Day Four – Easier Today, Fields Tomorrow

I don’t know if it’s because I’m becoming used to the work or if today was truly easy, but I do know one thing, I’m experiencing something I will never forget and for that I am truly grateful.

I worked in the wrapper fermentation room again today with the same team as yesterday and we accomplished a lot.  Okay, they accomplished a lot, and I was just there to help them along.   We accomplished moving an entire piloné before lunch after collecting the hands of tobacco left drying overnight.  

This piloné contains Pennsylvania broadleaf.  I bring this up because the hands of tobacco are held together not by any colorful string or ribbon, as is typical of most of the tobacco in the fermentation rooms and is instead held together with a leaf of tobacco itself.  Now, they use damaged leaf to do this so as to continue to focus on maintaining the integrity of their most expensive tobacco.  Here is a close up so you can see what I’m describing.

And this tobacco was heavy!  Needless to say, I was exhausted by lunch.

By midafternoon I was moved to a hydration station.  I learned that tobacco is hydrated as often as it’s needed.  This means it could occur at any time.  

Today I assisted in breaking down one piloné to take to the hydration station.  I won’t lie.  It was good to be outside and away from nearly four days straight of ammonia.  Once I participated in this task, I realized what process lead to the tobacco being placed on their veins that I previously described.

There was something else I witnessed over the last two days, in the wrapper fermentation room, that I was finally able to ask my hosts about.  I witnessed a number of recently built pilonés where the staff placed stripped veins on top of the burlap before encasing the piloné in plastic sheathing.  I was told that this was a necessary step for certain tobaccos, which ones I wasn’t told, so that they could absorb the moisture rising from the piloné to keep it from collecting at the top of the sheathing which would over hydrate the tobacco.

I have to continue to profess how kind and accepting the workers are here at AJ Fernandez.  And I share the following with a heavy heart as I do not want to get anyone in trouble.  Immediately after we started working after lunch, my team called me over to a back corner in the room to share sweet bread with me, real bread not the other sweet bread, and some Fresca.  Now I learned later in the day that Fresa contains caffeine.  Now those who know me know that caffeine and I do not mix.  Let’s just say the afternoon was a buzz of movement and honestly, I believe I was a bit more effective and proficient in my assigned duties.  However, I know that I’ll pay for that tonight with no sleep.  However, I believe it was more important to honor the men who gifted me with their share of food and drink.  To be honest, even if I knew of the caffeine, I still would have honored these men and eaten with them.  And it was fun “putting one over on the man!” 

Tomorrow, I head to the tobacco fields.  Until then… Long Ashes!