How to strive to be comfortable in uncertainty – the way of the farmer

November 26, 2014

Farming is intrinsically uncertain. No two seasons are ever the same. Even if they seem the same. There will always be a hint of uncertainty waiting in the wings – will El Niño come this January? Will my crops be wiped out by disease? What’s the price of oil palm going to be like next year? Will I have be able to make enough next year to cover expenses or will I go into the red?

When one is confronted, day in and day out with uncertainty. Then it’s only natural for one to arrive at some point of reckoning where one can either try to beacon out the murk or learn to live in peace with uncertainty and not knowing.

To me, life as a whole is much more interesting not knowing what lurks around the corner than to take comfort in answers may well be wrong. Mind you. That doesn’t mean I am not aware of the possibilities along with the various permutations of having to live in uncertainty. I have percentile answers like 60% El Niño is going to hit somewhere around December….. and possibly even a basket of beliefs concerning how certain things are going to pan out and even different gradations of beliefs of uncertainties about so many things.

My point is thru the years I’ve learnt to be comfortable with the whole idea of uncertainty – to even live as peacefully as I can with the idea of not being absolutely sure, such as whether it means anything to ask why I was born in this timeline and not just around the dawn of mankind when one monkey learnt he could get ahead in life by using a dinosaur bone to whack another monkey over the head….to put it another way. I don’t mind not knowing the answer. I no longer feel frightened not knowing things, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell…life that is.

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‘Farming is one of those strange professions where in the first year, one starts off with twenty colorful Gantt charts that tells you what you should do every month of the year. From January to December. By the second year. You will inevitably reach a point of realization when you realize your are either so faraway from your goal or that it means little or nothing for you to try to intercept destiny thru scientific planning.

I am not saying I don’t believe in planning for the future. Or that I am so cavalier about the whole idea of the future like a hippie. No! What I am saying is, when a man pits his wits and sinews against something really Godzilla big like Mother Nature and he does it long enough. At some point he will end up being so brow beaten and thrown around like a rag doll that he can only eventually experience a rare moment of epiphany – and that man will be humbled.

To me that is not such a bad thing. No….it is not.

In once heard a story recounted to me in a tavern by a sailor in the Coite de Noire of a mad sultan who marched with banners, elephants and pikemen in full battle armor to declare war on the Harmattan – the red ochre dust wind that sweeps across the lenght and breadth of Africa in August – the evil red wind, sailors called the sea of blood.

I did not understand the moral of the story till many years later when one day I noticed in the far horizon to the east of my lands a mysterious disease was ravaging palms. I remembered declaring war on this scrounge. I cursed it. I swore that I would crush it….break it’s bone. When the menace came my way. I fought it like a deranged man shoveling coal into the furnace. I meant to burn down the whole house. I dug trenches, drained the swamps, worked feverishly till my hands bleed. Till my farmhands would look at me with that curious expression that one would cast on only the forsaken and mad.

But despite my best efforts the disease ravaged my trees.

I remembered walking my lands and crying. I cried like a baby. As I could not understand. I cursed the maker for his wanton callousness and ineptitude and somewhere between the distance that separated two palms….it came to me….I am humbled.

Thereafter the menace disappeared with the rains.

Many years later I came across a Singaporean couple who put up their orchid orchard for sale. Apparently they had a horrendous first harvest and the man had thrown in the towel.

I sat with him in the verandah. I had by then come to wealth and so had the habit to carrying myself as a landowner who could never be denied. That evening while sitting on a rocking chair and nursing a cerut. I recounted in a sonorous tone to the defeated man the story of the mad sultan….I told him that what he had experienced was a blessing and never a curse. As the land had imparted an important lesson early on in his career as a farmer in and that things can only get better after this. That he should perservere one more time…

The man agreed to stay on grudgingly and eventually he prospered.

This is wisdom. The variety that the proud and arrogant and righteous do not know of….but will all eventually come to know of. Many men may have read about this. But few I imagine know of how it is like to be the mad sultan…..I know all these things….the before, during and after….to be humbled….so very humbled.’

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