Trying to write about Kew Park from Washington, D.C. is probably something like trying to write about Mars from Earth. It feels like planets apart. The only thing that overlaps in both worlds is the cup of coffee sitting next to my computer. When I smell the Kew Park coffee in my kitchen here in D.C., I feel a faint glimmer of those glorious farm mornings, drinking a cuppa Joe on the Cottage porch during that precious hour before it gets unbearably hot, the birds are singing the day’s praises, the dew still coats the grass.
The view from one of the many wonderful porches at Kew Park.
No matter where I am in the world, I have to drink a cup of coffee in the morning; that much will never change. Ironically, though, for the Kew Park workers, coffee never enters the picture before they head to work; they don’t need it to wake up. Most of them never even drink the coffee, period. “It’s bad for your health,” one of the workers told me as he picked the ripe berries off the trees. “Don’t drink it too often; it makes you anxious,” said another Kew Park worker. The only time I ever saw anyone drink coffee on Kew Park was after dinner. So strange!
All of the coffee workers walk to work early every morning – often with the world still dark – for at least two or three miles. After eight hours they trudge home again by foot. As I’d watch them weave their way through the thick Jamaican bush in rubber flip-flops and ripped Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts in the early morning hours, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of admiration for their daily commute (and the efforts of so many more coffee farmers) just to make the Americans and Japanese and other coffee-craving people of the world have a boost of caffeine for their own commute.
These guys don't complain about needing their morning cup of coffee.
I suppose, though, if our own weaknesses in America support these kinds of farmers, then I’m okay with having this weakness. If our needs feed these people, then the irony is fine by me, as long as the workers actually receive the money they deserve (which, at Kew Park, I know they do).
But I also think there is a lesson to be learned from these workers, who don’t ask for anything as they walk up the hills at six in the morning. I admit that I am accustomed to certain comforts in my life, and if I don’t have them I can get cranky (or “hangry” anyone?). But the coffee workers don’t need anything. They’re not hungry or thirsty or sleepy, or if they are, they don’t say it. They may want things, but they don’t need things. There’s a difference. They can function with very little. And of course, much of this could be because they didn’t grow up with certain comforts that I’m used to. But I also think it goes deeper than that, to a certain laid-back mentality and way of looking at the world, a mindset that we all can – and should – learn from. I remember clearly a conversation I had with Dawn, a wonderful lady who cooked delicious food at Kew Park. “You’ve got the Jamaican attitude,” she said when I told her that I didn’t really care what food was given to me, as long as it was food. “Here in Jamaica we don’t mind things.”
I glowed in what I took as a compliment, but she was wrong in some ways. In the morning especially, I do like for things to be a certain way, and fortunately the mornings on the farm were the most tranquil and lovely of times. They provided the kind of clarity of thought that is hard to come by in a chaotic city, or when you’re constantly wired into your emails, texts, technology in general; all of those things fade away in remote Kew Park. And what takes its place? Birdsongs, books, a cup of coffee on the porch. Hence why I'm attempting to re-create those glorious cups of coffee in my kitchen in D.C.