Today Caio and I made a joke. All the ranch hands and I were seated at lunch, munching away at yet another plateful of fatty pork. We have enjoyed so much pork this week – it seems to be all that’s in the freezer at the moment – that it has provoked sarcastic comments among the hands about turning into pigs and complaints about the effect on their waistlines. Marcelo makes pointed oinking noises every time he sits down to eat.
“Do you pay your helpers well, to go out and mess with that equipment?” Caio asked, rubbing two fingers and a thumb together in the international sign for moolah.
“No, very badly. I don’t pay them at all.”
“Oh, well, I could still help you know. But I only work from 9-5 and not after lunch.”
“We work before breakfast and after lunch. Also, you can’t run far enough to be very much help, you’re out of shape. I make my helpers run to go get my samples.”
“No no no, I run a lot. You know I live in Tupã, it’s 40 km from here, I run back and forth there every day. Eighty kilometers. I run so much.”
Another gaucho chips in, “Yeah, but he does it on a motorcycle.”
A round of laughter overtakes the meal room, with a few echoes of the punchline here and there. “Heh heh, he does it on a moto…”
As we putt putt out of the gate for our afternoon sampling session, Caio is seated in his usual after-lunch spot in the shade of a big oak next to the barn, drinking mate with the other gauchos. I wave and say, “Ready to go?” pointing out his spot in the back of the truck. “Nope, I’m good,” gesturing at the cuia full of hot mate.
Small exchanges like this please me to no end. I look around at the rickety fazenda buildings, the rusty windmill, the yard full of horses and muddy sheep. Who knew that I would ever have a place here, hours away from anything, deep in the interior of this weird southern state of Brazil? That people here would know my name and makes jokes with me at lunch, ask me how my walk to the creek was last evening, and make room for me at the table? A bunch of gauchos sporting bombachas and flat-rimmed felt hats, accepting this rather eccentric foreign lady as their neighbor?
Stranger things have happened I suppose.