Saturday, November 29, 2008


Journal entry 10/3/08

A boy by his size; a man by his story. Fredi has black skin (Haitian black), a strong farmers back, and round soft features. He is an 18 yr. old Haitian that left school at 16. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Haitians. I try to stick up for them when they are blatantly discriminated against by Dominicans.

Ajusto: (paid contract) Fredi is the 'point man' and doles out the money to his friends to do the work (he is the cook and manager). People pay one lump sum, and the workers work at their own rate. Un ajusto is favorable for most farmers because the farmer doesn't have to manage the workdays, they just check the progress.

I see Fredi as a boy faced into manhood through economic necessity. He lives in a country where he is not wanted; hence he has the demeanor of such a person: shy, timid and tries to be invisible when there are lots of people around. He has won over many Dominicans, he is known, liked and trusted, yet he keeps himself at arms length.

Dominicans are physical and affectionate: men hold hands and do this double forearm hug. It is custom to shake every one's hand when you see someone you know. Haitians are a usually cultural exception. Fredi reads the demeanor of those around him before he extends his hand. Even at Antonio's house he was the last to be served coffee, even after the little kids got theirs', and I consider them progressive.

I, being white and liking to greet everyone by shaking hands [including Haitians], met Fredi. As we walked through town he told me his story: 14 siblings = one father who had 4 kids with his mom and 9 with another. I didn't pressure him to explain the math [4+9=14], there are more important questions. How does he get around as an illegal immigrant worker? How do people treat him in Los Frios? Why did he leave Haiti?

Fredi speaks Spanish very well and knows some English phrases: "What’s up? Kiss me baby!" among others. He told me that he left school because you have to pay for it in Haiti, shaking his head he said, "There is no president".

For the last couple years he has been traveling to Los Frios for work. His travel is completely clandestine. He crosses the boarder at night, stays the night not far from there with a friend, the next night, he hides in the back seat of a car for a 3 hour drive [the military check points are less attended], to a point where he has to walk, from there up to Los Frios [between 14-35km]. At any point, he could be deported or held until he produces a healthy bribe. His travel has gotten easier because people know and trust him, but it is still risky.

Fredi makes the trip home to Haiti when he has money saved or there is an emergency. I traveled in Haiti for one week in 2005. Haiti is so poor that it makes the DR feel like Disney Land in comparison. Travel in DR is not for the week at heart, but at least nobody is going to do me harm if I'm found. Travel in Haiti seemed like an exaggerated version of Dominican travel: same shitty buses and trucks just faster, more people, more dust and more danger. Put Fredi's trip home together: clandestine DR travel with real consequences + uncomfortable dangerous Haitian travel. . . And people constantly complain about the horrible traffic in Atlanta?

Next time I complain about any trip anywhere, I will try to remember Fredi's trip home.

After all Fredi has been through, he is still a easy to make laugh, willing to smile and someone who inspires me.

*I have changed his name to protect his identity

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Urides: Ur -e- des

Journal entry: 10.9.08

Many of my heroes come from Los Fríos, they are humble, poor, often illiterate, fatalistic and exceptionally moral and wise. Urides fits the definition to a "t". Probably about 19, son of several, can't sign his own name and to me a beacon of light.

Next time you have the chance to use a pick to break up hard soil let Urides set the bar. With the broad side of the pick strike the ground about once a second, loosen the soil, and proceed. Leave about 130+ lbs. of soil in your wake, don't complain or stop until the crew behind you with two wheel borrows and 2 shovels asks you to stop.

Picking is all about efficiency and finesse, two of my favorite words. I would coach Gray, and Max about the finer techniques involved in picking in an attempt to save their lower backs. As I watched them, I thought about some of the skills I learned in Los Fríos. As I watched Urides I thought about how far I have to grow.

My Los Fríoños friends often use truck analogys while working. For example if a walking trail is slippery we would say, "Ponga el doble!" [engage the 4x4]. While washing our black rubber boots in a stream, we would say, "Llavando la guagua" [washing the truck]. Of course our stomaches represented fuel tanks. A paid work day usually follows this agreement: 7am-4pm + breakfast and lunch = 300 pesos. La guagua vacia no camina [the truck with an empty tank doesn't run]

Using a pick burns lots and lots of fuel. Every time I worked with Urides the math went as follows: Urides would work twice as hard as me, sweat half as much, and give half of his food away. His cousins would show up about lunch time, not necessarily to beg but they had nothing else to do. Less than half way through his rice and beans meal Urides would pass the entire plate to one of his cousins. I always tried to be discrete when I reminded him that there was more food. A man who gives half of one of two meals he would get that day. . . that is a true man.

Not everyone is Los Fríos is a saint. They just constantly set my bar higher.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

how much are you willing to pay for coffee?

really. how much are you willing and able to pay for one pound of coffee*?

*coffee that is truly high quality, sustainability produced and pays respectable prices through the supply chain (from farmer, to millers, to exporter, to broker, to importer, to roaster, to retail, to the consumer [you])

they are pushing me out of the nest

after 3 weeks of training at World Headquarters in Durham, NC, USA Planet Earth, Counter Culture coffee is willing to let me sell their coffee to the Atlanta GA.

truth be told, i feel this position is a great fit. i'm excited to be part of such a well founded company that is based in quality, transparency and sustainability.