It's Thursday, day 16 of a 21 day trip. We need 4,000 pounds of coffee. We have 300. I've been telling Arturo for the past week to make sure Joan Cueva actually brings the 1500 pounds of coffee today.
[When we went to Cueva's plantation almost a month prior, none of the coffee was dry. The extremely wet - rainy season set back the normal harvest date, so we couldn't purchase any coffee at that time. But, three weeks later, Cueva's crop was ready. He calls Arturo and tells him that he has almost 2000 pounds of his washed coffee dried and ready for peeling. Arturo smiles as he tells me of the magnificent news. I perk up because I know of the quality of Cueva's offering. He tells us that he will deliver 1500 pounds in his pick-up in a week and a half. I'm ecstatic. Everyone is going to love it.]
Thursday comes. Arturo follows his normal routine. He knocks on my door at 5:30 and tells me breakfast will be served in 15 minutes. He says that I need to shower. I spring out of bed, grab my clothes, and head for the dreadful dip. The ridiculously cold water hits my face, and like clockwork, I awaken. I spend my normal 15 seconds in there to avoid hypothermia and get ready for breakfast. As I approach the table, I see the typical breakfast that Arturo makes me every morning: two hard boiled eggs, two thick strips of bacon, a piece of bread, a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, and a steaming cup of joe. Arturo brings out his plate and sits in his battered but sturdy chair at the head of the table. We say our respective prayers and dig in.
Something isn't right with Arturo. He's far more quiet than usual. I ask him what's the matter. He says he's worried. I know this isn't good. Arturo never stresses. He tells me that Joan called him late last night and said he doesn't think he can bring the coffee because the patrol officers will not allow him to cross over counties without a permit. Interrupting, I ask, "Why doesn't he get the permit?" Arturo pauses. I've seen this irritated look before. He looks up at me and says, "It will take 3 weeks." I hang my head and take another bite of bacon.
We sit in silence for 10 minutes. Negativity pervades my train of thought. "˜I'm never going to get this coffee that I need." "There's no wonder why there isn't any coffee from this region in the U.S." "The bureaucracy is absurd."
Suddenly, Arturo cracks a smile. He starts nodding his head. He's figured it out. He grabs his phone, surfs his contacts, and calls Joan Cueva. Cueva answers. Arturo tells him to take a specific back road that allows him to avoid the patrol officers. While it will add 2 hours to the trip, we will be able to receive the coffee. Cueva thinks for a minute and questions Arturo's route. Arturo explains it in greater detail, and Cueva hesitantly agrees to try. Arturo, like he always does, assures that nothing will go wrong.. Cueva agrees to be at the peeler at 3:30.
Dressed for success, Arturo and I get in a taxi and head for the processing facility in Pinas...
When we arrive to the peeler, Mrs. Marie and Mr. Fabricio greet us with warm smiles. I give Mrs. Marie her kiss on the cheek and Mr. Fabricio a stern handshake. They tell us that a few farmers called them and said they would bring in their natural coffee to be processed. I'm ecstatic. I absolutely love when farmers come to the processing facility. I get to meet and chat with them, and we all get to talk about their coffee..
An hour later, I hear the first truck pull up to the unloading dock on the second floor. I sprint up the stairs and open-up the double doors. The farmer looks back and realizes a white man is staring at him. He glances at me then immediately, looks back. I smile and nod, as I realize that I've once again forgotten I look different than they do. He smiles and nods back.
He has 8 huge sacs of coffee. I run to grab the cart, and he chuckles. He tells me that it's not heavy. The 60-year-old man picks it up with ease. I walk over, exert an extreme amount of effort, and easily pick up the large sac. I'm confused. Why in the world is this so lightweight?
We open the bags and begin to pour the coffee into the first processing machine. I immediately realize why. It's a completely different type of coffee. It's natural coffee. It's coffee that has been dried out in the cherry, thus the sac is abnormally large but each one only contains about 20 pounds of actual coffee. I'm humbled. While I've read all about natural coffee, I had yet to see it.
The farmer and I pour the coffee into the first processor then head downstairs to the second machine.
Mr. Fabricio cranks up the peeler apparatus and the natural coffee quickly runs through it. The coffee cherries and parchment are ripped apart, leaving only the bean. The coffee pours into the standing bag that awaits. I'm captivated by the glowing aroma â€“ the natural coffee smells much different than the washed I'm accustomed to. It smells like honey, hard-work, and hope. It smells like â€“ home.
The farmer collects his coffee and asks if I'd be interested in purchasing it. I smile: of course I'd like to. We exchange hand shakes, and Arturo and I tell him to stop by the greenhouse to pick up his sac of fertilizer. He smiles. He says that he will pick it up next week.
The famer leaves. It's 12:30 now. We all decide to go to lunch.
On the way, Arturo calls Joan Cueva. He answers and says that he is close. Only 2 and a half hours out...
After a half chicken, a serving of plantains, and a hearty serving of rice and beans, we were set to return to the peeler.
We settle up with the waiter and begin the half mile trek back up the hill. 10 steps in and I can't help but to wonder about Joan Cueva. I ask Arturo to give him a call.
The phone rings once and then drops signal. Arturo says that this is a good thing: there is a dead spot 15 minutes outside of Portovelo, a city 20 miles from Pinas. Like always, I trust Arturo's judgement.
We get back to the processing facility and a farmer is there waiting on us. It's not Joan Cueva. I introduce myself and we dump his natural coffee in the first machine. Afterwards, we walk down the old wooden steps and head down to the peeler.
Mr. Fabricio fires it up and the coffee begins pouring out. Like the first natural coffee experience, an aroma of honey fills the room. While there appears to be a few more defects, the aroma is even stronger. I shake Orlando's hand, as I agree to buy 200 pounds of his unique product. I know that it will be well received in The States.
Orlando leaves and my train of thought quickly shifts back to Joan Cueva. Arturo gives him a call, and he answers. He says that he is 10 minutes out. Arturo tells him that we will meet at the corner, a block of way from the peeler. Arturo and I walk towards the corner that has the useful Western Union - and Arturo's favorite place, the convenience store. (Whenever Arturo gets stressed, he can't help but to purchase 3 cigarettes).
I'm a kid in a candy store. I can't wait to receive the gourmet coffee!
The ten-minute mark hits. No sign of Joan. Arturo calls. Joan is in a red truck. He's 1 minute out.
I see a red truck pull to the corner, but I quickly look past it. It can't be Joan. There aren't any coffee sacs in the back of the truck. So, Arturo and I wait eagerly.
A few minutes later, a man taps Arturo on the shoulder. It's Joan. Arturo asks, "Where did you park?"
He points to the red truck. That was him. There aren't any sacs of coffee.
Arturo asks, "Where is the coffee?"
Joan says, "Well, I was nervous about crossing the county line..."
I walk off. Without saying a word, I head straight for the processing facility.
I arrive. I find a chair - stare off into the distant - and think.
5 minutes later, Cueva and Arturo pull up to the facility. Knowing that I'm beyond frustrated, Arturo doesn't say a word to me - nor does Joan.
The longer I sit in the chair, the deeper in thought I become. A rush of positivity permeates my thoughts. I nod my head yes. I've always found a way to get the job done. While this may be one of my most difficult obstacles, I know I'll find a way to get the coffee I need.
Something tells me to approach Joan.
I ask him to step outside the facility for a minute. I'd like to talk.
I tell him, "Joan, there is a right and a wrong way to do business. While I'm only a 21 year old man, I know that this isn't the right way. Your word has to be gold. If you tell me that you're going to do something, I expect you to follow through."
He tells me, "I agree. If you never want to purchase my coffee again, I understand. I'm sorry for doing this to you."
As I stand there, face-to-face - man-to-man, I realize this obstacle's purpose. It's my rite of passage. It's my initiation into the world of international business ventures. It's the obstacle that tests my will - the obstacle that I must overcome to prove to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.
I say to Joan, "I forgive you. We will work together in the future - I assure you. But, you must promise me that I can trust your word."
He says, "I promise."
Later that day, I looked back on the experience. The more I thought about it, I realized that Cueva wasn't the only person at fault in this situation. Arturo and I should have never put him in the difficult position he was in with transporting coffee across county lines without a permit.
As I told Joan - "There is a right and wrong way to do business." I must practice what I preach.
For the first time in my life, two wrongs made a rite.