Leaving Miraflor

The morning is a blur of activity. Breakfast and coffee, hurried packing, long hugs goodbye, last trips to the loo.

Then waiting. The bus (that makes a twice daily circuit to Esteli and back) is late. And people begin to gather at the stop outside Myra and Marlon’s. From my short time and interviews, I can recognize new friends.

It’s hard to think of leaving. So I don’t. In the months of travel over the summer, I’ve gotten good at it. And I think of how amazing my time has been. But I can’t look at Martina for too long, or I feel tears start to rise to my eyes.

Myra sneaks up and hugs me and smiles, softly singing my name. Earlier, when I was still waiting for my coffee to kick in, Martina pulled me aside. Marlon and Myra were so touched when they found out I had paid for the groceries we’d brought on arrival. It was too much. They thought of me as family and wanted to return the favor. They wouldn’t charge me for my stay.

The kindness brought instant tears to my eyes. Of course I wanted to contribute to  my stay, to Martina’s project, to the people who were making my time in Miraflor so amazing. Then to have them turn around and give back, even more than the amazing time in their home, the dinners, the laughter, the horse-rides, all of it. For a second I appreciate the kindness. Then reach in my pocket for the money I’d planned to pay for my stay. I don’t even know the words so Martina (after triple checking, are you sure?) helps in Spanish, thanking them profusely, but firmly explaining I cannot accept the kindness as I wanted to share the groceries as a gift, and not paying for my lodging, would cancel out my gift. Instead I would insist on paying.

The tears in Myra’s eyes as she listened and then hugged me firmly. Since that morning, she stayed close to my side, Joyita, you are like our family, she whispers.

I honestly couldn’t think of any better use of my money.

A Newfound Gratitude

We move to a dim warehouse, walking through the maze of machinery that shakes with ear-numbing racket as it sorts through billions of dried coffee beans. Spencer explains how the beans are jostled across the flat metal surface and eventually sort themselves. Like waves in the ocean, they’re organized by size as they march forward. (And just like that, the women that once sat in the heat of the day and patiently hand-sorted beans are replaced with this noisy effectiveness.)

Outside, the machine spits out a massive pile of husks and bad beans. It will become fire fuel or garden compost. Nothing is wasted. Not even coffee bean waste. Massive bags of beans are loaded onto trucks and shipped out, back down the highway to Managua. This happens all before it’s ever roasted or ground, or poured into a cup. And we’ve not even seen the farming.

We climb into the truck exhausted, passing around a bottle of cool water we nabbed from the office cooler. I watch the women walk back from lunch and into the heat, across the massive yard. The men lug bags on bent shoulders. How much effort is put into my food. And paying a little extra for a cup, knowing it would come from here, it would go to the hard-working people I’ve met today, seems completely inconsequential.

The scale is grand. It’s much larger than anything Spencer’s seen in his Latin America coffee tours. But even trying to picture something smaller, one woman raking coffee, one man lugging bags, it’s mind blowing how much work is put into it (even something as simple as coffee), how much my thankfulness is limited to the barista before me, and how I’ve pretty much taken for granted everything else behind coffee. I promise myself to do a better job when I get home. I promise to stop taking the absolute luxury of my morning coffee for granted. To pause for at least a moment, to remember the people and places that contribute to each cup.