On my fourth day in Honduras, I awoke next to my beloved husband in a strange bed. The first three days had been a blur of prayer time, getting to know our missionary team, planning out presentations and packing for our trip to the small rural villages tucked in the banana and coffee-filled mountains of Honduras. A bumpy truck ride later, we were in the middle of a Central American mountain range and welcomed into the home of a sweet little old Honduran grandma and her two precious grandchildren.
The early mornings began with the sharp beeping of a loaned watch alarm, jarring after a night of rather fitful sleep interrupted well before dawn by what seemed like thousands of roosters and dogs. My sleep was perforated by several horrific nighttime experiences with a hole in the ground, otherwise known as an outhouse. Moreover, the early hour required an awkward preparing of oneself in the dark, as we resisted turning on the light (singular) for fear of waking our hosts. As soon as we finished, we popped outside to walk next door to the church, where we met our team members for some prayer time, our spiritual food for a busy day.
After heavenly prayer came earthly breakfast, a favorite time of day for perpetually hungry Jing. Beans, eggs, plantains, tortillas and creama, a delicious homemade sour cream, were typically in order. As a missionary, it’s imperative to finish all your food, but our hosts jam-packed our plates so as to make it a challenge. I occasionally had to slyly pass food to my Honduran brother, who amazingly managed to clean his plate to a shiny finish at every meal.
After breakfast came home visits. We split into teams, and Diego, Carlos, Claudia and I started off down our path. My fellow missionaries could not speak English, thus leaving me in the dark as to where we were going or what exactly we’d be doing. We climbed up and down dirt roads, following mountainous paths where they led and greeting all we passed with a hearty “Buenas!”
Perched on the hillsides were homes, small cement structures with raised foundations and shaded porches. Often pigs, chickens, and rather skinny-looking dogs lounged about, and children frolicked every which way while adults went about their daily tasks. We walked up to houses, introduced ourselves, and Diego asked if we could take some time to pray with them. At each house families welcomed us, scrambled to put out chairs and invited us to sit.
Now my Spanish was dicey at best, and if one spoke really slowly perhaps I could understand. However, in the beautiful villages of the mountains there were no allowances for my lack of understanding. People were generous with their time while talking to us, generous with their well-wishes and thanks for our visits, generous with their resources in the form of snacks and soda. And while my team members shared the Gospel and the love of Christ with each family we met, I sat silently and offered my prayers to God for blessings on the people I was with. I didn’t understand the details of the discussion, but I asked for joy and hope and safety and courage in the face of any troubles that might befall them. Our lives are different, but the same. Different in that we in the United States have all the resources of the world at our fingertips, and those in Honduras do not. The same in that the troubles of the world try to bring us down, and ultimately we all need the joy, hope and deep love that only a relationship with Jesus can bring.
Our week on mission was filled with singing, dancing, prayer, joy, hope and love – all the things that in the abstract that make life worthwhile. However, the tangible form of those things is not what you might expect. We briefly lived the life of those who are poor, but in reality we are called to be poor all the time, to live simply and for Christ; to give constantly, not of our stuff or of our money but of ourselves. I’ve always said this to myself, but in going on mission I realize how I’ve fallen short in this respect. I am, and we are all, called to do more.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, in the United States, in Honduras and all around the world, Jesus is life, and the only worthy thing we can do for one another is to model the love He showed and help one another on our journey home.
Our yard has a banana grove. This in itself is awesome, but even more awesome is that we actually had bananas on our tree. I kept waiting for them to ripen, but not knowing anything about bananas on trees I found out too late that they do not turn yellow when ripe, they turn bright green. I think I missed my chance to eat them.
However, while they were growing I was excitedly informed by my BFF May and my Auntie Flora, both former residents of the Philippines, that one could eat the banana flower. Yes, bananas have flowers. But how does one eat them? Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew?
The Google is always handy for answering this and any other question, and when put to the test it came back with a salad that lacked other strange ingredients and was therefore make-able. Chef Jose worked his magic, and voila! We were able to eat something that grew in our garden, albeit not planted by us. Anne was adventurous and joined us for dinner, and that’s how you know you’re family. It’s when we feed you things that are not only experimental in the recipe department, but experimental in the ingredient department as well. I happened to think it was delightfully tasty, so if you happen to find yourself with an extra banana flower lying about, here is the recipe I highly recommend from yumsugar.com.
What strange things have you eaten? From your own garden?
Banana Flower, Poached Chicken and Mint Salad
1 firm banana flower (Incidentally, you can find these at asian grocery stores, usually between November and February is best, depending on where you live)
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup of fresh mint, rolled and sliced
4 tablespoons white vinegar (We used cava vinegar from our Barcelona trip.)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
Make sure to slice your banana flower as thinly as possible.
The last few weeks have provided Jing with a Floridian winter wonderland, consisting of bright sunny days with temperatures above 70 degrees and glasses of fresh orange juice squeezed from oranges from our very own fantastic backyard orange tree.
Life in the sunshine state is made sweeter by our precious orange tree. This fresh orange juice, produced by our five-dollar white elephant sale citrus juicer, is a highlight of my day. But everyone sit your self down or brace yourself against a wall, because I’m about to lay on you my secret ninja recipe for orange juice happiness in the new year.
In the evening, I pick a few oranges from our dwindling tree stash and place them in the refrigerator. In the morning, I bound out of my bed and into the kitchen, where I lovingly half the oranges, juice them, and then I fill the rest of my breakfast glass with coconut water. I subsequently down the OJ and coconut water concoction while I go about my morning chores.
Why can’t you just drink store-bought OJ like normal people, Jing? Why do you feel the need to add coconut water to a perfectly acceptable drink? Well, there are several reasons why I prefer my homemade version.
First, that jazz is fresh, yo. Fresh = yum yum yum in my book.
Second, you get the satisfaction of having accomplished something awesome so early in the day. This morning, I made juice, and it was delicious.
Third, the coconut water, while not currently a fresh ingredient, is good for your skin according to a doctor I once consulted on the point of my highly embarrassing and ridiculous adult acne. She advised that I drink some everyday, and I previously found this to be quite challenging. However, now I perform the task without hesitation. Is my skin clear? Meh, 50/50. Is my juice delicious? 100 percent tasty.
I vote that you resolve to try it and let me know what you think. Do you have any morning routines that make life sweet?
When we purchased our home, I looked at our jungle of a backyard and I had big dreams. I dreamed of veggie garden beds with juicy vegetables, of beds of tropical flowers, of trees plump with fruit. In essence, I dreamed of having my mother’s lovely and well-tended garden. Almost a year later, this is not yet what I have. What I have is a work in progress. Little by little, Jose and I fought to tame the wild that is our backyard. Florida, with its lovely beaches and delightfully warm weather, is still essentially a swamp. Vines, pine tree droppings, critters, and more join forces against my dreams of home-grown vegetable eating.
My primary battle is with my personal and unholy enemy. I am speaking of mosquitos, the bane of my existence and the ultimate reason I cannot step into my own backyard with out first bathing myself in Cutter bug spray. Jose has taken to the scent as though it were my perfume. However, even the magic shield of Cutter is defeated by the gallons of sweat that gush from my pores in this Floridian heat and humidity. The little suckers wait the mere minutes it takes for this to happen, and then the attack begins. Five minutes and thirty-five bites later, I look like I am in the midst of a smallpox epidemic.
All this only proves that dreams are made of hard work and sacrifice. If you want fresh veggies, you have to endure a few bites, my friends. In my case, I’ll have to endure bites, buckets of sweat, and the possibility of being overtaken by vines in the family of Audrey 2. In honor of my struggle against nature, here are a few haikus.
Fire ants abound
I pour hot water on them
With sadistic glee.
Wolf spider and kids,
Nightmares are made of these things
They can’t be unseen.
Wasps, Wasps, go away!
Don’t come back again ever
Jose, not me, kills.
Itty bitty snake!
Are you a poisonous one?
Let’s call Dad and ask.
And a guest haiku by Jose.
Wolf Spider invades,
“Get the kids off my back, please!”
She says. Smash! She’s dead.
Cleaning and organizing in my house can be a veritable treasure hunt. As a recovering pack rat, I constantly find things that brings back memories I’ve almost forgotten, especially from that hazy age of life called high school.
In the 1900’s, as a freshman in high school I was nerdy and awkward. Or maybe I was normal but I constantly felt nerdy and awkward. I was also painfully shy, a social disability I’ve since recovered from in full, but as a baby high schooler lunchtime was overwhelming for me. A beloved teacher let students in her program take refuge in her office during lunch once a week, and while the tactic was somewhat escapist, it worked out well for me. During these days I chatted over lunch with a few friends and a rather compassionate adult, giggled at the random television programs that came on at lunchtime, and spent one hour of my high school day not worrying what anyone thought. This is the constant plague of the freshman girl – wondering if you are good enough, if people really like you, if you will ever escape the inadequacy you feel in the halls of your high school. Mrs. Walker’s “class” was like a vacation from all of that, and to this day if you asked me what I remember about my freshman year of high school there isn’t too much, but I do remember her and the time she took to get to know us. Thanks Mrs. Walker and teachers everywhere like you – you are the ones that last in our memories when we no longer need the hall pass and all the algebra and chemistry and teenage awkwardness has faded away.