One Cup Bitter, a moving essay by Randal Jentzen

December 31, 2016

The author in Tehran, Iran, November 1976

Forty years ago I traveled a great distance and saw many things and places. The highlight is always the people we meet along the journey. In this case, we were asked to have a cup of tea with an Afghani storeowner. We sat on the rug in his shop while he prepared the brew. He served the piping hot tea and told us how to hold the sugar cube in our mouths and during each sip; the sweetness blended with the subtle flavors of the tea, resulting in a perfect and exquisite experience. When we finished, he asked if we wanted another. Then he sat with us and told us that in his family, they drink the second cup bitter, thus there was no need to use sugar.

I think he could tell from my expression that I did not understand. He said, we enjoyed our first cup and we enjoyed each other’s company. He said the second cup reminds us that life is not very sweet for so many people and we do this in honor of those less fortunate. I understood what he meant….I thought.

Four decades later, my plane arrived late in Philadelphia. We had faced inclement weather all day and were forced to divert to Harrisburg to refuel. I was six hours behind time. When I tried to hail a taxi, my driver was eager to assist me. He said I was his fourth call in fourteen hours. The weather caused more than my plane to divert. We had a thirty-minute ride to my destination. It was late, but I could tell the driver wanted to talk. Within minutes he talked about what life was like in his village and the villages of his region of Afghanistan. I sensed the longing in his tone. The life he knew was extinct…except in his mind and in his heart.

“When we were boys, just young teens, we walked to a neighboring village. It was not long before someone stopped us and asked where we were from. We told the stranger our village. The man invited us home and told us we could stay at his home and that he had extra carpets we could use. He invited us to dine with his family. It was not long before the neighbors heard about the strangers and they brought food to make sure there was enough. They invited us to be part of their lives and took us to prayers and to meet others within their community. We were not strangers nor could we buy a meal.”

I asked him if he still had family over there. He said, “Yes, but nothing is the same. I miss my home.”

He blessed me when we arrived at my destination and told me that my plane being late may not have been a bad thing. He left Afghanistan some time after the Russians invaded and worked as a driver in New York. He said he had a passenger late for his plane that he seemed anxious and seemed distraught when he arrived to the airport after the plane’s departure and had missed his flight. He said, “Do you know what flight he missed? He missed TWA Flight 800.”

I wished him a good night. I will likely never see this person again, though he left a lasting impression in my heart.

There are many things in this life to celebrate. The biggest is family and friends. The world is brimming with beauty and wonder, but there is a dark side of the picture. There are places like my driver described that now only exist only in memory and there is the hope of better times and for the strength to endure the hard knocks and challenges that lay in our path.

I just finished my second cup of coffee. I drank it black.

I wish everyone a wonderful and blessed New Year and hope for better times and for strength to endure the challenges, though seemingly unbearable.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  Numbers 6:24-26

Randal Jentzen, Trier Germany, November 2015

Author Bio:

Randal Jentzen is a native New Mexican, a full-time medical provider, and enjoys reading, cycling, and travel.