It's hard to say what clicked that day. I have never been a huge coffee lover, even back home coffee was not my go-to drink. It is not something that came suddenly to me in Vietnam, either. I was offered coffee most days, and would take it some days, but never would I go out of my way to find it. Maybe also I never took the time to think about coffee, and where it comes from; a small, bushy, shiny shrub growing on a hillside farm somewhere. Maybe that's what really did it for me. I mean, stopping that day, and stopping long enough to think. Its hard to say for sure.
But anyway, to make a short story long, there I was about two hours past sunup and two hours out of Kon Tum, riding my trusted Honda moto up through the lazy, gorgeous, mountainous terrain of the westerly Hochiminh road, just alongside the Laos border. Coming into a small highlands settlement, I stopped, pulled off my helmet and planted myself at a little café hut and, without a word, a young girl brought me coffee in a phin, with a little sweet milk on the side, and the green tea that is always served with coffee here. While waiting for the notoriously slow drip of water through the coffee phin, I looked about to see myself pretty much in the middle of a field of coffee, in a small cluster of family farms.
As usual during this ride, my thoughts wandered away, and I reflected again on the strange path that brought me here. My mom was born somewhere around here, my dad twelve time zones away, and I had the thought that while we have never been exactly here all together, this being my first time in my “home country", maybe all three have been here at some time before. Travel is weird that way, and wanting to see this country myself often put me in places where I had the feeling I am the last to know them. Or maybe the first to truly see them. Or both.
Many of the village locals came to look at me as though I was from another planet, smiling and seeming so happy and curious at my stopping just here. So it made me very happy, too. Such a warm welcome for a complete stranger, same as always here. Did they see me as a foreigner? Or as someone just from a different part of the country, perhaps from the mysterious and unknowable northern provinces? Was I Western? Asian? It's very hard to know what they thought, and I spoke too little of the language back then to find out, or to provide the answer - which is “both”, and therefore neither. The story of my life. Perpetually both and neither. I am always both, so I am never either.
It was there in the dust at the side of that road, on that beautiful clear day, outside a hut with no running water, in the middle of a coffee field, served by a girl that should be in school, watching the kids playing with rocks and sticks and kites made of banana leaves and farmers twine, surrounded by the friendliest people on earth, and drinking coffee that cost about nothing here but would set me back five real dollars a cup back home, it was there that I realized two things.
The first was: man, that is the best coffee I have ever had. The second was that if I tell people about this place, these people, and this coffee, maybe one day that girl will be able to go to school and that hut might have running water.
So, now I am telling you - and maybe you will tell someone else, too.