We met up with the Nicaraguan family the next day. My brother and I ran after them as they turned the corner, up the hill toward a place they currently call home. They welcomed our request to follow as they make their daily trek up the dusty mountain road. Fourteen in all, the two families ascended slowly, toting baskets on their backs for hauling the fresh coffee fruits. Their baskets are empty now, and their day picking in the arching steep mountain corridors of the coffee farm is over until dawn.
The children climbed arm in arm, playful, confident and carefree. Their parents ascended a bit slower, trailing behind but keeping pace. The daily routine would be depressing alone, but it’s hard to feel down when there are so many smiles—touching the edge of each child’s cheek.
A car drove up and the kids ran after it, jumping aboard only to be shooed off moments later when the driver had to continue on a different path. Eventually, a couple kilometers up the road, we turned off to their refuge—a mountainside shack surrounded in coffee plants. It overlooked the great valley below and the surrounding mountains—a vista I’m used to only seeing the wealthy own. They gathered below the metal overhang, with a single hammock and a halved tree set down to make a bench.
The rested after a 10-hour day—from the youngest, 5 or so, to oldest, about 70, all wearing knee-high rubber boots. One was on the hammock, another grasping a strand of barbed wire strung at the roof, three more fiddling with a rusted broken bike. We went inside. The floor was tightly packed reddish-brown dirt, untouched by erosion and hardened by years of migrant footprints. There was one bed in the room with a thin foam mattress, the rest were on the second floor. The room was covered with mangled metal—spotted with gaps where streaks of light shone through, illuminating pieces of the father’s forlorn face.
The look of longing was so apparent—I can’t imagine the burden on his shoulders. He held his youngest tightly and I saw a bond that I hadn’t seen between a father and his children for some time. I can see how living such a struggle can make one cherish those closets to him. This is a time for them—to sit and enjoy each other, to watch the sun slowly fall over the mountains—light shifting from face to face—the kids running through the coffee plants after chicks and the parents arm in arm on the wooden bench.
Before they left they offered to sell us a large bag of red and black seeds from some plant that their people craft into jewelry back home. Our Spanish isn’t fluent, so it took some time for us to figure out that she wanted us to pay her whatever we thought was fair. She brought them across the border with hopes to make a little extra money, but with a scarce tourist industry in this small farming town, they were practically useless. While babbling back and forth with my brother about what to do the father took a small handful and caressed them in his weathered hand—meditating on an idea of home that exists in his mind, but he may or may not find for his family in their nomadic life.
As I uselessly try to put a price to this he clenches his fist. I can only hope that he can hold on to his ideals and someday will be at ease.