Rachel and I picking coffee. The full baskets are about a half a bucket, which Nicas get paid 25 Cordoba for.

Ah, la vaca ya se va,

Ay, la vaca ya se fue,

Eee, la vaca esta aqui!

Oh, la vaca se ahogo,

Ooo, the vaca eres tu!

– children’s rhyme

I spent three days picking coffee, relaxing, and working in vegetable gardens in the settlement of Sontule in the National Reserve of Miraflor, where my friends Rachel and Simon have been staying part time for several months.  It was nice to meet so many new people, and I didn’t mind at all being “the other Raquel!”  Friends of your friends become your friends quickly, and that’s what happened.

Some end of the evening couples dancing at Fabrizio's party!

We arrived on a celebratory weekend, with two birthday parties.  Saturday Ivancito celebrated his 11th birthday, and Sunday Fabrizio turned 3.  I was pleased to find an auspicious absence of the pounding reggaeton that the dance scene in León thrives on, because the children at both parties preferred dancing to their rock and roll!  The party for Fabrizio began with a blessing from an Evangelical minister, who talked sternly about “keeping calves tied up so they don’t go down the wrong path” and being roll models for our children.   The actual party started when he finally finished rambling and they sang a nice song that invites the grandparents, then the children, then the women, and finally all the men to come up and greet the birthday child.

Brian, who is 6, taught me many little rhymes while we picked his Dad's parcel of coffee.

Coffee picking was a blast.  The song above, a silly little rhyme, is one of the many that the children and their parents chanted in the fields while picking.  The coffee is planted in rows, which sometimes converge and divulge confusingly, and is nearly always planted on a pretty serious slope.  We arrived at the end of the harvest, which was probably good, because the mood was very relaxed.  We also were stripping the bushes of everything left, and didn’t have to worry about quality control.  In this community, everyone pitches in and helps, and the harvest, which happens during school vacation, is a chance for the kids to earn some pocket money.  We had a wonderful time teasing them about stealing from us, and I challenged Ivancito to a picking contest and won – but not by much!

I learned a bit about coffee, and a lot more about how long term investment of social projects can really affect the quality of rural life.  Sontule has received quite a lot of attention from a women’s rights group in Estili, who come and offer workshops for both the women and young men in the village.  In addition there are three cooperatives that among other things work with coffee production, eco-tourism, vegetable gardens, and education.  The result – an impressively enlightened and well educated rural community.  Possibly most immediately visible are the results of the feminist organization, Xilonen.  The women talk easily about their hardships, are encouraged to co-counsel and learn concepts of psychology, and some of the men are very open about needing to change the accepted role of men by helping to cook, clean, and wash clothes.  The conscious examination of gender roles in everyday life are visible even down to the absence of the reggaeton I had noticed at the children’s parties, which many community member discourage because of its vulgar language toward women (similar to many criticisms of rap artists in the states).   Clearly this is a slow and difficult process, but one that with the support of Xilonen is fulfilling and gratifying for many of  Sontule’s residents.

Quien roba pan de la casa de San Juan?

Ivancito roba pan de la casa de San Juan!!

Quien, yo?

Si, tu!

No fui!

Entonces quien?

Raquel roba pan de la casa de San Juan!

– chant similar to the English game “Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?”