“Lack of something to feel important about is the greatest tragedy a man may have.” Arthur Ernest Morgan
A laborer on a coffee plantation explaining to me his poverty. He said, “There are three things we need to survive. We need food, clothing and medicines but one is always lacking. We earn only enough on a coffee farm to buy two while working.” Slaves originally did the back-breaking work in the coffee fields; however the workers in the fields that we knew during the fifties, lived only a slight cut above slavery.
These “colonos” lived in row housing with no electricity, no running water and no indoor toilets. It was a hard life especially for the mothers and their children. Some “colonos” would get a share of the coffee production in trade for labour. In those cases the women and children bent their backs in the fields, everyone doing their best to put rice and beans on the table.
They did not pick the coffee beans when they looked like small red cherries though they say those beans produced a better tasting coffee. The coffee bushes were about eight feet tall and planted in rows. The workers would clean the leaves and loose dirt from under the trees using wide hoes so that during harvest the workers knocked the dried coffee beans to the ground. From there they scooped them up to be winnowed by hand. Then the beans were placed on large brick drying floors. Later the bags of beans were taken to a machine—“a máquina de benefício” that would remove the bean husks and prepare the beans for roasting or export.
It was on one such farm we met a lovely family. The four girls, all in their teens, worked with the dad in the fields with the mother helping as she could. When their rough farm clothing were changed to their Sunday best they would fit right into our society. Black hair, light skin and Latin faces made them stand out. And since most Brazilians have a lot of Latin blood and with that an artistic bent. The result? The four girls sang the hymns of the church in lovely harmony.
There was no perfume more enticing than the wafting aroma of coffee being processed in the torradeira–roaster in the village. When it was roasting the tantalizing smell would be carried over our home. Nothing would trigger a desire for that dark demi-tasse cup, the “cafezinho” more than that smell. That reminds me of what Brazilians say when they taste our Canadian coffee. “One has to drink a gallon of water to get a cup of coffee.”
Coffee production in Brazil is called “the wave that passes.” The reason is that growing coffee depletes the soil that never was rich. So when the coffee cycle is finished another type of farming takes over.
The workers on the coffee plantations were barely paid a living wage. They often moved to earn just a few more centavos. Occasionally we would see a donkey and a cart piled high with a family’s earthly goods. I would wonder if they might be going from the frying pan into the fire. The aroma of roasting coffee in the air did more than make us want a cup. It reminded us of the poor, desperate people trying to scratch out a living and raise their families.
Luiz first came to the hall as a poor boy out in coffee country because he loved music. Converted, baptized and talented he has sung in city-wide crusades. Wow and amen!