It's February, and you know what that means, don't you? No, February does not just signify Valentine's Day and Mardi Gras; for most Guatemalans, February is coffee-picking season. Many indigenous peoples from all parts of the country look forward to this time of year as a chance to make some extra money for their families. Coffee is one of Guatemala's main exports, and a huge source of income for the country as a whole. Unfortunately, most of that money never reaches the workers in the fields.
"We get twenty-five quetzals (about $3.50 U.S.) for every 100 lbs. of coffee beans we pick. Today wasn't such a good day, there are not many ripe beans left on the trees right now," Maria explained. She shrugged. "On a good day I can pick 150 lbs., if I start at seven a.m. Some days, we will only pick 25 lbs., though, and then we don't earn much (less than $1)."
All of the workers are indigenous peoples from various different regions of the country. "The jefes (managers) are arrogant and exploit the workers...they order them around, telling them to work faster," Luis explained. "The managers are also Guatemalan, but they have become rude as they were given power and more money." I remembered the many family members of our friends in Todos Santos (where Shawn and I were living) who had left to find work on fincas along the coast. Were they being treated poorly, too?
Despite these hard working conditions, some families actually look forward to the coffee-picking season. In addition to the money they earn, the families also enjoy the chance to spend some time together in a beautiful, lush environment. I myself was overwhelmed at how beautiful it was. Lush, green gravilea trees are planted amongst the rows of coffee trees to provide shade and to help the coffee grow. The deep roots of the large trees help bring up nutrients for the coffee plants, and their tall branches and wide leaves provide a pleasant shade.
Still, the next time I take a break at the local coffee shop, I'll be thinking of all the hard work that goes into making my cafe mocha. And all I have to do is sit and sip...
Team - What About the US? - The "Extermination" and "Termination" of a People
Shawn - Shots in the Night - Life in Todos Santos
Shawn - Close Quarters in Todos Santos
Abeja - You CAN teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Maia - Quetzal - The Flight to Freedom
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