of dead. With a daily load of bad news coming from Asia and Europe, it was already predicted that soon the same Hollywood movie scenario would also be installed in Brazilian cities, and on March 20, 2020, the Ministry of Health declared the state of community transmission throughout the national territory.
Jamile was already a retired teacher at the time, but Dorian was still an active federal employee, teaching classes at IFES in Vitória. At the same time, the institute’s management decided that classes would be online with the aim of protecting teachers, students and staff from possible contagion, and it was at that moment when the two looked at each other and thoughts aligned. It was already past time to leave the city, and that same day they packed their bags, closed the apartment where they lived, and left for the north of Espírito Santo, and the destination would be the city of Linhares, which is located right at the mouth of the river. Sweet, the same one from the tragic episode that started in Mariana-MG. It is there that they own a property that functioned only as a resting place only on weekends, but which would now be their residence until everything was resolved and we returned to what we considered normal.
As soon as you enter the house, you can see the house that still maintains the original façade from when it was inaugurated in 1963. Nothing has been changed there, just restored. On the other hand, what was at the back, some restoration work and some alterations were carried out, where there is now a living room and kitchen that have a very modern look.
In the yard next to the house they still keep the barges built by Dorian’s father. It is a terrace with a movable roof where at the bottom there is an oven that serves to dry the cocoa beans. All around the house is beautiful and that green is expected from a farm. The forest where the 7,000 cocoa trees are located is a mixture of cocoa trees and a still-preserved part of the Atlantic forest, with various trees, especially the huge jequitibás.
However, having a place or a farm to use for leisure is very different from living. When they decided to settle in the place, where the cocoa trees were in need of good mowing, the orchard could expand further as well as the vegetable garden, not forgetting that the house would still need some minor adjustments as an office for online classes.
Hands to work, but alone.
The first measure was not at all pleasant, as they had to fire one of the employees who, despite tireless requests not to leave the house, and to have all the minimum needs ensured, such as the supermarket and pharmacy, ended up not respecting the rule, and then after a furtive trip to the bar, he received the notification to leave the following day. Both Jamile and Dorian were over 60 years old and did not want to run the risk of being infected by the worker himself.
The other employee did not need any notification, as when he realized that the owners would now reside on the farm he resigned, as his days of “free working hours” were over. Soon after, they learned from the neighbours that he only appeared there 2 days a week. From then on, they were left without anyone, which considerably increased the work on the land, which, as I mentioned, needed adjustments.
Despite being alone, the farm became more dynamic little by little. Before, everything that was planted in the garden or in the orchard died, and this was the first inversion of the game. The fruit harvests increased significantly with the permanent presence of the two, and soon after they noticed that even the chickens laid more eggs. To close with a golden key, cocoa production became so dynamic that a few years later they won an award due to the good quality of the cocoa.
Is it possible to live exclusively on what they produce?
Today, after the end of the confinement and with part of the population vaccinated, the farm has another employee again, and a little before my visit it gained another one, which we can conclude was a huge relief in the workload of the two, as they came touching the boat alone. The chores have obviously lessened, but they haven’t gotten any smoother, and there’s always something to do, and despite all the beauty around the house, there isn’t much time left for idleness. I remember that at 5:30 in the morning, you could already hear someone walking through the houses. That’s right! They wake up at this time and start their daily activities very early and without complaint.
When I asked Dorian if what they produce today would be enough to live on, he firmly said that not at the moment. Still being active as a university professor in Vitória (130 km) is the biggest impediment to further exploring the potential of his land. He believes that if there was no such obligation with the work they would get much more out of the property and obviously would be able to withdraw more money.
“And do you recommend that a couple of young people leave the city to undertake inland?” I asked curiously. “Of course!”, they replied almost simultaneously. Today they have a much better quality of life than they had in the city, and with a very low cost of living, having only gas, electricity (rural is even cheaper) and Internet bills. The water is taken from a well, and in their case, in particular, the Internet is free, as the central pole that serves other farms in the region was installed there on their land, and the agreement is that they do not pay for the service, which would cost 150 reais a month to the optical fibre. They also mention that in the fields you can have chickens, vegetable gardens, and orchards, all at a very low cost.
But they also say that one thing is necessary to know – “here the dynamic is different, and do not come with the idea that you will have time to waste watching television on the couch or even those elements that distract us from real life such as social networks”. What they emphasize is that there is real and active life, and there is always something to do or some problem to solve.
On the other hand, they leave a very special tip that applies to small properties in the region of Santa Maria do Jetibá, in the mountainous region of Espírito Santo. The concept is based on the basic principle of not selling everything it produces in a raw way, that is if you plant strawberries sell the strawberry jam. If you have coconut on your site, extract the most products from the fruit instead of simply selling it in its natural state. 1 gal of coconut oil is much more valuable than selling all the same amount of green coconut it took to manufacture.
In their case in particular, they sell bananas; eggs; bags of cocoa extracted from almost 7000 trees; and they also eventually produce the delicious cocoa honey. The price of a bag sometimes fluctuates a lot, as well as its extraction, which has been seasonal, as they always depend on someone else to harvest and a worker leaves with a daily rate of 70 Brazilian reais in the region. Of course, this value changes for longer contracts. The farm’s production ranges from 4 to 24 bags per month from its cocoa tree, which now has trees that are 5 and a half years old. According to Dorian, the peak of production is when the cacao tree reaches 7 years old, which is close to happening. When this phase arrives, he will be able to take two hundred bags a year with a fortnightly harvest, which today would yield around 160 thousand reais per year just with a segment of the products they can offer.
Despite the great yield from the bags, my great surprise was to learn that among all these economic activities they undertake, the most lucrative since they settled in was selling cacao seedlings, especially PS1319. This is an activity he recommends and loves.
Return or stay?
When I asked if they were thinking about returning to the city, I heard a resounding No. Despite all the work they’ve had and still have to do, they want to further streamline the space to increase production step by step and hire more people to work. Today, both have a more dynamic life, and eat better, which resulted in a healthier and less stressful life. We are in March 2023, a time when COVID-19 is now more under control and the word pandemic has already dissipated from the daily conversations of the general population, just as the anguish we went through from confinement is also slowly fading. Remembering that this was the set of factors that led Jamile and Dorian to settle in the countryside, and despite all the toil that a large piece of land requires, it does not cross their minds to leave the place where they live today and return to the one already forgotten 7th floor.