Stories from the field: Meet William

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“Mine is a brown horse, very handsome and big, but yellow on the tips . . . I named him El Palominio, because he has a white face — when he runs hard he looks like a dove.”  William Castro, now 21 years old, has ridden horses since he was very young, using them to herd cattle, separate calves, and haul loads of beans, corn, other harvests. He was 15 when his father gave him his own horse, born from one his father’s fillies, and he takes training seriously.  “Some horses are really smart, others not so much — it depends on how much you train them when they’re young, if you get them used to it when they’re just foals they learn to dance, to run.”  

William and his family work hard in their mountain home, clearing new farmland with machetes and then burning the rest to prepare it for planting.  They grow beans and corn, mainly, while also raising cattle and making a white crumbly cheese, Cuajada, which is among the best foods this planet offers.  William sums up their work, “We’re farmers . . . we work really hard even though our pay is very little.”  

The pictures he takes from his phone’s camera display the natural beauty of the world around him: rolling green mountains filled with rivers, planted fields, and livestock.  Within that backdrop, they work hard and play when they can. William’s favorite hobbies are soccer, baseball, art, and, of course, racing his horse. “If you think you can win, you call for a race.  [El Palominio] has won a lot of times, but he’s lost as well . . . since some beasts are always better than others, you choose which horse you’re going to run against so your horse doesn’t lose fame.”  

Building the school and water system

For about a year, William and his family, along with all of the community in ‘La Guitarria,’ worked double so they could improve their community.  “If someone had four people in their family, two would do family work and two would go work on the school. If someone had fewer family members, each week [they’d work] three days at the school and three days [at home] to plant.”  

Trenching, digging, hauling, mixing, forming, binding — tiring work on top of normal family needs, all done voluntarily because of how important these improvements are.  William described the change in the water from then to now: “The spot for water was far away and surrounded by sediment — it all got dirty when it rained. So, when it was a good day, when the water was clean, we had to carry a lot of jugs of water to have it ready, so when the water got dirty we’d have something to drink and wouldn’t have to use dirty water. . . . [Now] we have clean water whenever we want it, and it’s all healthy . . . we don’t get sick as much. 

William’s next steps in life

As a 21-year old, William is on the cusp of a big life change.  He currently works with his parental family but receives no formal pay.  He can go off on his own whenever he’d like, but he jokes that most men don’t make that change until they get married, or else they’d starve from not knowing how to prepare food.  His parents have a bit of land, so he’ll likely be given a plot of his own when he’s ready. For those whose parents don’t have enough land, they typically make a deal with someone who does — they’re allowed to build a home on that person’s land and they then work for pay by the day, slowly saving until they have enough to buy their own plot.  

William is curious, energetic, and excited to learn new things.  One thing he loves is drawing. “I’ve always liked drawing. Since I was a kid, I’d draw all the animals, the old school where we’d studied, [things like that].”  He’s a bit shy about his artwork and hasn’t yet sent pictures of his favorite drawings. “I like to draw. Sometimes I draw really badly, so I get sad,” he jokes, “but it makes me happy when I can do a good drawing.  I’m learning.”

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