November 18, 2016
I knew the four nights with the rural Peruvian host family would push me outside my comfort zone, but I didn’t realize how much until I got here.
I arrived with a friend of the family who can speak English and an intern at his company who also speaks English (and Spanish and French and German).
The family was hosting a gathering for the village’s local coffee association, Flor de Cafe. Turns out, the matriarch of the family, Victoria, started the association years back to help herself and other village women better position themselves for selling their coffee on the local market.
As the meeting continued into the night, my compañeros and I sat outside listening from afar under an overhang that was protecting us from the rain.
While some of what they discussed was relevant to my research for the Global Coffee Report, I could only pick up phrases here and there. The intern, Laura, would be staying the first night to translate for me, as well as learn about coffee herself and take photos. Deep down inside, I wanted her to stay the entire time. Not only was her Spanish very good, but Laura was also a whitey like me. She was the only bit left I had of any sort of security blanket.
After the meeting, Laura and I joined the family of 4.5 in the comedor for dinner. Surprisingly, Laura didn’t say much during our time with the family even though she speaks their language. I found that even though she was more capable of striking a conversation, her slightly reserved nature kept her from doing so.
Even if my Spanish had been better, I wasn’t really in the mood for small talk or “interviewing” for my research. We had a long day and I sensed my body coming down with a cold. All I wanted to do was sleep: to get some much-needed rest and to escape the uncomfortable position I had put myself in by arranging this four-night home stay. Fortunately, the family was far from uncomfortable. They were incredibly friendly and made me feel at home while still going about their lives.
Today I’m still feeling uneasy. Laura and I were up bright and early at at 6:30 to join the family for breakfast of bread, crackers, rolls and yucca (choose your own carb adventure) and coffee, of course. After the men left for work and the 3 year old to school, it started to rain pretty hard. Our only plans for the day of touring Victoria’s coffee plantation (or “chakra”) were now on hold and the two of us at in silence as she started preparing the day’s next meal. With Laura still at my disposal, I took advantage of the free time to interview Victoria about her life as a coffee producer.
Through the association, the women were able to buy a commercial-sized peeler and roaster. This allows them to sell their coffee as both a raw input and a ground coffee ready for brewing, packaged under their brand “Flor Cafe.”
With Victoria’s plethora of insight, and thus lengthy answers, the interview took up a lot of the morning. Then after studying my Spanish a bit, I went back to bed hoping to nap off the rain and rest my congested head and lungs. I could have slept (escaped) the day away, but the rain finally stopped and the opportunity arrived to tour the chakra.
It was nice to get outside in the freshly watered brush of Peru’s high jungle as Victoria pointed it all the naturally growing flora around us: coffee, mango, bananas, oranges, tree tomatoes and yucca. Having been writing in the coffee industry for 7 months now, I was able to recognize the coffee berries right away. It’s the last harvest of the season, so many of the plants were bare. There are three rounds of harvesting each year, and the last one is generally for the village’s consumption rather than for sale. It’s also the harvest where they clean all other berries off the plants to prepare them for next season.
Later we would get to observe the next steps in the process: cleaning, pitting, fermenting, peeling and roasting. After lunch, Victoria had to go to town, though, so Laura and I ended up sitting around in silence again. As much as I wanted to escape to our room to take a nap, I tried to occupy myself with writing, playing with little Adriano and walking around.
The latter two ceased when his nap time came and it started to rain again. And then before I knew it, Laura was saying goodbye and hopping in a colectivo for a lengthy ride back to her comfort zone.
Needless to say, I was feeling awkward again and also questioning whether this volunteer opportunity was going to work out. I realize it’s only the first full day, but I have yet to do any volunteering and my offers to help around the house keep getting turned down. In terms of coffee research, I’d asked everything I wanted to while trapped inside and I couldn’t volunteer in the chakra while it was raining. And that was if the family put me to work. At least if I was working, my mind would be occupied and I wouldn’t feel as awkward, helpless and uncomfortable as I do now.
Huh, I sound just like Eeyore, a sad little burro with a rain cloud over his head…