To start our Global Business Day off we walked to Tabacalera Santiago, a booming and successful cigar factory near our hostel. Joselin, our tour guide, guided us through the cigar making process; we started our tour in the fermentation room (you NEVER want to have to stand in a tobacco fermentation room). As our eyes and throats were burning from the ammonia, Joselin described the process of pouring water on the tobacco leaves, then mixing it, letting it ferment for a few months, and repeating the process a few more times. After that less than enjoyable experience we moved to the rooms where the employees made and designed the boxes for the completed cigars. Joselin then explained the process of choosing where the tobacco leaves come from and at what stages the tobacco is harvested in a room where they stored all the fermentation-completed tobacco. The next rooms we visited were ones where we could begin speaking to the workers about their jobs and benefits, one of the main focuses of the day. The first room was one where women worked to pick and prepare the leaves to wrap the cigars; these leaves are stripped of the vein and sorted into color/type. These women told some of us that they work eight hours per day, five and a half days per week (they have half of Saturday and all of Sunday off), and they make up to 120 cordovas (the average is 20-28) per day based on their production. (Remember that 26 cordovas is equal to 1 US dollar.) Joselin then guided us to the large room where the cigars are actually made. She explained to us that the men roll the inside of the cigars and place them in molds so they can be pressed (they are called boncheros) and the women roll the outside of the cigars after they have sat in the press for about three hours (they are called roleras). The boncheros and roleras work in pairs and each pair makes a different type of cigar. Imani was the first one to ask to roll the outside of the cigar and many of us followed after her. I can personally say that rolling the inside of the cigar was hard, so I can only imagine how hard the precision of rolling the inside was. Many of us spent time talking and rolling cigars with different workers; we found out that the amount of money they made was based on their production and really efficient pairs made about 200 cordovas per day, again based on production. Our tour at the factory was eye-opening to the reality of workers’ rights in a developing country; this particular factory was good in terms of how they treat their workers, but even then these workers receive no benefits including retirement and health care.
We then took buses to La Casita, a small, family-run farm just outside Esteli on the side of the main highway. We were greeted by David, the owner and founder of the farm, and he began our time there by sitting and explaining the history of the farm and his philosophy about creating more sustainability. David came to Nicaragua about thirty years ago during the Civil War because he wanted to offer his help. He started La Casita in 1995 with a vision of creating a fully-sustainable farm that embodied everything he believed about our roles as humans in the world. In 1995, David’s son helped bring in the first customers with a wheelbarrow of mangoes, exposing the homemade whole wheat breads, cheeses, jams, and yogurt La Casita sold. La Casita does no kind of publicity, the only way people know about them is by word of mouth. We had lunch at La Casita which was delicious (and not gallopinto); we all had whole wheat bread with either cheese, honey, or yogurt cheese, and either rice pudding or plain yogurt with or without honey. We then split in groups to have a chat with David or shop for the beautiful puzzles they had. Chatting with David we learned more about the sustainable processes he uses on the farm. One that he talked about that really stood out to me was the process of using duck poop as fertilizer. Since the river is dry in the summer, David built a little pond in the bed of the river for the ducks and geese to swim (and poop) in. The workers then take the water and poop and place it in a well where it sits until nitrogen and phosphorus begin “intensifying” in the poop. This poop/water mixture is then hand pumped into watering cans and then used to water the plants in the farm. Bam! You have a double whammy, sustainable way to water and fertilize your plants. As we talked more and more to David, we were all inspired by his wisdom on how we can and should work to help make the world more sustainable. I think I can say that everyone in our group was either inspired to begin to more critically think about our choices as consumers or follow our dreams just like David did. For me, David’s story and philosophy really spoke to my own dreams and visions or a sustainable world.
Writing this blog after the nightly meeting we just had just makes me smile. Today was an amazing day that everyone enjoyed and had a great time. Even though I didn’t feel too well, everyone in our group was understanding and loving. As much as we learned about and had wonderful conversation about Global Businesses, I really think we learned a lot about each other and our little community as a whole.
In short, today felt really beautiful for so many different reasons.