Tag Archives: coffee

The Next Phase

10 Aug

For those of you who have been following my adventures, I recently moved to Washington, DC to start a new job!

My new neighborhood

 I am the lead international communications and marketing associate for NCBA CLUSA International. A little bit of background on who they are and what I do:

The NCBA part stands for the National Co-operative Business Association and is the domestic trade association for co-op businesses. We host conferences, advocate for the co-op business model on capital hill, and connect co-op businesses across industries. Some businesses you may have heard of, but may not know are co-ops are REI, Florida’s Natural, Cabot Farms, and Ace Hardware. We also represent groups like food co-ops, rural electrical co-ops, and credit unions (1 in 3 Americans is a member of co-op). To be a co-operative business you must adhere to seven cooperative principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic (Members contribute equally to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative).
  4. Autonomy and Independence (if they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources they maintain democratic control and co-operative autonomy).
  5. Education, Training, and Information (so that members will be good decision makers, and so the general public will better understand co-operatives).
  6. Cooperation among Co-operatives (strengthening the co-operative movement by working together).
  7. Concern for Community (work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members).

The CLUSA part stands for the Co-operative League of the USA and is the name most commonly seen on our international work. Part of my job is to unify the two sides for a cohesive NCBA CLUSA brand that works domestically and internationally. On the international side, we truly believe in a community based approach, that works to strengthen groups and service providers to improve livelihoods through market-based approaches (as opposed to humanitarian aid, which comes only in a crisis). That’s a lot of jargon. Basically it means we work to strengthen groups and businesses on the ground through connecting them to outside markets, or making them more efficient, or improving nutrition.

Because of this cooperative foundation, a large chunk of our work is strengthening farmers co-ops, training in conservation agriculture, and nutrition led agriculture (innovations and strategies that work with assessing each community’s individual needs). These help to build resilience in communities. Food security gaps and climate change cause small shocks to be devastating, but increasing nutrient outputs (like planting yams or carrots in communities with Vitamin A deficiencies), or strategically farming with better irrigation techniques make those shocks (like drought or flooding) easier to resist. Because co-ops are community based, development solutions are community based. We work with mother’s groups and women’s savings and credit institutions. We’ve done work with youth and governance, because politically involved youth form community organizations. We work with coffee growers and co-ops and then link them with purchasers in the US (a co-op to co-op trade model that keeps prices fair). We train and support groups all along the agriculture value chain. We are one of the first organizations to start work in Cuba, which is starting to grow its economy by broadening the space for co-operatives.

Personally, my job is the tell these stories. To be able to share the best practices of innovative development in the field. I am helping to redesign what’s presented on our website (coming soon!), opening communication flows with the field teams, and promoting our leaders and techniques as innovators and best practices in the industry. Eventually I will be able to travel out to our projects (overseeing a current portfolio of 17 countries and 21 projects – as of August – projects open and close all the time as they finish their cycles).

My joy is telling stories, and these are the best stories to tell. The stories of overcoming challenges, of seeing opportunity and making the most, of going from barely making it to sharing wealth with others. These stories are why we in the international development industry do the work we do. Every one of the numbers is a story, and it’s my job to make that real and accessible to all of you back here.

So that’s my new job. I moved across the country, and back from Africa to start this next phase. I’m looking forward to a whole lot of new experiences, and meeting some interesting and inspiring people.

From grad school to Peace Corps and now NCBA CLUSA, I’m still telling these stories. But now, I have a lot more potential projects to cover and a wider platform. I will continue to update this blog with more of the personal side (with lots of travel photos!), and you can always see the work I’m doing here.


The Bunna Ceremony

10 Dec

Even though I have only been living here for just over two months (has it really been that long already?), there is one piece of Ethiopian culture I think I have a pretty good grasp on: The Bunna Ceremony.

Legend has it that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, in the south west of the country. True or not, coffee certainly has a large place in the culture here. I’m not talking “Ethiopian Roasts” from Starbucks, I mean the traditional coffee ceremony (called bunna in Amharic) that every Peace Corps volunteer has sat through at least 45 times by now.

Every special event, celebration, plain old 4pm in the afternoon, or 9pm at night calls for a coffee ceremony.  I will walk you through one as I got to help prepare the coffee from scratch. Now many of you who know me, are probably thinking how in the world did this coffee adverse girl get the luck of being assigned to the nation of the birthplace of coffee? She’s a waste a space. Never fear! I am officially now a coffee drinker. Not addicted yet, though I feel a slight headache coming on…

Though you really cannot compare this delicious concoction with an American cup o’ Joe. Therefore I am not a coffee “drinker” so much as I am officially a coffee “connoisseur,” and with such a now refined palette I will not bring my newly addict ways back across the Atlantic.


Ayu, one of our language trainers

Ayu, one of our language trainers

I think the best habit to come out of this ceremony is the presence of fandesha (popcorn). If you really want to get fancy and impress the neighbors you best make sure you have some popcorn (double points for kettlecorn done over the charcoal) ready. The other traditional accompaniment is a grass floor (not pictured). The “modern” version of this is a little straw mat died green to look like grass. I think this comes from the days when the floors were all dirt (most still are) and so only the fancy people could afford to put grass down—a sign of wealth.

bunna and fandesha

bunna and fandesha

Step 1- Wash the coffee beans that you picked out of your backyard, or if you’re a city girl like me (hey Gondar!) that you bought from your neighbor that picked it out of their backyard. Super fresh.

Raw Coffee Beans

Raw Coffee Beans

Step 2- Roast the beans over a traditional charcoal stove. None of you cheaters with your fancy propane burners! Be sure to waft the scent around the room (don’t know if this is traditional or because I smelled bad and my host mom wanted to cover it up).

perfectly roasted beans

perfectly roasted beans

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

Step 3- Grind the beans (by hand!) by crushing them with a mallet. While this is happening, be sure to “techawetchi” meaning talk about what’s going on in the town. Sanctioned gossip, all right! The word literally means “to play.”

Upper Body Strength is Key

Upper Body Strength is Key

Step 4- Boil the water in a jebenna and add scoops of ground coffee to steep. The jebennas are clay jug like things that considering I will not be brewing my own coffee anytime soon, will probably serve as beautiful flower vases. Machine espresso is also popular here (thank the Italians), but clearly everyone knows the best bunna bets in town are always jebenna bunna bets- the traditional way.

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!



Step 5- Add three spoons of sugar to a tiny cup. Maybe this is why I can drink it black. A quirk of our training region (the ARSI region) is that most people traditionally prefer bunna ba wetat, or “with milk.” Apparently not as popular up north.

Residual Sugar

Residual Sugar

Step 6- After a very finely tuned sense of timing (for me, the jebenna boiled over), you know the coffee is brewed. Serve 3 cups. This is very important, it is rude to quit after the first 2 because each is drunk to a specific toast. Cup 1 is for family, Cup 2 for friendship, Cup 3 for health. Don’t worry, they’re small.

3 Cups of Bunna... someone should write a book

3 Cups of Bunna… someone should write a book

All in all a bunna ceremony can take from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how much news you bring to the table, or how tired you are.  Along with the gorsha (feeding someone with your hands), the bunna ceremony is another traditional sign of love and friendship.

So I’m taking orders for Ethiopian roasts- but I will only entertain requests that come with care packages. I should have a PO Box in about 2 weeks! Keep your eyes peeled coffee lovers : )

Gobez Food Combinations

16 Nov

There are few food items here that are the most genius, clever, delicious combinations of tastes I have ever seen. Recipes and habits I will most definitely be bringing back to America, and cannot believe do not already exist there outside Ethiopian restaurants are as follows:

LowzShay- Peanut Butter Tea

Yes. You read that correctly. There is a tea with peanut butter in it that tastes exactly as you would imagine. Like melted peanut butter with tea. It is one of the most delicious concoctions ever invented and I don’t understand why Starbucks has not picked up on this yet.

Oatmeal Goop

I don’t know what this one is called, but it basically like cinnamon oatmeal in a drink form. It tastes like Christmas. It’s some sort of oat flour tea mix that is thick but you drink it from a mug. Did I mention it tastes like Christmas. Seriously, Starbucks, get on it.

Kaysir Wot- Beet stew

I don’t know if you’ve caught on yet, but the majority of food in Ethiopia is some kind of soupy, mushy liquid food. This is not a bad thing. Especially when you have beets, potatoes, garlic and spices all together in a heavenly mix. I’ll even give props to the berbere here (the infamous spicy almost curry-like spice mix used in basically every single Ethiopian dish ever).

Chocola Tibs- Roast Meat (usually ox)

This dish is literally a bunch of small bite sized bits of red meat charred to a crisp over charcoal. Let every man rejoice. It is served over a hot charcoal plate, sometimes with spicy peppers and tomatoes, and you eat it with injera and dip it in berbere powder (duh).

Tagabino- basically spicy humus

Tagabino is made from chickpeas and … you guessed it berbere. With onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes, we have all the staple foods here covered. It is cooked down to an almost playdough like texture and basically tastes like spicy humus. It’s awesome, not least because it isn’t as soupy as most wots. Plus it’s vegetarian so you can get it on Wednesdays and Fridays when there is no meat for the Orthodox fasting days.

Special Ful- Mashed Beans

This dish is a crossover from the Arabian Peninsula, but with an Ethiopian (read berbere) flair. It is basically garbanzo beans mashed with onions and garlic. But what makes it special you ask? It comes with scrambled eggs (and berbere) and sometimes even avocado! Plus it’s served with a baguette type bread, which is a nice break from injera.

Mar- Honey

Ya calm down- we have honey in America. But this is the real deal. It comes in huge vats and you buy it at the marketplace with the bees and honeycomb still floating in it and everything. Just a little protein, no worries! It is unfiltered and straight from the hives meaning it is thick and delicious. I will never eat honey that I can see through again. Worms, shmerms.

Somehow with all of this goodness I am dropping weight here. My worries of a carb filled diet were pretty accurate, but everything is so natural and the combination of new foods, stress, and probably a lot more walking have meant I’m slimming down a bit. Chiger yellum! (No problem!)