Friends the best way to integration

I am an immigrant. Temporarily, but anyway, a stranger in a new culture. A ”gringa” in Ecuador. Everyone who gets the chance should try being an immigrant in another country. It’s made me understand a bit better how an immigrant in Finland must feel.

Of course my situation is different. I come from a developed country to a developing country, from Europe to South America. I’m white, blonde and tall, just like the beauty ideal on all the commercials and magazine covers in this country where a lot of people don’t resemble that ideal. And I know that I’m going to go back home soon. It’s easier for me than for many of the immigrants coming to Finland.

But I’ve gotten a little bit of insight in what it’s like to leave your family and friends on the other side of the world, coming to a place where you don’t know the language, don’t know any people and don’t have any countrymen to hang out with.

All though that last point usually doesn’t apply in Finland, and that could be one of the reasons if the integration into the Finnish society is slow. Here in Machala I’m the only Finn, and that’s helped me integrate. There’s no one to speak Finnish or Swedish with, no one to discuss the annoying aspects of the Ecuadorian society with, no one to talk about Finland with, no one who understands a joke about Matti Nykänen. And that’s good. It means I have to speak Spanish, learn what Ecuadorians think is funny, learn why things work the way they do here.

And friends are the best integration method! With them I speak Spanish, they answer all my  questions and tell me about the country’s history. With them I listen to Latin American music, learn to dance the merengue and cook with plantains, yuca and maize, they take me around the country on the weekends. I tried to learn Spanish before I came here, but it didn’t help me a lot. The dialect is different and the speed of speech too, and you can’t learn that out of a book. After three months I finally started to understand, but I wouldn’t have done that if I could have spoken English with everybody.

It’s been easy to make friends. My colleagues have taken care of me so I won’t feel lonely. They want to show me their country, their music, their food, their history. And they want to learn about my country. Every day, even after half a year in Ecuador, somebody asks ”and how does it work in your country?”. We keep learning about each others’ cultures. I hope it’s as easy for immigrants in Finland to find Finnish friends. Because friends are the best integration method.

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Banana school, part 12

90 percent of the goods exported from Puerto Bolívar are bananas.

90 percent of the goods exported from Puerto Bolívar are bananas.

The shipping

  • After passing the last quality check, the bananas are loaded onto pallets of 48 boxes, which are loaded onto the ships that will take them to Europe and the United States.
  • The temperature i the refrigerated ships has to be low enough, so the bananas won’t start ripening too early.
  • The boxes can be loaded in three ways: on pallets, in containers or (sometimes) as loose boxes. A ship has room for up to 300 000 boxes.
  • Loading a ship takes 1,5 to 3 days. Most of Asoguabo’s bananas are shipped from Puerto Bolívar in Machala. In that port, around 15 ships per week are loaded, four at a time.
  • The transport to Europe takes 18-21 days, depending on the port of destination.
  • The bananas have to be green when they arrive. Then they’re placed in ripening chambers, where they’re treated with ethylene to ripen. Then they’re transported to the supermarkets around Europe.

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”Nobody uses us anymore”

Saúl Armijos could afford to improve his farm after he joined Fair Trade 10 years ago.

Saúl Armijos could afford to improve his farm after he joined Fair Trade 10 years ago.

-The small farmers have always been taken advantage of by the big exporters, but not in Fair Trade, says Saúl Armijos.

He has grown bananas for 22 years, and joined Fair Trade 10 years ago.

-My neighbour Jorge Ramírez was Asoguabo’s first president, and he encouraged me to join. Before joining, I had to work on other banana plantations than my own, but in Fair Trade I got a much better price for my bananas.

When I ask him how his life changed with Fair Trade, his face lights up in a big smile, and he pats the basin he’s leaning against.

-I didn’t have this before. I had a small, old water basin to wash the bananas in – that one in the middle, he says, pointing at the smallest one of the three washing basins.

-I didn’t have packing facilities, and the truck I could afford thanks to Fair Trade. All this I did thanks to the co-op. And the fairtrade premium has helped us. We’ve used it for lending money to irrigation and fertilization projects, for example.

Each one of the 15 member associations in the co-op get 20 cents of the one-dollar-a-box fairtrade premium. In Armijos’ member association Barbones, that money has been used for producing organic fertilizer for the members. With the premium money they also pay the farmers 400 dollars in case they get sick.

-I’ve liked working in Fair Trade, but the fair price is not so good. It used to help us a lot, because it was better than the market price. But today it’s not anymore.

The last few years, the average market price outside Fair Trade has been higher than the price Fair Trade pays.

-But what else do we have? No one else buys our bananas, says Armijos.

The big companies are rarely interested in small farmers’ bananas, and the small farmers have to sell to middlemen that pocket part of the money.

What do you want to say to the consumers?

-To be concious of the fact that we grow a clean banana. And to arrange a campaign for people to buy more fairtrade bananas!

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Leaving baby bananas for bigger ones

Juan Marquez brings down the bananas on a mule's back from his farm in the foothills of the Andes.

Juan Marquez brings down the bananas on a mule's back from his farm in the foothills of the Andes.

Juan Marquez has grown baby bananas for seven years, but he only has a couple of weeks of experience in growing regular bananas.

-I’m learning, he says.

-I started with baby banana, but there doesn’t seem to be demand in Europe, so now we’re getting rid of the baby bananas and planting bananas in stead. It looks like the banana farming is going to go a lot better. The banana grows well and generates more income, says Marquez.

Ernesto Dávila has stopped growing baby bananas.

Ernesto Dávila has stopped growing baby bananas.

Asoguabo encourages the members who grow orito (baby banana) to plant regular bananas in stead, because the demand for baby bananas is low. So the farmers in the mountain villages Muyuyacu and La Florida are changing crops, and it seems to be going well. A couple of months ago you could only see the small baby banana bunches on harvest day, but now bunches of bigger bananas are hanging in the packing plants waiting to be sent to the port.

-I quit the baby banana completely, and now I only grow bananas, says Ernesto Dávila.

He started growing baby bananas when Asoguabo recruited new farmers to start exporting the fruit eight years ago. The demand wasn’t as high as expected. The Finnish chain of Siwa-markets, for example, stopped buying baby bananas. So last year Dávila began growing bananas.

But back in the day, the exporting of the orito changed the lives of the farmers in the mountains.

-We had the luck to export directly through Asoguabo at a better price. We can take it easy and my kids can go to school. I don’t have to work elsewhere to make enough money, and I feel like the master of my own farm, says Juan Marquez.

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Banana school, part 11

Marlon Suscal checks the temperature inside the banana. The thermometer says 27 degrees, which is acceptable.

Marlon Suscal checks the temperature inside the banana. The thermometer says 27 degrees, which is acceptable.

Last quality check

  • When the bananas have left the farm and come to Asoguabo’s warehouse in the port, the quality is checked one more time.
  • The controller checks the appearance and pulp of the fruits, makes sure there are no insects in the boxes and that they are packed and labelled correctly.
  • He also checks the temperature inside the bananas. If they are too warm they can ripen too early, before they reach Europe.
  • The temperature is measured by sticking a thermometer into the bananas. The temperature cannot exceed 29 degrees.
  • When the controller has approved the sample in one or two boxes he gives the order to unload the rest of the boxes from the truck.
  • If the sample is not approved, the whole shipment is discarded.
  • The controllers are not employed by Asoguabo. They work for a company Asoguabo buys the service from.

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A people of shattered families

Raúl lives in Ecuador. His wife and 4-year-old son live in Spain. They’ve been living there since the son was two, and they’re coming back in one year. Raúl visits them one month a year.

Maria’s husband lives in Italy. They got married right before he left three years ago. He’s visited once, in december last year. In august he’s coming back to Ecuador and the couple can move into their first home.

Both Raúl and Maria are my age. Their lives are just two examples of a reality lots of ecuadorians live in. Emigration shatters families everywhere, for a limited time or forever.

Many emigrants only stay a couple of years to earn some money and then return. Like Franklin, who worked illegally in Spain for two years. A few weeks after he came back, the Spanish government decided to legalize all illegal immigrants, he says with a dry smile. Typical, huh?

Some never move back. On the plane to Ecuador I sat next to a girl my age who was going to see her uncles and aunts for the second time in her life. Her parents have stayed in Canada and are not returning.

I have still to meet the ecuadorian who doesn’t have a family member in Europe or the US. Three million citizens live outside the country. Ecuador’s biggest newspaper, El Universo, has a section called ”Emigration”, with news about the expatriates’ situation and a heartbreaking column with e-mail from them to family and friends in Ecuador.

Four percent of Ecuador’s GNP consists of  ”remesas”, money the emigrants send home to their families. The hardest blow of the global financial crisis in Ecuador is that the emigrants have lost their jobs in Europe and the US, and haven’t been able to send as much money home. The government’s goal is to make Ecuador a country nobody needs to leave, but the remesas are still needed.

Some of the returning Ecuadorians have gotten used to a higher standard of living. ”They get stuck up and think Ecuador isn’t worth anything anymore”, says Maria, who’s afraid her husband will react like that. ”Spain is so clean and nice, and when I came back to Ecuador I could only see the trash and the dirt everywhere”, says Franklin.

But it works the other way around, too. I’ve gotten used to the trash, the pollution, the wild dogs on the streets, the cane shacks people live in, all the houses half finished because the owners ran out of money. I wonder how I’ll react when I return to orderly Europe.

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Banana School, part 10

The bananas are taken to the port in trucks.

The bananas are taken to the port in trucks.

Transportation to the port

  • Every farmer is responsible for transporting his or her bananas to the port or to the container.
  • That means renting a truck alone or sharing it with another farmer. Some farmers own their own trucks.
  • If the bananas are taken to the port they are received at Asoguabo’s warehouse where they’re palletizised (loaded onto pallets). The pallets are driven to the dock and loaded onto the ships.
  • Some member associations have their own shipment centers in the villages, where they receive the bananas, palletizise them and load them into containers, which are driven to the port and loaded onto the ships.
  • When they've been palletizised and quality checked one more time the boxes are loaded into containers.

    When they've been palletizised and quality checked one more time the boxes are loaded into containers.

  • Every pallet has room for about 50 boxes, and every container has 1000 boxes.
  • If the fruits are loaded into containers in the villages the quality stays better because the transportation is shorter and the bananas don’t stay out in the sun for so long.

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