Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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101 BMag: Wait … Nebraska?? JNA: It's a very long story, but actually I had a friend who was going to school in Nebraska, he was a runner. You know how you always go somewhere you know someone? I didn't even speak English when I came here! I came to learn English before I went to college. It was quite a culture shock for me, but Nebraska is actually like home for me because it was where I fi rst came when I went to the U.S. How- ever, with the cold weather, I soon realized, "What did I get myself into?" I tried to get out as quickly as possible by taking summer school classes, so it only took me three and a half years to earn two degrees. [Laughs] International business and marketing were my two degrees. I was in wireless telecommunication before I got to coffee. BMag: Was coffee something you were familiar with from your youth? Did your family drink coffee or was it something that you mostly expe- rienced when you moved to such a cold place as Nebraska? JNA: I didn't drink coffee growing up, but my mother knew coffee. She grew up on a farm in Ngozi Province and many years later she told me the story of her family growing coffee, and how the whole family helped harvest the crop. The money they received from their coffee paid the cost of schooling for her and her siblings. When she told me this not too many years ago, my response was, "What?!" She said, "Yes, how do you think I went to school?" My mother was such a strong believer in getting a good education and she worked hard to get one, and made sure her children did too. That's how I ended up on this journey to the U.S. and eventually back to coffee in Burundi: It all started with a good education. BMag: Other than that, coffee didn't play a big role in your life? JNA: No, most people don't drink coffee in Burundi, I grew up drink- ing tea. When I was a little girl, in the morning before school, we were always fed tea and a piece of bread. In the evening after school, work- ing on our homework, we had tea as well. Tea is part of the culture more than coffee—people just grow coffee for export purposes. BMag: The farms are typically pretty small as well, is that right? JNA: Throughout the whole country, the majority of people farming coffee in Burundi have fewer than 50 trees of coffee. Almost all the farmers in Burundi do grow coffee, in addition to other crops, but in small quantity. It's such a very small country—it's the size of the state of Maryland, and overpopulated. We have over 11 million people. When you go to the countryside, it's stunning, there are hills all around, but you don't see many houses because so many people live under one roof. But it is a very community-bound place: They all live with each other and support each other. BMag: What inspired you to leave Burundi to come to the U.S.A. and study? JNA: When I came to the U.S. there were not that many Burundians in America. Most people would go to school in a place like France or Belgium, because having been a French colony, we spoke the lan- guage. The trend was always to go to Europe. "Who goes to the U.S.?" For me, however, it was a question of opportunity. I've always been a person who would take a risk for the possibility of a good outcome. So when the opportunity to go to the U.S. came, I said, "I'll learn the language and see how it goes." Today, my sister and I both live in the U.S. I have a brother who lived in France for about 20 years and recently moved to Kenya, and another younger brother who stayed in Burundi. This brother actually has his degree in agronomy! So he is always helping us when we have questions about coffee. BMag: Speaking of coffee, how did you get your start in this industry from working in telecom for so long? JNA: Really what inspired me to get into coffee was that I had a relative in Burundi who was in coffee and looking for some help to get his coffee to the marketplace—but at the same time I was expecting twins and I was traveling a lot internationally. I said, "I need to change my career a little bit, to do something that doesn't require me to be on the road quite as much." When this cousin approached me, I said, "Why not help this kid?" As it happened, I had been hearing a lot about coffee because the coffee industry had just been privatized in Burundi. Several years earlier, I had met someone who was working with USAID in Burundi, and he said, "You know, you should really be getting into coffee—there are going to be so many opportunities." So, it was all aligning when my cousin asked for help. My response was, "Why don't you come to the U.S. and we'll go to the SCAA [Expo] and see what is going on in this coffee industry." It was inspiring. When I came home from the event in Seattle, my husband said, "You're out of your mind: You're working in telecom, you're doing consulting, you have a nonprofi t, and now you want

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