tlf news Vol. xiii #1 March, 1992

Stranger in a Strange Land


I step off the plane onto the tarmac. The knot in my stomach grows larger. I am in the middle of a field of banana trees. I march toward the terminal, Caesar crossing the Rubicon. "Alia iacta est". The comparison falters: I don't think that Caesar wanted to vomit at that moment. I've never gone through customs; the closest I've come is being carded at a liquor store.

Somehow I emerge from immigration only $2.00 poorer. Now comes the truly confusing part: getting my baggage. I had been told that one does not just get one's bags but must allow "one of those guys" to take them for you. Not knowing exactly who qualifies as "one of those guys," I gather my bags into one pile and stand over them, the picture of the gibbering idiot searching for the international sign language for "Please help me; I'm obviously incompetent." I am rescued by "one of those guys" who whisks my possessions over to a counter where they open my duffel bag, purvey the socks and undies therein, and send me on my way. This is too easy. But I'm not out of the building yet; I'm tensed for a gringo tax or a strip search. The "one of those guys" leads me into the blinding sunlight of the open air. Jack is waiting. We load my stuff into an ugly yellow pick-up, Jack tips "one of those guys" for his hernia (he doesn't look happy with the amount), and we head out.

The road from the airport to El Progreso winds through lush, verdant banana trees and cane fields. The road itself is horrible but alive with activity: cars, buses, cyclists, horse-carts, people waiting for buses, people waiting for another bus after theirs has broken down.

We cross a river and Jack announces our arrival in El Progreso. The city of El Progreso is a bit of a surprise. Actually it is a big surprise. Originally I had supposed it to be a little, shack-filled, dirt-road, livestock-ridden village like you see in those Sally Strothers comercials. Then someone told me it was the third largest city in Honduras; my image changed to one of more urban overtones.

If the word for the countryside is "verdant", then what can be the word for El Progreso? Smoke from cooking fires fills the air. The streets are crowded with vehicles of every description: bicycles, horse-carts, wheel-barrows, trucks, taxis. Children and dogs are everywhere. The roads have been protected from repair by a national landmark act. The houses remind me of the deserted shacks that dot the fields and streets of coal-mining towns of Pennsylvania. The main difference is that the shanties in El Progresso are not, unfortunately, deserted.

We go "across the tracks" to see the theatre. I had seen photos of the theatre, but I am struck on approach that it could be any little theatre in an American resort town. The actors aren't there; they are off somewhere giving a workshop.

We head off to the Jesuit residence where I have arrived in time for a meeting of all the Jesuits in Honduras. Now I have the pleasure of feeling incredibly stupid; my lack of Spanish skills is a badge of shame. Jack offers me the opportunity to ditch the meetings and go with the troupe to Olanchito for a course on dramatizing the Gospels. I kick around the alternatives and decide to go.


I take the bus to Olanchito with Guillermo and Moncho, while six others go in the ugly yellow pick-up. Seems the military is interested in "recruiting" young men and regularly stop modes of public transport in order to impress fresh cannon fodder. We three were safe, they because of age, I as a foreigner. Buses are obviously a very important mode of transportation in Honduras, this being evidenced by the sheer numbers squeezed into each one. Riding a bus on Honduran roads is beyond all the expletives in my fecund imagination. Our first bus was your basic-Greyhound style sans bathroom. The seats looked comfortable, but I have no way of knowing for sure since we had to stand for several hours. That was big fun. Looking like an utter imbecil I flashed apologetic smiles at the people whose shoulders I crushed every time we swerved to miss a pothole. We hit them more often than we missed. After we were well past Tela we finally sat, on little wooden boxes set in the aisle. Luxury!

We stop in what I am told is La Ceiba for lunch and a change of buses. Lunch is typical fare: beans, beef, tortillas, rice, salad and Coke. We wait for about an hour in a bus station set in a Turkish Bazaar. We get on the bus to Olanchito and actually manage to secure seats. This is more your city-bus type with seats that are not exactly designed for long range comfort. Although at this point I doubt that anything less than a Barca-lounger custom fit to my body would be comfortable.

Every time the bus stops we are flooded by children vending food, their painfully piping voices filling the air as they try to out-shout each other in their attempt to entice potential buyers of their juice, chicken, bread, whatever. People buy the whatever, consume it and then pitch the garbage out of the bus window. I am aghast at the rampant littering; I think it's a way to try not to see the poverty.

I am still overwhelmed by the incredible verdure with sudden explosions of color from exotic flora. Every stream of water is in use by people washing their clothes or their children or both. Palm-thatched huts nestle beside more permanent structures. No matter how small, rural or poor an area is, it has a soccer field. Every child in this country must be born with the innate ability to play soccer. And to wield a machete like a pocket knife.

We arrive in Olanchito, a sleepy colonial town, and meet the others at the town square. We head out of town to the place where the course will be taught. I have no idea what the schedule is. My official title, "observador", didn't carry any practical knowledge with it. We are staying in a large dormitory with two sinks, toilets and showers, and twelve beds. There are about 30 kids on this course. (They are in the other dormitories). We are given a large meal; nothing fancy but more than I can eat. I learn the expression "Buen Provecho" which, according to the Random House Basic Dictionary (my other Bible) means, "May you enjoy your meal!" To which one must immediately respond "Gracias". Not a problem in and of itself, except that it is usually proferred while one has a mouthful of food.

After dinner there is an introductory session. I give my name, the fact that I am a Jesuit, and that I don't understand anything. I think they understand me.

I have felt very welcomed by the troupe; almost all have made an effort to talk with me. Moncho looked after me on the trip over and, once here, Oscar has taken me under his wing. After we get the kids in the course to bed, a group of us goes out for Cokes & tacos (I have no idea how they can eat so much - I hate skinny people) and we attempt serious conversation. Fortunately they are very patient and more than glad to help. I sense that this time is very important to how I'll relate to the troupe in the future. They're testing me to see what I'm made of and I'm trying to keep up. They joke with me and although I must spend more time than I'd like translating suitably witty repartee I seem to be able to return the insult. I have acquired a nickname: "Gordo", which means "Fatso". I'm not too thrilled with this development, but I have to confess it is not unfair.

At breakfast the first morning I learn that Honduran coffee can strip the enamel right off of your teeth. Breakfast is similar in form and content to dinner. I slept well except for the God-awful roosters at 4 a.m. and the kids at 5 a.m..

I "observe" both the course and the troupe themselves, trying to get a sense of their temperaments. The course is straightforward and very accesible to the kids. They're broken up into small groups, each with a fragua director and a different passage of scripture to dramatize. The directors have to hold their hands at first, but eventually they catch on to the system. The rehearsals are fun to watch: the kids start to get over their self-conciousness, stumble over lines and even remember (occasionally) to stay in character. When the rehearsals are completed there will be about six different Gospel passages prepared. The point of these courses is to enable the youths to prepare their own dramatizations in the future based on what they have learned and observed.

The afternoon of the third day of the course everyone goes to Olanchito to practise their "final exam", the presentation of the dramatizations during and after a Mass for youth in the evening. I had forgotten that the word associated with Mass is celebration until I witnessed this joyous expression of faith that closed the course. These are a people who sing and who really participate. During one song, as everyone was standing, clapping and singing, the dog who had been asleep beneath my pew woke and stood beside me thumping his tail against my leg.

As the first group presented its dramatization for the crowd I saw the magic of this technique. We hear the Gospels read to us every Sunday, but when the words become three-dimensional we experience these familiar stories in a new way and they reveal aspects we had never considered before. The Mass, the presentations and especially the performances by the teatro were all very moving experiences.

After Mass and the presentations we spend time socializing; this includes some dancing. All want to see "Gordo" try to dance "la punta", which I am at a loss to explain in G-rated language. I am surprised they haven't made a mindless movie about it. It is the Honduran equivalent of "Lambada" or "Dirty Dancing"; you must recreate the sensation of being hooked up to one of those reducing machines where you hook the belt around yourself and it shakes the bejesus out of you. I tried, and failed. I guess it's all a part of being from Indiana; we Hoosiers don't move more than one part of our body at a time.

We choose to ride home in the back of the truck rather than patronize the luxury motor coaches. It's a pleasant ride if you don't mind being coated with dust.

Moncho asks me my impressions of Honduras. A question I find difficult to answer. My Spanish doesn't permit me to say much more than "I like it", and a few days are not a lot of time in which to form profound opinions. I am glad to be in Honduras, I'm glad to have gone on this trip. For me terms like "oppression" and "social justice" were rather hazy jargon that one uses to make it appear that he stands for something. Just being here has helped me begin to comprehend the obstacles and difficulties the poor must face in order even to survive.

- Richard Clawson

To contribute to the work of teatro la fragua :

Donate Online

Donate By Phone

Donate By Mail

Click here to make an online Credit Card Contribution.  All online donations are secured by GeoTrust for the utmost online security available today.

Call us from within the United States at 1-800-325-9924 and ask for the Development Office.

 Send your check payable to teatro la fragua to:

teatro la fragua

Jesuit Development Office

4517 West Pine Boulevard.

Saint Louis, MO 63108-2101

Return to the index of tlf news

Return to the home page of tlf

Contact teatro la fragua

Copyright © 1998 por teatro la fragua