Friday, January 31, 2014

Chicken Soup and Solidarity

Last week I wrote a little story about being stranded on a Greek port. The whole ordeal lasted less than 30 minutes, but that is true with travel stories. Frequently they are just short blips on the radar of your existence, but they can make lasting, sometimes life changing alterations to who you are. I have found that the human connection is something that blurs the boundaries of language, culture, age and everything you think is normal. It seeks out those who are looking and bypasses those who are not. Opportunities for connection are quick; blink, and you will miss them.

Making tortillas with the ladies
This week I take you to Honduras on the educators study tour where I was lumped together with other educator types from all across the US who had an interest in Heifer International. That interest ran much deeper than merely an organization, however, and in the words of my trip-mate Dorn, "we all walk differently now."

I had never eaten so much chicken soup in my life, but it was some of the most delicious I had ever had. I didn't even like chicken soup particularly in the summer, but it was something about being in a small house with a dirt floor that made it the perfect nourishment. We had spent the day walking around the village and meeting the people who had been helped by Heifer. Each story we heard was inspiring in its own right, and each person who told it exhibited a sense of pride that emanated from his/her core. If I'm being honest though, all of the stories were starting to run together, and I was beginning to doubt my dedication to the cause. Don't get me wrong, I was extremely happy to be there and I had learned so much along the way. The problem was that I didn't feel connected. I felt a lot of things, fortunate, happy, tired, but I felt like something was missing. I was going through the motions, but that seemed to be it.

After the village walk, we came back to one of the houses for chicken soup like we had all week in various villages throughout Honduras. This time, however, some of us got into the kitchen with the ladies and learned how to make tortillas. They made it look so easy, twisting and turning their hands in just the right way. My tortillas looked like a hockey puck that had been through a war, but we were encouraged to make more. And we did, and we all laughed while we did it.

After lunch, we all gathered in the backyard where the village leaders spoke about how their village had changed after working with Heifer. I don't remember much of what was said. I had at some point stopped listening and started to look around at the people who I had spent the day with. Their stories came back to my mind through their faces and expressions. Then my eyes stopped on Suzanna, and I saw that she was crying. Fears of what was culturally acceptable aside I went up to her and just put my arm around her. Just like that her arm was around me, and I began crying too. So the two of us just stood there arm in arm crying tears of gratitude listening to the elders of the village talk of the exact things that I had finally started to feel. While I will never know exactly what she was thinking or why she was crying at that moment, I knew that I had finally made the connection I had hoped for and felt the meaning of the word solidarity. While our lives were so different, in that moment they weren't.

Suzanna and me