Home | Short Stories | Nº 35 – The first 5,000 years of debt

Nº 35 – The first 5,000 years of debt

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

by Uwe Heitkamp

At a time when the most densely populated cities are slowly returning to public life as normal, here in the countryside we are reflecting on the essentials that we need to survive a crisis: good bread, our own honey, locally produced olive oil, carob flour, the nuts from which peanut butter is made, agricultural products, fresh foods like goat’s cheese and fleur de sel – all locally produced and much needed for a good breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Before lunch, I harvest some rocket and endive leaves from the vegetable patch and wash them in the kitchen. Then I pick the first of the small cherry tomatoes from the patch behind the kitchen, add some herbs from the patch alongside it and start to prepare the sauce. Homemade olive oil, nuts, apples, loquats, oranges and lemons, potatoes, wild herbs. We make our own yoghurt and kefir. Our eggs come from our friends, the hens.

I lived in the city for long enough, always hoping to discover what some people call culture. For some, this is the difference between city and country life: the culture that we can find on offer. Film festivals, major football games, good theatre, live music, art exhibitions, pubs and a wide range of different events. For several months, I survived without them. Now, when everything is perhaps beginning to continue just as before – with the noise and harmful particles from millions of cars, and the stench from thousands of rubbish bins which we euphemistically refer to as ECO-Points – I am increasingly aware of how hostile our cities are today and how far we’ve moved away from healthy living. And I notice how lovely it is to experience village life, rural life. As for the pandemic, the rate of infection remains very low in the countryside.

Healthy living has its roots in the mind, the soul and the heart. Whether we live in the city or in the countryside, everyone can decide for themselves how they would like to live. I can recall one particular memory with joy: my son taking his bike and going to a lake with his friend Ricardo to try out his handmade fishing rods. They wore swimming trunks and, at the age of ten, spent their holidays playing in the midst of nature. They discovered snakes and scorpions, wild boar tracks and eagles flying in circles in the skies. They learned how to move around in the wild and how to respect nature. Nightingales, cuckoos, woodpeckers, sparrows, swallows, blackbirds, doves and blackbirds performed genuine concerts in our forest full of life, concerts that were as good as those of any philharmonic orchestra. But, since we too have the 365 Algarve programme in our village, we no longer lack the culture of urban centres.

The peace and quiet of these secret places in the forest offer me the perfect foundations for studying new publications, reading a good book, in addition to all my work as a journalist and as a farmer. In the early morning, I water the vegetable patch – beans, pumpkins and melons – and, in the evening, I tend to the potatoes, onions and tomatoes. I keep an eye on the seeds’ development because it’s very important for a farmer to learn from his crops. I’ve learned that you have to conserve at least 10% of your harvest so that you’ll have reserves for the next year. This is not a lesson to be learned in the city, away from natural life. There you learn how to live on social security and in debt. With this in mind, today I will reread a book by David Graeber. It was written some years ago, but still remains up-to-date. This book tells the story of the first 5,000 years of humanity, from the moment when money and debt first came into being. He writes about life in old Babylon, rural depopulation and the debt trap. Like a thriller, the book tells the story of humankind. As soon as we started to engage in meaningless activity, we withdrew more and more from our true nature, instead of seeking out an activity that makes sense. With this book, I will return to the present.

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, has lived in Monchique Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123.

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