By Jenny DeWitt, Grounds for Change.
Our last visit to coffee country was to Corral de Piedra. Again, the roads wrecked havoc on our journey. We wound our way up a narrow road that clung to the hillsides and stopped many times due to road construction or the occasional group of cows lounging in the road. Our bus driver was getting frustrated with our travels so we realized that our time in Corral de Piedra would be limited by a late arrival and the fact that the bus driver made it very clear that he would not repeat our trip down the mountain in the dark.
The community of Corral de Piedra is religious and stoic. In the other communities we visited, the people wore t-shirts and jeans but the women in Corral de Piedra wear long, black, gathered skirts with white, long sleeve shirts, hand woven belts, and large, straw hats. As if that weren’t enough to look at, these women do not let their hands sit idle and they are constantly spinning wool onto a handheld spindle. They carry the wool in woven blankets that they tie at one shoulder so that the bulk of wool rests across their backs.
By comparison, the children of Corral de Piedra are, well, children! The girls dress like the women, but light – long black skirts, with t-shirts and scarves that they tie like US children might tie a cape. Instead of the straw hats, they wear bucket hats. The boys (and men) wear khakis or jeans and button down or t-shirts. The day of our visit, the children were having a ball! They were excited by our arrival and they ran around, dancing, waving and jumping up and down. Later after lunch, they figured out how to set off the alarm on the bus and they took great glee in doing that. This of course was frowned upon by the bus driver!
Once the introductions were made, we were presented with a glorious lunch. The women in the community each prepared a dish that was tucked in the blanket on their back. At lunch time, they untied the blankets, laid them out on tables like a tablecloth, and opened the lids to their dishes. It was quite something and the array of offerings was fantastic: many types of corn, lentils, rice, potatoes and yucca. They also produced jugs of coffee concentrate which was a perfect addition.
Interesting to note that there were posters of cooperative rules and proper hygiene on the walls of the community building in which we met. The community centers in communities were not only places to gather for celebrations but also were places to meet for cooperative meetings and education.
After lunch, the women wanted to share their handcrafts with us and they laid out a table full of lovely handmade bags, blankets, and belts for us to purchase. Everything was vibrant and bold and I am sure they sold almost everything they put out. We were able to bring home the simple flap bags they used while picking coffee cherries, the blankets they wore on their backs and used as tablecloths, and the very belts they wore around their waists – all decorated with meaningful patterns important in their community.
Once our purchases had been made, the community leaders showed us their new greenhouse. The University of Michigan sent students to the community to build this greenhouse so the people could grow their own vegetables. The project was top-notch and included a small irrigation stream that was diverted from the river that flowed nearby. There were baby plants planted in the soil under the house and everyone was quite excited about it. Near the house was a bare spot where the members hope to build their wet mill.
Next we walked to a coffee field and got to see something unexpected: yellow coffee cherries. Not all coffee cherries are red and the yellow variety was quite striking against the beautiful woven patterns of the traditional clothing these ladies wore. The lighting in this field was quite magical too but the terrain was rough and uneven, and so it wasn’t a good time for us to practice our own picking skills.
Our bus driver was following us as we walked down the road to visit farms, so the message was coming through loud and clear that we needed to go before dark and before the roads became even more difficult to navigate. We had to make quick goodbyes to Corral de Piedra and its brightly-fabriced community members and playful children. While my nerves were a bit more activated for this drive due to the animals we had seen on our way up the hills, we were able to get some amazing views as we wound down to Chiclayo during sunset.
Next: Day 4 >>