Shortly after our group arrived in MN village for a three day visit and time of working in the coffee fields, my young friend YGS spotted me on the path to the public outhouse and waved me over towards her. She was sitting on the second floor porch of a neighbor’s house, chatting with two other girls between 6 and 9 years old. After finishing my business, I climbed up the stairs to give my greetings to my young friends.
YGS rambled and giggled on and on, catching me up on all that I’ve missed in the past few months since she had seen me—her dad going off to work in a factory in the east, her getting hepatitis A and spending several days in the hospital, her dad coming back because of the illness, their selling the family dog as meat to help pay the hospital bills, her eagerness to start second grade the next week. I didn’t have to do much prompting to get her to tell me about her experiences in town when she went to the hospital, the older of the two sisters with us adding a detail here or there when YGS left something out. The younger sister sat between us, her eyes going back and forth from face to face as we talked, like she was watching a tennis match. She’s too young to have started school yet, so she can’t speak much Chinese, but she did her best to keep up with our conversation.
I was feeling drained of energy from the drive up the Mountain and from our first afternoon of pulling weeds on the coffee terraces, so I suggested to the girls that we have a cup of coffee together, knowing they wouldn’t enjoy it, but wanting to be polite and offer it. YGS eagerly accepted, and the other two followed hesitantly. I made myself a cup from one packet of 3-in-1 instant coffee, sugar, and creamer, and I used a second packet for the girls to share in two cups between the three of them.
We sat on a low bench together, looking out at the village path ahead of us, watching as people came in from the fields. We held our improvised coffee mugs (one metal tea cup and two plastic cups) gingerly around the rims to keep from burning our fingers, blowing on them as we made small talk.
Soon my cup was empty. The three girls were still passing their cups between themselves, pretending to take sips and making excuses about how hot the coffee was. I caught a glimpse of the youngest making an overly dramatic gagging face after she tasted it, before “accidentally” spilling half of it on the edge of the porch.
“I know coffee can taste bitter,” I said, despite the fact that 3-in-1 packets are about 95% sugar. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to drink it. I won’t be upset.”
YGS made a couple more attempts at being polite by drinking it before asking me, “Do you think pigs like to drink coffee?”
David and Julie’s pig pen is directly under the porch we were seated on. The temptation to pour her cup over the edge into their trough was visibly creeping across YGS’ face as she gazed down on those pigs.
“I don’t know. I’ve never given a pig coffee before,” I replied.
She thought about it a minute more, then shook the idea out of her head. She dumped the two cups of coffee on the ground next to the outdoor water faucet and gave them a cursory rinse before handing them back to me.
(I took a picture of YGS and myself last year, and now she asks me to take one of us together every time I visit. My wet hair was no excuse not to take one on this recent visit.)