Friday, January 27, 2012

Harvest [Coffee]

Coffee beans started turning from green... red in November... 

...causing another round of harvesting.

Since what gets picked is color coded, the kids and I got to be involved.

The goods get put into large costal bags which the men haul... the cooperative to be weighed.  
They often carry 100-200 pounds worth of product for kilometers over steep, muddy, treacherous terrain...

...and then up the cooperative hill.... be de-pulped...


...and sorted by quality.

The high quality stuff gets sold and exported, the low quality stays in the community to be toasted and consumed in heavily sweetened mugs at every meal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Harvest [Cardamom]

The Cardamom harvest got under way in October, and has been going strong ever since.

A typical house surrounded by cardamom fields.

The tops of the plants are big reaching leafy fronds, 
at the base are the flowers and seed pods.

Although they look the same from the outside, some pods are ready to pick (those with the black seeds) and some are still immature (those with the white). Those in the know go through and invariably pluck the ones with black, coming back through two to three weeks later to get the next round of ripe cardamom further down on the stem.

It's tiring work, requiring bending over to the ground to reach the seed pods.

Once picked, they are gathered together and taken to the cooperative...

...where they are bought and put into huge wood-fired driers. Once dry, the coop sells the "pergamino" abroad where it is processed. I haven't met any Guatemalans who have tasted cardamom, despite it being the main income in my community and many villages in my area.  

I bought some cardamom while home in the States for the holidays. 
If anyone knows a simple recipe using cardamom, please post it in the comments. 
I'd love to share the flavor with my host family and the women in my cooking groups.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Vacation [Stateside]

In December I went to California for the holidays. My parents, sister, and future brother-in-law all flew in, and we saw my grandparents, two sets of aunts and uncles and some cousins on my dad's side of the family. It was the first time I have spent with family and my first time in the States since August 2010.

The whole experience was surreal in that it felt so very normal. After such a long absence I somehow expected it to be hard to pick up where I had left off, but that's the nature of family at its best; the important things don't change, and the things that do change all get rolled into the mix with good cheer. We ate, drank, laughed, cried, celebrated, lazed, and worked where appropriate. I walked the beach, visited the Monarch butterfly grove, went sea kayaking, took a trip to admire the opulence and finery at Hearst Castle, did some wedding dress shopping with my sister, and met my cousin's new little baby.

There were two moments that particularly struck my Guatemalan sensibilities.

Moment 1: Scarcity and Abundance

When I arrived in Texas to change flights, I went through customs and with a thrill filled up my water bottle from the drinking fountain. Free, cold, drinkable water. I hadn't realized that I needed to go through security again to board my new flight. I approached the line and a TSA agent told me I needed to dump out my bottle. I stared at him. At my mostly full Nalgene. Quailed at the waste. Considered chugging the whole thing there and then.

Mentally I knew that there was another drinking fountain on the other side of the security scanners, ready to dispense more free, cold, drinkable water. I knew that we use potable water to flush toilets in the US. This wasn't a huge deal. Emotionally, I reacted as someone who lives in a community that subsists on captured rain water, where I bring in drinkable water from the nearest city and where the dry season means limited bathing, laundry, and dishes.

I looked at the garbage can where he pointed. Took one swallow of water. Poured it out. Went on.

Moment 2: Serenity and Anxiety

One evening at my grandparents house my uncle announced he was heading back to the hotel for the evening. On foot. After dark. Someone offered to drive him, but he shrugged it off and said he'd enjoy the exercise on such a nice night.

My stress level spiked. My stomach tied into knots. I reminded myself we were not in Guatemala, and that pick-pockets, muggers, and kidnappers were hardly likely to target my uncle in a sleepy little beach town in California.

He left, spent the night in the hotel, and arrived back at the house the following morning without incident.  

At the end of the vacation, I mistily hugged each family member, content that at least this time I know I'll be seeing them all again much more quickly than the last span of 16+ months apart. I had a great little bonus visit with a childhood friend who was also vacationing in San Francisco, and then made the trip home to Guatemala.

I stepped back into my life here without much thought, again, things felt surreal in that they felt so normal. How can I comfortably inhabit  the world of Scarcity and Anxiety, as well as Serenity and Abundance? In the US airports I made small talk with strangers, sat between iPad and laptop users while I happily read on my Kindle, and took out my wallet without a second thought as I swiped purchases on my credit card. In the Guatemalan airport I smoothly picked up my defensive living habits of hiding valuables, stowing cash all over my body, and judiciously choosing who to make eye contact with or smile at.

As I walked down the muddy path to the house I share with my host family, my three host siblings shouted my name and ran to me to help carry my bags. I stumbled over the Q'eqchi', but it came out alright. Canchita meowed plaintively at me while I fumbled with the keys, but one look at her plump self assured me she was by no means neglected in my absence. In the evening I walked into the kitchen with my glass of water and tore into the fresh tortillas, easily using them in place of silverware to ferry food to my mouth. Sometimes I wonder what it is I am accomplishing here, but at the very least, I have made a home.