Adalid showing off the de-pulped gringo coffeeBy Andy
We recently went back to Rio Negro, Honduras during the Farmer to Farmer trip in early January of 2011. When we visited Rio Negro in January of 2010 we had had the goal to visit every member of the coffee growing co-op in the community. It had rained the entire time we were there, and there was one family who we decided not to visit. We were wet, cold and tired and they told us that to visit Dona Cirila would be an hour straight down the mountain on a muddy trail of slippery red clay. We declined. This year however, the weather was bright and dry, and since we had visited most of the other farmers in the previous three years, we had all afternoon at our disposal.
After a pleasant hour-long downhill hike we finally came to the coffee finca of Dona Cirila and her family. What a relief. The lush green plants were thick and as we pushed our way down to her house, the dogs came out to greet us. Her house of red clay adobe was fronted by a patio of packed red clay. Children of all ages were engaged in various activities that sort of shifted focus to us as the horde of Gringos tumbled out of the green onto the patio. Dona Cirila came right out and shook hands with us and we started to get her story.
First off we learned that we made the right decision to visit her because last year she had waited all day for us and this year had been expecting us much earlier in the day. She is not the type of person who I would want disappoint. We learned that Dona Cirila is a single mother of ten children and four grandchildren, all of whom were milling about as we talked to her. Her husband had left her 7 years ago and now he lives elsewhere in Honduras and has a new wife with four children. At least she was able to keep the farm. She told us how her children have to climb that hill every morning to go to school in Rio Negro and how all supplies have to be carried in and all the coffee has to be carried out on the shoulders of her and her children. Each one has to carry as much as he or she can when hauling out the coffee.
We learned that her oldest son just graduated from grade school and he would like to continue to study, but that would cost at least $500 per year and she would lose one her best workers. We could see how prized of a worker he is because while we were talking, he was running a hand-crank coffee de-pulper. Soon our interest shifted to this boy and the machine. We had seen coffee de-pulpers that are run by generators and also those run by hydro-power, but this was our first hand-crank de-pulper. Zac took a turn cranking. We asked Hector and Adalid what it would take for Dona Cirila to have a hydro-power for de-pulping coffee and for electricity. It turns out that they have already done a study and calculated the number of PVC pipes that it will take to bring enough water with enough head to run the turbinita, which Hector and Adalid would donate.
Jeff and Ana were outfitted with baskets and Adalid took them out to learn how to pick coffee. While they picked, I played some soccer with the young boys and Dona Cirila prepared some incredible coffee for us. I left Dona Cirila’s house with a deep sense of respect for her life and what she has to do every day to keep her family going. Her children were happy and playful despite the obvious difficulties. She herself presents an implacable and dignified surface. I cringe a little when I think of how it must appear to have six Gringos show up and start taking pictures. Our immediate impulse was to start asking for numbers for how much it would cost for her son to go to junior high or how much to pay for the PVC tubes. The visit to her family stimulated something in us, a sense compassion and anger at the whole situation, and our first thought is what can we do to help? I am not saying it is a bad impulse to want to help, but that can cast us into the two-dimensional roles of helper and helpee. I was glad that it took so long for us to get there, because that meant that we were inclined to stay a while. In that while we settled in and met her kids and talked some more. Over the steaming cup of coffee she became a little more three dimensional. Farmer to Farmer is a about relationships of solidarity and dignity. We can also see the potential that Farmer to Farmer paying a fair price for coffee can have to impact the lives of all the people in this family.