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flower grower


El Punto, Ixtepeji


9 November 2001


This is a rich testimony with extensive answers, telling a personal story and providing insights into one of the main occupations in Ixtepeji, growing and selling flowers.

Francisca has worked in flower cultivation for over 30 years. When her husband died, she needed to find work to support herself and her children. On her mother’s suggestion, she applied for and was granted a plot of land in La Cumbre where she began growing flowers. She had learnt to plant and look after flowers from her mother, someone who also seems to have helped her make important decisions in her life. The importance of family unity is strongly featured in her testimony. When she was taken ill (with a very severe nose bleed caused by high blood pressure, which nearly cost her her life) Francisca’s family played an important role in her rescue. First they took her to a doctor and then, some days later when the bleeding started again, rushed her to a nearby city to find a hospital – because, since “it was Saturday, the doctor wasn’t there” – where they also paid for her treatment. Under strong medication ever since, she complains about being so dependent on pills and regrets the fact that people now go straight to the doctor with any ailment rather than using local herbal treatments:that’s what happened, I got used to only pills. I take a lot of pills, and that’s how I am; and I don’t pay attention to the little herbs.”

Throughout the interview, she is nostalgic about her life in La Cumbre. Now living in El Punto, she shares her memories of the work of flower cultivation, of clearing the land of weeds and of sowing and nurturing the flowers in preparation for sale. “[S]ince I got sick…I came here… But we haven’t stopped going to see the florecitas (little flowers) because they are planted at La Cumbre.”

Despite her illness, Francisca is still a strong woman; she strives to remain active and useful, “I go out to the field and I keep going.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Moved from La Cumbra to El Punto to be near family, because of health problems. Types of flowers grown in both places. Problems of blight.
Section 1-2  Climatic conditions and effect on flowers. Originally went to La Cumbre after death of husband when her son was five months old. Acquired land and started growing flowers there over 30 years before. Learnt flower-growing from mother.
Section 3  Preparing the land: “We dig with a charcoita (farming tool), we prepare the ground and break up the soil, as the earth here is reliable, the soil is loose. We only take out the weeds, then the soil is loosened and we put in some good soil right there.No use of fertilisers. Cultivation of crops (corn, beans); sharing the work with the family.
Section 4  Sales of flowers increase during festive seasons: “The fiestas are coming, they start on 8th December, [the fiesta] of the Juquila Virgin, then comes Soledad (fiesta in honour of the patron saint of Ozxaca), or [rather, first] Guadalupe (the Virgin of Guadalupe Hidalgo), then Soledad, then Christmas, then New Year, all that month it will be good. When that [season] passes, sales go down again; that’s how it is.” Types of wild flowers she picks and sells. Has a stall at La Merced (a market) in Oaxaca: “we’ve been going there for the whole day; we sign up and we get together with everybody… they don’t let just anybody in - it is not that easy - and that’s why we are signed up.
Section 5-6  Forest herbs used for medicine: “Poleo (“pennyroyal”, wild mint with medicinal use) and laurel too [were used] for medicine… also marjoram. Yes, those are good, because they are ‘hot’ herbs. If you’ve got a pain, if you have a stomach ache… If you are very hot you stick a leaf on the stomach, and already you cure yourself.” “Modern” medicine: “now that I am sick, I am just taking pills. I am only on pills, and I told the doctor, ‘I want to leave you. How many, how many years have you been bothering me? For five years I have been taking pills and more pills!’” Doctor told her to “[leave] the herbs on one side”.
Section 6-7  Describes episode of violent nose-bleeding. Taken to doctor who diagnosed high blood pressure and said she could have died. Rested but problem started again. Had to go to hospital for several days. “It cost my son a lot since it was private.” Doctor has increased her medication.
Section 8  Gender division of labour: “My father helped by carrying the bags of cartucho (non-indigenous flowering plant, Argylia radiata). He used to cut and cut and cut, and grandfather carried the bags. At night they sat down for dinner. They had things to do. And that’s why here, not all the women go [out to work], just some of them.” Son-in-law’s cargo (unpaid community position).
Section 9-10  Cutting down trees and clearing the ground for flower-planting. Hard work. Constant battle against weeds. “…that happened when I got sick, I left all my flowers, I could not attend them, and it became just weeds.” Working with daughter, clearing more land and planting.
Section 10-11  How she started this work: “when he [her husband] died my mother said to me, ‘What are you going to do? You are alone here, let’s go to La Cumbre, even to cut half the flowers, for your children, because where else are you going to get something [to live on]?’ She talked to me firmly: ‘You are not accustomed [to supporting yourself], he used to do everything, and now you have to see,’ she said. Oh my God! I didn’t know what to do. I said ‘And now what?’” Her mother helped her get started. Frequent journeys to Oaxaca during Holy Week with animals carrying flower loads. Nowadays have vehicles. Describes the heavy workload: “the cartucho is heavy. I tell you, when I was young, I used to carry 40 dozen; but since I got sick, I tell you, I don’t do any more carrying. I help them to tear it off, to tie it up, but not carrying; not any more.”