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Sam Visits Peru

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Q: What did you find most interesting?
A: For me, seeing the co-op and hearing about its organizational structure was fascinating: How it started, changed and evolved to suit the needs of the members.  There is a committee that serves the interests of women and a committee to involve young people. Fair trade funds have helped to establish these and other community services.

Having recently spent some time traveling in Europe, it was a fascinating contrast to spend time in native Peruvian communities and to see a sliver of their lives. The after-effects of European colonialism are apparent everywhere for the people and the landscape. Life is very different (at least as far as the material conditions) in Peru.  We take for granted many of the things about our lives.  We almost expect them, but are blind to the conditions that provide them, and blind to the implications of having them. To summarize, culture contrast. 

Q:  Did the trip change how you think about coffee, fair trade, and/or Peace Coffee?  If so, how?
A:  It made me more viscerally aware of the work that is involved in producing something that almost every adult in the United States takes completely for granted. It made me aware of how large, global economic structures—ones that are dependent on our complicity—create the condition where local economies have to struggle in order to accommodate the needs of the larger structure. There's so much space for exploitation, both of the land and the people.

It happens here in the U.S. too, but this is on another scale. At its best, fair trade is like a labor union, looking out for the good of the little people who invest a majority of the work. And Peace Coffee (at its best), is an important part of the chain of relationships we're calling fair trade.

It also changed the way I think about my day-to-day work in that I realize that we have a responsibility to play our part in this web of relationships. A lot of people are working very hard to provide us with "specialty coffee" and in turn we need to work just as hard to provide for them.
 
Also, I learned that I don't really care for the concept of "specialty coffee." I would rather have just coffee for everyone than special coffee that only the elite can enjoy.  

Q:  What is your favorite memory or the trip?  And... let's say least favorite too!
A:  My favorite memory would have to be the entire trip to the native community.  I'll never forget the beautiful truck ride there; the fermented purple sweet potato/yucca drink in the gourd; the purple banana I ate just after hearing the story of the young non-native guy who fell in love with the native girl and is trying to live in the community; rich chicken soup from a huge cauldron at a table in a grass-thatched kitchen hut with heirloom lemons and boiled yucca; drinking more fermented purple stuff; watching everybody hanging out in the coffee field, talking about coffee and cracking jokes; and the truck ride back, hunkered down awkwardly, having to pee really badly, and chatting with sweet Sarita.   

I also enjoyed meeting Esperanza [the co-op’s famous General Manager] and getting to observe her smart, strong, and kind ways.  And Rhianna for her excellent skills with language and in her knowledge of coffee stuff.  I also really enjoyed meeting Sra. Norma and Sarita [co-op representatives].  And eating meals at the Casa Blanca B & B. 

Least favorite memory is probably the large amount of traveling we did, most specifically the back-to-back night trips at the end. The bus trip was the most memorable in an unpleasant way.  

Q: Do you have any suggestions/recommendations for folks who are interested in travelling to see where their coffee comes from?

A:  I would strongly encourage any traveller to read up on fair trade, coffee and the country or region that you'll be visiting. Having a little background makes the experience a lot richer. It’s also great to go with a group, and to have someone who can do all the legwork to get the trip organized!  For me, that person was [Peace Coffee’s Director of Coffee] Anne Costello.  I am really grateful to her for all the work she did and to Peace Coffee for giving me the opportunity to travel!


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