My Favorite Barista

Okay, my title is a little misleading because the girl I’m about to tell you about is not a barista.

But she did give me coffee and that’s what baristas do, right?

When I told people I was coming to Panama, a lot of them asked, “Is it a mission trip?”

“No…..” I said, “It’s kind of a long vacation,” (feeling slightly guilty that I was not going on a super-christian mission trip.)

Thing is, it’s turned into a mission trip. (Really quick let me fill you in: I don’t have a job here, can’t work in Panama, and even if I could, the average wage is around $2.00/hour.Since I’d rather have a root canal than be bored, I have thrown myself into basically every ministry outreach in Panama. So it kind of is a mission trip.)

Twice a week, my sister and I have our own little ministry. We load crayons, paper, pencils, erasers, candy, and cookies into backpacks, and travel to the mountains.

Think breath-taking beauty combined with severe poverty. Coffee bushes bursting with red berries cover the mountain. And workers pick these coffee beans. And the workers have kids.

Who basically run wild.

A few days ago, the kids had used up their creative energy, so we threw the chewed-up crayons back in my bag and took them all on the hike.

With ten kids between ages 8 months to ten years old, any hike is going to be eventful. We had the usual tears, hugs, pant-wetting, and throwing of rocks. Returned exhausted and incredibly thirsty.

There is this girl.

My heart felt a little pinched the first time I saw her. Rosa’s nine, but is small and thin, like a five-year-old. While her mother harvests coffee, she totes around her 8-month old baby sister on her tiny hips.

Shy in the beginning, Rosa wouldn’t approach us at first. She would only rebalance her baby sister and run away. But she’s been my buddy since the day everyone took off on a hike, and she had to stay and take a bath. She was wailing because she had to stay behind, so I stayed behind to wait for her. We’ve been BFF’s ever since.)

Anyway, I was wishing I had brought my water bottle. (Why can I never remember?)

Rosa realized I was thirsty. Smiling, she padded up in her worn-out crocs and gave me a yellow cup. I peered inside and saw a weak brown liquid.

“What is this?” I said in Spanish.

“Cafe” She answered.

“Oh…Gracias!”

I knew the cup wasn’t clean….had probably been used before….who knew what bacteria was in the water…..I was cringing on the inside and glancing at my sister like, “What should I do?” (I did NOT want more stomach-issues. The first two weeks in Panama were a nightmare as my body adjusted to higher levels of bacteria.)

The girl, seeing I wasn’t drinking it, took my cup and disappeared in the house again. She reappeared and thrust it back into my hand. It was now lighter brown.

I knew she’d put milk in it. She had sensed that I was hesitant and thought it was because I drank my coffee with milk. (I drink it black, by the way.)

“Leche.” She said.

“Gracias,” I responded.

I didn’t drink it. I couldn’t make myself, didn’t want to risk unknown bacteria or my poor stomach.

Eventually, she realized I wasn’t going to. She took the cup back and the children passed it around until it was empty.

Should I have drunk the coffee? I’m still wonder sometimes.

I was a barista for a year and a half. I wonder how many cups of coffee I made for people – no tengo una idea.

And how many cups of coffee have been handed to me? Again, no idea. But that’s one cup of coffee I’ll always remember. And she’s my favorite barista.

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