We walk across stubbled fields, hopping from patch of grass to the next, under cotton puff clouds.
Carefully scaling the wobbling barbed wire fence, sharp spur jingling. Past a dirt-covered outhouse to the clump of trees that shade a tiny, two roomed house and kitchen.
As if already posing for the portrait I’ll take, the family patriarch, the don stands against the aged wood wall, bright blue shirt, shining cowboy hat and white hair gleaming against weathered brown face and hands. His wife, in a simple skirt, gray-white hair pulled back in a bun, a thin line of a smile, as she shades the sun with one hand and watches us approach. Gracious and welcoming. I can’t help but instantly like them.
We exchange the traditional hug and kiss on each cheek with a murmured “mucho gusto”. Then Martina sings out, “Lucy! Lucy!”
A flash of sunshine, as a girl of three, dark brown eyes and darker hair peeks around the corner in a ruffled yellow dress. Martina scoops her up, in a barrage of kisses and shared laughter. Vladimir’s daughter.
She pops Martina’s gift of a sucker into her mouth and stares at Spencer and I, from between her father’s legs.
Martina explains the project, the massive microphone that will record their conversation for a radio program back in the UK.
They listen intently. Then, with a nod, we’re recording.
The Don talks, quietly and constant, his gnarled stumps of hands sit folded in his lap. As his family listens, Vladimir smiles and nods, Lucy sucks on her lollypop as the blue band around her mouth grows. In the heat of the afternoon, I sip the hot coffee the don’s wife serves each of us, eager for a jolt of caffeine to make up for the lack of sleep and my “riding-a-horse-all-day” aches. Despite trying to focus with all the energy I have left, I catch only a word here and there. Meanwhile, Martina takes it all in and continues the conversation, in Spanish, without pause.
When it’s over, the Don smiles, we all relax a bit. The men pick up plastic buckets and belt them around their waists, a long stick in one hand, and we’re off to the coffee “fields”–which means heading across what we would consider a “field” and into the jungle.
Massive trees all but hide the coffee crop growing beneath its leaves. It’s like no other field. Tiers of green, the jungle leaves rustling high overhead, a cool canopy of shade for the sensitive, dark green leaves that cling to spindly sticks. At a glance, it seems like scraggly undergrowth, just over head high, stretching up the steep hillsides.
A closer look and I see them: red berries, like cranberries in size and hue, and a few green berries, ring around the branches of the coffee plants. Vladimir and his father position themselves up-slope of a plant. Using the pole to ratchet the plant down, in easier picking position. I watch, amazed, as the don’s seven-six year old fingers fly like magic. A whirl of activity. As he chats, bright berries plunk into the plastic bucket at his waist. A branch, then another, then another: in a minute or less, a plant is cleaned out.
He moves to another plant and another. Martina asks more questions. The jungle sun peeks through lush green foliage. I shuffle through the dead and dying leaves, shooting rapidly, trying to find every possible angle, trying to get the right shots, trying to capture this for Martina, worried I’ll get it horribly wrong, wishing I was more experienced, wishing I was a “real” photographer…feeling it again, that nervous tension in my chest that I don’t know how, that I’ll miss this, that I’ll fail.
I stare at the black plastic mechanism in my hand, and smile. We’ve been through so much, camera and I. Deep breath, it’ll all work out, it’ll be good (it doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be perfect), just trust yourself and try.
We start again, camera and I. Thinking of the coffee, the men and women who have spent their lives here harvesting it, the chance meetings, the chaos of life that plops you in the middle of a coffee field in Nicaragua, after racing ponies to get here. I’m smiling and shooting.
An idea. I’m not sure how to say it, so I ask Martina to help me ask the don to hold his super-fast hands perfectly still, in mid-picking motion.
Framed by dark-green leathery leaves and shadows, sunshine leaps from bold-red berries rest in the creased, brown hand of a Nicaraguan coffee farmer, in the Miraflor cloud-forest.