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Coffee and Coups in Burundi

Quick link: The Coup in the Coffee Fields

A few weeks ago I wrote for Babble about Kristy and Ben Carlson, focused on the choices Kristy made as a mother during crisis. This week at EthnoTraveler I share a bit more of their coffee story and the challenges they face in getting beans out of the country after a coup. They are now back in Burundi, with their beautiful newborn daughter and two boys, pressing on.

Thanks again to Kristy for her gorgeous photos and her willingness to share their story. Be sure to check out the Long Miles Coffee Project website. I love all of it and find their family manifesto especially inspiring.

coffee and coups

Here’s the opening of the EthnoTraveler essay:

Burundi enjoyed almost a decade of peace between 2005 and 2015. This small, land-locked nation in central Africa had endured a brutal civil war, which lasted from 1993-2005 and killed over 300,000 people and Burundians were ready for peace, economic development, and forward progress. In the middle of that calm decade, Ben and Kristy Carlson moved from South Africa to Burundi and opened The Long Miles Coffee washing station.

Fifty-five percent of Burundians earn their living from growing, harvesting, preparing, and exporting Arabica coffee beans. Coffee totals 80% of the country’s export income. Raw beans make up the majority of these exports, with little of it actually processed or roasted inside Burundi. This export of ‘green coffee’ limits the economic benefits for Burundi and has many farmers dreaming of doing more than just growing and harvesting. They would like to process and roast coffee themselves. They would like to maybe even sip a cup of steaming coffee someday.

This green coffee shipping is primarily due to a lack of specialist knowledge, experience, and equipment. Everything from the altitude at which coffee is grown to the temperature at which beans are stored matters for achieving top quality taste and so far, Burundians simply don’t have access to these vital tools.

The Carlsons recognized this challenge and brought with them to Burundi a vision for helping coffee farmers earn fair wages and grow in the specialist knowledge that would enable Burundians to take more ownership in and financial security from their coffee farms.


Click here to read the rest of The Coup in the Coffee Fields.

Flight from Burundi

Quick link: How to Be a Mom When Your Country Falls Apart

I’m grateful to Kristy Carlson who was willing to share her story of work and life in Burundi, and the wrenching flight her family endured when violence broke out. I’ve known Kristy for several years, we left for Somaliland a year after she and her husband headed for South Africa. We’ve rarely been in the same country but have connected through writing, through evacuation experiences, and over various cups of coffee. I always feel a little bit cooler, wiser, and more beautiful just for spending time with her. Because she is all of those things, plus gracious and creative and more.

Kristy used to write for Babble, we initially shared our spot on the site. She is still publishing, especially her photography and it is stunning. She and her husband, Ben, worked with coffee farmers in Burundi. To see her images and to catch a taste of their vision and inspiring work, click here for their website: Long Miles Coffee.

After election-related violence broke out in Burundi, the Carlson family was forced to flee. They left behind dreams and carried with them grief. Ben has been able to return a few times and the coffee farming continues. And Kristy recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, in South Africa.

In another upcoming story, I will dig more into the ‘what happened’ of Burundi. This piece, for Babble, focuses on the practical things Kristy did to help maintain her sanity and the emotional health of her family when all around them, things fell apart.

…How can a mother hold her family together when all around, life and dreams are crumbling?

Kristy explained to me the virtues that helped her family stay together through it all.


“When the conflict began I tried to keep my kids occupied and play loud music to cover up the sounds of gunfire,” said Kristy. “As the protests continued for weeks on end, it became more and more important to encourage our kids and each other to find emotion words to connect to what we were experiencing. We had made the decision early on to keep our kids informed about what was happening, but also to protect them from any unnecessary trauma.”


“We clung to Burundi because leaving felt impossible. Coffee harvest was in full swing and the thought of leaving our team to save our own skin felt like a betrayal,” Carlson said.


“I was less worried about a purposeful shooting and more worried about stray bullets. ‘It’s not safe,” I murmured. You… you are not safe.’ As the words left my lips, I wondered how damaging this experience would be for my two boys and even the unborn baby girl I was carrying.”

Here’s an example of the pictures Kristy takes of the coffee farmers when she is documenting their stories:

burundi coffee farmer

Click here to read the rest of the ways she cared for her family: How to Be a Mom When Your Country Falls Apart

Painting Pictures: A Transitional, Formational Life

risingThis week’s Painting Pictures comes to you from Kelley Nikondeha. I met Kelley, virtually, through our SheLoves writing (you can find her gorgeous essays by clicking the link) and as I became more of a blog reader, I started to see Kelley’s name and links and comments more and more often. She is talented and tenderly courageous and filled with wisdom and I love the way words roll off her fingers seeped in grace.

A Life in Transit

Open suitcases strewn on the bedroom floor signal that summer’s coming. Once more we strategically pack clothes, electronics, books and all manner of sundries into our checked and carry-on luggage. We’re leaving the United States, bound for Burundi, known as the heart of Africa.

This isn’t a family vacation. It’s our annual family migration. We move together between familiar places, our lives stretching to fit these diverse locales. In this kind of life-style, airports are demystified at an early age and travel amenities become daily tools. When it comes to in transit vocabulary, my children are well versed in both words and icons.

Living between Burundi and the United States marks my son and daughter as third culture kids in a strange sort of math where 1 + 1 = 3. But I see the logic of it now, several years in, because while they’re dual citizens neither passport fully defines them. I see them as exponentially more owing to their friends from both countries, their ease with other languages and currencies, and their inside knowledge of extreme poverty and middle-class comforts. My children inhabit a larger world.

Not everyone thinks this is the case. My own mother wonders if one day, when they’re grown, they’ll tell me how much they hated this life between worlds.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe one of them will look back with regret, wishing for a normal childhood in one home, one city, one culture. This possibility jiggled around in my mind like a loose pebble in my shoe for many months. What if they grow to despise this life?

Only recently did I find some resolve. What if…well, by then it will be too late. The die will have been cast long ago on African soil and around tables filled with sweet pineapple and fiery pili pili sauce. Their memories already saturated with pictures of women in bright fabrics balancing baskets of cassava on their heads, cars and bikes criss-crossing the city without the need for stop lights, ebony-skinned relatives telling Kirundi jokes that they’ll never forget. They won’t ever shake the Burundian drumbeat pounding the ground, cracking the sun-starched air, reverberating through their bones. By then, their hearts will already have been recalibrated, their minds mapped by multiple languages.

My son will play soccer learned in the African street and baseball he picked up in his American school. My daughter will move her arms, liquid and limber as a river, to the Burundian traditional songs as easily as she can bust out a hip-hop attitude to Beyonce. They’ll understand American slang as readily as Kirundi proverbs, instinctively know not to stare when stateside but find the freedom to in the streets of Bujumbura, sometimes they’ll crave my mac n’ cheese and other times the comfort of Senge’s bugari and sauce with glistening silverfish.

My kids will remember our home filled with people all the time, friends from South Africa and Luxembourg, Kenya and Australia, Uganda and Canada. They might recall playing with Muslim friends, as well as Catholics and Protestants. And they’ll see black and white people as good, smart, funny and safe. And they won’t be able to unknow these truths – the sheer goodness of all these people from all these places who loved them and left their subtle imprint.IMG_0698What freed me from my fear that they might end up hating this life is the fact that they will already have been shaped by it. They will already know too much to ever see the world in flat or narrow ways. They won’t be able to see Western culture without Burundian sensibilities providing a gentle corrective. And Non-Western cultures will be familiar, yet tempered by their American experiences. My children won’t be able to deny the multiple lenses that allow them to see the world with such texture, nuance and richness.

As the mother of third culture kids, I’m letting go of the fear and leaning into the formation afoot. This life isn’t only about migration, multiple places and varied cultures; it’s about the formation of a sweeping worldview. My son will see things I miss, my daughter will hear things I’m deaf to – and this is what I want for them, to have eyes that see and ears that hear so they can engage with greater insight than I ever imagined. This kind of life might not be easy, and I’ll give them that. But our bi-cultural life is good, and they will reap the rewards in irrevocable ways. I trust that to be true.

I’ve been wondering about the life of Jesus in all this. He resided in heavenly places with limitless access to glory, goodness and power. He moved to earth inhabiting a humble home in Nazareth with a stay-at-home mom and a tradesman for a father. And both these places were home to Him, shaping who He was and how He grew to be Messiah. No one could say He was only God – because He knew what it was to live on the underbelly of the empire that oppressed His people. And yet we can’t say His humanity was simply that, surely it was shaped by His deep remembrance of His heavenly home. Maybe it took both places for His formation, both places contributing to our salvation through the most stunning Third Culture Kid.

My kids and I talk about this over dinner sometimes. My son’s pretty convinced that our kind of life isn’t unprecedented. We think this is how Jesus lived, and it helps us push through the hard times. I hope they hold on to this – even when they are grown. Either way, I know this is formational.

How do you see the TCK lifestyle as formational for your kids/yourself? Have you ever thought about Jesus as a TCK? As a parent, how do you deal with the fears of raising TCKs?


kajcanadaKelley Nikondeha is a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader, mother of two beautiful children, lover of God’s justice & jubilee.  She leads theological conversations at Amahoro Africa and is chief storyteller for Communities of Hope. Kelley lives her life in transit between Arizona and Burundi. She’s in transit between continents but also in terms of her own experience of motherhood, discipleship, theological engagement and living into God’s dream for the world. She savors handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggemann. She is fueled by space and snacks (and Diet Coke).

Blog: kelleynikondeha.com

Twitter: @knikondeha

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