A Guinness with Martina, most naturally, turned into two. We talked like old friends, about travel, karma, experiences, the people you meet along the way, the good times, the not so good…but mostly how it all ends up good, even the bad. Especially the bad.
And that’s what I suspected (and proved to myself, that overcast London afternoon, in a pub in Soho) is what I’d admire most about Martina. Her life is not one charmed with perfection, of things coming to her easy. It has truly been lived. And to get here, now, the stylish, smart–utterly charming–entrepreneur, appreciatively sipping Guinness, can talk in equal and honest measure about her successes and her disappointments. She’s fluent in both.
She has no idea how refreshing it is to hear.
And, when I’d thought I’d forgotten all my English major-y baubles, with each brief pause in the conversation, with each cool sip of chocolaty Guinness, a few of the lines he wrote at the turn of the previous century make their way back to me…
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
Rudyard Kipling. If. If you can watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools…
So many warn out tools.
I think of petite Martina, finding her resolve, when life took her on an unexpected turn, and threatened to break her. So she grabbed what was left, traded the known for utter uncertainty. With a backpack and little else, she sets off on a crazy bus ride, deep into the Nicaraguan jungle. The tin hut, no electricity, a flimsy pad for a bed, she would make her home for the next year.
Both amazing and so overwhelming. I think big changes, the utterly monstrous ones that scare the bejeezus out of you, are like that. It’s good. You know it. But at the same time, because they truly are momentous, because you have no idea which way you’re going, how it will work out–it’s like feeling your way around in the dark. Sometimes it can feel like drowning. Tossed through the washing machine. Over and over. It’s not the little things that do this. It’s the utterly overpowering things that force you to stoop down and gather what’s left of yourself. Yet, I think until it happens (and it will happen), you don’t really know your own weaknesses…or your own strengths. Or those of the people around you.
So she goes. Bit by bit, Martina creates a brilliant new life in Nicaragua. And now that life creates new, little ripples of difference in the lives of others. As her and her friends set up and fund new schools for long-ignored communities.
Besides the fact that I adore her for being willing to just drop her busy schedule and meet me (the total stranger, whose only connection is the house she’s renting in France), I love her honesty. It would be easy to talk, after the fact, about how easy it all was. But she never does. She is never fake. It wasn’t easy, often it was hard. There were times when she wanted to stop. Give up. And that’s where her story sparkles before my eyes! In the darkness of utter uncertainty, she found her way through it. Equally amazing people come forward to support her. Slowly and surely, they climb. Upward.
Sometimes you have to go to new places in order to find pieces of yourself, she says.
In the jungles, that first felt immense, Martina finds her bearing, gets to know the people, her new surroundings, a whole new side of herself. One thing leads to another. She introduces backpackers to the people and the coffee of Miraflor farmers. She starts bringing it home, giving a part of the profit back to the farmers to improve the educational resources of the village kids. Just as amazing friends join her on trips to repaint walls and stock up school supplies. When a Swedish surfer jokes to her, “What are you the coffee fairy, or something?” The name sticks.
Two years later (yeah, just two years), it’s a business: The Coffee Fairy. Now she flits from food fairs to schools to interviews, in a dizzying schedule, talking tirelessly to anyone and everyone about her business that’s helping to fund education through the coffee of Miraflor. And, from the coffee she sells, they’re improving education for those living in the same Nicaraguan jungle she’d arrived at, alone, years before.
It’s good work, of course she loves it. Loves the independence and the travel. She cannot believe she’s doing it. Though it comes with times of unimaginably hard work, tight budgets, working solo. But she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a business that makes a profit and makes a difference. It has changed her life as much as it’s changes others.
We talk of many things that afternoon. I’ll always remember how I didn’t want the day to end….
Alone, again. The blast of air and click-click-click of the metal slideshow, as another train speeds past my little window-seat. Brick buildings, giant monuments faded to green, pastoral countryside long ago. The delicious, richness from the bag of coffee, grown in Nicaraguan jungles, now in my day pack to Amsterdam confirms it really wasn’t a daydream.
No, you really did meet someone that amazing.
And it happened on accident. On a last minute change to a trip you’ve been planning for months.
Who knows what or who the next months will bring….or won’t. I’m both excited and calm. Just letting the trip unfold, as it pleases. And, for the hundredth time, I try to remember not to hold my hopes too tightly. But enjoy the ride. For what it is. Not be too hard on myself about what I’m not doing or being. Just doing this (whatever it is?!), now, as best as I can. Martina’s story in my head. Reassurance that there’s more around the corner, even yet, to discover. Struggle, battle, fun, laughs. God knows. But I’m dying of curiosity.
After so many months of truly falling, tumbling and stumbling only to fall more, through so many moments, riding the train from London to Stansted, I finally feel the peace of knowing I’m headed in a the right direction, wherever that may be…
I check my clock again, yup. Missed my flight checkin. I missed my flight back to Amsterdam.
I laugh: shoot, guess I’ll have to stay one more day in London!
By the time I get home to Amsterdam, Martina’s little business gets the most amazing news: UK’s specialty chain, Harvey Nichols, will start selling her coffee as a holiday exclusive.
That’s one more (huge!) point for Nicaraguan school kids, with love, from The Coffee Fairy.