Back on the Coffee Fields
Too much time had passed. We missed the dirt.
Ania and I bought a five-gallon jug of water and hitchhiked into the mountains near Loja, a place full of 120-year-olds known as “the valley of longevity”, where we arrived on a small family farm to plant coffee bushes.
It seemed like a good deal. We’d work 6-8 hours a day and, in exchange, get a free room and three meals a day - all of them cooked by an 89-year-old lady that never stopped smiling and added -ito, -dita, -tito, -cita to the end of every word she spoke.
The guy that “hired” us was called Sergio. He had large, dark, glue huffer pupils, loved heavy metal, and wore a Kurt Cobain jacket. He was happy to have us.
“We need all the help we can get,” Sergio said. “The people here, they don’t like to work. A lot of them get money from abroad. From relatives that work overseas.”
“You could say it’s a society problem,” he continued. “Farmers used to work the fields in this region. Now they stay in the house and watch TV all day and their land goes to waste. It just sits there. ‘Why should I work? I have money’ they say. ‘I’ll work when I need to, when the money stops coming in.’ or ‘I’ll work when the weather’s better, it’s raining too much now.’ It’s just not right. Te digo. Es un problema grande en nuestra sociedad.”
Sergio explained the work over the kitchen table as we ate fresh queso blanco in hamburger buns with coffee. It was simple. The family was starting a coffee farm on their old grandfather’s land and we were there to dig holes, fill holes with compost and plant coffee saplings in holes. Sergio said he knew little about farming. His family was from the city of Loja.
“This is just my brother’s project,” he said. “I’m come here to help out when I can”.
“Sounds good,” Ania and I said.
When we finished the cheese sandwiches, Sergio’s father walked in. His name was Alberto and he was a retired civil courts lawyer, but you couldn’t tell from all the mud on his clothes and the rubber campesino boots he was wearing.
“Time’s ripe for planting, para sembrar, verdad?” he asked the cook, the old lady that never stopped smiling. “It’s almost a full moon. What stage of the moon are we in?”
“Clarito, we’re in the fifth stage of the moon, right now. It’s the best time para sembrar sus plantitas” she said.
“You see that?” Alberto said to us, patting her on the shoulder. “These people are barely educated and they can tell you what stage of the moon we’re in. It’s simply amazing what these people know out here in the country.”
He looked at the cook again.
“Until what grade did you stay in school?” he asked.
“Until fourth grade,” she said with a proud smile, hands crossed in front of her apron.
“Simply amazing,” Alberto said as he sat down. “What’s there to eat? Fix me up a bowl of that yucca soup. I’m hungry.”
“Clarito, mi pobrecito, aqui viene su sopita caldita con yuccadita.” she said.
I could tell Alberto enjoyed the feeling of being served. He was used to it. Expected it. After 10 years of working in cafes and restaurants, it made me cringe.
But that didn’t matter, our stomachs were settled by then. The coffee was breaking down the cheese, and the cheese was pushing through the cheap white hamburger buns.
Sergio, Ania and I got up, thanked the cook, and changed into our dirty clothes. It was time to work. I picked up a broken shovel, Ania grabbed an old machete and we walked downhill into the mud and the pricker bushes and the donkey shit and into the future coffee fields.
La Merced Alta, Ecuador - © Diego Cupolo 2012