Appalachian Magazine 2019

Page 116

A student’s perspective

Lauren Hempen, a junior English major from Apex, North Carolina, traveled to the Dominican Republic in spring 2018 to complete an Alternative Service Experience. The following is an excerpt from her personal narrative of that experience.

The queen’s coffee By Lauren Hempen

The bus shuttled through Santo Domingo, and the traffic lanes seemed to tighten as we traveled deeper into the city. Myself and 12 other Appalachian students were on our way to a small Dominican Republic community, La Rosa, to spend a week working alongside locals as a part of an Alternative Service Experience. Together, we would build the foundation of a water tank for the community. Once we arrived in La Rosa, we walked through small stucco buildings, past a half barber shop, half church overflowing with people and music, and into the center of the village where we had dinner. Afterward, we arrived at a beautiful blue house with a second-floor balcony — our home for the week. Tired from the day, one of my sorority sisters and travel mates, Sav, climbed under the mosquito net with me and sank into the thin mattress we shared. Suddenly, the rush of being so far from home hit me — a homesick tear made its way down my cheek, and before I could wipe it away, Sav put her hand on mine. I woke up in the morning from a rooster’s call, still holding Sav’s hand.

While taking an orange soda and snack break from the sweltering heat and concrete-mixing at the work site, a few of us followed an older Dominican woman who beckoned us to her front porch. She placed plate after plate of local food before us and offered a pot of coffee. I hung on her every word as she explained where she buys coffee beans, how she roasts them and how she brews each cup. The coffee tasted sweet, strong, slightly gritty and full. Cups empty, we clumsily thanked her dozens of times in Spanish and realized we didn’t know her name. “Reina,” she said, when we asked. “Queen.” This queen of coffee will forever live in my memory bank because she gave us all a moment we didn’t have in our itineraries. I had arrived believing if I benefited from the program, then I was selfish. But if I denied this gesture, it would be denying this woman from doing something she felt called to do: serve us. My mother captured this feeling perfectly as we sat on the phone, months after my program: “Just because you get something from giving, doesn’t mean the giving is bad.”

Lauren Hempen, far right, poses with her sorority sister and travel mate, Sav Watts ’18, of Taylorsville, North Carolina, during their Alternative Learning Experience in the Dominican Republic in spring 2018. Photo courtesy of Lauren Hempen

116 • 2019