I am riding in the back of a Ford Econoline van through the misty highlands of Chiapas, MX crawling down a road pock marked by deep holes. Occasionally we come around a corner to find large sections of the road have given way and we stare down at deep green ravines. Paco is an expert and so far we have avoided any major headaches or fiery disasters. I appreciate that.
We have just left Acteal and are now headed toward Aurora Esquipulas where we will get to see the progress of the water project that Just Coffee’s affiliated non-profit “Outside the Bean” has been supporting along with our friends at Higher Grounds and their affiliate “On the Ground”. I am starting to regret giving up the front seat of the van to a compa from Maya Vinic and am now bouncing around like a gringo superball in the backseat. I thought that it would bring back memories of touring around the American south– my mediocre bands always had Ford vans with couches thrown haphazardly in the rear. Instead of revisiting these memories, the bumps, twists, and turns have me ready to revisit last night’s taco dinner.
Acteal was solemn. The drizzle and low clouds shrouded the little chapel there the Acteal massacre began 14 years ago. Inside bullet holes still mark the walls and ceiling and black crosses have been placed to commemorate the martyrs who died there. The silence in the chapel was complete and there is no sound outside but the gentle rhythm of the rain on the metal roofs. The place is sometimes full of international volunteers staying in the community as observers and to help out with community projects, but today the place was empty except for a few villagers who sat inside the wood-planked community kitchen. They sipped sweet black coffee and huddled by a smoky fire in the back of the room speaking softly in Tzotzil as their kids played on the dirt floor. After a short conversation with the Board of Directors of Las Abejas– the pacifist Mayan group that continues to grow and progress in spite of the massacre and all of its fall out. The Abejas and their associated coffee co-op Maya Vinic have taken the tragedy and used it as inspiration to push forward with their work.
30 minutes after leaving we come around a corner to find Chris Treter and the film crew from Stone Hut Studios at a crossroads high in the mountains. They, with our friend Bruno from the NGO “CATAS” pull up just as we reach the meeting place. After embraces and a few jokes about our digestive processes, I load in the back of Bruno’s truck to head for Aurora. They are waiting for us there so that we can begin the fiesta to inaugurate the completed water project.
Our journey is now beginning in earnest and the upcoming 1000 miles lay out before me in my mind. By the end I want to have a firm grip on what “fair trade” really means to the farmers we work with. I want to hear and see it all. Once upon a time– when we were all new at this– farmers would sugar coat their responses to questions like “How is Fair Trade actually working for you”. But no more. We have been working together for years and our relationships have matured so that we can say and hear the hard things as well as share the successes. However these things shake out, we will extend you this same courtesy as we travel south.