The Coming Back

with Susy, Daniel, Miguel at Coopedota in Santa Maria, Costa Rica
with Susy, Daniel, Miguel at Coopedota in Santa Maria, Costa Rica

Interviews are snapshots that freeze things as they are in a moment, and words on the page are stagnant; their permanence reflects the reality of histories and opinions but not the forward churning of lives.

Returning to a place you’ve only been once is perhaps crucial to ensuring that memories aren’t tempted to turn into stone tableaus that weigh us down with the whatoncewas.

Revisiting is vital because people’s stories evolve faster than you can capture and release them. People die and are born, families merge in marriage and sever in feud, and companies are bought and sold. Wind and water move mountains, hands plant and clear land, and things are changing faster than I can write these words or you can read them.

In the coming back to a place receptions are warm and familiar. No one is assessing anyone else, wondering who they are or what they’re about. In the coming back there is less mystery; both parties have already carved out a space for the other in their minds as a product if the first meeting.

In the coming back some people told stories of crucial developments that change everything that happens next. Ronulfo’s father passed away and now he’s scrambling to harvest the coffee on the trees, but who knows if his family will be able to continue to manage their coffee land. This could be the moment when coffee crosses the threshold from being part of his family’s present to part of its past.

In the coming back some people sat down and told me, almost verbatim, the same stories they told me last year because those are they stories they tell; those are the stories that for them represent deep convictions and truths.

Some people- including people who retold me word for word what they said a year ago- also expressed new opinions. Opinions about coffee production are like opinions about everything else: they change. I’d been listening to, reading, and retreading people’s snapshot opinions so many times in the process of transcribing and editing When coffee Speaks that I’d almost forgotten that I was working with something transient, that just because I’ve immortalized momentary opinions, albeit among more permanent material like family histories and deep-running convictions, in a printed book, momentary views are subject to change, and change they do. You can’t hold a child at 5 years old just because that’s they age he/she is in the big framed photo hanging on the wall. Coffee perspectives are responsive to the realities of the minute, and after another 12 months of declining prices and fuzzy politics, the things coffeepeople have to say now are not the same things they had to say when I met them a year ago.

The coming back has afforded me the chance to form more complete understandings of people’s personalities by seeing how people interact with each other and in different settings. People I interviewed on their farms I met this time in town. It’s been exciting to rediscover friends I made last year in new settings and in new ways. The contours of people’s personalities become more defined the more lights in which you can see them.

Even though When Coffee Speaks is strictly non fiction, individuals have become characters of sorts merely by existing on the page. The interviewees of When Coffee Speaks are much more than characters; they are spirited individuals who are facing new situations and sorting through their lives day by day just like the rest of us whose lives and opinions and family histories and stories might not yet have made it between a front and back cover.


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