Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Coffee, Campesinos and Me

Eight strangers met at Houston airport. Coming from places as diverse Alaska and Atlanta, each was bound for Nicaragua. Everyone knew who would lead them. But we did not know each other.

We traveled on a common mission—American Christians & Jews, in search of our Central American ‘brothers and sisters’. CRS had pulled us together--so that we might experience first hand, life as these simple campesinos live it.

Michael Sheridan, CRS Fair Trade Chief and Jefferson Shriver, CRS’ Nicaragua’s head man prepared us for what was to come. Bring tents, insect spray, flashlights, a bed roll. No 5 star hotels, just cool nights under the starry skies of Nicaragua and a hotel at either end of the journey.

Our first day and a half was spent learning about coffee, learning about the challenges the small coffee farmer faces, efforts to educate him on how to improve the quality of his beans. Then we broke down into two groups and traveled to the rural coffee farms.

When we arrived at Pedro’s farm, we left our vehicles and hiked in on foot. Our first sight was Pedro’s “home” with dogs, kids, Grandpas, pigs and other creatures cheerfully co-existing in the same space.

Primitive, impoverished, beautiful, dirt floor, sick baby, without windows, electric, plumbing or even a real front door that locked—all that they had laid out simply before us. For them, for their animals, for us to share. And, it was love.

Certainly, there was reason to pity. Reason to rankle at the conditions under which they live. But, these feelings could only prevail momentarily. Pedro and his family were so happy to have us, to share their life with us. Grandpa grabbed my backback and insisted on carrying it to the field where we’d chosen to camp.

Pedro moved his one cow out of our camping area—and we set up our tents. Grandpa was distressed. He did not want me to have to sleep on the ground. He offered to exchange places with me—and give me his home.

We shared their beans and rice. Later we had rice and beans. It felt like gourmet dining—because we shared it in love.

Such a brief trip; yet such an intense exposure. My business is coffee—Fair Trade coffee. I wanted to reach way beyond my own resources—to purchase all their coffee at a price that would allow them something more than bare subsistence. And, I felt discouraged at my own limitations. But I knew that I could still make a difference. And, I will. I tell their story every day. Daily, I work to make their lives easier—fairer—more just. And, I am committed to enlisting YOU in the same effort!

If we treat our Third World brothers fairly—war will have to find roots of hatred in the rocks of goodness.

Diane E. Hughes, Founder
Earth Friendly Coffee