Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I notice how they write of largess,
the poets, the writers.
I notice this and think of how small I am.
Full, but small.
The world I write from is a hallway
full of things I am beginning to understand.
Things like my own body,
how kitchens are important,
the smell of mint bushes in the rain
and the endless length of my wife's white thighs.
These little things I can tuck into,
can carry with me and know that wherever I am
there is enough room.

Jake Kuliju

Monday, November 2, 2009

maiz y frijol y corn y bean

two rows - in the clouds and way down there in the valley


change for a living

In desperate attempts to extract information about what I actually do despite a stunning talent for one word answers left to the imaginative “stuff”, my inbox rattles with the shiny Señor Lincoln query:

tell me about your day.

I’ve thought on this question more seriously lately and appreciate the interest.

The way I build a story is Father Wood in process of an idea: context - - more context - - the actual point.

The way I entertain is decisively Mother Theresa: food - - love - - food.

[There’s never one without the other, they don’t keep a tally but I don’t lean off the world because if I think about one/talk to one/laugh at one’s joke, then there’s always the other. Look world I do not lie! I am my father’s daughter, chronicling my beginning to tell a progressing end.]

Back to one day. Last week I thought that the “one day” could fit into “Wednesday through Sunday.” File my life anywhere under “expected abnormalities.” Start at 6:00am with my dirty clothes in a backpack, 40 bean packets and waiting for a jalon [ride/hitchhike]. Then 25 kilometers to drop off the beans, 17 more kilometers to not wash the clothes in a broken machine. Get locked in the library, the clothes go missing for five days, run down the Pan-American highway in a skirt, attend a farmer’s festival near north coast, weep openly during presentations on organic compost and environmental stewardship, genetics and biological diversity lesson from the preeminent expert in Latin America on subject during car ride, dance and sing into the dawn with the resistencia, drive 9 hours to the north coast (again), rupture remaining emotional molecules watching Honduran national soccer team lose to the US, back to Tegucigalpa, farewell dinner for clown troop from Mexico, find the clothes. Wednesday through Sunday.

But that’s fun stuff.

19 octubre, is heart-open~mind-growing living.

6:30am Leave on bus, catch a second one and wait for coworker [Abraham] who arrives on motorcycle. Total cost: 50 cents, 25 kilometers and reggaton [spanish rap] before my mind settles into being awake.

7:30 Quick debrief on our weekends – his wife needs arm surgery, not sure how they’ll afford the pin. His old man’s soccer team lost, wouldn’t know it by his grin that reveals the joy in chasing a soccer ball. I relate.

7:35 Helmets on we bump over a washed out road, spilling once (no injuries, very minor mother). He sings old love songs and is disappointed (again) that I’m not harmonizing.

8:10 Reach Tabla Grande. Don Exequiel just left on his horse. We dash down the path lined with coffee and banana trees. As we approach he’s talking on the cell phone and makes a detour to buy fresco [soda/Coca Cola] to celebrate the planting. Abraham and I walk ahead.

8:30 Stop and wait for Don Exequiel as it begins to rain; the weather’s turning colder and kids playing nearby have no shoes but heavy sweaters. Abraham has shoes but no sweater. We concur he's worse off this morning.

9:15 Walk 30 minutes to arrive at fields; beautiful coffee trees line the path, and a pataste [local squash variety] trellis that protects baby coffee plants. Maiz [corn] is dry and stiffly bends with the wind. Someone is singing off tune. The bright green coffee beans don’t seem to mind, just waiting for december to be plucked, dried, roasted, poured.

9:45 The soil where we plant is beautiful. It’s dark and there are worms! and small black ants, and the color paints our hands earthy. The hill opens to a “v” that frames the Yeguare valley below and the massive fields of Zamorano that are tractored straight and long. I stand in 5 long rows cleared with picks called bueyes de colachos; two of the rows disappear into drying corn.

10:00 The CIAL group of seven farmers, one facilitator (Abraham) and one gringa (Katerin) huddle. There’s banter about Mel and talk about local methods of planting. After row length and seed calculations everyone find s a job – some cut stakes with machetes, others plant and a few keep track of the experiment’s design in notebooks. I let my heart sing (harmonizing with life).

1:00 52 seed packets are empty and the universal risk of farming is in charge. Will it please rain? Will it please not rain too much? Good bugs eat the bad bugs. Bad bugs don’t eat a single darn plant because with our fingers we tucked those seeds into the earth exhaling hope into the ground. My notebook is scribbled with 7 interviews sketching lives tended by the earth, cursing the earth, depending on the earth. On average, each farmer’s household spends L1700 or $90 a month. Total. Everything. We drink the fresco from plastic bags and then walk down the mountain.

1:45 Back at the motorcycle parked at a house two little girls are waiting with their jump rope. Last time I indulged the adults in a laugh. Why not twice.

2:15Ok we’re going” [Well, if you’re going to feed us now’s the time]. A huge bowl of soup is ladled that overspills with even bigger vegetables and a hospitable hunk of beef. Four tortillas from corn ground that morning. The corn hasn’t disappeared but surfaces in the rough texture; these round, life-sourcillas are darker than others. In the bowl the spoon cuts through yucca, pataste, potatoes, camote and cabbage. I’m concentrating on taking deep breaths to fit it all in until distracted by the radio. Not 80’s music (surprised) but “Eres Tu”, my parent’s wedding song.

3:30 It’s late for buses, take my chance waiting for one to Zamorano knowing the risk is that I’ll arrive and everyone’s left. Yesterday left my computer with the Department’s director so I could study for the GRE in the evening. Plan is to stay with my Zamorano family and get a good 3 hours of middle school math in. Yelp.

3:40 Bus comes and it happens to be from Yuscaran. Two of my neighbors are drivers; this one never smiles and wins the award for blind-curve passing with straight face as he almost kills us.

3:55 Zamorano - there are still folks at their post, but the person with the key to the room where the computer is being held hostage waves to me from her jalon. Means I’m headed back to Yuscaran at 4:40 to study with a book.

4:20 Buying vegetables in the University’s co-op. Run into Doña Maria who’s worked in Organics at Zamorano for 15 years. Her 9 year old son goes with her to the fields now that school’s ended, and her two boys my age make the labor team 4 strong. She has a second grade education but attends courses (example: microbiology) offered to Zamorano employees on Wednesdays. Her smile is that moment of happiness you don’t pull out of life, a gift to receive.

4:50 The bus is late; my bus buddy is convinced it’s not coming and starts waving down a jalon. But it comes. Down the steps as I go up is Carlos with crutches. We ran together in February when I was living alone and didn’t mind wheezing before dawn on the highway. It was company. We both busted our knees in April and he’s done it to the other one this weekend in a soccer game. Last words I see from his mouth through the window: todo bien!

5:30 Indania is 10 and nannies for a family where her mother cooks. She loves reading. They get on the bus mid-journey distributing news there’s no electricity. Dark clouds tethered to conversations about the lack of rain wait expectantly for us to believe. As we wind down the road towards Yuscaran their cover makes the unlit little city feel liable to forces bigger than ladrillos [bricks] and locks [cerraduras].

6:00 My rechargeable batteries aren’t re-charged and I fumble for the candles we hide under the sink. Neighbors are cooking on a fagon [wood stove] but I’m without and settle for cold rice cooked by Ana days before. Positive encouragement (if you let your drops fall we’ll call you the prettiest clouds we’ve ever seen) is outright not working: it’s not raining but the wind is fierce (sorry wind, your beauty is elusive). Dark house and noisy palm trees twist my waiting into the seven days Hurricane Mitch lingered until tiring back into the sea. People believed in rain those seven days.

7:00 GRE by candlelight. Unadulterated Romance. Yelp.

8:30 Because I live part-time in communities where the fagon is a dragon-force that ate the quiet strings of electricity before reality came to be, I know that I’m allowed to go to bed now. There’s no car battery to charge the television to watch novelas [soap operas] because we have no television. Instead, I’ll listen to Democracy Now! in Spanish and a novela I’ve recorded on the ipod. Isa (the very vocal kitten) is happy to hide under the covers. I pull my gratefulness from under my heart and give it to the night. I hope it shares with the rest of living things of my 19th of octubre.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


musing on being (un)(very)afraid

The escape route I dug via this blog wielded my friendships like a shield against leeriness. Because I doubted everything about being in Honduras: the pretext of working as a competent researcher for 10 months under the guise of an illustrious fellowship, seeking answers through academia to address issues of “poverty management”, abandoning an identity as a working farmer, struggling in a language that effectively obliges me mute, forgoing green vegetables, I reached out to ensure that a judging audience also recognized these as future personal failings. The empty space speaks equally to the latent conversations not recorded in the space I reserved for full promulgation. Thus a full confession for an earlier attempted confession: I did not trust myself to be a productive member of pueblo Honduras. This is why: 

I was afraid that positivist research (of which my entry was sure and expected, even offering a growth opportunity) serves the career of scholars to a greater degree than those being studied. In fact, the last three words of that last sentence follow me everywhere.

I was afraid that my role as an American contributed to a cycle of inequality being repeated for the *inth time. Acting out the familiar story of self-examination (under the gentle care of women cooking on wood stoves, planting corn, children singing my name from school classrooms) and then retreating with stories of “real poverty and human suffering” to relay in grad school interviews. 

I was afraid that the values which ground me: solidarity, community organizing, and liberation theology would become significantly obsolete and symbolic of an empty identity if I chose the path of testing a hypothesis.

I was afraid that people who shared their stories in the most giving of ways would became mere postulations sized into a discussion section.

I was afraid respected friends and family would ask: so, what does your data say? – data, what’s data – I would respond.

All of these fears are breathing partial truths thanks to my work for and against them, consciously and blindly. Brevity now is inappropriate, but the concluding remarks to the perilous predictions: yep, “that” may happen on some level. Your job is to not be idle and escape via (too many) Harry Potter movies and/or Ugly Betty episodes. Be afraid, but own it, avoid thinking too much and make constructive lists.

Painfully obvious is that any blog entry I write (ever) will always be the muse of a new confession and a measurement of failure against shifting parameters – not too awful for public display, but a good dose of shame.

Here’s the rub: I predicted the fate of this blog. The word Buoyant impressed urgency on my soul after reading a Rumi poem on the stoop of an urban house in crowded Tegucigalpa: let the guilt go, feel the buoyancy all around you.

How does one do that letting go without becoming complacent? It’s my envisioned fate on twitter and facebook, scared they offer mediums to pluck a hole out my self-contained cosmic antsy-ness rather than honest, public admission.

The second rub: I don’t communicate well via these mediums because I don’t give myself the satisfaction of the confession and subsequent relief of being revealed as someone addicted to riding buses and not fit to give surveys.  Beware, I react poorly to hearing : : it’s ok, you’re too hard on yourself, we all have limits : : Those paths are marked on this map of full disclosure and self-deprecation, but they provoke (in me) a deep retreat into blankness, nothingness.

If I promise to re-dedicate myself to telling the story of what I do, what occupies my thoughts and makes me flutter with joy/sorrow/gratefulness with hopes that you’ll share your stories and we can think deeply about our choices and subsequent actions, such a promise must be asterisked as *aspiring.* My public cleansing may be personally restorative, deeply disturbing for the reader, and a bit too much in general. But I’m hoping it’s that step forward that I keep witnessing in others and admire.

I’ll be in Honduras until the new year, maybe longer. A member of this community, status granted as “permanent visitor who rides lots of buses, can work hard in the campo.” Thank you pueblo Hondureño for the space to claim this, my life.

Monday, August 3, 2009

marching on, twenty by ten

Over the past week the scene of protests in favor of ousted President Mel Zelaya can only be described as frightening. The national police, twenty wide and ten deep marching on women with their umbrellas, men in baseball caps and youth wearing black and red t-shirts with images of Che. To watch people flee from a force they can't see completely, looking for an exit that doesn't exist is harrowing. Several media outlets (though probably using the same source) are quick to mention these protesters hold hand-made weapons such as picks and large sticks. Provocation is a poor argument for a strategy that pits professionally trained individuals with weapons (some graduates of the School of Americas) against protesters with farming tools.

For everything I've recorded on this blog what's been omitted is the absolute control of the state (read: partly under the duress of Honduran business elite)  on its citizenry, and the bludgeons are not discrete. Curfews, military road blocks and bus checks, message control through print, radio and television. The same soldiers protecting citizens gathered in support of the new government march on the opposition and are responsible for at least one death this past weekend. 

Rep. George McGovern is a Congressional Representative I respect. He's supporting legislative efforts that would tighten the pursestrings, for one, of folks who led the coup. Read more here. This isn't an endorsement but a consideration - how do we, as US funders to foreign militaries and corrupt governments, act on our role in this and other conflicts? 

On a personal note, the government isn't alone in its suppression of information. Zamorano, the agricultural school where I hold an office and enjoy access to a swimming pool, tennis courts, riding stables and two coffee shops, has blocked internet access to several liberal news outlets including Upside World. Business as usual for the silent, deadly business elite. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

only contemplating good governance

The country afuera del tiempo - outside of time- as a Mexican reporter is calling Honduras. Marches continue, the road to my community is blocked by small rocks and women with umbrellas protesting the heat and the takeover government. Two things occurred this weekend which fall outside my common Honduran experiences - stars and a cold nose. I was thinking of something which is also hard to come by: high in the mountains near the El Salvador border in a hammock swinging over banana trees swinging over coffee, I contemplated good governance.

Hondurans active in politics related to Mel Zelaya's forceful removal and transitional government appear to be fighting for a side not a better government.

Demands presented by protesters for Mel Zelaya: bring him back, what you did was illegal and he loves the people and we (speaking for all the poor) want him back.

Demands presented by protestors for Micheletti (new president): don't ever bring him back, what he did was illegal, he was hurting all the people and we want peace, all Hondurans want our peace.

Maybe my frustration stems from the signs that don't appear at Honduran road blocks (for multilayered reasons):


1. My son waited 2 months for a life saving amputation of his left leg because we couldn't afford the knife or anesthesia for the surgery. I demand social services that respect human dignity.

2. I borrowed 1000L ($50) from a coyote (middle man that buys products from farmers and sells them in the city for double the price) and lost my crop. My seven year son sells water on buses to recuperate the money. I demand that my right to earn a decent living from my work be respected.

3. If the United States government is serious about restoring the democratic process in Honduras, why is it still funding a military in charge of fear and intimidation? ---

In a statement shortly after confronting the Mexican government in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) declared its political intentions as an organization composed of marginalized peoples by political and economic powers:

"The EZLN does not seek the victory of one party or another. The EZLN seeks justice, freedom and democracy so that the people can choose whoever seems best to them and so that their choice, whatever it is, receives the respect and understanding of all Mexicans and of people in other countries."

(EZLN communique, 1/11/1994)

Afuera de victoria.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

golpe de state and pueblo

Public participation in national governing decisions is ______. I so state this publicly to remind myself that there is no finite resolution to a political event such as a "golpe de estado" or military coup.

The finite is only the name of a person who claims to be in charge:
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is not that person now. But we will be reminded that his name is Mel Zelaya over many days and that he should or should not be the president of Honduras.
The infinite challenge is establishing a government with leaders who embody a form of public representation that includes and requires the participation of society's most marginalized and least protected. Those voices, those interests, those stories are hidden beneath the dramatics and egos of Honduran politicians who have an awful record of standing with the material poor in their communities and fewer problems when it comes to favoring a wealthy elite. Sigh - a philosophical rant, it does nothing to inform but feels good to let go.

A short list of events from this morning : around 6:30am news reaches the general public that President Mel Zelaya has been sequestered by the military. Government television stations are calling for public demonstrations until electricity is turned off throughout the country. Families in urban areas rush to grocery stores to bolster their food supply. Rural Hondurans, who make up more than 60% of the population, either don't have electricity and/or are accustomed to such rolling blackouts and wait for news over the radio. Electricity returns mid-day and with it a Congressional session and press conference from President Zelaya who is in Costa Rica.

At least for now I'll refrain from making statements of judgement related to specific coupe events. But certainly, today was not an act of justice and equality for Honduran people. Fear and force are the law today.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

in cahoots

What I imagined was a shared space, something that would write itself with the experiences and thoughts of a collective. But I never said bienvenido. Here it is; I'm not trying to evade responsibility for writing regularly (ehem, a wee fib).

But more than genuinely, this is shared tierra -

How? Email me and I'll publish it to the blog, or post a comment and I'll publish it on the main page. Easy, shared, no fibbing from now on.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
Aimless Love - Billy Collins

It's 95.3% true I'm not one to keep a list of desirable characteristics one looks for in a partner. Put me in the camp that suggests it's better to remain open and celebrate the moment when one finds something spectacular. And oh how I swooned last Sunday evening. What beauty, what grace, what substance! These shelves have no equal; the wood is dusky, worn and textured, and the strong rope pops with a spring-sky blue. Each slab rests slightly from two nails facing a window where light reflects on its uncomplicated strength. What conversations to be had, so much beyond the surface. Titles like 
Cradle to Cradle, Food Politics, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn offer the beginning of a long, delightful journey of discovery. 

The most devout love is not possessive: I do not own these shelves. 
The deepest love is shared: I offer you the elements, but not the splendor of the shelves. 

GoodReads is an online booksharing network where I have posted a "shelf" or category called shelves of danli.  It seemed shameless to write all the titles down upon first meeting, so the GoodReads list is only a start from memory and will grow with time. 

I can only hope the shelves didn't see me blush. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Thursday evening::Yuscarán

Many months ago (more than I care to admit have passed) I wrote an email to people who inspire courage-accountability-inquiry-confidence-resistance. Honduras in January felt to be unfamiliar territory. What’s familiar tonight: a cat named “Tito” rests a chin on my thigh ignoring music from the neighbor’s place. Anna, my roommate, is gone for a few days and the men who run a metal shop permit their tools a little rest. Sporadic water is a great excuse for skipping showers, though my feet would be confused for a welcome mat worn with serious dust stains.

It’s neither a personal narrative nor an exposition of my work that I intend for this blog, but maybe it helps to contextualize the person in the place. I arrived to news that my host project dissolved due to funding issues, forcing a reconsideration of my research proposal. Over the following weeks I visited communities and accompanied an extension agent working on family gardens and a transitional cash crop called maracuya. I moved to Yuscarán, a beautiful town that sits on ridges surrounded by 19 aldeas and close to the University of  Zamorano where I keep an office. Time ran away and everything felt unsettled against the backdrop of a very structured grant proposal laden with mountains of data collection that wasn’t being collected. But it took that time for my priorities and purpose to focus.

Honduras, by identity and survival, is a farming country. Where the U.S. is experiencing a burgeoning local food movement (maybe an idealistic characterization), supermarkets and food imports owned by Wal-Mart are increasingly indispensable in the Honduran diet. Let’s not ignore that Honduras is a historical marker for the agro-industrial sector credited to American companies' export of bananas from the north coast to U.S. homes starting in the 1880’s with dependable service to present-day U.S. consumers even during winter blizzards. The majority of rural workers who do not migrate to free-trade zones (that are also “free” of paying their employees the recently increased minimum wage), depend on the land for basic staples like beans and corn.  Sometimes I put my head against the wall thinking about all the factors involved in making farming a sustainable livelihood here (oh what a list), and then I tell my head to be quiet for a minute and get to work. 

It may never be simple, but we move along: over the course of the next eight months I’ll provide more detail on the livelihood research I’m conducting in an aldea called Tablones, the community garden at the school, the food cycle project in Yuscaran, and CIAL farmer groups who were the disappeared program that recently reappeared (yay!).

You are kind beyond measure to read such a long blog entry. To solve this problem I promise to secure an editor (with a dark red pen) and post more pictures. Hold me to that promise.

Woman’s labor movement in banana plantations

Media source on activism in Latin America

Livelihood study in Honduras

News via photography

Friday, March 20, 2009