After yesterday’s tour at the Doka Coffee Estate where I travelled to see where the coffee that I sip for granted (always decaf because regular coffee makes me anxious and jittery and is reserved for when I need a laxative and don’t feel like eating a bowl of Bran Flakes or when I really need to stay awake) at a Second Cup comes from and walked through the coffea bean’s journey from shiny, small, round and soft purple-ish red berry to the dry, hard, dark brown roasted bean, I could not sleep all night. My entire night was spent tossing and turning, exchanging direct messages on Twitter and obviously getting up to pee at least four times (because my bladder is 76 years old just like my soul and the men attracted to me) and listening to my father who continues to believe that he does not snore-snore. My sleeplessness was surprisingly not due to the 2 cups of (regular) coffee and handful of chocolate covered coffee beans samples that I had consumed that day but because of our drive out of the Doka Coffee Estate.
After our tour of the Estate we boarded our white, 16 seater Toyota tour bus and began to drive away from the beautifully maintained Coffee Estate. Less than one minute from pulling out of the drive way of the Estate we saw a group of children on our right hand side walking along the lush grassy twiggy hills carrying empty round baskets in their hands. Some carried them on their side, some on their heads while some opted to swing them by their side. They were children with innocent looking faces who appeared to be 8,9,10 years of age with glowing perfect smooth sun-kissed caramel skin, in colourful clothing wearing beautiful smiles. Everyone turned to look at them. How could they not? These children were passing us going in the opposite direction. We were passing them. They looked at us and beamed, radiating genuine raw emotion. These friendly faces made me happy while simultaneously sparking a curiosity in me. Making me wonder why they are walking up a hill carrying a basket at noon on a Friday. Naturally I initiated a wave and each of them smiled big smiles and waved back.
I felt it. At that instant when I waved hello to them with my right hand moving freely and gently side-to-side and smiled through the window of the bus wearing my camera around my neck and my backpack on my lap I was overcome with a feeling of existential worrisome. “Take a picture of them” my dad said. Encouraging me to quickly capture the joy of seeing local children on camera (something he would not ask me to do if we were on the bus passing by children at home or in a more “developed” part of the world). We experienced these children differently. I experienced everything around me differently. There was a distance between me and the children, a distance between myself and where I was. Naturally there was the window. I was sitting in an enclosed bus and they were on the outside walking. But that wasn’t quite it, the distance was much more than our physical circumstances. It was an ontological one.
I was a tourist. I was away from my regular environment. Away from my meaningless, monotonous and boring life (as a fucking brilliant mind full of potential but working at the bank and thereby reducing my brain activity to that of a walnut. No a green pea). I was alienated from my own centre of comfort in Canada seeking an alternative world filled with meaning that I could explore at my leisure while escaping the frigid Canadian cold. I was desperately seeking perspective, meaning and authenticity in the life of others, those who live worlds apart from me, in a world structurally and environmentally different than mine, a world that I continued to believe was “realer” than mine. I was aware of my “otherness” but my awareness of my otherness heightened to a level that was nauseating to me more than my existence is to me at midnight when I am alone in my room with my thoughts.
The people that I shared my existential space with while I was a conscious tourist looked like they could be the people that I share my existential space with on the bus, or in line at the grocery store or at a restaurant except only as a tourist aware of my own alienation I embraced them in a way that I would not embrace those Other to me at home. At home I would have not take interest in the life of the middle aged Brazilian womyn sight seeing alone had she been sitting beside me on the 111 bus headed to Kipling Station but with her I engaged in conversation, asked her questions about her life in Brazil and took interest in the countries she had visited. I would have shrugged those little children off as they were passing by me on the public transit had I been at home. Seeing nothing special in their smiles, dismissing them off as privileged youth of today who will most likely get the world handed to them because they are wearing cool sneakers that my parents did not buy for me when I was their age (yes I am that petty and until this day believe that had my parents just bought me the light-up sneakers I could have been good at math and science and therefore a doctor at the age of 29 instead of blogging on the internet). I realized that I wasn’t the same “me” that I was at home, I was a tourist treating my new environment differently than my one at home. The only difference in me was since I was away from the centre of my own reality I was seeking an alternative to it and embracing others which I would never do at home.
I might have been acting differently, more engaged with Others however I was authentic to my being (albeit a tourist) the entire time, not acting out of a false consciousness despite how superficial my interactions with others may seem. I was my authentic self and aware of my difference in environment and was doing things that I would otherwise not do at home. I was a tourist as “subject” as opposed to a tourist playing tourist which many people who go on vacation become. I was still the low to middle class female that I was at home who hates using taxis (because they are a rip off) and paying service fees and tipping waiters. I would still walk 2 kilometres in the rain to get to a great place to eat and would rather take a picture of socks being sold on the street than myself. Non of my being conflated with my authentic experience of the “real” world I was now situated in for 7 days, I was having fun, conscious of the harm my presence had in Costa Rica, was undergoing healthy self discovery and trying to make peace with my relationship with my dad.
In the midst of my existential crisis while waving to those children my heart immediately sank and then he began to speak. He pointed from the front of the small bus at the children who I viewed as both subjects and objects. “These children are workers” said Alberto (our tour guide) “they are from Nicaragua, children of migrant workers who have crossed the boarder to Costa Rica….they are on their way to pick coffea berries because they cannot find work in their own country…Nicaragua is going to a rough economic time” he went on to explain. My heart sunk to my stomach as he continued to explain their story as if he knew them personally, as if these children were part of our tour, pre-planned to walk past our bus as a part of our experience and education about the coffee industry. “These children are workers” said Alberto. “They are illegal child workers.”
Ih-lee-gu-l. Precisely how the word fell on my ear. Slowly. With each letter and syllable enunciated by Alberto to express the magnitude of the reality of the situation before my eyes. Some how my mind couldn’t comprehend the statement. Of course I understood what Alberto was mattter-of-factly saying. These children had crossed the boarder from Nicaragua to Costa Rica migrating across national boarders without passports or proper travel documentation thereby violating immigration laws of the destination country and making their stay in Costa Rica illegal. Alberto of course did not refer to the children who have immigrated to Costa Rica as “illegal aliens” which would imply that the individual as opposed to the actions of the individual is illegal (obviously no individual’s existence is illegal). I understood that these children are working against the law because they are children (and from what Alberto told us child labour is illegal in Costa Rica but very much exists). The statements Alberto uttered made complete sense to me analytically, what did not make sense to me was how this is a reality. Children who should be walking out of the school lunch room into the yard to play tag, hide and seek had crossed a boarder illegally and were on their way to illegally pick fruit.
I was experiencing them in two ways. As objects, symbols of my experience in South America and ready to take a picture of them and as subjects of my experience in Costa Rica against the backdrop of my morals, social and political views as a Canadian. I wanted to take them to Canada. Away them from the unjust conditions that require them to pick coffea berries and trade a basket full in for $1 USD illegally, an experience that would come to characterize their childhood. I didn’t want them to work and I wanted to upheave my own consciousness at the same time because I was a consumer of their cheap labour. I took 2 planes to get to Costa Rica to get away from home but I could not immerse myself into my new reality, relax and feel like I was on vacation. At times I felt that Costa Rica was providing me, a tourist (who was still her authentic self) a museum-like experience of their country and the sterile impersonal nature made me feel uneasy. I complained that the experience was inauthentic. At other times when the harsh realities of Costa Rica were pointed out to me I felt guilty about being a tourist and about my life that I would soon resume in 7 days. What seemed like an authentic experience made me feel queezy. Now that I am home, back from Costa Rica blogging in the comfort of my bed, drinking coffee that I purchased because of the “certified fair trade” logo, reflecting on my life (that I can’t decide is awesome or lame) I realize that just like life, certified fair trade coffee is still not fair enough.