[Reading level: C2 – Mastery]
In normal times, Dave van der Meer, who runs his own flower export business, wakes up each morning at 4:30 to start his day at the Naaldwijk auction. He’s been walking through the rows of flowers for most of his 50 years, since he was a toddler visiting his father at work. The auction has now gone quiet. “You can fire a cannonball in the flower hall without hitting anybody,” he says. Royal FloraHolland has asked buyers to bid from their home computers if possible. With prices so low and flights restricted, many growers have stopped sending flowers altogether. The cooperative estimates the outbreak will lead to more than $2 billion in losses.
Van der Meer says it took one and a half weeks to shred all the unsold flowers at Naaldwijk. Even with all the waste, the Dutch florist who customarily donates thousands of blossoms for the pope’s Easter Mass decided not to send any this year, to protect volunteers. The pontiff ultimately performed the liturgy inside St. Peter’s Basilica rather than outside in the square surrounded by 30 tons of flowers and 80,000 people.
Before the pandemic, 42 of the cargo flights arriving at Aalsmeer each week came from Kenya, whose climate allows roses to grow year-round. The East African nation ships about $1 billion worth of flowers a year, making it Europe’s biggest supplier. That figure represents tenfold growth since the 1990s, as investments in infrastructure made large-scale exports possible. More than 150,000 people now toil on Kenyan flower farms, many of them women. The work is grueling, with long shifts in steamy greenhouses, and laborers earn as little as $70 a month, but it’s a steady paycheck in a country where those can be hard to come by.
Billy Coulson employs 1,200 people at Nini Flowers, one of many farms in a valley north of Nairobi, near Lake Naivasha. Giraffes sometimes wander up to his 50 greenhouses, from which he usually exports 2.2 million stems each week. He offers nine varieties of roses, pink and orange and yellow and red, selling mostly to big European supermarket chains such as Morrisons. Coulson, 56, was raised in the U.K. and went to work for Kenyan flower farms after serving in the infantry of the British army. He lives on-site with his wife and three children.
Business was strong in February, he says. His first cancellations came in early March, even before Kenya saw its first Covid-19 case. “We knew there was a problem in China,” Coulson says. “We had no idea of the scale.” By mid-month his sales had dropped by more than half.
His costs, though, haven’t fallen. He still has to buy chemicals, fertilizer, and water, and to pay his workers to harvest the flowers, chop them up, and pile them for disposal. He’s cut his staff to half time – two weeks on and two weeks off. He estimates he’s losing €300,000 ($327,930) a month, a level of disruption far worse than the Kenyan postelection violence and global financial crisis of more than a decade ago or than the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that grounded many cargo flights in 2010. “It’s a black hole,” he says. “If this goes on for three or four months, we’re faced with the prospect of closing down.”
The workers will suffer most if farms shutter. Justerian Iminza, a 38-year-old rose harvester for Nini, says she’s already unable to afford breakfast or lunch for her family. A widow with two daughters and a son, she migrated to Lake Naivasha to find work on the flower farms. Her job is a good one, as far as the industry goes. It’s unionized, and the farm is fair-trade certified. After 13 years at Nini, she was earning about $110 a month, plus a $25 housing allowance. But now she’s making half as much. Her credit cooperative has limited withdrawals and stopped making emergency loans. She says that Nini has discussed providing $10 a month in emergency relief or distributing maize flour, but that nothing has been decided yet. “We are all worried,” she says. “We don’t know how long it will last.”
Dean rescheduled her wedding for Aug. 15, picking that date over one in June (too soon) and Halloween (too close to the U.S. presidential election). Her venue, photographer, and floral designer were all amenable to the switch, but DJ Ben had another gig.
She’s only cautiously optimistic she’ll be able to get married in August. New Jersey is now a hot spot, with more than 2,300 coronavirus deaths, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended his state’s stay-at-home order through mid-May. Even if some businesses reopen soon, no one knows whether an August wedding in the Catskills will be advisable or permitted. Coronavirus is now spreading in Kenya, too. President Uhuru Kenyatta locked down much of the country on April 6. In Ecuador, another major rose exporter, hospitals and funeral parlors are overwhelmed.
Dean says she’s grateful her floral designer, Clare, will be able to work with her in August, but Clare doesn’t know what she’ll be able to import once she reopens. Dean’s vision for her wedding flowers is all but gone. “They’ll still be beautiful,” she says. “But I know what they were going to be like.”
toddler /ˈtɒd.lər/ [C2] (n): đứa trẻ mới biết đi
shred /ʃred/ (v): cắt
customarily /ˌkʌs.təˈmer.əl.i/ (adv): theo thông lệ
pope /pəʊp/ (n): Giáo hoàng
pontiff /ˈpɒn.tɪf/ (n): Giáo hoàng
liturgy /ˈlɪt.ə.dʒi/ (n): nghi lễ (đạo thiên chúa)
basilica /bəˈsɪl.ɪ.kə/ (n): đại giáo đường
toil /tɔɪl/ (v): làm việc vất vả
grueling /ˈɡruː.ə.lɪŋ/ (adj): nặng nhọc
steamy /ˈstiː.mi/ (adj): ẩm ướt
come by sth [C2] (v): kiếm được cái gì (một cách khó khăn)
wander /ˈwɒn.dər/ [B2] (v): đi lang thang
infantry /ˈɪn.fən.tri/ (n): bộ binh
chop /tʃɒp/ [B2] (v): chặt
pile (n, v): đống, chất đống
grounded /ˈɡraʊn.dɪd/ (adj): bị cấm bay
shutter /ˈʃʌt.ər/ (v): đóng cửa
widow /ˈwɪd.əʊ/ [B2] (n): góa phụ
unionized /ˈjuː.njə.naɪzd/ (adj): có công đoàn
fair-trade certified (adj): được cấp phép chứng nhận sản phẩm
allowance /əˈlaʊ.əns/ [C1] (n): khoản trợ cấp
credit cooperative (n): hợp tác xã tín dụng
maize /meɪz/ (n): ngô
venue /ˈven.juː/ [B2] (n): địa điểm
amenable /əˈmiː.nə.bəl/ (adj): dễ dàng chấp nhận cái gì
gig /ɡɪɡ/ (n): hợp đồng biểu diễn
funeral parlor /ˈfjuː.nər.əl ˈpɑːr.lɚ/ (n): nhà tang lễ
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