Author: Jess Pernsteiner, Farmer Relations and Community Outreach Coordinator
Day 1: Arriving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Selam! (Hello, in Amharic!) After 2 flights and 2 days of travel, I had arrived in Addis Ababa, the buzzing capital of Ethiopia. Initially overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that are trademark of any airport, I soon found myself at ease amongst the unknown. With every trip, I find that I’m reminded again of our ability and the surprising ease in which we can adapt.
While experiencing the layers of culture shock, on a heightened scale due to the short duration of this short trip, I feel that these journeys speak our ability to connect and better understand the shared characteristics that make us human.
My fellow travel companions were a total of 5: 3 staff members from Just Coffee’s green importing cooperative, Cooperative Coffees, and 2 other roaster-members. Within Coop Coffees, Florent is responsible for contracting coffee with both Indonesian and African producer partners, Ellen is lead cupper and Deborah is the accountant and office manager. The roaster-members included Glenn, with Desert Sun Coffee Roasters in Durango, CO and Brad, from Larry’s Coffee in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Our group of 6 had traveled from France, Canada and the US to connect with producer partners in the Sidama Region of southwestern Ethiopia. Upon arriving in Addis, we quickly piled up in 2 Land Rovers to visit the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU) Office. We met with the staff to exchange brief greetings before their meeting with an organic certification inspector. We left the SCFCU Office and drove through the city center. Staring out the window, I was completely taken aback by the frantic energy of the capital. Vehicles and people were everywhere, and seeing the city provided me with a firsthand perspective of the economic struggles of a third world country. Tuk Tuks (known as auto rickshaws in other parts of the world) and motorcycles were abundant, and amongst the plethora of cars, taxis and vans, I was quite impressed by the ability of our drivers to navigate the traffic, tight roads and roundabouts in the capital city that had surprisingly few traffic lights.
As we left Addis, we embarked on the 318 km drive south to the Sidama region. I’m amazed amidst the potholes and rough road, the other vehicles, donkey carts, livestock crossing- not to mention, hundreds of people sharing a narrow road, that I was able to sleep most of the ~6 hour journey to the city of Yirgalem. At 1,800m (5,909 feet), Yirgalem is situated in beautiful, lush, mountainous terrain, and an ideal region for growing coffee. Arriving at the lodge where we were staying, I found myself completely in awe of the peace and serenity, and surreal reality that I was actually in Africa. Staying in the lodge in such a remote location, listening to the cackles of hyenas was an unexpected and slightly uncomfortable lullaby to coax one to sleep. Realizing then that the walls of our dwelling, a bamboo-thatched Sidama tukul (cone-shaped mud huts with thatched roofs) are not quite a concrete barrier, I drifted into an uneasy sleep filled with strange dreams- often a side effect of anti-malarial meds.