‘Well-Matured Horse Manure For Sale’ and other WhatsApps you might only receive in rural Andalucía

Our community garden is showing clear signs that the end is near. The tomatoes are gone, save a few rouge cherries. The abundant production of eggplants and peppers has ground to a halt and the rambling zucchini and cucumber plants lay wilted on the ground. The measly melons we have left can fit in our closed hand, while the same specimens at their optimal growth nearly required a wheelbarrow to be moved. We haven’t yet had below-freezing temperatures, which instantly close our gardening season, but autumn has definitely arrived. All that is left to do now is to pull out any remaining greenery and mulch in some manure.

Talking of manure, we bought ours last week after having received a WhatsApp message from someone in our gardening midst who was selling ‘Abono ecológico de estiércol de caballo’ or organic horse manure. The message continued saying that the product was very well matured. It was also extremely reasonable at three euros per bag. We promptly ordered half a dozen, as how often do you get an offer of ‘good shit’ that doesn’t go in a pipe? Moving the sacks onto our little plot we could attest to that the content was perfectly aged, mellow and ripened to perfection, in contrast to the generally foul-smelling fresh manure. A few days later we received another message from the supplier urging us to return the empty bags so he could refill them or we would have to pay a whooping 25 cents per sack to keep them. We chose to do the latter.

When looking for the finest local produce, the most well bred livestock, the highest quality hired help or the gayest social happenings in rural Andalucía the best or often the only way to do so is always through word of mouth. If you cannot find what you are looking for the traditional way, by speaking to people at the local bar or the line up at your corner store, there is always your smart phone. And these days, even in small town Spain, this means using WhatsApp.

We were surprised to discover the widespread use of WhatsApp (or guassa as they pronounce it) when we moved to Ronda, probably having expected a less techno-savvy society. Of course mobile phones are everywhere these days, but we weren’t exactly living in the Spanish Silicone Valley. A lot of local families, even with young school children still don’t have a computer at home. They might invest in an X-Box for their offspring, but will tend to not see the big need for the latest program of Microsoft Office. Many local businesses have a Facebook page instead of a web site. And even though we now have fiber-optic Internet in most parts of our town, we are still shall we say a bit off the grid.

WhatsApp appears to be the exception. It is the way that the locals seem to prefer to communicate. It appears to be the equivalent of their phone, walkie-talkie, entertainment unit, social calendar, family photo album, fashion magazine and their pursuit of trivial knowledge, all into one gadget. Everybody seems to send audio guassas when they stand in the line-up at Mercadona, regardless of age and background. Most people are in at least a dozen groups and good and bad jokes gets circulated faster than wildfire through their amigos de guassa. Wedding invitations, party photos with the following dozens of ‘que guapo/a’ (how handsome/beautiful!) comments and political propaganda are spread through their WhatsApp groups. I would not be surprised if the recent less than lawful Cataluña election was also planned through guassa.

This summer, Ronda finally opened their new hospital with the typical hick-ups of any new construction. Though located in in our town, the hospital is also the medical facility for about seventy surrounding communities, villages and rural municipalities. The building is what one can describe as stylishly modern, yet the clientele isn’t always matching the premises. Just like in the old hospital, the new one is already short of parking spaces. This probably stem from the fact that Andalucians are a social lot. Even if they are just going to the hospital for a check-up, they will bring at least their partner, their parents and likely also a couple of siblings, most of which arrive in separate cars ready to spend the entire day in this peculiar kind of family outing. Therefore, in spite of the ample seating in the new buildings, there is often standing room only.

But the reason why I was taking a detour by the Ronda hospital was neither because of parking or seating limitations, but because of the waiting patent’s and their family’s frequent and overt use of WhatsApp. Waiting in line there the other day we had no choice but to listen in on the many incoming guassa messages received by an old farmer type sitting three rows away from us. The man who was nearly deaf and clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer listened to his guassa jokes at full volume, laughing out just as loud. He then proceeded to listen to several pirate recordings of a concert someone had shared with him, also through guassa. The flamenco singer’s nasal voice was reverberating through the halls, but as we had come to expect, nobody complained or lamented this fact, even if they might have serious medical matters to worry about, that possibly would have benefitted from some peace and quiet. Why didn’t they say anything then? They were likely all too busy sending guassa voice messages themselves, sharing the most intimate details about their own or their spouse’s medical problems for their friends and the world to hear.

Through guassa messages we have been invited to crush grapes by hand-crank to produce a (to me) foul-tasting homemade alcoholic beverage called Mosto. We were also told through WhatsApp that we won a bucket of worms  (a story for another day…) and have been offered a crate of figs in the same manner. Yet my favourite of all our guassa messages came the other day during our traditional neighbourhood or barrio party. We, the neighbours, were all invited to come to the field beyond the square to be the judges of who had the best-decorated burro (donkey). Prizes would be given according to popular vote.

I bet the makers of WhatsApp never could have foreseen that invention would announce donkey beauty contests, but then they might not have lived in rural Andalucía either…