Friday, November 4, 2011

In China they call it food

There was a Friends episode in which Chandler wryly responded to Joey's comment about going to China and eating Chinese food:   "Of course there, they just call it food."

My fascination continues with the day to day lives of the rural people here in the Copan Valley.  The other day, as we drove an hour up the mountain on very rough dirt roads (or mud soup roads
On her way to town
depending on the weather) we passed men, women and children of all ages walking into town for market day.  If it took us an hour to drive, I can't imagine how long it takes to walk.  Of course, the early morning downhill walk will be the late afternoon, after-working-all-day, up hill walk home.  Some are barefooted, some have street shoes on, some flip flops.  No one has hiking shoes.  Some women walk, hands free, with a tub of wares balanced on their heads.

Others, after working all day in the coffee fields picking beans, walk 1.5 hours to their small plot of barely arable farmland.  There they cultivate maíz and frijoles (corn and beans), defying gravity on the exceedingly steep bit of land hanging on the side of the mountain.

Many families live almost entirely off the land.  I had a marvelous, impromptu Sunday lunch with a family. The menu was as follows:
  • Eggs gathered from their chickens (they are called "huevos de amor" or eggs of love because they result from the romantic encounter between a hen and her rooster!)
  • Beans grown in the back yard and cooked over the wood stove in the kitchen
  • Cheese and mantequilla  (sort of like sour cream but soo much better) made from their own cow
  • Tortillas - home grown corn, roasted over wood fire, ground by hand cranked mill, dough further refined on a "piedra" (a stone slab with a stone roller), hand shaped and patted and finally cooked on the outdoor stone cooktop.
  • Coffee - home grown beans, dried, roasted, ground, and made by pouring boiling water through a sock like thing with the coffee in it.

Some people have a horse to ride or a burro to carry the wood gathered for their stoves.  Some catch rides in the back of an SRO (standing room only - literally cheek to jowl) pick up truck.  They walk
calmly through downpours, women walk along nursing their babies.

Many people live in a "cuarto" - a rented room which may or may not have a bathroom.  My new friend Don Julio lives in a cuarto which is also his wood sculpture workshop. 

Chorti boy selling cornhusk doll

In town, entire families crowd into a "tuk tuk" (moto taxi) for an 8 lempira (approx. 40 cents) ride across town.  Chorti (indigenous group pronounced "chorTEE") children make and sell cornhusk dolls or flowers for $1 each regardless of size.  (I have enough to populate an entire cornhusk city!)  Vendors of any and everything walk around selling their wares (ladies lingerie, roasted nuts, tupperware, watches, etc)  I bought some roasted cashews and the vendor pulled out a little scale with 2 rocks to measure 50 lempira worth. 

Episcopalians go to one of the 30 churches covered by Father Mejia.  (Note:  on Sunday we were a bit late arriving at the church in Sesemil Dos.  No worries, they started without the priest!  Father Mejia calmly walked up to the altar, got himself organized, vested, and then picked right up with the congregation!)  They have well trained lay leaders who lead worship services 5-6 times a week!

San Antonio, Agua Caliente
Worship with or without a priest present

Service at San Antonio
Padre Mejia celebrates at San Juan Evangelico, Sesemil Dos
Faithful parishioner at San Juan Evangelico

Wood for the stove
Everyone has a latrine. The better off families have a toilet and a door.  They have a faucet with cold water.  Maybe an electric shower head that instantly heats water if you have the pressure just right.

I kept finding myself trying to relate, to put myself in their shoes or lack thereof.   I could imagine myself whining, felling sorry for myself, or just deciding to "bag it" when facing the long walk to and from town.  I just couldn't see myself going out to forage for wood for the stove or making tortillas every single day.  Finally I realized, to paraphrase Chandler, here in Copan they just call it "life."  They go about their lives doing what needs to be done, most with grace, patience, and peace. 

God's light shines on beautiful Copan Valley

Being here is a wonderful lesson in humility.  All those things I consider bare necessities are, well, they aren't.  I haven't invented the Pffft gadget yet (see prior blog entry, Inspector Gadget) so let me share some of daily lives of these beautiful people:

Plantanos (plantains) for dinner
Carrying a bag of just picked coffee beans - that bag is worth about $8
Roasting beans
Scrambling "huevos de amor"
"Piedra" to work the tortilla dough
Cooking tortillas
Unsuccessful attempt to learn how to make tortillas
Bamboo bridge across the stream
Weighing out the cashews
Don Julio - a true artist in his room/workshop
Learning to make a ceramic pot at Dona Lucas' home where she makes ceramics to sell from mud she collects from the nearby river
Babysitting little brother while the family gathers food and coffee beans.
I taught some of the San Antonio parish children the only Spanish song I know: