Lives of Coffee: A Humble Beginning for a Great Journey
(from Passion for Coffee by Patricia McCausland-Gallo)
Antonio is a grown man, many years past the age of his retirement, but who loves the land and coffee. “I am from Aguadas, Caldas, and was brought here by an uncle when I was 18 years old … I was illiterate and learned to sign my name when I was 22, with a teacher who taught me at night.” Today, this great man is the manager of a beautiful coffee farm in Colombia. When he was young, he tied a basket around his waist and went to pick coffee and tend the mules. The uncle who was in charge of Antonio moved from the area, leaving the boy behind with the new farm owners. While they got to know him better, he worked tending the mules. But the new owners had problems with the farm, and sold it. They recommended Antonio to the next owners, who hardly saw him or heard from him, but knew he was working hard without stopping and was learning without rest. He got married and had three children who grew up in the coffee fields. As they grew, Antonio progressed; he was now the boss and drove a jeep. He taught his children how to drive and do all the tasks that he knew how to do. “I would take them out to drive the jeep when they were 8 or 9; I loaded the car with wood and went out . . . and I would run into my boss who would ask if they had a driver’s license . . . when I least expected it he would show up and would reprimand me, but thank God nothing eventful happened while we drove around these slopes.”
He likes this land, the country. He studies it carefully, and according to the phases of the moon he plans the plantings and the socas (cuttings). He learns from nature when he cultivates, and says that is why there are no large ant hills or pests in his coffee bushes. He plants all sorts of trees as well: plantain, orange, tangerine, lemon, and Peruvian guava; beanstalks, passion fruit, and corn; and roots such as potato and yucca. He plants because he likes it, and because he knows that the fruits they bear will provide workers their daily sustenance, a variety of products they can eat, and with which they can prepare refreshing beverages after a hard day’s work. The coffee plant tenders and weeders live among the crops in white houses with red doors, decorated with plenty of flowers, and with impeccable kitchens. Coffee pickers work from Monday through Friday, and on weekends they go into town to visit their families, have fun, and rest.
We arrive at the matarratón trees hill, above the schoolhouse, and he continues his story. ”Time came to send the first one (son) to the army and my wife cried,” says Antonio. “I was happy; I told myself, ‘Let them take him away and send him back a man, and teach him to be brave.’” He speaks happily about his children until he mentions his third-born, and lowers his voice to talk about the motorcycle accident that killed him a few months ago. I am accompanied by my daughter, Isabella, who is helping me take pictures, and I feel pain in the bottom of my heart.
All of sudden, a cell phone rings. For the first time, this small device that has learned to meddle in our lives rings with perfect timing, snapping Antonio back to life and happiness. The call is to ask him something and he tells us that before, nobody would call him because he would be lost in the bushes and nobody could find him. But today, they can see him drive his car from far away and they immediately ring him to ask him to bring something or to pick them up. One can tell that he likes to help others, and with a big smile he replies that he will pick them up shortly. We continue and pick up his three-year-old grandson and the child’s father, his daughter’s husband, and we continue talking and taking pictures of the coffee bushes.
Once night falls, Antonio concludes that at his sixty-some years he is healthy because while he is on coffee lands: “Here I get up at 5:30, go out. and walk. The day goes by without me noticing, I don’t even feel the weeks. I don’t even feel like going home, this land means everything to me.”
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