Los especialistas

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There were so many shadows, it was as if the moon was shining down on trees.

This time, though, the countless lines and shapes on the dirt–spilling one on top of the other, indistinguishable–were not from the jungle, but from unfinished building beams, windows without glass, plastic chairs and bricks and a red sofa with a sinking middle cushion.

The shadows were from the cat, the dog, a pig carcass roasting over a smoldering fire–and from people. Us.

A dozen farmers–women, children, men–sitting around us in a circle and a half.

Though jungle was on all sides, the closest trees were meters away from our group, and the brightest light not the moon–not yet–but a sole lamppost covering us and all of the clearing in an unnatural orange.

“They want us to talk about the importance of sustainable farming practices,” Hans translated to me quietly.

I am transfixed by the color of Hans’ face and skin, an odd mix of its natural hue and the light overhead. The color reminds me of the juice I drank earlier that day. The freshest that I have ever had.

Time segues without me realizing it. It does that here. I catch words, I catch phrases, but I can’t quite catch the timing, and before I realize it, the chatter has tapered and Hans and Niles are cued to speak.

I watch them more than I hear them, piecing together the few words DuoLingo gave me, trying not to let the little Moroccan Arabic that I know filter in.

Thank you, they say, for what you do. It is so important. What you do–how you do it–it is so important.IMG_0048These are farmers with worn hands that have tended orange trees, coffee trees, yucca and mangos. These are farmers with wrinkled faces and shoes that have treaded up and down steep slopes, shoes that have seen lots and lots of dirt.

Dirt that crumbles and falls after rain.

They trigger memories of farmers from my South Dakota home, not so different, yet not so much alike, and I wonder to myself what it must be like to hear these two boys, these two men–especialistas–as they were introduced, thank them not just for their work, but really, for who they are.

This is traveling:

Going someplace entirely foreign, being wowed by its beauty and mystery, overanalyzing the smallest things that people say and do, and trying–without trying–to connect this collage of things to the life you perceived, until a plane ride ago, as normal.

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After the Americans finish, he stands up. He, the gatherer, the business owner, the native.

He, who grew up here and knows every backroad and every cowpath, where to cross the river and when, who to talk to and why and what the perfect coffee plant looks like.

He stands and he welcomes the co-op.

He then gives his battlecry–a long-winded rally speech, from the sounds of it. By the end, we’re impatient,  farmer and gringo alike, wiggling in our chairs–or stools, or cement blocks or what have you.

He asks, but there are no questions afterwards. We migrate indoors as a pack, crowd a single table and feast on all-parts pig.IMG_0096The next day I am sitting in the back of a pickup, watching trees and palm branches and rocks and boulders and birds–yellow-tailed birds with strange songs–fly by me at an inhuman speed.

Thrilling speed.

As the wind plays with my hair and the bumpy road tips and pushes and pulls me in every single direction, I try to imagine if these people–the famers I ate with yesterday–and the people I grew up with–the farmers I have known my whole life–were to meet.

I wonder what my life would be if my dad farmed on a jungle mountain instead of on an endless prairie.

I wonder what my day, this day here and now, would be like if only I spoke the language a little better.

I wonder where the road ahead is taking us, where exactly we are going, and if this road is really a road at all.

I tighten my grip around the edges of the pickup, and I take a deep breath of all the air I can possibly breathe in.

And I exhale.

I exhale gratitude and joy and yes, a little fear, for this is new terrain, adventure and experience unlike any yesterdays before.

Because I know that, before long, it will all be over. And it is. Now a dream, a blur.

An image preserved only in my mind of a dozen farmers in a circle, lit by a single orange light, and a faint but lingering feeling of jungle wind in my hair.

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