Cutting Coffee vs Finding Coffee

Today was finally the day I got to experience the wonders of cutting the coffee that I love to drink so much.

This morning my praxis partner has once again acquired some parasites/fungi in her stomach and couldn’t make it, leaving me with 13 Spanish speaking kids to manage for our English class (normal school has just ended because it’s summer here now and school always gets out for the coffee cutting season, which lasts from November to January).  This is normally a huge problem but for some reason today they were extremely well behaved, I have no idea how this happened but we made it through all of the flashcards of shapes and vehicles with plenty of time to spare for coloring the sheets I brought with pictures of clothing items on them. the best part was when Emily, one of the 7-year-olds looked and me and asked “How are you?” Mind you this sentence was something we learned in our first week of class. Later on she also said “Thank you,” after I retrieved her hat she had dropped on the ground.  I’m so proud of that little girl.

After class 3 other women, little Emily, and I all trekked out to cut coffee.  They told me beforehand that I should wear pants,a hat, close-toed shoes, and a long sleeve shirt.  So there I was all ready to go wearing everything they told me to and 2 of the women are wearing tank tops and flip flops…always (over) protecting the gringa. Then the coffee cutting turned into more of coffee finding since we didn’t go to one of the more organized/cultivated coffee fincas.  Instead we were tromping across the side of the mountain looking for coffee trees with berries that were either yellow or bright red.  They were pretty sparse and for some reason no one brought a machete which would have made things a lot easier for navigation purposes.  And to be quite honest I don’t know how those women navigate the mountainside in their flip flops because the forrest/jungle floor was pretty dense.

Also, even though this appears to be the side of the mountain, people are aware of what part is theirs and what part is not.  At one point I found a particularly fruitful tree and went at it, grabbing the tall branches and bending them over so I can pick the good berries off and place them in the wicker basket strapped around my waist with a piece of rope and a towel (to keep it comfortable).  The coffee trees are thin and bendable, making it easy-ish to grab the berries off the branches.  The berries range in colors from green to yellow to bright red.  We wanted the berries that were mostly red, but yellow would suffice too.  We left the greens ones for a future group.  Next I go to walk to another tree, slip in a hole that was hidden by a plant with giant leaves, and spill around 2 cups of berries.  Emily comes over to help me retrieve them, and then a man walks over by the tree I just picked. I only get half the dropped berries before Emily tugs at me to leave.  Turns out that particularly fruitful tree was his. Yikes. I also half-thought that the women might be using my innocent-gringa-tourist image to get at more berries, like, “Oh, but she didn’t know, she’s just a silly gringa…you know how they are.”

We finished our first round of coffee cutting, put our berries in a large white bag, we probably had about 30lbs by then, and then I threw the bag over my back and started walking back uphill before anyone could tell me to stop because the women rarely let me do strenuous work.  I felt pretty Salvadoran at that point  After a short walk uphill we dropped the bag off to be collected later and walked back down the mountain by the river while Angelica, the main jefita at my site, called Isela to ask her to bring our lunch from the house.  Mind you Isela is 8-months pregnant and still doing everything as if she weren’t pregnant at all. We found a place to sit and then I watched as the women all set their baskets down on the ground and then proceeded to sit inside the baskets as their own personal seat.  I tried to do the same thing but realized too late that my basket was on a bit of a slope so I kind of tipped over while my butt was in this basket.  I imagine it was quite a sight. But then we ate some delicious beans, rice, and tortillas while overlooking the river and mountains of Tepecoyo.

After lunch we searched for more coffee, combined it with what we had earlier to arrive at a grand total of 40lbs of coffee, it was a slow day.  For all that work that bag of coffee earned us about $1.75 which could get you a few snacks from the corner store, or a couple pupusas. I think most people try to get around 100lbs but with the trees as sparse as they were I don’t think that was possible.  But people go out every day from early morning to afternoon to see what they can get anyways, I’m pretty sure there’s more coffee as the months go along, and people also go to more established fincas where it’s easier to cut larger quantities.

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