This is a piece written by Jessica Howen, one of our classmates in Honduras this past spring. It does a very good job of summing up our experience and will hopefully give you an idea of where our project was conceived.
DEDICATED TO KURT, JO ANN, AND THE DEVELOPMENT CLASS OF SPRING 2007:
THANK YOU FOR MAKING THIS SEMESTER WHAT IT WAS
Dinner with Honduras
On a dark, cold night, I knocked on the door of a small, earthen house. I came from curiosity, knowing that there were things to learn inside, though not yet knowing what. And perhaps I just wanted to get out of the cold. The door was opened by the small, gnarled hand of a small, gnarled woman. She quietly regarded me as I waited in anticipation on the porch. Then opening the door full, she welcomed me into the warmth of her home with a tired smile: "pase adelante." I entered her house with an eager step, eyes open to soak up what I could. I kissed her with the obligatory kiss of a stranger, to do what was expected. Then with her lips she pointed to a plastic chair and I sat as she went about her work.
She is Honduras, and I have come to know her.
I watched her as she began to prepare a plate of food for me. Her hair was drawn back, growing sparse like the mountain forests. Her aging skin, the color of roadside honey, her hands, worn with the work of many mornings and her arms as strong as ceiba trees. Her belly and hips were casualties of the joy she took in her many children. Over her old skirt she wore an apron with yellow frills, in which she kept the earnings of the day, selling tortillas and mangos. On her back was a second-hand shirt made by the sweat of her children. When she smiled, warm as the tropic sun, her teeth showed like scattered kernels of corn and her eyes sparkled blue like the waters of the northern coast.
She is beautiful, though she doesn't know it.
She set the plate in front of me: rice and beans, golden plantains, fresh corn tortillas, a lump of cheese, and smooth mantequilla. I began to eat and continued to study my hostess. I saw on her arm a bruise where her lover had gripped her too tightly. A foreigner from the north, he came with a strong grasp to take from her what he needed. He still hangs about the house, their relationship close and amicable, but the power differential is clear. She loves him and hates him. He will never leave, and she would never leave him.
But she is strong, though she doesn't know it.
As I sat at the table, savoring the food, her children were passing back and forth through the kitchen. Some children were well-dressed with long-toed shoes, others were dirty from working in the garden. One eyed me to the side as he passed, flashing an 18 tattooed on his wrist. Some were leaving through the back door, chasing a dream, but the children kept coming out of the bedroom to fill their place. The more I watched, the more I understood what they were about, but I could never claim to really know them. They spoke to me with grace and I to them with broken lines and phrases unsure, but somehow the meaning made its way through the muddled words, cutting windows into their eyes so that I could catch a glimpse inside. At times the windows stared, and at times, looked away.
They are my brothers; oh, that I would know it.
I am full and it is time to go. I look sadly at the plate. So much food has been left on it that I couldn't finish. My hostess smiles and shakes her head, takes the plate away, and gently leads me to the door. A tear hides in the corner of her eye, and one in mine, but perhaps the tears mean different things. One last embrace and I am gone. As I walk out the door, my legs are a little stronger, my skin is a little darker, my belly a little rounder, and my eyes, hopefully, a little wiser. Mucho gusto, Honduras, and thank you for your hospitality. My dinner with you has left me satisfied and wanting more.