Sometimes – not as often as I’d like to admit, but sometimes – I think about where my food came from. About the people who raised it, about that hands that prepared it and packaged it. About the places it comes from. (Except meat. I can’t even. For which my husband will mercilessly tease me until my dying day. But I like to think that my chicken was born and raised in a sun-dappled meadow and then transfigured into a neatly vacuum sealed plastic package. Without feathers.)
When I was offered the opportunity to interview one of the American media personalities making the trek with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl trip, I was intrigued because they were going to Columbia, which is coffee land. And they were going to interview and meet with coffee farmers. And Lisa Hendey – aka CatholicMom.com – was one of my interview options. I believe they call this phenomenon natural fit, no?
Lisa was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, and her last answer in particular has lodged itself in my heart and in my brain. I think you’ll see why. Welcome, Lisa, and thank you for the beautiful and sobering glimpse into the world that produces my beloved morning cup.
Jenny: Did you feel a connection with these women in spite of you different lifestyles? Was there a natural bond between you as mothers, and did you see aspects of your own daily routine/family life reflected in what you observed?
Lisa: One of our very first meetings in Colombia was to visit a center which serves families who are essentially refugees in their own country, after having been forcibly removed from their homes and land due to the internal conflicts in that beautiful country. I sat and wept silently as I listened to a young single mother of four describe fleeing her home in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on her back. While I could absolutely never understand what that must feel like, I could absolutely relate to the sense that she, as a mother, would do absolutely anything to protect and provide for her precious children.
On many of our site visits, we met women who were so kind to prepare meals for us. With my limited Spanish, I loved popping into their kitchens, thanking them, and checking out their homes. I’m not a good cook, but there is something so universal about welcoming someone into your home and feeding them–both physically and spiritually. Their kitchens were extremely simple: a hotplate at most, and often they were actually cooking over an open flame! But the results were always delicious. I wanted to pitch in several times and help serve or do dishes, but was always hospitably denied the chores. I had to laugh, because I would have done the same in my home if I were entertaining visitors!
One day, we visited a beautiful Catholic school high in the Andes Mountains. The students there gave a presentation for us and used Powerpoint to share the work in their school which is being supported by CRS and Rice Bowl. I smiled, because there in the “audience” with us were Catholic school moms who had come (on their children’s summer vacation!) to listen to their children give their presentations. Those moments at St. Francis of Assisi school took me right back to my days as a Catholic school mom at St. Anthony’s School in Fresno! And it was such a joy to meet and chat with the moms, who had such beautiful love for their children. Their hope is for the safety, well being, bright future and spiritual development of their precious sons and daughters.
So yes, I absolutely bonded in many ways! Meeting families and being welcomed into their homes was an amazing way to get to know the country of Colombia and her people.
J: How important is it to be conscientious consumers, particularly of goods – like coffee – that are largely produced in the developing world? Did you see room for American moms in particular to partner spiritually with the women who are raising their beloved morning coffee beans, and an opportunity to live in greater solidarity by: buying fair trade/ encouraging others to do the same/ giving up a day or two of coffee a week to offset the higher cost/ praying for the woman on the other side of the cup while you’re brewing and drinking it?
L: We visited with three separate coffee producers and learned the challenges but also the joy that goes into their production of coffee. After this trip, I will never again guzzle down my beloved morning beverage without thinking of those families. Many of them have made a conscious choice NOT to grow illicit (but lucrative) coca. Instead, they make the important decision to grow coffee. But the producers we met go far beyond just growing coffee. The crops they grow are actually such high quality that they are being sold as specialty coffee around the world and earning high rankings.
We learned a great deal both about the importance of fair trade and also of the role of sustainable coffee production. Being in the Andes and walking around coffee fields, it was immensely gratifying to see the concepts that Pope Francis had so eloquently written about in Laudato Si’ being lived out before my very eyes.
J: What was the most surprising moment for you of the trip?
L: The most surprising moment of the trip was also the most poignant. I’ve written about it in detail at http://catholicmom.com/2016/01/15/giving-of-our-poverty-crsmedia-colombia-journal/. We went to Colombia to learn about and share the impact of CRS’s Rice Bowl program for families living in that country. Our family has loved using the Rice Bowl in our home as an important part of our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One of our outings in Colombia was a visit to the home of Maria, a beautiful young woman whose family has been served and supported by Rice Bowl donations. (see http://www.crsricebowl.org/stories-of-hope/week-1) – Maria and her parents and siblings welcomed us with open arms into their simple home–a shelter with dirt floors and tarp walls, but warm with love. Over a breakfast they prepared for us, our colleague Susan taught them about the Rice Bowl and actually gave them a Rice Bowl. I had to laugh when Maria put it together right then, at the breakfast table!
What surprised me was the story my fellow traveler Fr. Rafael Capo told me a few moments after we finished breakfast and said our goodbyes. Maria had quietly filled out the Rice Bowl and she and her family inserted their gifts and handed it to Father Rafael, asking him to carry it back to the US and donate it for them. Knowing the love and support her family had received through Rice Bowl, they too wanted to make a gift to other families being served around the world. Fr. Capo told me this story with great emotion… and I understand why. This family might be considered disadvantaged economically, but they are rich in love!