Week 5: Coffee and the Paradox of Generosity

“Rossaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Rossssssaaaaaaaa, yo quiero café!” Eve, my host-mom yells over to our neighbor across the street.

Me too! I think to myself, as I lay in bed, thinking about what would happen if I yelled to my neighbor back home, “I WANT COFFEEEEE!” Though I cannot be sure, I am assuming coffee is not what I would get.

Ten minutes later Rosa walks over with a taza of freshly brewed coffee in each hand.

Mine is always the same- a white, ceramic, almost teacup type of cup with circular grey, black and yellow designs on the side. For me, she makes it Dominican-amargo, just how I like it. It is black with just un chin, chin, chin of sugar, a rarity in a culture that loves to make their juices, batidas and coffees as sweet as the day is long.

Just another thing to make the strange American even stanger.

I take the coffee from Rosa, smiling ear-to-ear, “Gracias, Rosa! Eres la mejor.”

I inhale the smell , intoxicating my senses with its perfectly brewed essence. I pull up a plastic chair and sit by the open-air window in my casita. I watch my neighbors do their laundry and enjoy the view of my favorite little green house situated on my favorite little green hill. I put the coffee to my lips, savoring every drop.

This ritual has already become one of my favorite parts of my day. It is because this little cup of coffee represents a part of the Dominican culture that I have already come to love so much- sharing or compartir-ing in the richness of life. Here, in a collectivist culture in the Dominican Republic, compartir-ing is the foundation of everything, regardless of what you have.

Rosa, from an economic standpoint, is poor. She grew up`in a small, beautiful campo in the northern hills of Monte Plata. Her mother died when she was very young, forcing her to take on the responsibilities of a mother, wife and daughter at the tender age of 6. Because of these responsibilities that were forced upon her by a life that is often unfair, she was not able to attend school. She now lives in a small, yellow, wooden and zinc house with her husband that lacks many of the amenities most of us would consider to be necessities. Often times, she has to wait until her husband, an agricultura, gets paid to buy food from the local colmado, relying on her constant stock of rice and beans to get her through these stints of not having.  Yet she does not allow this label of poorness to dictate what she is willing to give; what she may be lacking in things, she makes up for in richness in generosity.

She shares everything she has- the coffee she makes, the food she cooks, the chairs she has to sit on. Her and her husband radiate warmth, love and kindness- all things that truly represent a life well lived. Rosa and Reye have been two of the people that have made my integration process that much easier, always ensuring I feel comfortable and welcomed while at their home.

I will forever be indebted to them for this priceless type of kindness.

When I talk to other volunteers about this special type of generosity from these special type of people, we all have recognized a similar trend. It often seems that the people with the least, often give the most- the Paradox of Generosity.  And though we all have our own theories around this paradox, we suspect that the people who know truly what it feels like to-not-have want to ensure that other people never have to feel that type of desperation.

Coming from a country of excess, a country with an entangled history of rugged individualism, I find that I too often come from a perpective of mine versus yours. I often hoard things I want for myself, worried about whether or not I ill have enough. Often I do not want to share what I consider to be my most cherished things. Too often I am looking out for me, myself and I. And don´t get me wrong. I was raised by parents who emulate generosity, thus, I was taught about the importance of sharing. I know how to share, and sometimes I even enjoying sharing, but I find that too often I view this task as a thing I should do opposed to a thing I want to do.

When I really think about this, I realize how ridiculous this is. Never in my life have I not had enough, never have I ever truly been without, never have I had to wonder about what tomorrow will bring- will we have water, will we have lights, will we have food? I have never had to ask myself these questions or even think about asking myself these questions. In the States, when I turn on the faucet, the water always runs. When I switch on the lights, the luz always comes. When I go the fridge, there is always food to be eaten. And even now living without many of these amenities, I live in a false sense of “hardship.” I know that the Peace Corps will ensure I always will have what I need. I still know that at any point I can pick up and leave this country and return back to my American way of life if I decide I have had enough. I have lived a life of excessive privilege, always having what I need and often always having what I want, too.

So then why as someone who has more than I need do I often find myself struggling to share willingly and gratefully?

I hope that over the many months to come, I will evolve into a person more like Rosa. When I finish my service and return home, I hope that my morning cup of coffee will always inspire in me the same type of generosity that has been bestowed on me time and time again. Because now I know what great joy and comfort such a simple act can bring.

 “When you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher fence.”

Until next time,

Jordan

This week in photos:

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One thought on “Week 5: Coffee and the Paradox of Generosity

  1. Jordan, what a beautiful story on your life and times. Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. composed a Shaker piece titled ‘Simple Gifts’ to wit:
    “Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,
    ‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,
    And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
    ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight
    To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
    To turn, turn will be our delight
    ‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.”
    It is a beautiful thing. Blessings. g

    Like

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