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Tuberculosis in a Teacup

Quick link: Tea Time at the TB Clinic

Over at EthnoTraveler, I write about whether or not to drink when I’m offered a glass of coffee outside the Tuberculosis clinic. I’ve been studying TB, reading so much about it that sometimes I feel like my chest hurts (can you give yourself TB just by thinking about it a lot?). I also know that it would be incredibly rude to refuse the proffered drink.

What to do?

tuberculosis coffee

An elderly man waves me over, insistent. He is wearing gray trousers, a collared shirt, and a prayer cap. He shouts across the dirt road, in Somali, “Come, white lady, come and sit down with us.” Others laugh and tell him I can’t understand and then they laugh at me when I shout back that I do understand.

I cross the narrow road, careful to avoid puddles of a mysterious green liquid, and sit down on top of an overturned empty can of powdered milk. These double all over Djibouti City as chairs at roadside restaurants and tea stalls. Sitting down is easy to do. I have more trouble obeying his next command.

“Drink,” he says, and hands me a tiny glass of steaming Nescafé. “I am paying for it, drink.” He slaps a fifty-franc coin onto the wooden table where a woman has balanced more glasses and thermoses and a tray of fried biscuits.

The amber-colored glass is the size of a shot glass. Surely that small amount of strong coffee can’t contain too many germs. Right? Surely the water was boiled enough to kill them off. Right?

Click here to read the rest: Tea Time at the TB Clinic

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Coffee and Coups in Burundi

Quick link: The Coup in the Coffee Fields

A few weeks ago I wrote for Babble about Kristy and Ben Carlson, focused on the choices Kristy made as a mother during crisis. This week at EthnoTraveler I share a bit more of their coffee story and the challenges they face in getting beans out of the country after a coup. They are now back in Burundi, with their beautiful newborn daughter and two boys, pressing on.

Thanks again to Kristy for her gorgeous photos and her willingness to share their story. Be sure to check out the Long Miles Coffee Project website. I love all of it and find their family manifesto especially inspiring.

coffee and coups

Here’s the opening of the EthnoTraveler essay:

Burundi enjoyed almost a decade of peace between 2005 and 2015. This small, land-locked nation in central Africa had endured a brutal civil war, which lasted from 1993-2005 and killed over 300,000 people and Burundians were ready for peace, economic development, and forward progress. In the middle of that calm decade, Ben and Kristy Carlson moved from South Africa to Burundi and opened The Long Miles Coffee washing station.

Fifty-five percent of Burundians earn their living from growing, harvesting, preparing, and exporting Arabica coffee beans. Coffee totals 80% of the country’s export income. Raw beans make up the majority of these exports, with little of it actually processed or roasted inside Burundi. This export of ‘green coffee’ limits the economic benefits for Burundi and has many farmers dreaming of doing more than just growing and harvesting. They would like to process and roast coffee themselves. They would like to maybe even sip a cup of steaming coffee someday.

This green coffee shipping is primarily due to a lack of specialist knowledge, experience, and equipment. Everything from the altitude at which coffee is grown to the temperature at which beans are stored matters for achieving top quality taste and so far, Burundians simply don’t have access to these vital tools.

The Carlsons recognized this challenge and brought with them to Burundi a vision for helping coffee farmers earn fair wages and grow in the specialist knowledge that would enable Burundians to take more ownership in and financial security from their coffee farms.

LMCP_logo(2)

Click here to read the rest of The Coup in the Coffee Fields.

Flight from Burundi

Quick link: How to Be a Mom When Your Country Falls Apart

I’m grateful to Kristy Carlson who was willing to share her story of work and life in Burundi, and the wrenching flight her family endured when violence broke out. I’ve known Kristy for several years, we left for Somaliland a year after she and her husband headed for South Africa. We’ve rarely been in the same country but have connected through writing, through evacuation experiences, and over various cups of coffee. I always feel a little bit cooler, wiser, and more beautiful just for spending time with her. Because she is all of those things, plus gracious and creative and more.

Kristy used to write for Babble, we initially shared our spot on the site. She is still publishing, especially her photography and it is stunning. She and her husband, Ben, worked with coffee farmers in Burundi. To see her images and to catch a taste of their vision and inspiring work, click here for their website: Long Miles Coffee.

After election-related violence broke out in Burundi, the Carlson family was forced to flee. They left behind dreams and carried with them grief. Ben has been able to return a few times and the coffee farming continues. And Kristy recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, in South Africa.

In another upcoming story, I will dig more into the ‘what happened’ of Burundi. This piece, for Babble, focuses on the practical things Kristy did to help maintain her sanity and the emotional health of her family when all around them, things fell apart.

…How can a mother hold her family together when all around, life and dreams are crumbling?

Kristy explained to me the virtues that helped her family stay together through it all.

Honesty

“When the conflict began I tried to keep my kids occupied and play loud music to cover up the sounds of gunfire,” said Kristy. “As the protests continued for weeks on end, it became more and more important to encourage our kids and each other to find emotion words to connect to what we were experiencing. We had made the decision early on to keep our kids informed about what was happening, but also to protect them from any unnecessary trauma.”

Courage

“We clung to Burundi because leaving felt impossible. Coffee harvest was in full swing and the thought of leaving our team to save our own skin felt like a betrayal,” Carlson said.

Vulnerability

“I was less worried about a purposeful shooting and more worried about stray bullets. ‘It’s not safe,” I murmured. You… you are not safe.’ As the words left my lips, I wondered how damaging this experience would be for my two boys and even the unborn baby girl I was carrying.”

Here’s an example of the pictures Kristy takes of the coffee farmers when she is documenting their stories:

burundi coffee farmer

Click here to read the rest of the ways she cared for her family: How to Be a Mom When Your Country Falls Apart

The American Coffee Conundrum

The first non-airport interaction I engage in with a stranger in the United States takes place in an airport, but at a Starbucks. We want one of those drinks with chocolate and coffee and ice, but blended ice not chunks of ice. And we don’t want cream and we want a small one. I have no idea what this is called. We start to read the menu.

coffee shop menu

That takes too long, its like a book written in a foreign language. I decide to ask the cashier. I explain what we are looking for and she tells me we want a mocha frappacino and shows me the size of the various cups. I say small but there is no small. I just point at the smallest cup, which seems quite large, and say we don’t want all that whipped cream.

She tells me how much it costs.

The line is growing longer.

I rummage through my purse. I’ve tried to keep the money from the last three weeks in different zippered pockets but it got confusing and the Somaliland shillings, Djiboutian franc, Kenyan shillings, and American dollars intermingled.

I pull out 2000 Djiboutian franc and it is wrapped around a five dollar bill. All the coins in my coin purse are Kenyan. There are some quarters in the pocket that has SIM cards from different countries and the necessary safety pin for popping that thing-a-ma-job in and out. But there are also other coins in there and American coins are so dang small and light weight, they feel like fakers. I pay with these lightweight coins but it feels like I’m paying with toy money.

I mumble something about how hard it is to order coffee in America.

The cashier smiles and says, “Where are you from?”

“Africa,” I say.

She looks confused but there is no time to linger. The line has grown longer. People want their coffee. No, this is America. People need their coffee and no amount of friendly conversation has a right to get in the way of the order of things, the process, the exchange of money and goods.

The drink was too sweet and the lemon bread my daughter got was way way too sweet. But we split the small/large frappacino between the three of us and threw away the last bit of lemon bread.

Welcome back!

*image via Flickr