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Rooted in the Present

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Editor’s note: During a visit to a local, Jamaican coffee farm, Missioner Janice Smullen reflects on presence, rootedness, and how  to bloom where any of us may be planted.

Recently, I was able to spend a two-night holiday with my visiting sister at an eight acre coffee farm containing 5,500 coffee trees, about 3,000 feet up in the Blue Mountains. Blue Mountain coffee enjoys the benefits of near-perfect amounts of rainfall, temperature, and sunshine. I spoke with two of the women who now work at the bed and breakfast and who have also picked—and continue to pick—coffee beans.  

During our conversations, I learned that even in this near-perfect location, change in the weather is the primary concern for how that might affect coffee price: last year was the second year of drought, which meant the crop was small and the selling price was high. There were also several buyers who either buy out several smaller farms or compete for the sales. This year, the crop is looking quite good because of a high amount of rain, but the most important words that I heard in this conversation were “barring any hurricanes.”  

Experienced pickers may wear two shirts, hold the end of the coffee branch in their mouth and pick the beans into a pouch made in the upper shirt. One of the women I spoke to said how she doesn’t do well with this method and instead uses a basket, because she prefers to talk to her companions, and the hillside is often full of songs and conversations. Day workers from Kingston are amazed at how quick and agile the worker’s fingers are and how sure their feet—often just wearing flip flops—move on the hills that hold the plants.

During school holidays, I was told that children aged 8 years and up may accompany their parents and try their hands at picking, but they are watched carefully by the seasoned pickers. Each bean must be picked individually because each ripens at a different time. Only the cherry-red ones must be carefully twisted off to let the stem remain to leave a site for a new flower.

Speed is an important asset; things have to move quickly to provide fresh coffee for customers! After picked, the beans will only keep in the field for up to two days. Transport to the roasting plant and the processing of the beans is the next step; this is done around the clock by anywhere up to 200 women who hand-sort through the ready beans before they are packaged.

At one point in the day, my sister and I took a short hike, and a local man—who is just the same age as my son—led us around the area. I could hear the satisfaction in his voice as he told us about the good years and the bad years for crops; as he pointed out his home, and his mother’s home; and as he named the plants that we asked about and warned us of the dangerous ants’ nests (which I think is the ONLY dangerous thing around there!). Climbing up the branches of a tree, he picked and offered us fresh otaheite (Oh-two-ee’-tee) apples. I thought about the many places that my sister and I have hiked in the world and that we explore new area as travelers, while this man is connected, rooted, to his life in the mountains.

The owner of Lime Tree Farm is an expat Brit, and he also spoke of his satisfaction here: for the weather where he can be comfortable in a tee shirt year round; with the fact that there are no dangerous animals here; and about his cynical and loving bewilderment at the Jamaican systems of taxes and road repair. He also is now rooted here, helped along by seeing the success of his wife’s care with the coffee plants and the community ties that he has grown.

I suppose I am thinking these thoughts as I prepare to make another life change and move back to the States. My Franciscan mind tries to reconcile my transient life with the imitation of Jesus’ life. He made the great journey from Eternity to Earth and was continually on the move while at the same time being fully present and open to the needs of others. I wonder, did He know that He only had three years? Was he performing his “bucket list” before His departure?

In my mind, right now, I see the connection between living a life in the mountains and hopping a plane to the next “hike.” Each location and stage and path in life gives us the time to look at each moment as a gift, to cultivate a grateful heart, and to spread love to others. It is awesome whenever and wherever I find myself in those moments, and I feel the goosebumps of true connection.

Reflection Question: Where are you called to be—either physically or mentally—right now? How can you be present and grateful in this moment?

Janice has been granted the fruits of a family vocation and many community volunteer experiences during the past 40 years. Each experience has helped to build her faith in God's unending and unconditional love. She has been a CCD teacher, doula, ESL instructor, retreat facilitator, and mentor to refugee families. Now, Janice is grateful for the freedom and health and the opportunity to continue service and growth overseas. She lived most recently in Greensboro, NC, and loves to garden, sew, read, hike, and do yoga. Janice has been in Kingston, Jamaica since March 2016.