Banana Plantation

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 24, 2007

 

            I will never think of bananas the same way again. Not after my recent trip to Costa Rica.

            Three years ago I broke my ankle while I was white water rafting in Costa Rica. After the hospital let me go, I was sitting in a little café in Quepos, wondering how I was going to get around town to buy crutches or my medicine. A young man in the café, Eduardo, spoke good English. He offered to run errands for me if I paid him a little something.

            Over the years we have corresponded. His family is very poor. I have kept in touch with them and help them out from time to time as they seem to go from crisis to crisis.

            This was my first trip back in several years. Eduardo wanted me to meet his mother in Cariari on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. His family lives in worker’s housing on a huge banana plantation owned by a large American corporation.

            So we drove down from the cool mountain plateau to the hot coastal plain near the swamps of Tortuguero.

            It was hot. Really hot.

            Once past Cariari we drove for mile after mile through banana plantations with thousands upon thousands of banana trees. Each tree had large banana fronds. Most of the fruit had been wrapped in blue plastic bags to keep the insects and birds from getting to the green bananas.

            The family was delighted to have a “gringo” visitor. They sat up late talking. Their pet parrot kept jumping into the conversation.

            The roads were bad, so we spent the night on the plantation, rather than risk driving off a one lane bridge in the darkness.

            I thought that after the sun went down it would get cooler. Hardly. Not a breath of a breeze.

            The cloudy sky covered the moon and stars, making it so dark that I could not see my hand in front of my face.

            One of Eduardo’s cousins gave up her bed so I would stay. As I lay there, sweating profusely, I could hear the mosquitoes hitting the screen over the window.

             The combination of the heat, darkness and oppressively still air made me feel claustrophobic. I thought to myself, “This must be what hell is like.”

            The next morning was beautiful. The sun was bright on the banana plants. The men were going out to the banana trees on bicycles on in groups riding on the back of pick up trucks. They all wore heavy rubber boots. Eduardo explained that the ground around the banana trees was wet and there were snakes. Even though the boots were hot, it was better than the snake bites and jungle rot you would get without them.

            I could hear small planes flying very low over head. They were spraying the banana trees for insects, apparently with indifference to the health of the workers standing directly below.

            As we bounced out of the plantation on the rough roads, I thought to myself, “I will never see a banana the same way again.”

            I will think of the people at the other end of the supply chain. I will think of the heat, the sweat, and the insecticide. I will think of all the work it takes to bring that pleasant tropical fruit to the tables of the rich. That is to us.

            These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are members of our church. When you sit down to the slices of banana on your morning cereal, think of them. Say a prayer for them.