Back home

Just a quick note to let you all know that 1) Ben went surfing for the first time since the trip began two weeks ago, and scored some sweet waves. For those of you who dont know, Ben (me) is a serious surf addict; you can expect musings on surfing and the world sometime in the near future on this very blog. 2) JJ didn’t go surfing, though he agrees that it looks like a lot of fun. My 5 mm wetsuit, boots, and gloves still couldn’t convince my dear friend from Uganda to brave the unseasonally warm waters of the north Pacific (47 degrees, plus or minus a few when you’re at the rivermouth). We’ve got two days off before hitting the road again for our west coast stint. More soon…

Going back to Cali

We’re stuck in Midway, waiting for our flight back to Oakland, land (hopefully) of sunshine, warmth, and NO MORE SNOW! But, before we get to that, what a wonderful day JJ and I just spent with the Jewish Reconstructionist Community of Evanston

Our dear friend Elaine Waxman met JJ and I at the airport Saturday night, amidst snow flurries and freezing wind. Snuggled into the back of Elaine’s van were two of our favorite supporters; her daughters Kelsey and Katia, already wearing their PJs, and greeting us happily. The Jewish Reconstructionist Community of Evanston is one of our strongest supporters, and have made their participation in the Mirembe Kawomera coffee project an integral part of their community life. It was a joy to spend a short day with our old friends, and to share the news of how the last year has changed life in Uganda, and supported the families of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. Special thanks to Elaine, Brant, Terry, and everyone who made our visit so wonderful…we look forward to seeing you again next year!

(The intrepid Kelsey talks the talk and walks the walk as part of her Bat Mitzvah project)kelsey.jpg

On the Silver Screen

(Watch the trailer on YouTube!)

We were both amazed the first time we saw the documentary trailer. There is something about seeing your work captured on film that is surprising; somehow the story seems real in a new way, the complex threads weave together, the dialogue overlaps with the visuals, and condenses a whole world into a powerful distillation.

It’s thanks to Ellen Friedland and Curt Fissel, a dynamic husband-and-wife production team, that we have the opportunity to experience our story on film. Curt and Ellen, through their non-profit Jem/Glo, have worked on this film for the past year. Still in mi-production, the films should be complete sometime next year and there is hope for national distribution. Stay tuned for updates.

We arrived on Thursday, after a three hour drive from Ithaca, a few hours before the premiere screening at Temple B’nai Keshet. In addition to being home for Curt and Ellen, B’nai Keshet has for a long time been a supporter of Peace Kawomera, even passing a resolution to only buy this coffee for all synagogue events and functions. That evening, surrounded by the B’nai Keshet community and other supporters, we watched the trailer, and then listened as JJ, joined by his friends Noam Katz and Laura Wetzler, and others from the audience, played an impromptu concert of traditional music from Uganda.

Many thanks to Curt and Ellen for their wonderful hospitality, and for their incredible work. We know that the story of Peace Kawomera is a story of peace, a story that our world needs to know. Their film is helping to share this beautiful story, and through that, we hope, peace.

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(Above, Noam, JJ, and Laura make beautiful music)

“I want this music!”

That’s what JJ said as we sat around our room in the Carl L. Becker residence hall here at Cornell University. Country music, again. And I’m wondering how it can be that we fall in love with each other’s music—me and others with JJ’s, he with ours—and country music no less! We’ve decided that when we return to California, we’ll make some tapes from the country stations in Mendocino (they’re plentiful!).

We’ve just finished up with our last event here at Cornell, a wonderful lecture, followed by a delicious dinner in JJ’s honor. As JJ chats with his family, thanks to his recently purchased long-distance phone card, I sit reflecting back on the past three days…

Arriving to the warm reception of Dean Cindy Hazan…

Graciously ferried from place to place by our friend Marielle Macher, who organized our schedule perfectly…

Curt Bayer and the kind folks at Ten Thousand Villages

Rabbi Glass, Phyliss and our other new friends at Temple Beth El…

The students who met with us, and especially Jeff, who shadowed us with a bag of instruments that inevitably turned a meeting into a jam session…

The wonderful interfaith reception last night…

Eileen, head chef downstairs, who fed us the most delicious and wholesome food…

Wow!

JJ and I will leave tomorrow morning to continue our outreach, to continue spreading the word of delicious peace. We will leave knowing that we’ve made new friends, and that the circle of support continues to grow in wonderful ways. Check out the pictures below: JJ outside of Collegtown Bagels before his performance; the Carl L. Becker House crew; and JJ playing fair trade pan pipes from Ecuadar at Ten Thousand Villages.

Thank you to everyone who made these last three days possible!

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Democracy Now!

JJ and I have our first free time in a few days. Kind of a relief. JJ’s discovered Democracy Now, and is commending Amy Goodman for her courageous reporting. Indeed. And though I’m from the country, I greatly prefer her show to the country station that he decided we should fall asleep to last night!

We’re in Ithaca, hosted very graciously by Cornell University, and a coalition of campus-based student groups.The funny thing here is that the posters, which we see everywhere, and which give both JJ and I a huge laugh every time, introduce “Grammy nominee JJ Keki and Ben Corey-Moran”, as if I had anything to do with JJ’s incredible music, or can even hold a melody! Still, JJ has told me that I’m now required to sing with him at all of our performances, because the people will expect it, so we’ll see what we can do.

Big ups to our friends at Ithaca College for a wonderful gathering last night. Julie, Jeff, Dara, Rabbi Glass, and everyone else who came out to meet JJ and share their support with us. Here are a couple of pictures…ithaca1.jpgithaca21.jpg

United Students for Fair Trade

It’s 11:30 on Sunday night, just a little over two days after the convergence began.. Just like that, it’s over. Just over three hundred students from every corner of the US, farmers and cooperative leaders from Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, Tanzania, Ghana, and of course, Uganda. Joining JJ at this incredible gathering was Willington Wamayeye, the leader of Peace Kawomera’s export cooperative Gumutindo. All together, the convergence represented a gathering of some of the fair trade movements most inspired leaders, supporters, and dreamers.

I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of coming together at this kind of conference, and of furthering our understandings of fair trade as a model, and as a broader movement. It’s incredibly energizing to be surrounded by so many people committed to working together to strengthen this movement to transform the economic links connecting our world, and building justice.

Then of course, there are the simple, and funny and beautiful moments of human interaction. Watching JJ walk down the icy sidewalks of Boston (check the picture, yes that’s Fenway Park in the background), cold and happy, translating from spanish to English as JJ and Willington spoke with fair trade banana farmers from Ecuador, and joining in fascinating conversations with students hungry for a better understanding of fair trade, its strengths and weaknesses, and its future direction.
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Tomorrow we leave for Ithaca, for Cornell University, and beyond. JJ will leave behind many new friends, all inspired by his story, and the work of Peace Kawomera for peace and justice. I can only marvel, and reflect with gratitude, at the blossoming that continues to expand the community of support for this incredible project. I’d be sad to take JJ away from this weekend, except that I know he’s not really leaving. During his keynote speech on Friday night he began with his signature introduction: my name is JJ Keki. JJ Keki, at Yahoo-dot-com.

“A nice Jewish deli…”

deli.jpgThanks to Rabbi Jeff Summit and Richard Sobol for lunch! JJ and I are in Boston for United Students for Fair Trade’s annual convergence. But before it all began, we were lucky enough to sneak away for a quick lunch with two of JJ’s oldest American friends.

Over lunch of pastrami sandwiches (Kosher, yes JJ) we heard the exciting news from Jeff and Richards work: the recordings they made during their visit to the cooperative in August have been well recieved, and it is likely that Smithsonian Folkways will release the album in the coming year. The album features music from the farmers of Peace Kawomera; the songs they sing while they pick coffee, the songs the cooperative has composed to teach its members about fair trade, about quality production, and about the virtues of cooperation and peace. To go along with the music will be Richard’s beautiful photographs of life in the cooperative. We thank Jeff and Richard for the delicious lunch, but more importantly, for their beautiful contribution to this project.

Views: The Cooperative

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The office is small, set on the left side of a building that houses four small store fronts. It’s Namonyoni town’s mini mall. Inside the office is a large wooden desk which serves as a work space, and then as a table when it’s pulled to the center of the room. Inside the office chalk figures on stucco walls advertise last year’s coffee prices, and politely request: No Smoking Please.

The Cooperative gathers slowly. A meeting begins not at a set time, but when everyone has arrived. At first the board of directors mill about in front, greeting each other, talking and joking. The meeting begins inside, with a formality that articulates a break from the everyday. This is business, and it’s serious: the assembled members have been placed with the responsibility of managing a cooperative of 570 farmers — friends, neighbors, children, and family.

They discuss the two-year old cooperative and recent requests from members in the community. Many people want to join, and the cooperative wants to include everyone. But will they be able to manage the growth in business?

Farmers are anticipating a good harvest. Will the cooperative be ready to buy and store all the coffee? Some farmers are worried that they will spend the extra time and effort to produce high quality beans, and then the cooperative won’t be able to pay them.

Many members grow vanilla alongside their coffee. Can the cooperative look into finding a better market for the members’ vanilla beans? Many farmers are worried that they have all their hopes in coffee alone — what would happen if the harvest failed or the market collapsed?

Recently a delegation of students from US-based United Students for Fair Trade came to visit the cooperative. Many farmers were happy with this visit, and were honored that the students visited their churches, mosques, and synagogues. They want to encourage such visits; perhaps through these visits the world will learn of their work to unite for peace.

The meeting ends with a lunch of boiled plantains, beans, and greens. Plans are made for upcoming trainings on coffee picking and a workshop to remind farmers of processing standards in preparation for the coming harvest. As lunch ends everyone mills about, slowly dispersing to return to their homes: delegates, organizers, businessmen and women, building something together.

Views: Greetings

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It goes a little something like this:

On the worn grass bordering the dusty dirt road, two friends walk towards each other. One, a man, slows his gait, and with a voice like a deep river extends his greeting: Mirembe Mai (Peace be with you, mother). His friend, older by ten years, bows gently and responds with ease: Mirembe Baba (Peace be with you, father). They shake hands, first palm on palm, then linking thumbs, then palm on palm. They stand and speak.

— How is it with you today?
— It is good.
— Hmmm. They both murmer deep in their throats.
— How is your family?
— They are well.
— Hmmm. Their resonant responses punctuates their conversation with acknowledgement of each word and thought.

They are still holding hands.

They wish each other well, then continue on in opposite directions, only to stop twenty feet later to greet a friend at work in a nearby field, a friend on a bike, or a family of women winnowing millet. They continue on, each giving form to what seems like an elaborate square dance, partners switching, rotating, turning on down the road.

When going somewhere together, they — men, women, children — hold hands.

Views: Cupping

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“Today I want to share a secret with you” I announced to the farmers gathered. We were seated on wooden benches in the cooperative’s small office, around the desk which had been placed in the center of the room to serve as a table. “For generations you have grown coffee, but have you ever tasted it? Do you know the quality of your own product?”

As JJ Keki translated from English to Luganda, I thought of the farmers I’ve worked with in the Dominican Republic, in Mexico, in Nicaragua, and Rwanda. I thought of the pride they take in their beautiful farms, and the lessons that they continue to teach me.

“You see, the market has always been controlled by buyers, who don’t know anything about producing great coffee, but they’ve kept the secret of tasting it to themselves. Today I want to share that secret with you. Because I want you to know how good your coffee is, so that you know what it’s worth, so that you never have to accept an unfair price from a buyer again.” When JJ finished translating, the room was filled with the energy only a teacher knows—the wonderful sense of closeness to learning and knowledge. A sense of discovering a piece of the future.

Mr. Sam, the Coop’s Secretary brought in a half-dozen coffee mugs in different shapes and sizes, 20 soupspoons, and a teakettle of hot water. Out of my bag I pulled 6 sealed plastic bags that our Head Roaster, Steve Angley, had prepared for me three weeks earlier in California. Inside each bag were ground samples of some of the world’s best coffees: Nicaraguan, Sumatran, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Rwandan, and yes, Ugandan. I labeled each mug with a slip of paper, leaving a blank slip of paper in front of the Ugandan mug.

It was a bit like calling a contra dance from then on: I measured coffee into each mug, and then choreographed group sniffing, sipping, and evaluation. After each of us had slurped at least 20 spoonfuls, I led our discussion of quality. I talked about acidity, and pointed out the sensation of acidity on the palette, especially with the lively Nicaraguan coffee. I talked about character, and origin-specific flavor, pointing out the uniqueness of the Ethiopian and Sumatran coffees. I talked about processing and the importance of careful picking, best exemplified by the roundness of the Rwandan coffee’s flavor. Then, overtaken by the drama of the moment, I declared that there was one coffee that had yet to be defined, “Did anyone know which it was?” Mr. Dan, dressed dapper as always in a grey suit jacket, answered my question with a wry smile “Yes, of course, it’s ours, and it’s the best.”

I smiled as I thought of the communion he was making in that moment with every coffee farmer I’ve ever worked with, people all over the world, who are connected by their strength and pride. “Mr. Dan, I said, you are a coffeeman. You’ve just proven it: you know deep in your heart that your coffee carries the sweetness of the energy you put into it, the depth of its flavor reflecting your work and life. And you can taste it.” The others applauded Mr. Dan, and he took a small bow before returning to his seat.

“The flavor of your coffee,” I continued on “is noticeably sweet. It stands out here on the table among the other coffees of the world. But why is this so? How do you feed your coffee trees, how do you pick their cherries? How do you deplulp and wash the beans, and how do you dry them? The way you do each of those will impact the flavor, and your goal must be to learn to taste this impact, to find the best way, the way that will produce even more sweetness, and even more character.”

Tasting is the link that puts the tools of the specialty coffee trade in the farmer’s hands. The ability to experiment and evaluate, and experiment again, while defining the process and improving quality, is what makes our coffee development methodology at Thanksgiving Coffee Company so powerful. It is a model that’s human-centered, and recognizes the universal human desire for excellence. It is farmers with the power in their own hands, and cooperatives building that power for their members.

Our meeting came to a close with a presentation by JJ on the co-ops plans for a cupping (tasting) laboratory to be built at their new headquarters. “There, each of you will be able to come and taste your coffee with our technical staff, and they will help you evaluate the quality that you produce, identify any problems, and ensure that our consumers are getting the best delicious peace coffee in the world.”

These are the moments when I see incredible potential in our work, where we take a few steps closer towards a world where coffee buyer, roaster, and grower relate to each other with deep respect, appreciation, and gratitude. May you savor the sweetness of each cup of Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Coffee for many years to come!

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