Thursday, March 28, 2013

Coffee Tour

Tuesday was no doubt my favorite day so far. Though I've only been living in the Pacific Northwest for three years, I have transformed into a true Washingtonian--I love coffee. Going on a tour of a coffee plantation was one of the things I was most excited about for this trip. It's easy to grab a coffee between classes and not think about where it comes from. After this tour, I have a completely new appreciation for the hard work that goes into my 12 oz nonfat caramel latte.

We met our two guides and translator in the village of San Miguel. After hearing Alberto and Lesbia gush with pride about their village, we trekked out of town. Our feet dragged through powdery dirt and two dogs (whom we later found out live at Lesbia's house) followed us. The road inclined up and up and Lesbia pointed out various landscape details on the way--baby coffee plants, avacado trees, orange trees in the distance. The dogs bounded through empty fields and the sun beat down on us as we winded through the roads to reach Lesbia's father-in-law's land. She explained that her land is over an hour's walk away--much too far for our group to reach in a day, but amazing to think of the walk she makes regularly. While walking to the field, Lesbia told us about the co-op that her fields are in--As Green as it Gets. The story goes: Many of the local people are very untrustworthy of "westerners" coming in and trying to start a business with them, because they have all been exploited in the past. A man came and wanted to start a co-op of coffee growers to cut out the middlemen in the coffee export business and get more money to the locals. Though he talked to many farmers, only one man--Alberto--took him up on his offer. Alberto thought that he was being asked to pick coffee, but to his surprise, the man set him up with his own land and taught him how to grow and harvest coffee plants. After the locals saw that Alberto was being very successful, and treated fairly, they scrambled to sign up. There are now 29 families involved, and four women own their own fields. The coffee is harvested and shipped to the states as green beans (not yet roasted). The company then sells the coffee directly out of their warehouse in Minnesota. The profits go directly back to the farmers.

The friendly dogs that followed us

We reached the land and Alberto showed us how to pick the berries: grab the red berries, and the darker the better. Many of us had baskets strapped onto our waists and we twisted through the plants, grabbing whatever red berries we could find. Lesbia told us how many coffee pickers work in the fields for 10-12 hours a day picking coffee berries and only make 50 Quetzals a day, which is about 12 dollars. Though we only picked for about 20 minutes, our group was tired from the long walk up and reaching high into the plants for ripe berries. I can't imagine doing this all day every day.

After gathering our berries into one large basket that Alberto carried, we headed back down to the village to Lesbia's house to watch the rest of the steps involved in making coffee. Her house is a small collection of rooms formed from concrete bricks. She told us that 25 people live in  this small space. Her family was busy dying sawdust to make carpets for holy week as we packed into the tiny space. A little girl shyly told me her name was Emily. "Me llamo Emily, too!" I said, and she just smiled at me. Alberto weighed our beans--10 pounds--and showed us how to de-pulp them. He poured the bag into a funnel attached to a stationary bike. When pedaled, the machine sends the berries through the funnel, taking the berries off of one side and shooting the beans onto the other. In just a few minutes, our 10 pounds of beans were there. The drying process takes days, so we could not roast the beans we had just picked, but Lesbia showed us the beans we were going to roast. We tried de-husking some of them, just taking off the outer layer of the beans, and seeing the green coffee beans remain. Lesbia took us into her kitchen and poured the beans over a fire on a tortilla maker. The large clay surface heats evenly, so the beans can get a more consistent roast. We all helped her stir the beans until they had a even, dark roast and the kitchen was packed with the aroma of fresh coffee. Lesbia put the beans on a large rock and we ground it with a sort of stone rolling pin. She helped us finish grinding the beans and then made us a strong pot of coffee to try. It was smooth and sweet--easily the best coffee I've ever had. We all loaded our arms with bags of coffee and fondly exchanged good-byes with Lesbia and Alberto. Despite the language barrier, I think we made a great connection with Lesbia and her family. Across countries, coffee brings us together.

Lesbia's son helping feed through the beans
Lesbia showing us how to roast the beans
From the berry to the cup--delicious coffee

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Palm Sunday and Village Visits

Our group woke up early on Palm Sunday to head into town. It was our first day of procession celebrations and the first I'd seen any programs for Semana Santa--Holy Week. Just passing by a church I'd seen before, quiet and calm, showed the juxtaposition of the experience. It was now bustling with food vendors, and many people selling cloths, jewelry, and flutes. We made our way to Escuela de Christo, a church where we thought the Passion was going to be performed. Antigua does not release the Holy Week schedules until the day of, so we were disappointed to find out that the Passion was not at this church. We bought elaborate palms, however, and people watched for a few minutes.

Andrew and me with our palms

We continued on to a Catholic Church that is a hospital for the physically and mentally handicapped. There were rows of people in wheelchairs, with different levels of disabilities, awaiting the Blessing of the Palms. Nuns in full habits intertwined through the parked wheelchairs and grasped the hands of the hospital residents. Their faces stretched with smiles and a few crossed themselves, demonstrating the simple joy of a holiday and a pure love of life. A priest emerged from the church and performed the blessing, dousing the crowd in holy water and incense as we shook our palms joyfully in the air. Though I could not understand the service, it was still a beautiful experience.

As we passed through Parque Central again, we were surprised and elated to see the Passion being performed--we found it! We watched Jesus bless the Woman at the Well and peeked behind us to see Zacchaeus perched in a tree observing. After watching for a while, we went to La Merced, the main cathedral in town. Finally, we were going to see our first of the many Holy Week processions. The crowd pushed us against the walls of the houses and I craned my neck to see the elaborate carpet on the ground. Dozens, if not hundreds, of men in purple robes and white head wear lined the streets. Men dressed as Centurion Soldiers pressed us closer and closer together and we finally saw the enormous float come around the corner. 80 men were carrying the 8000 pound float on their shoulders, grimacing as the weight and heat pressed them into the ground. Though they were obviously in pain, it was clear that the somber procession was a deeply cultural and spiritual experience for them. As though they were helping carry the cross for Jesus, the men shouldered the weight with pride and determination. A band played somber music behind the float and despite the heat and dozens of vendors around us, it was an intensely religious experience.

A few of the carpets on the street

As Holy Week took a few days to pause in the celebrations, we soldiered on in exploring Antigua. On Monday morning, we were given a full tour of Common Hope, the NGO we are staying at and with which University Congregation is affiliated. The organization was started as a way to increase education in a predominantly uneducated and illiterate country. Children and, by proxy, families are sponsored by generous donors abroad. These sponsorships give a child school supplies, a uniform, free access to a clinic and healthcare, and opportunities for housing and other living supplies. Common Hope is not a hand out organization, but instead requires the families to put in hours for some projects such as housing. I believe that the future of developing nations lies in community development programs based on empowerment instead of direct hand outs. Common Hope works hard to help people help themselves, as well as encourage children to graduate high school in a country where most students don't make it past elementary school. After the tour, a few of our group committed to sponsoring a child. If you are interested in learning more about the organization or sponsoring a child, please check out their website here.

In the afternoon, we went on a tour of the nearby villages, or pueblos, of Antigua. If Antigua seemed shrouded in poverty, the pueblos were an unexpected cultural shock for someone like me, who has only traveled in the Western World. Each village we visited centered around the church. The people are proud of their places of worship and the space around them. In the last village we visited, there was a Holy Week vigil going on. The church's theme was Jesus feeding the 5,000 and the scene was complete with a elaborate set design, complex airbrushed sand carpet, and various offerings of fruit and bread. The community comes together to make the celebration happen, and it is an amazing example of combined effort producing beautiful results.

The backdrop of the village church


Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala- Our First Few Days

University Congregation and Campus Ministry sponsored a trip to Antigua, Guatemala to celebrate Holy Week in a city rich in faith, culture, and tradition. Including myself, there are seven students and six adults on this trip. It's hard to put all of our experiences so far into one post because this experience has been filled with amazing memories. I'll try my best, though, and hopefully give you a taste of our amazing adventure.

We left late on Thursday (3/22) from Seattle. After a long red-eye flight and an even longer layover in Atlanta, we were on our flight (sitting first class, I might add) to Guatemala City. "I don't know quite what to expect when we land," I wrote in my journal on the  plane. I've never traveled to Latin America before, and with barely a word of Spanish under my belt, my excitement was coated with a nervousness for this experience. We landed in Guatemala City and made the shaky drive to Antigua from the airport. After settling in at Common Hope, our home away from home, a few of the group went into town to buy groceries and change money. Maggie and I stayed behind, tossing a frisbee and exploring the vast grounds of Common Hope. After our group was reunited, we all traveled into town for dinner at a beautiful Guatemalan restaurant. We all sampled each others dinners and a few of us danced with natively dressed dancers to a live marimba band. Even in this first night I could feel the culture of this place engulfing me.

My dinner- el plato typicale

Saturday morning was my first excursion into the city during the day. We came into Parque Central to meet our tour guide, Elizabeth Bell. She was the perfect person to give us a tour of Antigua--she is passionate about the historical preservation of the town as well as, in her words, "getting behind walls of the city." So much of the history we experience is sheltered behind plexiglass, but in Antigua we were able to stand in ruins from the 1500s, visit many small museums of art, and climb down into a crypt with exposed human remains. As morbid as it sounds, it was truly fascinating to feel like I was living  inside a shell of what Antigua looked like over 500 years ago.

Standing inside ruins from the 1500s

After departing from Elizabeth's tour, our group split up and the students went to find food. We chose a restaurant Elizabeth had suggested that is famous for its authentic Guatemalan food. Like before, we sampled each others food and enjoyed a relaxing two hour lunch in company with each other. A few people went to the market to get food for dinner and the rest further explored the city. A group of haggard individuals, we made our way back to Common Hope for a relaxing evening and delicious dinner.

In just two days, I have fallen in love with this city. I am continually humbled and surprised by the eager hospitality of Guatemala. In exiting a church Saturday morning, our group was stopped by a man thanking us for visiting his city. Coming from a country where we so often segregate the 'other', to be graciously welcomed into a foreign place without any judgement or animosity filled me with a warm sense of belonging.There is so much that these people, who have so little, have to offer.


Monday, March 25, 2013

PLU ASB 2013 Trip Participants 

PLU ASB 2013 Send-Off

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 

PLU Alternative Spring Break participants were invited to chapel for the Commissioning of Alternative Spring Break trips.  Representatives from the four ASB trips, Parkland Plunge, Parkland Staycation, Utah National Parks, and Guatemala Holy Week attended the chapel service and joined together to kick-off the start of the spring break trips.  Trip participants were asked to wear their blue T-shirts (as shown above) and  pose for this picture.  Thanks to Dennis and Nancy for a wonderful chapel service and to all the trip organizers for their work on these trips.