Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coffee Smugglers

We’d been on a dental mission with Evergreen4kids at Habanero, a village along Highway 44 a little north of Barahona, Dominican Republic, on the coast of Neiba Bay. Some know that very good coffee is grown in the DR. Well, the dental team liked it. But for most of us, Dominican style was (no pun intended) foreign. The locals fill a 4-oz cup half-full of sugar before pouring in the coffee. The result, as you might guess, the necessity for the dental mission.

It was common for us to get bales of beans from a local roaster so we could give bags to mission supporters when we returned. Most of the team members also bought for themselves. On two of my four trips, I bought a half bale of 20 1-lb bags of a local robust blend. At $2.75 a bag it was a good and tasty deal. One year I bought a full bale and gave beans to many of my friends.

Getting the coffee home wasn’t a real problem. We packed a bale in each of our check bags we’d used to bring in medical supplies. It was split up by payee when we were back in Vancouver, WA. Twenty lbs. didn’t make the checked bag overweight and was within the personal use guidelines determined by the DR and far less than the US allowed.

The year I bought a full bale we’d checked in at the Santo Domingo airport and were waiting for our flight. A few minutes before scheduled boarding time, my granddaughter and I were called to report to a room in the main concourse. She had been upgraded to first-class and had the privilege of being in a lounge. I thought I might be getting an upgrade too. We found the room after having to ask several times.

Two uniformed Dominicans met us, and our bags were on a table in the center of the room. They had a conversation in Spanish which neither of us understood. The man opened both bags and pointed at the bale of coffee in each. He said something to the woman then cut the burlap at the top of the bale in my suitcase just enough to remove one 1-lb bag of coffee beans. He did the same with my granddaughter’s.

It took no imagination to believe they were looking for drugs, so I was expecting confiscation and perhaps being held for questioning. The two had another conversation in Spanish, then he said in nearly perfect English, “Hurry to catch your flight. Your bags will be on board.”

I still had some doubt that the coffee would be in our bags when we did customs in Puerto Rico, but they were there. The inspector asked me about the cut bag, and I told him the story. He said something like if they really suspected drugs, we would have been detained without the bags being opened in front of us. He said, “Probably just justifying their work time by being able to make a report.”

Those to whom I gave the ‘smuggled’ coffee and I enjoyed it but not with half sugar in a cup.

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Coffee Smugglers

We’d been on a dental mission with Evergreen4kids at Habanero, a village along Highway 44 a little north of Barahona, Dominican Republic, on...