Amina - 1951 Coffee Graduate Series

Amina - 1951 Coffee Graduate Series
Person standing in front of decorated wall

Like most of the kids in Uganda, I wanted to be a doctor. A general medical doctor. But I had to make a choice - pursue the Sciences or the Arts? I performed well in literature too, so by time I was 17, I had changed my focus from becoming a Doctor to becoming a Lawyer. 

In the end, I didn’t study law because I realized, to be a lawyer in Uganda, you had to compromise with your conscience. With the advice of one of my teachers, I decided to become a teacher, specifically in Literature and the English language. 

I grew up with my parents and my grandparents. With my grandparents, who lived in the village, I used to love playing mother and baby. But my baby was an old metal box that used to contain oil. I used to wash my baby and put cream on my baby. I remember telling my grandparents, I’m taking my baby to the hospital and I set off not knowing where I was going. Of course they had to stop me! My grandfather really used to take care of my “baby” too. 

There was a time when I was still a child, I dreamt that I was in heaven and that heaven was America. Everybody wishes to come to America and I had longed so much to come here. Eventually I got a chance in 2017. As a Teacher, I was a part of a program called Credible Voices of East Africa. Four East African countries took part: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Somalia. Each country chose three people to represent them at a conference in America. I was selected and that’s how I first came to America. I was so excited!

We landed at Dulles International Airport and were in America for three weeks. Our trip included visiting DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. It was such an experience! Of course we attended the conference and workshops, but I didn’t have a lot of responsibility - this trip was about having fun too. I remember we drove up from Maryland to New York City in a van. That moment was so unforgettable for me. As soon as we got through the tunnel into New York City, I was mesmerized! I was just bending down looking at the tall buildings, the lights, it was really nice…I loved it!

Person tossing branches into the air

The second time that I came to America, I had no choice. This time I was coming as a political asylum-seeker. Back home, I had gotten myself involved in politics and it was no longer safe for me. So I ran away to the US because at that time, I still had my visa.

When I was visiting in 2017, I had met other Ugandans in the US and they promised to accommodate me if I ever visited again. So when I came back as a political asylum-seeker, I flew to New Jersey where my friends lived. I needed a job because I needed to survive. My friends connected me with another Ugandan woman who needed caretaking as she waited to give birth. That was the first job I got. After she gave birth, she didn’t need my support anymore and I knew I had to get another job, which wasn’t easy given my situation. My friends in New Jersey then reached out to their network and were able to get me another caretaking job in California.

I was ready for any kind of suffering to survive. Psychologically, I was prepared, because I hadn’t come for vacation, and I didn’t want to beg. I just needed to survive. Even though I’d never worked in a caretaking facility before, I was ready for whatever would come, because I’d surrendered myself. This job wasn’t easy. Some of the residents were bedridden, they had dementia, they were combative, but because I had accepted my situation, I learned how to do things. Even my fellow co-workers were surprised with how quickly I learned. 

I heard about the Barista Training Program at the Asylum Orientation in San Francisco. 

In Ugandan culture, coffee is important in its own ways. Coffee is a symbol of bringing people together. Traditionally, coffee was used for okutta omukago. I think in English that’s something like blood friends…you will never part, so you have joined by blood. Each person will cut themselves around the stomach, dip the coffee bean in their blood and then exchange the coffee beans. But we also eat coffee beans. Whenever someone visits your home, you must give your guests coffee beans as a way to welcome them to your home. Although Uganda grows coffee as one of its chief cash crops, the coffee drinking culture is not as popular as it is here in America. 

I started working at Starbucks on 23 March 2020, that was when the lockdown had just set in. The regular Starbucks nearby had just closed, making my location even busier, and I was new. I got afraid. I didn’t know if I could learn. I was so scared, I was about to quit because I thought I came to the wrong job. 

Person standing in front of a wall with the word welcome translated into many languages

My colleagues were SO supportive and they really helped me learn. They were patient with me. Starbucks gives you drink cards to help you learn, so I took them home and made notes and summaries. But then when I went back to the cafe, nothing came in my mind! Then I changed my strategy and learned two a day. Surprisingly that worked and now I know how to make all the drinks. After a while, I really enjoyed my job and I am happy. 

When I’m making drinks, I love seeing the layers, especially in the cold drinks, because at Starbucks a macchiato is made by adding the espresso after the milk and it floats creating unique art.

I would like to start my own business. Although coffee is a little bit expensive, I love coffee. But if there are other things I can do, then I will. The Barista Training Program gave me opportunities, I met people who connected me to other people, who connected me to opportunities. Now, I’m making cloth masks through connections I made through the Barista Training Program (as extra income). 

I know I have met some challenges, but at least I have met good people. I have met so many good people, I just want to appreciate them. People have really helped me. People are kind here. Everybody is willing to help and I just wanted to thank them for that.