Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Contemplating Coffee (and a brief trip update)

Update: 3 presentations and 465 miles later, I'm halfway through my January PD Trip! Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement--they have been invaluable and critical! I have plenty of stories, photos, and funny happenings that I'm eager to share with you all, but today I'm taking a much needed break to pull everything together for the second half of this journey. Don't worry; you'll hear about it!

So, while you wait, lean back, grab a cup of coffee, and ponder with me the significance of this infamous black liquid over some thoughts that I jotted down a month or two ago.

I don’t like coffee. It’s a well-known fact among my friends that I have made it all the way through college without ever turning to this wretched black substance. Hot chocolate, cider, even some teas are quite delightful, but coffee? No. Not at all. No, thank you.

Who thought of taking beans, crushing them up, pouring water over them and then drinking the leftover bean-flavored liquid? What were they thinking?

I’ve only had it three times (according to avid coffee drinkers, the liquid I drank daily in Mexico is not “true” coffee but sugar water colored brown). The first instance was probably the most scarring and began this enmity—when I was quite young, I took a large gulp from a covered cup, thinking it was my hot chocolate…  It wasn’t. It was my grandmother’s coffee (and not very good quality, she said). Later, in college, I was given a white-chocolate something or other in a gallant effort to help accustom my tastebuds. It didn’t work.

Finally, a month or two ago, a friend handed me a cup of instant cappuccino. “This is to help you get used to Papua New Guinea,” she said. The look in her eye told me I didn’t dare refuse (she’s prepping to be a middle school math teacher…that ought to tell you something).

But she actually wasn’t that far off.

Coffee is PNG’s second largest export (next to palm oil) and employs nearly 2.5 million people. Although not native to PNG (it was introduced in the 1920s), it is mostly grown in the highlands. While some coffee is grown on plantations, much of it is on small “coffee farms” that may have as few as 20 trees. These small farms grow it organically, without using pesticides or artificial fertilizer. Farming coffee is a challenge in PNG due to the limited (and often poor quality) road system, which can cause problems for getting the coffee to shipment. In the late 1990s, the country produced an average of 1.18 million bags annually, all of which were exported. Wow!

Papua New Guineans know coffee. Perhaps that’s why Pastor Awateng described mother-tongue translation in this way: “Having the Bible in our own language is like having a cup of coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar. Black coffee isn't much, but put the sugar in, and it's so good."

Maybe I ought to try it his way...

So, the next time you go to Dunn Brothers or Starbucks or Caribou, be sure to look for PNG coffee.

And that cup of cappuccino I had? It actually wasn’t so terrible.