The corn was thick in the air as we
walked up to Amigos' maize field. Like a display of fireworks, the ears hit
their peak and gradually descended, each at a different moment.
was harvesting day for Amigos' maize (corn) and all the jovenes
teenaged, boys at the hogar
had been enlisted to help. The 20 of them
worked their way in a pack up and down the field, a row at a time. The dried
out ears had to be pulled off and then catapulted to the nearest of several
large piles that had been cleared out in the midst of the stalks. In nearly two
acres of corn there were five or six piles, and that's why the corn flew
through the sky at such a great height. It's also why, despite the heat,
several of the boys seemed to be enjoying themselves.
is what we gringos know as yellow corn, several months later. At the point
where sweet corn would be ready to harvest, the stalks are doubled over and
allowed to dry out for several more weeks. Once harvested, the hard, dry maize
kernels are ready to be ground into the flour that constitutes the tortillas
eaten at every meal - two tortillas a person, breakfast, lunch and dinner. The
maize we harvested that day, in grains, weighed 4,500 pounds, enough for six
months worth of tortillas here at the hogar.
at 8 a.m.
the boys and other employees of Amigos' agricultural program, Agro as it's
referred to here, were at work pulling the brown, crinkly maize cobs off of
doubled-over, waist-high stalks. The sun was fiercely strong by 9 a.m.
and the work
is best done in long pants and sleeves, since the dried stalks are prickly and
scratchy, sometimes dangerously sharp, and lots of creatures (read snakes) like
to live in the field.
unsurprising that among the-high schoolers, there were those who didn't relish
the hard work. What's more surprising is that some of them did. When I asked
one of them why, he said throwing the ears the distance to the piles was fun,
and that he liked seeing how far he could throw. Then he gave a reason I didn't
expect. He said he also liked walking from plant to plant, pulling the corn off
the stalks. To me, a first-time maize harvester, this seemed like the least fun
part of the job. My legs and arms were scratched and itchy and I was constantly
worried about what insect I would see next crawling out of a corn ear. Sweat
was pouring down my face and I had a bloody gash on one hand from an especially
sharp stalk. Harvesting maize is brutally hard work and that's the daily
reality for many Honduran farmers, one that really struck me in the field. But
this kid also saw the beauty in the process. He was able, even in a
long-sleeved shirt drenched in sweat, to appreciate the kind of satisfaction
harvesting your own food can bring.
uses about eight acres of farmland. Currently the hogar
produces all its
own milk, chicken, maize, and beans. Beans will be planted next in the same
field as the maize. There are two harvests a year for both crops and each plant
replenishes the soil for the next in a beautiful, ageless cycle. The boys at
who work in the agro program are learning about a crop and a
cycle that has been a staple in the lives of Hondurans for generations. I
learned a saying in my first week here that is catchy in Spanish: Sin
maíz, no hay país, which basically translates to, the country falls apart
walked back from the field dehydrated and exhausted, at least I was, but also
on a strange sort of high, the kind that comes from doing a hard job through to
the end. The boys were making whooping noises for no reason, giddily laughing.
The tortillas at lunch that day didn't taste quite the same.