Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 12, 2005
New electric lawnmower cut Bene out
Labour saving is not always the way to go
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
The parish of Chicam n in Guatemala has an employee by the name of Benedicto, Bene for short. He hasn't stolen his name from the new pope: perhaps it's the opposite?
Bene has many skills that he has learned along the way. He's a responsible and hard-working man.
A few months after I got to Chicam n, I needed to go to the capital, a good eight-hour drive. My pastor decided I needed someone knowledgeable of the country to make sure I wouldn't get lost.
Bene fit the bill. He's been in Guatemala all his life and he speaks decent Spanish, more so than I at that time. It was a bit of a holiday for him as well.
We had no problem making it to the city and to the Oblate Central House as I knew the way.
Time to go home
I did my errands and after two days or so, we headed home in the afternoon. We had travelled all the way to Cunen - about five hours - when it turned dark.
Bene decided to inquire the way to Chicam n. I knew it was more than two hours to the east. He spoke to a young man for a few minutes, and then we proceeded.
After an hour or so we came into a town. "Are we in Chicam n?" I asked.
Bene wasn't sure where we were, so he asked a couple of people. We were in Nebaj, a good hour out of our way going north instead of east.
So Bene spoke to a couple more people and then he aimed me down the road. "Straight to Chicam n!" he affirmed.
After a long period of time we came into a community that Bene did not recognize.
"We're not in Chicam n, then where are we? I asked. He inquired. We were in Chajul an hour north of Nebaj.
So we had to drive back to Nebaj, then south to Cunen. Then once in Cunen again, after a needless four-hour side trip, I decided to be part of the inquiring party.
What happened that this good man Bene did not know better the highways of his area? I've come to realize that Bene, like most people in this area, has seldom if ever travelled greater distances than he can walk. His world was a few kilometres out of Chicam n.
I doubt that he's ever seen a map of his country as he can barely read or write. What he knows well, he does very well, however.
One day, Bene asked me if I could get him a new lawnmower as he was spending an awful long time cutting the lawn around and about the church complex that includes our rectory and a huge hall for meetings.
We also have a kitchen to prepare food when we have meetings with the leaders or catechists as well as two dormitories.
Bene would spend hours with his machete, a two-foot knife, cutting the grass. Then he had one of these antique push lawnmowers to trim things a bit.
I had received a few gifts over Christmas and talked to the pastor, Father Sergio, about a motored lawnmower for the parish that Bene could use.
Sergio is not one to turn down a gift so on my return from Canada, I went shopping in the capital and bought a good-quality lawn mower, easy to start, easy to handle. I read the instructions and with no trouble at all I got it going.
I tried it and it worked like a charm. In about an hour I cut all the lawns in the church complex.
Then I went to see Bene and I found him to be upset. "What's the matter," I asked.
"Don't you like your new lawnmower?"
He responded that he needed a full week every month just to cut lawn with his machete and his push lawnmower. He felt threatened by this new machine that did in an hour what required a full week's work before.
The electric enemy
How was he going to fill his 40-hour quota with this fast-working modern invention that he visibly despised? The mower was not a friend but rather an enemy, a competitor.
So I asked him why he asked to buy him a new lawnmower in the first place. What he wanted was a new "push-lawn mower."
I began to understand a bit more the mentality of the poor farmers in this part of the world who do everything by hand - back-breaking work, like tilling their small fields with hoe, carrying their heavy bags of corn seed or beans on their backs.
They don't easily fit into the modern world that is moving relentlessly over past cultures and ways of life of another age.
Adaptation to this fast-moving world of ours will require another generation or two. Will they be better off than before modernity hit them?
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