A break from the city, time to relax in a tranquil little town, and all the coffee we ever wanted to drink. What a wonderful ten days our group spent in the coffee growing community of Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. While we spent a lot of time embracing local culture: sitting around, talking, and watching the world go by, and playing soccer, we also spent a lot of time learning.
The community we stayed in is part of the coffee cooperative Just Coffee or Café Justo. The growers started the cooperative with the help of Mark Adams and Tommy Bassett in the early 2000’s, and now it fuels the economy of Salvador Urbina. With Café Justo providing fair wages for its members, it has enabled a number of the community members to remain in Salvador Urbina, when in many similar communities people are forced to migrate to find work in the United States to provide for their families. This lesson tied in nicely with the focus on immigration we started the semester with at the Arizona/Mexico border and had continued with during our time in Guatemala City.
While in Salvador Urbina, from Tuesday, April 5 to Friday, April 15, our group was led by Tommy Bassett. We stayed with host families, two to four students to a family, and had breakfast and lunch with them. We used our Spanish skills to explain to our families what we have been doing all semester and why we wanted to learn about their community. We always ate supper together as a group at the Café Justo warehouse or bodega. During the day, we often had lots of free time, but we also had some activities scheduled to learn more about the community. On Wednesday, our first full day there, we went with two of the cooperative members to their coffee parcels to see what a real shade grown coffee farm looks like. They explained about the many types of trees and everything about how they care for the plants. All the trees were grown on steep hills and kept at a height where coffee pickers could reach them. All of the harvest must be done by hand because every coffee tree is different and the terrain is not ideal for automating coffee harvesting. The next day, we had a tour of the warehouse and all the machinery used to process the coffee before it is sent to the cooperative’s roaster in Agua Prieta, near the border of Arizona and Mexico. We also attended a weekly meeting of the cooperative that evening.
On Friday, we went to Tapachula, the third largest city in the state of Chiapas. We visited the Buen Pastor Migrant Resource Center that works with migrants who’ve been injured while trying to get to the US border. Many have lost limbs as a result of using the rail system and the migrant resource center works with them to get prosthetics. After the resource center, we enjoyed some free time in the central plaza of Tapachula and then went to some Mayan ruins close by. Our weekend was free, but it filled quickly with plans of swimming and soccer. Then, on Monday, we met with the mayor and then with Mama Joli, the mother of the mayor and many members of the cooperative. On Tuesday, our group took a truck ride to El Aguila to see a beautiful waterfall and swim at the base of it. Then we went to see Adan Mendes, a member of the cooperative who lives in El Aguila and also runs a water purification system out of his house for the community of El Aguila. Wednesday, we visited the school and got to see many of our host siblings in their classes. Thursday, we visited the clinic and then the library.
We spent a lot of time reflecting as a group on what we had seen and learned. We also had plenty of free time to reflect by ourselves, journal, visit the families of other group members, play soccer and card games, and explore the town. While it was a bit more rustic than some of us are accustomed to, it was still a very pleasant ten days and a change from the fast pace and big feel of Guatemala City. I really enjoyed getting to know my host family and getting to wander around to other group members’ families or just do nothing. And many people in our group, including me, enjoyed the many opportunities to drink very good coffee.