March 6, 2006

Bananas for Brits
Sandy Bay (St. Vincent), St. Vincent and the Grenadines

I had the opportunity this morning to visit a pack shed in the middle of a banana plantation, full of boxes bound for England.

Ben and his brother had already been working for a few hours, as I sauntered up a field road to the shed. It was actually less of a shed, and more of a (simple) permanent cinderblock structure. Inside, half a dozen people were contributing to the Sunday morning effort.

Bananas, harvested by friendly Rastafarian, were being swooped up by Ben and Akeem and delivered to the pack shack. "Don't touch that plant," Ben noted, as I innocently followed him around in the maze of palm trees in my swimsuit and sandals, "it'll sting and burn your skin." Lovely—the low-growing plant was everywhere, and blended in nicely with all the other unidentifiable brush I was tromping around on.

The Rasta Man continued about his work, pulling a protective blue plastic bag off a large cluster off fruit, and (using a curved 3-inch blade) skillfully cut the cluster into bunches (preferably seven "fingers") to be laid on a waiting leaf for collection. Discarded green bananas were everywhere, as the same action also included removing the least of perfect specimens.

Inside the pack shed, a woman was washing and cleaning the fruit in a bucket of water containing an (undoubtedly poisonous) anti-fungal chemical that she shouldn't be using her bare hands with. I touched the water, like a child playing with a stove for the first time.

The ensuing actions were simple, and monotonous. Big bananas went in one pile, smaller ones in another. The small bananas were lovingly tossed into British branded bags, proclaiming the benefits the fruit will have when placed in a child's lunch box; the reverse side sporting an oh so clever "Cheeky little monkey" logo/tagline.

Boxes were packed and weighed, shooting for 15.5 or 19.5 kilos per box (depending on which pile the fruit came from). By 1:00, most of the work was done, 20+ boxes filling the hot, breeze-less room.

This happens every other Sunday at this shed, 12 months a year. Soon, a government-funded truck will relieve the structure of its bounty, paying out around $20 EC a box—hardly an impressive figure for the labor involved.

I grinned as we walked back to the house; I had just touched a banana that some little kid on another continent will find next to his sandwich.

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