This past weekend, I had a great opportunity to escape the concrete jungle that is Bogotá. I was invited to spend a few days with the coffee-growing association that we are partnered with in Tibacuy so that I might learn more about the coffee harvesting process. The community is very interested in hosting exchange possibilities for foreigners and I was more than happy to be the honorary gringo of the weekend.
My host family for the duration of my stay was a dream:
1. The mother of the household was a supremely talented cook and, although I may have intentionally avoided the chicken feet soup, I was exremely well-fed. I learned that it is considered disrespectful to not finish the entire plate served to you, so a few notches were loosened in my belt.
2. My campesino dad was interested in some George Washingtons and we arranged an exchange of USD. He also had a very impressive mustache and I am pretty sure he attempted to give me some pointers on how to cultivate my own.
3. I expanded my vocabulary, as well, as my Colombian little brother and sister were completely loving teaching this gringo some new Spanish words. I managed to turn the tables, though, when I found a small whiteboard and got into English teacher mode.
Once I made my way out of bed and stumbled into the rows and rows of coffee plants by 6AM, I was ready to help harvest some coffee. I felt pretty confident in my ability to keep pace with the other workers, all of whom were probably a good ten or fifteen years older than I. What a mistake I made. Those ten or fifteen years are indeed a difference – a difference in experience! I could hear from several rows of plants away each worker stripping a coffee plant of the good beans before I could even finish thinking, "Wow, these guys (and girls!) are quick".
The most interesting part of the harvesting process to me was how simultaneously gregarious and solitary the act of collection is. Each worker is assigned a different 'line' in the plot and is expected to work their way diagonally up and down each line. This necessarily separates workers and spreads them across the entire plot, which is quite large. To compensate for not being able to see anyone around them, the workers have these fantastic cat calls and whooping yells that get exchanged every few minutes. Over the course of the six or seven hours I was out in the field, I never got tired of hearing those echoing conversations.
Although I can't say that by the end of the weekend I was an expert in coffee harvesting (I may have ended up with more spiders in my bucket than coffee beans) or that I know all there is to know about the campesino lifestyle, what I can say is that this opportunity was one that I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of a seldom seen side of Colombia and Colombian culture.
- Chase W