Becoming Alex

Joe Giallo - Ecuador

January 9, 2011

Let me tell you about Alex. Imagine a bear. Then make this bear look human, and then Ecuadorian, and then you have a basic idea of how muscular Alex is. Textbook definition of someone you don’t want to mess with. Ever. Under any circumstances. That bit aside, imagine this Ecuadorian human bear scowling consistently. Check, we’re even closer to Alex. Then, give this scowling Ecuadorian human bear the singing voice of nails-on-chalkboard and the volume of a jet engine. Almost at Alex. Finally, make this scowling Ecuadorian human bear with a voice to destroy entire nations “work”* for AACRI, and you’ve got Alex.

(*“Work” meaning bum around a lot and occasionally help out. And scowl a lot.)

Or rather, he “worked” for AACRI. His contract expired, and AACRI, in no small part due to his definition of work, did not choose to renew it. Of course, AACRI also doesn’t have the money to pay him or someone else to come back to do his work. So, they were in a bit of a bind. Especially with the kids from the local high school finally released from their term of service, and the only other volunteer strong enough to do Alex’s work not around to do the work.

So, yeah. Naturally, they chose me. The daunting task of creating and maintaining the nursery of what are now 20000 coffee plants is… done. With a bit of help, and a lot of learning to like the work, I walked away from the Consortium as the proud planter of probably about 7000 of those plants, and when I say proud, I mean it. I learned to like agriculture. And getting my hands dirty. I never learned to like the nasty sancudos, the evil little biting insects like mosquitos, but in the work itself, I’d found a sort of peace and repose, and a tiny bit of joy. But then, the work was done. (Both the work in the Consortium and the work on myself I mentioned in the “You Get What You Need” blog).

It didn’t matter that I am not built like a bear. Heck, I’m about as far from bear-like as you get. Because when AACRI came and asked me to fill in for Alex, I was totally ready. Excited, really. To learn something new about how coffee is processed. To do something that they really needed me to do. And to keep pushing myself. Because while I may have done a lot of work on myself those days at the Consortium, I’m not there yet. To whatever goal I’m pursuing (honestly I don’t know what it is, but I’m on the right track.), becoming Alex is the next step.

You’re probably wondering what exactly Alex did. He was primarily responsible for the management of raw coffee, bought from local farmers. He would dry the coffee if it was necessary, use the coffee peeling machine (raw coffee comes in soft shells that remain after the de-pulping process and need to be removed), and transport huge amounts of coffee from one part of the factory/warehouse to another in giant sacks. This mass of work is best explained as Alex’s job in Apuela. By doing his work, I’m being Alex.

Now, that’s what I do. I lift sacks that are roughly my weight in coffee and I move them. I put coffee into the machine that takes the shells off of the beans. Then, I take the shelled coffee and I put it in bags, and I move those bags wherever they need to be: to other storage places, to the backs of trucks, etc. And, more importantly, I like the work. Yeah, it’s hard. Yes, those bags are heavy, absolutely. And yeah, the Joe Giallo who came to Ecuador would have hated this work passionately, being unfit and weak and unaware of the reason why an unfit and weak person should do this work. But I like it. A lot. I can’t really explain why.

Perhaps it’s because when I talk to people now, and I tell them that I’m doing Alex’s work, they raise their eyebrows, or are shocked, and ask me, “Isn’t it hard work?” And I answer, “Yes, but that I’m enjoying myself immensely.” Or, maybe, it’s a bit simpler. Maybe I’m just really, really excited (Hint: I am.) that I’m going to have muscles for the first time ever. Maybe I won’t come back looking like my scowling Ecuadorian human bear predecessor with a voice to destroy nations, but I’m feeling pretty good about coming  back stronger: not just mentally or emotionally now, but also physically.

Joe Giallo