Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Feed or Feed More: Happy Woman's Day!

Those are donuts, awaiting their hot oily fate, and Alex imparted her knowledge to me.!
From 10:30 to 1:00, we made fried chicken.
From 3:00 to 5:00, we made donuts, overlapping with
4:00 to 5:30, we made pizza
And from 6:30 to 7:00, we made nachos.

By 9:00 everything had been consumed and Angela had decided to do all of the dishes herself. Yanetzi had given a short speech about Women’s Day, congratulating everyone on being female and terrific (with a little shout-out to God, of course, which the girls really enjoy), we had watched Million Dollar Baby (which I forgot was depressing and bummed everyone out a little,) and many of the girls had settled into the “Rec Room” for a sleepover. Apparently Andrea had passed much of the night talking in her sleep, in English, which makes me proud.

Even from an American perspective, the amount of food we had on Saturday was ridiculous. The pans of oil bubbled practically from sunup to sundown and the kitchen screen slammed open and shut constantly, every woman with an enormous grin, holding something delicious in her hand. But this is the first time, perhaps the only time, that it seemed OK. It might be OK because we each had one piece of chicken, and it might be OK because we shared five pan-sized pizzas between thirty people, and it’s probably OK because the nachos were made fresh from corn masa and the donuts were…well, the donuts were excessive. Everyone was given three and they had been glazed with condensed milk.

So here we are, Women celebrating Women, doing what women are afraid to do: eat. We didn’t talk about our bodies, we didn’t talk about anyone else’s body, and bodies in general were only occupied with frying and face stuffing. My hands rolled dough and flipped browning masses all day long, blissfully and meditatingly, thinking only about the smells of tomato sauce, cinnamon and cheese that continued to overlap.

Honduras has not escaped the insecurities of the world; girls scrimp and offload their plates daily (especially when the meals are usually beans with beans.) But on this particular evening, you would never know that “body image” was a concept.

Even though you probably missed it, Happy Women’s Day! Perhaps we can strengthen our resolve daily to only acknowledge two options: feed or feed more, in moderation and contentment, within community and embracing love, rather than the bullshit we usually consume with obesity about not being woman enough.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Safety Second, Table First

At TLC all dreams can come true, if you have the patience and the follow through to make it happen. This morning I dreamed of a table in our volunteer house that wasn’t sitting on broken bricks and so low you felt your back splintering while trying to play cards.

To achieve your dreams you must be willing to conquer the bodega. The bodega is a wild, untamed place (a one minute walk from my front door) where chaos reigns supreme. There are piles of mismatched wood, piles of coffee, piles of nails and piles of manure. Inside the bodega itself is every tool and dangerous piece of goal accomplishing you can think of – it looks just like my grandfather’s fabled basement, except Grandpa probably wouldn’t have gone for the fertilizer air freshener.

In a lawless country in rebellious forest, the workshop fits precisely and while safety is of no concern, it is the place to get things done. Along with all the right supplies, there is also a constant stream of help monitoring your progress. The workers employed by the school are men between the ages of 16 and 60, all with tremendous smiles and years of practical experience in everything you and I would never know how to do. Javier helped me clean my wood with a sharp wire brush. Christian helped me use a sander, and Don Marcos saved the day.

I had recruited Dan, a go-getting volunteer like myself, to assist with the construction, and while we thought two gringos was enough for a simple coffee table, Don Marcos would keep showing up exactly when we would do something stupid. We were almost finished when one hammer strike took the whole project down (Ay!) and Don Marcos flew in out of nowhere with his bright blue screws (which did mess with the integrity of my raw wood concept, but it’s going to have to be funky to be functional) and reinforced the Hey-sus out of it.

And what do you know, dreams do come true! My eyeballs may have almost gotten fried when Javier shaved the points of the screws off with a sander, but for the first time ever there is a beautiful table in our living room and while Grandpa was certainly grumbling “Where are your safety goggles, girl?” he would be so damn proud of my creation.
La Mesa de Mis Sueños

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Picking and Pondering, The Life of the Coffee Bean

I’m trying not to scratch the mosquito bite on my forehead that is slowly puffing out into a unicorn bump. I’m also hoping that it is, in fact, a mosquito bite and that in my excitement to pick coffee this morning I hadn’t crashed straight into a banana spider (which is apparently 33% poisonous, when it decides to pick on you.)

Hopes and dreams tied up in just a few berries!
And though my head is slowly doming and I’m feeling a little self-conscious, I am proud that I have successfully completed two mornings of coffee picking without feeling squeamish. It’s not a clean job. You have to get up in the coffee bush’s business, peeling back the leaves to find the ruby red gems. The leaves are threaded with spider webs and peppered with colorful insects that like to relax in the shade, like the florescent blue “lady bugs” or the bright green caterpillars the size of your thumb knuckle. The coffee can’t be bagged if it has any nub of green stem on it, so fingernails are used to clip them off before banking the berries. The bushes sit under the shade of pines and banana trees, and it seems counterintuitive for needles to mix with plantations, but American coffee culture touts the superiority of “shade grown coffee,” and pine forests cover quite well.

We’re more than halfway through the coffee season up here and I love walking up the hill though the rows of plants. The ones that have been picked bare remind me of all the hours the students spend earning their education (It’s not a cool and exotic job to them like it is to me: it’s a necessity.) The white, green, yellow and red buds that have yet to be bagged remind me of meditation potential, hours I can spend getting down and dirty with nature while thinking my thoughts. I love pulling back leaves and finding one perfect red bean hiding from the world.

The idea is that eventually the hundreds of coffee plants will support the school completely – food, supplies, pay the internet bill, and any other little things that might come up. It’s amazing to think that at the moment, that’s all we really need money for anyway. But the plantation has been affected with some kind of coffee mold that turns the berries black and makes all the leaves drop off. Everyone has a different opinion as to whether those plants will have to come out completely, but it does make me sad to see all the wasted effort and revenue those moldy coffee beans hold.

I’ve been studying Buddhism and the coffee beans help me understand gracious impermanence much better. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Smore Thief and The Punchline

Because of the earlier rain it was nearly impossible to start a bonfire, but the box of smores supplies was already out so we sat around waiting for the men to get the damp pine needles to light. I joked with some older girls that in America, watching three males make a fire in extreme conditions would be a million dollar reality show. The show would end whenever the fire was made and this particular episode would have filled a full thirty-minute slot.

Feast or famine survival tactics meant that three of the bars of Hershey’s chocolate immediately went missing. This is not to say there are any devious smore thieves on campus, only that someone is anticipating a dry spell of sweets and hopefully will establish a little altruistic business of doling out chocolate for favors: One square gets you a bucket of water brought to flush a toilet, two squares gets you two extra flour tortillas on baleada night, etc. You know, like a prison, except beautiful, free, and joyous.

The girls roasted marshmallows three at a time and then settled in to tell jokes. Fabulous, I thought, an opportunity to practice my Spanish! The comedians were the women with the loudest voices, and they thoroughly covered all of the usual suspects: Animals, Latin American Race Relations, Kids Say The Darndest Things, and “Sexy Jokes” that sent the Evangelicals to bed.

Fabulous for my Spanish, until the punchline. A joke sounded like this (in rapidfire foreign language):

“So there was an elephant and an ant, and the ant needed to cross the river. He asked the elephant for a ride and climbed on his back. The elephant swam across the river and the ant said “Thank you Mr. Elephant!” and the elephant said “BAHSFGSJDGHFDYGSDHFHFJSGEJHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHHAHAHAHHAHA!!!!!!!!!!”

And that was the end of that. No repeat, no handicap for the foreigner: just pure, sped up and incoherent crack up at the most important part of the story. I glanced around the fire pit and saw all of my beautiful students lit up in giggles, tossing their heads back and howling. “Another!” they shouted.

“So there was a Russian, an America, a Honduran and a Mexican, and they were all flying in an airplane. The captain came on the loudspeakers and said “Gentlemen, I’m sorry to tell you that we are having trouble with the engine and we are going to need to get rid of unnecessary weight in order to land safely.” So the Russian said “BAHAHAHAHAHAHBSFHJASGDFJSHG!!!!!” and jumped out, and the American said “HOOHOOHAAHAAJDHFKSHKGJHSDH!!!!!” and jumped out, the Mexican said “GOOGOODKFJHSGKJLHSDFHCSJNBMDF!!!!” and jumped out (all students clap wildly at the stupidity of whatever the Mexican said, and the Honduran SKDJHGSDUYGDSHBFSJHGDFHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!”

Of course he did.

I spent most of the evening listening to the enthusiasm and energy of the circle, watching faces in the firelight and oogling the stars above us, and while I didn’t learn any jokes to repeat, I certainly reaped the benefits of laughter.

How many gringos does it take to build and tar paint a swing set for an elementary school???

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Welcome Back! Now Let's Go Chop Trees Down In The Rain!

I woke up to the sound of the rain on the tin roof, gently waking me out of my bottom bunk-cave. Apparently there’d only one rooster hanging around these days, and he’s a quiet gentleman, so I was able to recover easily from my sleepless night in Houston.

It’s no regular occurrence to have a “Rainy Day” up here on the mountain. Normally you can set your watch to late afternoon when a downpour will pop up, release its goodies, and quickly retreat, but it has been steadily dripping all day long. The end of the rainy season looks a bit like someone is wringing out a wet towel.

Everything is serene and verdant on campus right now, one day before the students and a few more teachers show up, giving me a chance to re-settle, clear up the cobwebs (there are far too many for comfort and though the Daddy Long-Legs are more than welcome to stay, there are these giant thick brown spiders that I aim to displace right this minute,) and admire my home.

Lost in bananas - can you find me?
Every day is a learning day in Honduras and today is banana picking day. In the six months that I’ve been gone, most of the changes are growing related - the gardens are flourishing, sunflowers smiling and coffee planation is sprawling, and apparently we have been banana self-sufficient for a while now! (Go figure, this is the Banana Republic.) So from me to you, what do you need to know about bringing home the bacon…err….bananas? Banana trees only grow bananas once and then become useless. If you leave the banana tree in the ground, it will be selfish and suck the nutrients out of the soil that should go to other baby bananas. ¡Qué pena! What to do?

Machete time! Three men and a Caitlin grabbed machetes and marched up the plantation hill in the rain. I’m an expert at banana bunch spotting, they really should pay me in something other than bananas for my skills. I wield the machete like a baseball bat – improper form - whack away at the trunk and try my darndest to hit the same spot each time. Banana trunk juice flies everywhere but it doesn’t matter because it’s raining and we’re soaking wet anyway. One I break through the shell of the trunk, the inside is spongy like sugar cane, and it’s only a matter of time and little of aggressive energy before the thing goes TIMBER and we take our banana bounty. There’s also gorgeous red banana hearts the size of my head. I’m going to try to cook them tonight like a Filipino grandma.

Besides my new banana knowledge, nearly everything else is the same: beans, eggs, torillas, mangy but charming dogs, giant boxes of garbage needing a good burning, my lessons need a good planning in the hammock, the mountains are calling “Bienvenidos, amiga,” and I’m like, “Buena decisión.”