letters from near and far

I probably don’t need to learn another language

March 10, 2021 • By

Tomorrow morning I have my first class in Swahili. 

It won’t be my first time with Swahili (I still remember  “Jambo” from my week in Kenya!), but for all intents and purposes, I’m as beginner as beginner gets. 

But if everything goes according to plan (and almost nothing has gone according to plan in the last year), it should be the first class of many as I get ready to spend time this summer in Uganda doing fieldwork for a thesis.

The plan for Swahili, if there is one since it came to mind this afternoon when I promptly signed up for a tutor (gotta bottle that lightning!), is to be able to introduce myself and put the people I’m speaking with more at ease to end up with a more pleasant and productive interview process. 

By being able to string together enough short phrases, I can (hopefully) express how coffee and the people who grow it have become more and more a part of my life recently, and the gratitude I feel for it.

(If not, there’s always Jambo.)

Because, intentionally or not, coffee and tourism have been on my mind for a good part of the last six months.

For one, I have had the pleasure of working with Indie Grow and 50 Amigas to support the launch of their impactful venture featuring women farmers in Colombia (their video’s a must-watch). Being able to watch their vision come to life, while also playing with words in both Spanish and English, has been a delight.

(If you end up ordering a bag, let me know!)

At the same time that I started with them, I was whittling ideas down for the thesis I’ll need to research and write to finish this program in September. After entertaining the idea of dark tourism, and the impact of Michelin-starred restaurants on the neighborhoods they’re in, I settled on the potential for coffee tourism as a tool for economic development.

(If you know anything about economics, I’m all ears.)

Once our first semester was finished, we were assigned an advisor to guide our thesis. One of the first questions mine asked was why I had chosen this idea. Unlike the others in my program, and perhaps to my own detriment, I hadn’t really considered those other options. Perhaps I could stand to be more calculating. 

Instead, coffee tourism was the idea I was drawn toward, the idea I felt could justify months of research and writing and bibliography-modifying.

In that move and that pursuit of an interest, I see myself as a 22-year-old deciding to go back to television after a job as a baker to launch a talk show with the host of a reality show. It was the Next Most Interesting Thing at that point in time. I committed to it, it bore some fruit, and that was that. 

But when the challenges were no longer there and it was clear my interest lay elsewhere (perhaps I should’ve read the writing on the wall that my time in TV was winding down when my TV bosses teased me for not having a TV), it was time to reconsider what interesting meant.

While I’m still figuring it out, at its core it’s been about finding people and projects that excite me enough to be earnest in my commitment.

(A job worth doing is a job worth doing well, as they say.)

It’s that interest that led to turning a random LinkedIn message on my girlfriend’s computer into a months-long opportunity with Indie Grow. 

It’s that interest that led to seeing a connection between two disparate summers, one in Rwanda and one in France, that led me to see what lay beyond the borders of the country I grew up in.

And it’s the interest that led me to throw down the Ph.D. thesis I was reading (well, close the tab, but I closed dramatically) to find a tutor with whom to learn Swahili.

We’ll see where we’re at after 30 minutes (and hopefully 3 months, or more!) of Swahili, but I remain hopeful that staying open to interests is a good way forward. 

It could be nothing, but at least it’s worth finding out.