The Meaning of Life

You ask me about life. I've never thought about it - there is no time for thinking, only surviving. I've known death as much as life. Two years ago my husband was killed in the mountains by men with guns. No-one knows why he was shot in the head. But the mountain areas are dangerous. Not just the guns, but the volcanoes and earthquakes too, so we keep away.

Meet Camila, my daughter. There are 5 of us in the family now, and she is the oldest. So I must teach her all there is to know. She will have to take over the family if I fall sick or am unable to work to keep them.

Most days she comes with me to the plantation, where we pick the fruits of the arabica tree to make your coffee. It is unforgiving work; high on the slopes in the heat of the midday sun, it is exhausting and unrewarding. If the harvest is good, together, we can usually earn enough to feed the family. Most of the women from the village work there with me, and my second daughter, who is eleven, will soon be able to join us.

The man from the government said that what we do is important for our country. He would help us. But when the harvest fails, and we have no work, he and his help are nowhere to be seen. It is the same when we go to collect our wages from Miguel, the man who keeps the plantation. Sometimes he is unable to pay us. He says it's because the amount of coffee we grow varies, but the people who drink it always want the same. He talks about forces and markets, but all I know, these things make my family go hungry.

Miguel is a good man, but I am suspicious of the big man called The Exporter. He visits once a month in a large shiny car, and wears a lot of jewellery, especially for a man. Our nickname for him is The Wallet. He waves his hands unnecessarily, and I know he makes Miguel agree to arrangements he doesn't want. None of us trust The Wallet.

If I had the choice, this isn't how I would live. I'd prefer not to leave my children behind each day with my mother, for she is frail. I would like to make clothes and baskets to sell at the market. That way I could stay at home, and be sure of a regular income. Maybe even enough to by some picture books for my children. But for as long as I am unable to purchase the raw materials, it remains a dream. It would cost me over 5 dollars to get started, and it is impossible for me to save that much money.

I've heard that sometimes it is possible to borrow the money. There are people from other countries who will lend families like mine the money. It's hard to believe it is true. Is there no catch? We are used to people who squander money. The man from the Government is one of them. The rumour is that the coffee we pick goes towards paying the debt of our country. But Miguel says that for every dollar of debt, we have to pay twice, four, maybe ten times as much back, and still the debt stays. How can this be? I don't know. But I trust Miguel. And perhaps not everyone is bad.

I must be going soon. You can see all around that our homes have been destroyed, and there is much to be done. The worst storms we can ever remember came this year and washed our dwellings away. Mine stood over there, by the river bank. I managed to rescue my husband's clothes, my bible, and my children. We're safe now, that's what matters.

You ask me about life. Well, I suppose it is beginning anew. Death nearly took us in the night, but we refuse to give up that easily. We refuse. Things won't get worse, only better. Isn't that something to grasp onto? There is no time for thinking, but I think we are surviving.