Jose Mujica “Pepe” – the 40th president of Uruguay. (2010-2015). He is 81 years old. He spent 14 years of his life in prison, during 70’s and 80’s, because he was a part of an armed political group and lived a life of guerrilla leader. During his presidency, he legalized marijuana, gay marriage and abortion in Uruguay. He is known worldwide for being The World’s Poorest President because of his modest way of life. I find that grotesque since being poor is a mindset. Besides, you can not be poor just because you have some things u don’t even need in the first place. And the other way around, you are not rich if you don’t have the things you yearn for. Pepe is one of the richest people I have ever met because he has everything he needs and he donates 90% of his monthly salary, which amounts to $12,000, to the impoverished and small entrepreneurs.
There is an interesting story behind my meeting the richest president in the world. Viktor, a writer and a traveler with whom I was traveling at the time, and myself arrived at one of the most famous wineries in Uruguay (later we found out that the winery is owned by Mujica’s grandma). As soon as we arrived at the winery we were not able to avoid the hole in the road and the car cooler broke. We were forced to wait several hours for the repairman to come. Waiting paid off, not only because we ate so much wonderful grapes, but because that was how we found Mujica. While waiting for the repairman, we were approached a journalist who was doing a report on the winery. She was interested in our trip around Uruguay. We jumped at the opportunity to ask her if she was able to connect us with someone who knew Mujica. After several calls, we were announced at Mujica’s place. The journalist knew the author of Mujica’s books- Ernesto Andres who called Mujica to tell him we would pay him a visit.
Several days before that event, we found ourselves in front of Mujica’s house, half an hour away from Montevideo on the property without a single fence. The only obstacle between us and Mujica was the security standing on the road blocking our way to his house. There were 4 guards and by talking to them we found out that they spent every day there ever since the very beginning of Mujica’s term at the office.
We arrived at his house at lunchtime and Mujica was asleep. We had to go back to Montevideo just to return around 5 o’clock. When we came to his house at 5, he was busy having a meeting with civil servants in his house. So we had to wait for the meeting to finish. Keeping in mind we had already been announced, it was just a matter of time when it would be our turn to meet him.
After waiting in the car for two hours and playing with the local dogs, it was our turn to meet Mujica. I was walking on the soil, million thoughts running through my head. What was I to ask such a legend, you meet a man like Mujica once in your life. So many questions so little time… After several minutes, I saw Mujica and thought: Is it possible that he had a meeting with civil servants dressed like that… I was not judging him, but I was rather surprised by that man’s greatness. He had his stained white shirt on, in which he works in the fields, unbuttoned just enough for us to see his chest. Even though I knew who I came to visit, my limited mind was not able to comprehend that such a man exists. He does not care about the form, he only cares about the essence of things.
I found this picture from the time when Pepe was the president. It definitely best describes the attitude Pepe has towards forms.
Picture taken from the link.
Picture on the left taken from the link. Picture on the right taken from the link.
Pepe does not speak English and my knowledge of Spanish was more than valuable at that moment. Talking to this man in his mother tongue is invaluable. I explained to him how we came to see him, to write about Uruguay. The first thing he said was: “There are a lot more beautiful things to see”. Whatever I responded in that moment was not important, because my confusion was apparent.
Pepe on his garden
After showing us his garden, we started talking about it. I asked him: How is it being a peasant?
Pepe: “Being a peasant is a form of cognition. Education is really important but it does not provide any practice. We adapted this irrigation system to our circumstances.” He said pointing at the improvised device.
Milica: “So you are a rural engineer?”
Pepe: “Exactly, that is what I have always been.”
I asked him what he grew in his garden and he responded that he grew almost everything- corn, squash, something similar to zucchini (something between the squash and zucchini we eat in Serbia), potatoes, flowers and many more things. I asked him to take a photo of him with all the vegetables. He responded: It’s enough, too much marketing.
We talked about his life
Did you start living this modestly because of your experience or because of the tough times or you were like that your whole life? (Pepe comes from a very poor family that immigrated from Italy)
Pepe: “I am a peasant, I have always been that and I have always lived in the village. I cannot renounce what I am by nature and cannot escape from my way of life. It is not better or worse, it is just different”
What I found interesting is that the farm he lives on with his wife belongs to her. While he was a president he did not like being driven around, so he drove his own car, a Volkswagen bug. Uruguayan newspapers Busqueda wrote about how he had been offered 1 million dollars for his bug and he denied the offer.
Picture taken from the link.
Are you a happy man now?
Pepe: Yes, of course, I have always been happy no matter what I was going through in my life, because I live the way I think and by the things I believe in.
You were in prison three times, and escaped two times from it. How was it to escape, was it excting, fun or were you afraid? Were you the one who initiated the escape and brought others with you?
Pepe: It was very exciting. I was not the leader, there were four of us and it was all team work. We dug a tunnel to freedom both times. I will never forget that experience.
How many lives did you have?
Pepe: I am 81 years old. I spent 14 years in prison and that accounts for one life. I escaped two times from prison. The second life I lived like Clandestino (a man living in secret, on the run). The third life I lived as the president of a country and the fourth my separate life with my wife.
You should go through life in pair
Milica: Your wife Lucia meant a lot to you, she gave you strength.
Pepe: ” Yes, we went through life together. She also spent 14 years in prison. She meant a lot to me. Having someone by your side is of the utmost importance. You cannot go through life on your own. Life in pair is the most important. Never go alone, always go through life with your partner.” He also added that he wouldn’t have achieved anything if it hadn’t been for Lucia.
Pictures taken from the link.
Pepe on Serbia
Viktor: How did you like it in Serbia?
Pepe: “I had a great time. Kusturica took me to a mountain (he was referring to Mokra Gora) and we spent a couple of days there. Serbia is very beautiful. ” I also asked him what he liked the best in Serbia, people, food, nature? He said that he liked the landscapes, nature and mountains the best.
What do you think what Serbs should change?
He took some tobacoo and started rolling a cigarette. Rolling a seemingly large piece of tobacco into such a small piece of paper, focused on what he was doing, he took the time to answer the question. After about ten seconds he answered:
Pepe: “You have to learn to live with what you have. Do not try to look like Europe, you should not want to look like Russia, be YOURSELF! You have your culture, your history, mountains and fruit. You have to be aware of what you have. ”
Viktor told me to ask him what he thought about a movie Kusturica did for him.
Pepe: “Kusturica knows much more about that than me and he knows what he is doing.”
On revolution, capitalism, and life advice
Milica: Viktor and me are starting a revolution with small steps in the world that surrounds us. We want to show people that we are all the same and that there are no borders in this world. Can you please give us some advice on how to be stronger and more durable in what we are trying to achieve? Where did you find the strength for all the things you carried out?
Pepe: “The first revolution you have to start is in here.” He said that holding my right hand and with his index finger on his left hand he was tapping my temples as if wanting to engrave it. As if transferring a part of his crazy drive. While he was saying that I stood paralyzed because he was looking directly in my eyes and that depth was hypnotizing.
Pepe: “A street is full of cars, coming and going. You have to cross the street and not get hit.”
The sound of birds chirping made his rhetorics even more beautiful and made what he was talking about seem even more important, as if afirming it.
Pepe: “Do not allow capitalism make you lose your mind, you have to learn how to be free in capitalism. Do not allow some marketing campaign and ads make you buy clothes, various meaningless things, anti-aging creams… Under no circumstances. The first revolution is our own, in our heads. You have to learn to live the way you think, because if you do not live the way you think, you will end up thinking of a way to survive. ”
Picture taken from the link.
Why do people find it hard to live the way they think?
Pepe: “The worst thing that happens is that people feel so much under pressure that they do not have any time to live their lives. You have to work constantly, change your clothes every day, pay the bills, and a car you already have is not good enough for you so you have to buy a bigger car, a much faster car. In this way, you spend your whole life buying things. You do not have any time to live. You have to work in order to live, and not to live in order to work.
Life is not only meant for working. You have to have free time for things you like doing. Life passes you by… You can buy anything at a supermarket. But you do not spend your money, but your time and that is how you triffle your life away. ”
One proof of Pepe living the way he thought is his limitless freedom. Everybody remembers his days as president because he always brought his pet Manuel wherever he went, among other things.
Picture taken from the link.
What message do you want me to convey to people reading this?
Pepe: “Be alive because that is a miracle! That is the most valuable thing we have. You have to love life. In life you need freedom and freedom comes from the head. Do not allow yourself to be stifled by the noise, nurture modesty and humility. There are no triumphs in life, there is only a never-ending staircase you have to climb. Wins and triumphs are not the most important things in life, the most important thing is to pick yourself up whenever you fall and start over. Because such is life.”
This experience was one of the most valuable in my life. It is a proof that miracles do happen if you are positive and ready to take on new opportunities. I could only dream of meeting Mujica when I set off on my trip across Latin America. Some things Pepe said I already heard somewhere else, but when such a great man is the one saying them, words start having a much greater meaning. Especially when he looked me in the eyes when he was pronouncing them. All his words and thoughts are engraved in my brain so that they can carry on living with me as a weapon I will be using in this revolution I am starting. In this way, my success will someday be marked by words and energy of the Great Mujica.