Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I spent a lovely evening and morning with one of the families from the Jungle School this past Friday. And although I have a cold and a case of laryngitis as souvenirs, I am immensely glad I went.

The Castro family has a finca, what we would call a small ranch, high in the mountains. It is a two hour walk to reach the nearest road that is passable by car. There are six children (3 boys and 3 girls, ages 15 to 1), seven cows (including the bulls and the newest calf), 3 sheep (including the newest lamb), 2 burros, 3 dogs, and the usual uncountable population of chickens.

They are growing a little corn right now, mostly for feed I think, and right behind the house are a number of fruit trees, including recognizable things like coffee and oranges as well as distinctly Central American fruits like wild apples, patronas, and nances.

The house is very simple, with a pounded dirt floor and wooden walls. The main room is partitioned into two bedrooms, one with two double beds and a hammock and the other with one double bed and one single bed. Luz, the oldest, kindly gave up her bed for me and crawled in with her sisters for the night in the other room. It seems that Jose, the father, and Fermin, the baby, vie for rights to the hammock, as it is the preferred sleeping spot for both. (Many babies here sleep in small “baby hammocks” in which they can be gently rocked to sleep.) There are shelves on which to store clothes (mostly in bags and boxes to keep out critters.) The windows and doors all have tight shutters to keep out the rain and cold night air.

The kitchen is attached, with a traditional wood stove and oven, shelves for storage, a few handmade stools, a small table, and a sink made from a piece of flat metal installed at an angle and with a hole for drainage. The family pipes in water from up the next mountain, another 15 minute walk away, but it is always fresh and abundant. There is an outdoor shower and an outhouse with a rather comfortable bench seat (no splinters in my bum!)

Only at night are the doors and windows all shut, so during the day there are regular visitors in the house…chickens and dogs mostly, but one burro was quite determined to join us for breakfast s well. He finally relented to go outside but only after taking a piece of cardboard that was leaning against the wall for a snack!

As the sun goes down, things do get dark, but the family has a couple of wind-up flashlights as well as a car battery they use to watch a small television. The flashlights explain a lot about why this family in particular are such good students…they can do their homework and read for pleasure after dark! Jose is quite taken with the idea of exhausting the kids by putting them to work on a bicycle driven generator…apparently I am not the first visitor to suggest such an idea. I got the kids (and I think the parents too) interested in a Spanish novel I am reading at the moment, which I read aloud while Luz (apt name at this moment) kept the flashlight wound up.

I looked out my window as night was falling and saw a most strange sight…there was a chicken in the tree! This was not something I had ever seen before. But, no, these are not special chickens that can fly or climb…they have a tree trunk leaned up into the branches which they climb to take refuge in their tree/chicken coop. The kids took me to the top of the mountain after dark so that I could see Ceiba and the sea in the distance. In addition, we got to watch a huge thunderstorm building over the ocean, which was quite spectacular to watch. And where it was so dark that you couldn’t see where the sky stopped and the tree line began, the fire flies made me think the stars were coming down to dance. During the day you can see Ceiba in the distance on one side and nothing but tree covered mountains on the other.

It may seem so simple and perhaps lacking in some ways, but I also witnessed a life rich in relationships, compassion, and self-knowledge. I cannot say that it struck me as any harder or easier than any life I’ve witnessed in more developed nations. Luz, her mom Lorena, and I passed the afternoon and most of the evening, learning to make pizza from scratch in their clay oven. The pizza recipe was new for them; the cooking apparatus was new for me. For my last day this Friday, Luz and Lorena are going to help me teach the other moms the recipe and make pizza for all of the kids for lunch! Jose asked me many questions about the US and was quite surprised when I said that I preferred life here in Honduras, where I am not constantly bombarded with the need to have more and achieve more for the sake of proving something to someone else. Luz wanted to know what kids are like in North America (she is being sponsored to study in a Canadian high school next year,) and I said that they were pretty much the same as here. The only negatives I could think of were that they are perhaps at times a little more selfish and sometimes surprisingly lacking in knowledge of what the rest of the world is like despite access to education and media.

As I said before, Luz is preparing to study in Canada after she graduates the sixth grade here in November. She is bright and kind and an all around amazing young woman. We have been reviewing some of the more difficult parts of English grammar together and also talking a bit about some of the cultural differences she’ll likely encounter. She is so excited, and rather scared (but refuses to admit it even to herself…she’s very emotionally strong!) I’ve promised to send her a pair of my flannel pajamas and my full length down coat, because her biggest fear is of the cold winter.

She asked me how long the trip was to Canada, and I said I didn’t know but that I live a little more than half way to Toronto and it takes me six hours to get home, plus whatever time I have between flights. (Her eyes got big.) How long would it take to drive, she asked. I said that with stops at night I figured it would take a little over a week, given that one has to get out of Honduras, through Guatemala and Mexico and the US. (Her eyes got even bigger.) I tried to explain that just in Texas, the state that I am from, to drive from the Mexican border to Oklahoma would be pretty much the whole day of daylight. She said she’d never imagined the whole world was that big. I laughed and hugged her and said, Luz, your world is going to get a whole lot bigger than you can probably imagine. I know mine sure did when I came to Honduras.

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