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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

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