Rocja Pomtila, la Chua, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Doña Olga is a rockstar. She wields a machete like a warrior in the field and attends evening church services dressed like a queen. She is a cacao farmer, community leader, and a mom to three teenagers.
The best way to describe her attitude is “¡vámanos!” (let´s go!). Do you want to go visit the cacao farm? ¡Vámonos
! Nor the heat nor distance fazed her. We strolled through the corn field and I observed how she paused, keenly attuned to the natural surroundings with ears perked for the sound of howler monkeys.
We bonded out there on the farm. Usually that´s my chance to ask farmers about technical aspects of cacao farming, like how often they prune and whether they graft or plant from seeds. Visiting the farm with Doña Olga was different. We talked about the plants. We talked about people. We talked about relationships, personal journeys, and aspirations. “Do you remember the first time you tasted cacao?,” I asked her. Oh yes, she said. It was five years ago when she planted cacao to supplement the income from corn and cardamom. She remembers tasting the fruit for the first time and falling in love. I nodded in agreement. Cacao for both of us is a love story.
She pulled out a bag to collect the seeds that we had sucked. Her resourcefulness reminds me of my Chinese grandmother, a petite yet a mighty force of nature. Everything has a use. Doña Olga gathered cardamom pods, corn mazorcas,
even the bird-picked cacao seeds on the ground. She walked—or more accurately glided—with wild instinctive grace over the slippery leaves, perfectly at ease through the shadows of the forest.
Her enchantment is the ability to transform. While not so uncommon for women to work alongside men on the farm, women are still in charge most household activities. Doña Olga cooks for the family, washes the clothing and dishes down by the river, and tends to the backyard chickens. Her work extends even beyond the household. For the past couple years she has served as a member of the Junta Directiva
committee represent the cacao farmers’ association. She can be quite opinionated too, and I like that about her.
This is a traditional Q’eqchi’ huipil (top garment) and corte, with a characteristic waistband around the skirt.
That evening we attended the Evangelical church service together. I had nothing to wear but soiled jeans and boots so she lent me her daughter´s corte
the traditional Maya skirt and loose tunic still worn by women in indigenous communities. Wearing the huipil
can be a marker of both class and identity, according to my friend Callie who is studying Guatemala’s textile tradition. Both for everyday use and special occasions, the huipil
is an example of the living and dynamic Maya heritage.
Doña Olga was the first woman I have met who identifies herself as a cacao farmer. Even among men this identity is rare; being a cacao farmer takes tenacity and dedication. It takes an attentive eye to subtle shifts in the balance of nature, a soft touch to pick the cacao pods when ripe, and the endurance to keep going when the weather turns sour. It’s not a matter of male or female capabilities. Rather, it’s about the core character strengths that make farmers like Doña Olga truly different.
Plus, she is adorably in love with cacao.
Final interview question: What about cacao makes you happy?
Me gusta porque da frutos, es bueno el jugo, se siente uno sano.
I like that it gives fruit, the juice of the pulp is delicious, and it is good for the health.