This blog post was written by one of the Centro's team members, Heidi!
First things first (because we all know how I feel about food): Guatemalan breakfast is amazing!! I get eggs, meat, coffee, AND sweet plantains first thing in the morning?! Jackpot. (And it's Paleo!) What a way to start our first big day with De La Gente.
And another thing before I get to the REAL stuff (I promise it's coming): chicken busses are terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. I've survived many tuk tuk rides (and honestly I never thought they were especially dangerous), so really this was just the next thing in line. And as a bonus, there's really nothing more effective at waking you up in the morning than a roller-coaster bus ride blaring Latin music. It was pretty much the BEST THING EVER. CTA, take notes. Rider safety be damned!
So onto the good stuff... Day One was essentially Coffee 101, from start to finish. Despite the few times I've read about the coffee production process, I never could have imagined how time-intensive and hands-on the process really is. I won't go into all the steps in detail because, like I said, there's no amount of reading that can compare to meeting the farmers and their families, trudging up the volcano lugging tools, and getting involved in a part of the process. I won't even lie and say that the work in which we partook was back-breaking or very physically taxing; I actually thought it was quite meditative to find and pick the coffee fruits. But, that's absolutely not to say the rest of the process is the same. It's extremely meticulous and hands-on, from patiently growing new plants, to picking the fruits (by hand), to extracting the seeds (by bicycle), to fermenting and drying the beans in the sun (turning every few hours by hand), to sorting out the "bad" beans (by hand), to roasting (by hand), to grinding (by hand). Seeing a pattern here? And to think: 100 pounds of picked coffee fruit only yields 12 pounds of roasted coffee beans!
So where have I netted out after this experience? I have so much more appreciation for the ladies and gents whose livelihoods depend on these coffee plants and the often testy mood swings of Mother Nature. I also vow to never take my daily cup(s) of caffeine gold for granted. And as someone who advocates eating REAL food from sustainable sources whenever possible, I love that I will know where my coffee is grown and how it's harvested since I intend on supporting organizations like De La Gente for my caffeine fix moving forward.
But more impressive than the coffee production process was the human element of this experience. The farmers that we met from the cooperative -- Gregorio, Freddy, his sons, and his lovely wife (whose names escape me now) -- welcomed us with open arms and huge smiles. The work they put in day in and day out is tough, and it doesn't bring in much money at all. They make enough to take care of their family unit, and they don't have much when you compare their material possessions to ours back home. But they were extraordinarily warm and hospitable, and eager to share a bit of their lives with us. The whole "mi casa es su casa" thing is no joke around here.