Where Does Your Coffee Come From? A Day in the Life of a Ngobe Coffee Picker

Fernando wakes up before the sun has even risen. The darkness surrounds him as he stumbles into his clothes for the day. His wife pulls some gallo pinto-rice and beans off the fire. He sits and eats his meal, sharing a few minutes with his wife before waking his son. Juan complains about getting up, but most teenage boys don’t seem to like morning time anyway. Juan chokes his food down, and they both leave to trek out to the coffee fields. Fernando greets his fellow Ngobe tribesmen and heads silently into the fields. The sun begins to peek over the horizon. Fernando grabs Juan’s shoulder and points it out. Juan smiles. They both stand for just a moment to watch the sun creep into the sky. The low-hanging clouds turn orange and pink, and Fernando can’t stop watching. The sunrise always makes a great start to his day. Fernando and Juan pick up their 100-pound empty sacks and begin to pick the coffee “cherries.” The smell of coffee surrounds Fernando, filling his nostrils with its scent. He crushes missed berries under his feet, scanning the bushes for the ripe “cherries” and throwing them into his bag. Coffee always smells so fresh. Juan wonders how many bags they will fill today. He knows he still has several years ahead of him, but he hopes to have his own coffee farm to grow and sell coffee beans, just like his father and grandfather have done for decades. Fernando looks around and sees sons working alongside their fathers. What a beautiful picture of family! Because they need to pick at least 100 pounds a day, many teenagers work in the fields during coffee season to help out. Fernando returns his eyes to his work, knowing he will not get much done if he is not focusing. Most beginners will be lucky to pick 100 pounds a day. Fernando has been picking coffee for almost twenty years now. He is no beginner. He can sometimes pick up to 300 pounds per day. Sadly, out of a 100 pound bag, only 20 pounds are actual coffee bean. So even though Fernando picks 300 pounds, only 60 pounds of that is actual coffee bean. 5867722798_b1cdc9d0ce_oFernando works hard until noon. “Juan! Almorzamos! Let’s eat lunch!” In this coffee field, each Ngobe takes his lunch break when he is ready to eat. After all, they are paid by weight of the beans they pick, not by number of hours worked. Fernando and Juan eat rice and beans, accompanied with some freshly squeezed cas juice. It’s gotten very hot now, so it feels good to sit in the shade. However, Fernando doesn’t let himself rest too long. He needs to get those coffee beans picked. After lunch, he works until 4:00 or 5:00, whenever he meets the goal he has set for himself. Fernando calls Juan and checks how much Juan has picked. Juan hit the 90-pound mark! Buen hecho, hijo! Good job, son.” It is Juan’s first coffee picking season, and Fernando is proud of the progress he is making. After Juan’s first day, he was all sore muscles. However, now used to laboring like a man, Juan gives no more complaints. Fernando and Juan lug their sacks of coffee “cherries” over to the weighing station. How much did they produce? How much will they make? After weighing, the farm owner hands them their pay. Fernando wraps his arm around Juan’s shoulders, and they trudge back to their home. Fernando’s wife has some dinner ready; this time, there is rice, beans, and plantains. Fernando and Juan scarf down their dinners and sit around the fire to rest. Fernando’s little girls, Fiorella and Sara, run over to jump onto his lap. Sara hugs him and chatters to him about what they played that day. Fernando brushes their hair back from their faces and watches as baby Fiorella desperately tries to copy older Sara. As it starts to get dark, Fernando goes out and spends some time with the other men. They sometimes play card games or just talk. One of the best things about coffee picking season is that Fernando is so close to his Ngobe tribesmen. In a month or so, when all the coffee has been picked, Fernando will return to Comarca, a different part of Panama where their farm is. All Ngobe tribesmen own a piece of the reservation. Their income doesn’t come solely from coffee-picking. They also run farms in the other part of the year. But, they are a bit far from their neighbors on their farm in Comarca. Fernando returns to his home and kisses Fiorella and Sara goodnight. They are already fast asleep in their beds. Juan is stretched out, drifting off to sleep. Fernando ruffles his son’s hair. Then, Fernando hugs his wife. They stand embraced for a moment, staring into the dying fire. Te amo. I love you,” Fernando whispers. Then, fire burning low, they turn into bed. That is a Ngobe coffee picker’s typical day- tiring, but rewarding. Surrounded by a loving family, Fernando feels happy to take part in the coffee harvest every year in Panama.

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