Ben calls our current harvest the hardest one yet. I’m not sure what to call it, but the image of my husband in tears at our kitchen table will be with me forever. This was the harvest that frayed us to our very last emotional thread.
Our biggest challenge was navigating a country-wide fuel shortage. Power and water are the most basic needs of coffee production. In order to produce coffee in remote regions, fuel is necessary to power the generator that in turn powers the coffee depulper that is the key to washed coffee. We also needed fuel to get people and other resources up and down the mountain.
Our Operations Manager was glued to her phone, hoping that one of her contacts would tell her where there might be fuel. If a text came, she would race with fuel canisters in tow, to the fuel station. Often, she would wait for hours in a line only to get to the front and be turned away because there was none left. Our lives became all about fuel until the fumes of it stuck to our hair and drenched the interior of our cars.
When our attention wasn’t on the fuel crisis, it was on our water crisis. Heza, after three years and many attempts, still did not have a working well. Our water supply was critically low. We have tried to solve the water issue at Heza in so many ways that I have lost track of how many attempts we’ve made. On several occasions we declared that, “The well is finally working!” only to discover hours later that the pipes had given way.
This season we faced a new set of ever changing seasonal rules. Right before harvest commenced, collection points were outlawed. We could no longer go to farmers to collect coffee, they had to bring it to us. It became commonplace to meet farmers on the road who were carrying their coffee to us from their homes which were often ten to fifteen kilometers away. Ben asked a farmer named Jean why he had brought us his coffee from fifteen kilometers away. Ben was especially curious because Jean had passed two other washing stations on his way to us. Jean said that for twenty years the others stations had been taking a portion of his harvest for themselves. Ben and Jean calculated together that unjust scales and the people behind them had taken six point six pounds of every twenty pounds of his coffee cherries, and they had been doing it for twenty years. Jean pointed to our coffee farms which cover the mountain above our washing station and said, “Your scales are fair and I see that you are also farmers. We are in this together. Twese hamwe.”