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Lives of Coffee

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Lives of Coffee: The Hands That Feed

Argelia is a cook. Her life passes by peacefully, her days full of the greenery and joy that she provides the workers who arrive every day to eat her cooking. -no need for Prozac here. She works from Monday to Friday and rests Saturday and Sunday. She gets ready for the following week when she is told the number of people who will be working and eating her delicious stews and breads. She is a tall, dark-haired, handsome woman. Her house is white with red windows and door, and a tiled roof. There are flower pots all around it and near the house she has planted plantains, peppers, and lemon trees to make lemonade, wood for her kitchen and lots of love. There is also a cross, made of bamboo or what we call guadua, that is over two meters long and about which I’m embarrassed to ask, it is all about nature, the Lives of Coffee and those who live and die around it.

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In her kitchen we find clean pots, shiny as mirrors, hanging on the wall, ready to be used. On the fire there are cast iron pots with steaming sancocho, rice, and thick red beans that she prepares daily, as they are a must for the evening menu. She looks out her kitchen window at her daughter while we talk. Then she comes out and offers us some guava juice from guavas picked from a tree in her garden, sweet and refreshing for an afternoon like today, when we have walked the field looking for ideal picture locations to show you about the Lives of Coffee. Her husband, silently sitting at a table, keeps her company today because he is convalescing. Her daughter helps her during the afternoon chores and is never far from her mother, whom we listen to and photograph.

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Argelia cooks daily on a fixed schedule for seventy or so workers with big appetites. At dawn she offers them a tinto, a hot cup of aromatic black coffee to send them off to work. A couple of hours later, while it is still cold, it’s breakfast time. While she heats the water to make agua de panela and prepares thick, smooth chocolate, she bakes the arepas made of just-ground corn, which she will serve hot and golden. Thus concludes the first morning stage, of her Lives of Coffee, which gives the workers the strength to pick coffee until midday. When the sun hits strongest and the air has changed and become warmer, everyone returns to Argelia’s for lunch. She varies the menu every day; it can be a sancocho with yucca and plantain, rice soup, pasta and meat, or other comforting and nutritious favorites from the land, that send the workers back to their daily tasks loaded with energy and vitality after having shared that touch of life provided by the kitchen’s boss. The sun sets, the daily tasks conclude, and once supper is prepared, the workers return. They remain at Argelia’s until late, resting or playing tejo or cards or merely chatting, before rising again the following day at 5:30 to enjoy the sendoff tinto. One day in the Lives of Coffee.

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Carrying coffe bean

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Patricia McCausland-Gallo is a nutritionist, pastry chef, teacher, and food writer born in the Caribbean town of Barranquilla, Colombia. She has a B.S. in Foods and Nutrition from Louisiana State University, attended a School for Retort Operations, and completed courses of instruction prescribed by the Food and Drug Administration.