With the New Year quickly making way, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on an experience during one of our programs in Costa Rica from last summer as I look forward to another summer of extraordinary students and programs.
Pineapple as far as the eye can see – we were riding along on a raised trailer towed by a John Deere tractor. At the back of the plantation we came across this machine that has a conveyer belt hanging over the plants, perpendicular to the direction it is traveling. Trailing behind the belt, workers were walking over the plants, harvesting pineapple. They placed the fruit on the belt which is off loaded and stacked neatly into a bin. The bins are delivered to the plant where the fruit is sorted and packaged. We learned that 20% of the first fruit harvested is not fit for market and 70% of the second fruit from the plant does not make the trip to the grocery stores.
After eating pineapple freshly cut from the plants, we rumbled through the fields to another section where workers were throwing cuttings into position for planting. The conditions were dry and the work was close to the road. Our group divided into two parties to work alongside the crew. One followed a truck full of pineapple cuttings as workers tossed cuttings into piles and we spread the cuttings throughout the field. The other work party assisted in planting the pineapple cuttings. It was amazing to watch the interaction between the workers, who spend hours in the field daily, and the students, who mostly have never seen pineapple outside of the grocery store.
The students first engaged the workers with a polite greeting in Spanish. They stared at each other for a moment attempting to gauge the next step in the interaction. The worker, I am sure, was questioning why an American high school student would want to help him with this back-breaking job. The student spoke up and asked for a demonstration of proper technique. After a little rephrasing and helpful hand gestures, the worker smiled a huge grin and happily demonstrated the proper technique. The students took over and continued to plant pineapple while the worker coached them.
The twenty minutes in the field went by quickly. Hot and humid, working on black plastic erosion control and in a constant state of being bent over was tough on the students who are not used to this everyday activity for the pineapple farmers. Although a brief interaction, this experience challenged students to engage in a Spanish conversation without support. It also opened our eyes to the effort needed in order for us to enjoy pineapple on our tables back in the states. Not only were our lives changed by this interaction but so were the workers. Witnessing the workers’ huge smiles and dedication to teaching the proper technique, it was obvious they enjoyed sharing their life. Moments like this will be remembered for a lifetime.
I am positive none of us has looked at a pineapple the same way since that day.