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Volunteering on a Kona Coffee Farm
5 October 2009

Weeds Painting

Anybody that has ever been outside the United States probably realizes that Americans aren't the most popular people in the world.  We're considered fat, lazy and not always very bright (after all, we did elect that "retarded cowboy fella", twice).  Americans are sometimes perceived as self-absorbed, naive, loud and immoral, willing to let our government commit atrocities around the world.  Mostly though, the one word associated with Americans is lazy.

Before you get all huffy, remember that Americans aren't exactly innocent when it comes to unfettered prejudice.  Arabs, Muslims, Blacks, Homosexuals, non-Christians, Mexicans, Female Asian Drivers... almost any category you can think of has certain traits assigned to them.  For example, consider the French.  Most Americans have never actually met anybody from France yet they're happy to tell you how much they dislike all French people.  Of course any such prejudice is almost always unfounded and completely inaccurate.

As part of our Volunteer Work Exchange program here on the Kona coffee farm, we're currently hosting a volunteer named Nicolas.  Nicolas is from France.  He doesn't smoke, he isn't rude nor egotistical, he bathes regularly and he doesn't eat all his meals on a giant white plate with a tiny drop of colorful food in the middle of it.

Roaster This is the first time Nicolas has been in the United States and it has been fun to show him around.  Hawaii isn't exactly typical America but we still have plenty of the traditional American sights such as McDonald's, Walmart, Home Depot and lots of big cars driving back and forth.  That's all in town though, life on the coffee farm is more rural and usually involves manual labor.

When Nicolas arrived on the farm one of his first jobs was to use the weed whacker to clear all the overgrown weeds from under the coffee trees in our organic field.  It's a two day job minimum, three for a first timer.  I showed Nicolas how I wanted the job done, stressing the importance of not damaging the trunks of the coffee trees, then I outfitted him with all the hot, heavy, uncomfortable protective gear and pointed him towards the weeds.  I didn't hear a single complaint and he did an excellent job.  Too bad he won't be here long enough to do it all again a month from now.

After weed whacking, the next big job was trimming the coffee trees in the front field.  There are over 1000 trees there and every one needed some attention.  I showed him what I wanted done and helped when I could but he did most of the work himself.  Again, no complaints and the entire field was done in a couple days.  We still have to do the same to the back field but haven't found the time yet.

Tunnel Other farm jobs Nicolas has had the privilege of doing include spreading fertilizer, spraying for weeds, painting the new coffee storage room, mowing and of course picking, pulping and stirring some coffee.

His time on the farm isn't all work though.  We've taken him to the beach several times.  A couple times time the waves were a little too big but he made it back to the shore alive.  He even managed to avoid serious sunburn until he spent the entire day on the mower.

One challenge for volunteer workers is their lack of transportation.  There's nothing in walking distance of the farm and very little public transportation on the island.  We try to make up for that by taking Nicolas along whenever we go out.  Last weekend we even took him all the way to volcano, something we don't normally do.

Nicolas took some time off this weekend too.  I was talking to another Kona coffee farmer that also has some volunteer workers.  It turns out that one of his volunteers has access to a car.  Not only that, but she and two other girls were planning a three day party weekend.  I mentioned Nicolas and they immediately invited him along.  I suspect he's having a great time.  I just hope he doesn't come back too tired because I have plenty of work planned for him next week.

We interview potential volunteers carefully because some seem to think it's a free vacation to Hawaii.  Nicolas has worked out great though.  He's very friendly, learns quickly, works hard and is always happy to help.  Maybe I should look for more volunteers from France.

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