On a recent Saturday morning I ventured over to the home of my friends Sara and Tebabu in Takoma Park for brunch and coffee. I knew it would be an inspiring time, since meeting with them always gives me a new and refreshed perspective on life, not to mention nutritional and delicious sustenance.
I happened to get there while they were still out running an errand, so their daughter Helena let me in and chatted with me. As always she impressed me, this intelligent, mature, creative, caring ball of energy who clearly is the daughter of her parents.
We had a good time talking until her parents returned, and then gourmet chef Tebabu and I hung out in the kitchen while Sara ran to the store with Helena to grab a few extra groceries. Tebabu handed me a hot cup of Blessed Coffee and then began mixing and chopping, aromatic concoctions emitting delicious smells while simmering on the stove. I felt pleasantly comfortable and at home standing in the kitchen while he opened and closed cabinets and stirred pots on the stove. I asked about Ethiopian traditional breakfast foods as he worked, and as he prepared a few, our conversation meandered into what is going on in our lives which transitioned into stories from our child and adulthoods, situations that have made us grow, and inspiration from these situations. I already knew this, but it became more and more crystal clear to me how wise, perceptive, and in touch with feelings and energy Tebabu is.
Sara and Helena returned with the groceries and helped finish up preparations for the meal while we enjoyed more coffee and conversation. Helena asked her parents if I was staying for brunch, and when they said yes she cheered. That girl always has a way of making me feel even more welcome than I already do with their family! After awhile they called their son Yared to the table, and he led us in a blessing before we dug into a delicious family-style breakfast. Conversation continued throughout the meal and beyond, although we were pretty focused on the delicious food for a little while there!
So let me explain how we know each other. I met Sara and Tebabu about six or seven years ago, doing community outreach in the Takoma Park and Silver Spring area. I worked for a grant-funded program that no longer exists today (CSAFE) that often partnered with Impact Silver Spring, where Sara works. I got to know Sara first, during door knocking events and community meetings. While I did not get to know them both super well immediately, over time our friendship grew, and I would see them at events and activities in the community as well as at social events with mutual friends. Sara and Helena even joined a mutual friend and I a few times when we held a local yard sale to clean out junk and connect with our neighborhood.
When my community outreach job ended and I was no longer as deeply involved as I had been, I tried to find ways to remain involved and continuing to make a difference in the community. I heard that Tebabu and Sara were working on the first Silver Spring Ethiopian festival, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help. For a few weeks before the event I attended planning meetings and assisted with preparations leading up the event and some logistics the day of it. It turned into an annual event, and I continued to help as needed over the next few years. I would also show up at Blessed Coffee events to visit or help out as their business began to grow – various booths at community festivals, the Blessed Coffee Inauguration and first anniversary, and of course always telling my family and friends about their coffee (and purchasing and drinking it myself)!
This past spring I happened to listen to Tebabu speaking on a local internet radio show, and as always happens when I hear Tebabu speak, it energized me in a way that moved my spirit deep within. I sent him an email to let him know how much I had enjoyed the broadcast. Within hours he was emailing and calling me, asking if I would help out with the next steps in their project. It turned out he had been thinking about reaching out to me anyway.
That was the beginning of a summer and fall of Brewing Change meetings. Brewing Change was comprised of like-minded passionate individuals who met bimonthly over delicious healthy meals, converging to help Blessed Coffee arrive at the next level through a crowd-funding campaign to build a coffee shop in the area. I had only met a few of the people involved prior to the team coming together, so it was an opportunity to network and meet other individuals with similar values and ideals in life. Seeing each other regularly meant that we got to know each other fairly well, sharing things going on in our lives as well as our ideas and plans for the Brewing Change campaign.
The more I was exposed to Tebabu and Sara’s ideas for the campaign and their future coffee shop, the more I understood and embraced it. You see, I first learned about Fair Trade in college, when I started drinking coffee. I wrote for a bilingual (Spanish/English) newspaper and was assigned to research and write an article about the Fair Trade coffee trade in Latin America. That inspired me to make an effort to only buy Fair Trade coffee from then on whenever possible.
Upon learning about Sara and Tebabu’s Virtuous Exchange model, I was even more inspired. I love the concept of helping developing countries have fair wages and ethical treatment of their workers, creating sustainable environmental and business practices, being socially responsible, and not just giving more and improved jobs in the coffee producing countries but also here in the United States. Finally, since I enjoy learning about other cultures and traditions, I love it that Virtuous Exchange honors that aspect of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony and the cultural roots and origins of coffee on the planet.
So thank you Sara and Tebabu for that magical and transformative time spent with friends over brunch and Blessed Coffee the other day. More so, however, thank you for all that you are doing for the communities here in the United States, in Ethiopia, and someday across the world. I am proud to call you my Ethiopian cousins, and I support you in all your hard work moving forward to help make this planet a blessedly caffeinated and better place to live!