Friday, January 16, 2009

all in a day´s work

i finally learned what it was like to go out and pick coffee all day. well, i say ¨all day¨ like i was out there at the crack of dawn and worked ´til sundown or something. not exactly. mirna invited me to go with her and her sisters and their kids to her family´s finca after christmas. back in the day, mirna´s grandparents built a hacienda-style house in the forests around ahuachapán and the surrounding land is filled with coffee trees. for a starter coffee lesson, i wrote about the coffee process in this previous blog entry. today´s entry covers more about how the coffee gets cut, who does it and how the coffee is prepared before it´s processed.

my preparation for cutting coffee started with finding a canasta, or basket. on christmas day antonio and i went over to visit papa chepe at his house in san jorge. i told him i was going out to ¨work¨ the next day and so he lent me his basket.

before i go on, i had to post this picture.

when antonio and i went over to papa chepe´s house, it was pandemonium. all these kids were there, papa chepe was drinking guaro (it was 9:00 a.m.!) and this duck was wandering around their house. then it hopped on the couch and papa chepe came over to drunkenly talk to us about politics and sat down on the couch on top of the duck! but the duck didn´t even care, it just moved over.

anyway, enough of the quacks. so the day after christmas antonio and i met mirna at her house and her three sisters came over with all their kids. i think there were 10 of us in all. we packed up and got a pickup ride out to the campo. when we were on the dirt road up to the hacienda, this woman comes running out on the road and says we need to help her. apparently her 2-year old daughter was in the car waiting for her mom to come out and while she was waiting, she locked the doors with the keys still inside. this happened like 45 minutes before we showed up. so we all got out and went over to where her car was and this little girl was screaming inside. the mom didn´t want to break the window, but we were all like ¨you have to break it.¨ i tried jimmying the lock with a wire hanger because god knows how many times i´ve had to do that in the past with my car. but then the girl started vomiting and this guy immediately broke the back window and got her out. it was really a weird event.

so after we all got over that, we hopped back into the truck and continued on deeper into the forest. finally we arrived at the hacienda and hung out for a bit and ate some food. then mirna and her sister took me down to the part of the forest where all the workers were. it was time to start picking coffee.

first we talked to the mandador and he showed mirna where they had been cutting coffee that day. antonio had to show me how to pick the coffee off the branch. my instinct was to just pick each semilla off like you would a cherry or something. but he showed me how you hold the top of the branch, bring your hand down the whole branch and let the semillas just fall into the basket.

so then it was my turn. let´s just say i´m not that advanced of a coffee picker. i did my best. you know, though, i think i had mentioned before in a previous blog entry how coffee cutting is boring, dirty work. well, it is dirty, but boring it´s not. i really liked it, fijate. granted, i didn´t pick that much - compared to what a normal day´s collection is. you´ll see the fruits of my pathetic pickings a little further down when the guys weighed it.

after i kind of filled my basket, it was off to watch the pros do it. here are some photos of some of the people who were out that day.

mirna and her sister waiting around for me to pick my coffee

this guy was too funny. when i was going through the forest taking pictures of everyone, he was eating his tortilla for lunch. i didn´t want to take a picture of him eating, because, well, he was eating! so i said hi to him and then continued on through the forest. then when we were leaving, he came and chased me down and i came back and he asked me really politely if i would take his picture. so i did and he was super happy.

so back at the hacienda, everyone kind of made it back in their own time with their daily product. as i talked about before in the previous blog entry about coffee, everyone then sits out on the grass and separates the green semillas from the red and yellow ones.

everything is then re-bagged and then weighed with a roman scale, like the one in the photo below. each person gets their coffee weighed individually because they will be paid for what they picked.

ok, this is the funny part. this is MY bag of coffee. 12 pounds! that´s it! so pathetic. most people had one sack - which is equal to 150 pounds, or 6 arrobas. mine? 12 friggin´pounds!

once the sacks are all weighed and re-bagged together, the entire lot is weighed again and compared with numbers from the individual weigh-in. these are the final numbers that are given to the beneficio when the finca owners take the coffee there.

it was quite a day! in-between picking the coffee and weighing it, mirna took us down to this waterfall that didn´t have any water because it´s the dry season. but it was a fun hike.

women carrying water from the chorro down by the waterfall back up to their homes.

a view from the top

anyway, so if any of you are wondering what it is like to cut coffee, that´s how it is! hope you enjoyed seeing it!