tlf news Vol. xiii #3 September, 1992

Tana in Wonderlandia

My name is Tana Rohner-Rogers, I teach Spanish and Computer Literacy in Austin Texas. I arrived in Honduras June 16, 1992 and was fortunate enough to be greeted at the airport by Fr. Jack Warner. He looked identical to the pictures I had seen in the movie ¡TEATRO! which was featured on PBS in 1990. Seeing his work in the movie was my first contact with the teatro. It prompted me to look for a time and a way to visit in order to practice my Spanish and see the teatro in action.

My plans fell together in so easily I assumed it was destiny. I met Jack's brother who lives in Austin. At a block party I discovered I live down the street from a group of Jesuits who have worked in Central America and in Honduras. I phoned Jack and two weeks later I had a ticket to San Pedro Sula for a seven week visit. I really had no idea what I would do for seven weeks or if I could even hold my own in a third world, macho country. My fears and doubts were dispelled quickly.

I fell in love with the lush green mountains, the simplicity of life in the third world and the warmth the people showed me. My first night in El Progreso I spent walking about with John Fleming, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas in Austin. He had done quite a bit of travelling and assured me it was an adventure worth pursuing.

Jack had found me a place to live with a wonderful older woman, Dolores, with whom I became great friends (we even ended up taking a trip to the capital, Tegucigalpa, together). Jack loaned me a bicycle which I quickly put to use by searching out a route for my morning runs. Close to my house I found a nice loop that lead up to a small stream right outside of town. I was warned by the locals not to go further up the road across the stream and I took heed of their advice. Hondurans are not used to seeing a blonde gringa running at 5:45 in the morning and the first few days I was a show that wasn't a planned part of the teatro. But after three weeks or so people all greeted me like an old friend as I ran past each morning.

Every day I went to the theater at 8:00 to help around the office in whatever way was needed. During the second week the actors invited me to joing them in their morning exercises. After about two weeks, I was so busy preparing announcements, posters, and programs for the upcoming summer temporada that I stopped joining them. It struck me how the actors came to the theater each morning and went to work. The place seems to run itself which I know can not possible be true, but that it's the result of a lot of hard and disciplined work.

The actors are in many ways still victims of the machismo of their culture, but they accepted me and treated me well. I was invited to dinner at their homes and we went to the movies together and I even went out to play billards with them on two different occasions. Moncho asked me what I liked most about the theater and I had to reply, when they were rehearsing. The whole theater would reverberate with the songs, choral speech and animated voices of Bajo La Luna Contamos . This piece, which opened the season, is an extremely entertaining and moving set of short stroies: three stories and a dance by Oscar done to "Clare de Lune" by Debussy.

At one point in the story "Los Motivos del Lobo", as I watched the audience forget they were in a third world life of poverty and hunger, I was moved to tears. The story is by the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario; it tells the legend of St. Francis of Assisi and the terrible wolf of Gubbio. Francis tames the wolf, and brings him to live in the town. For a time, the wolf seems content and stable in his new home. But suddenly he disappears into the wild and resumes his ravaging ways. Francis seeks him out, and the wolf explains that he had to leave the "civilized" world and live in the wild because of the sins of man. Francis can only respond to the wolf's indictment of civilization with a prayer, and the actors sing a contemporary version of the Our Father. The theater errupted into applause at the end.

One weekend I joined the group for a one-night-stand in Negrito a small town on the other side of the mountains. Oscar drove us up and took special care to drive slowly and point out the stunning mountain views. We arrived around 4:00 and Fransisco (a Jesuit from the U.S. who has worked with the teatro for five summers) and I walked about to get to know the town, which didn't take long. We returned for a dinner of beans, eggs, tortillas and cheese. The company had already set up the town hall for the performance so we wandered about waiting for the starting time. At 6:40 the electricity went out in the side of town where we were. The people still came and sat in the dark waiting expectantly. By 7:30 it was raining and still they came. A group of young volunteers from Spain who live in the town and work for the parish had arranged for the performance as part of the town feria. They assured us there would eventually be light so we waited. At 8:00 the lights came on and the audience was transformed into a screaming mob. Again I watched the poverty drain from their faces as their eyes lit up with excitement and joy. They laughed and clapped their hands and shouted after each piece.

Twenty minutes after the performance ended we were on the road, on our way back to El Progreso. The actors sang and joked with each other all the way back. I could not help but think how lucky they were to have full time jobs as actors and be able to survive! Thanks to Jack Warner, these actors can bring a touch of culture to the people of Honduras, and have a steady income for their own families. Not very many actors in the U.S. get this type of opportunity.

Before I knew it a month had passed and I had settled into life in Honduras. I could run errands, order programs at the printer, and stop for a mango licuado before heading back to the theater.

One weekend Jack drove me to Copan to see the famous ruins. The drive up was of course beautiful, through the steep mountain roads and mist. But along the way I saw poverty like I've never seen it. The people who live outside the cities and pueblos live in plastic and cement block houses. I saw children carrying enormous loads of firewood, a child who couldn't have been more than 12 lugging a bucket of water up the mountain trail. The ruins are a spectacular experience, and Copan itself is a beautifully clean town with cobblestone streets. We stayed in a hotel; it was the 4th of July some visiting Americans treated us to a loud firecracker show.

I am sorry to be leaving and I wish the best of luck to all of teatro la fragua. Who could have foretold that I was going to spend my summer in such a culturally developing and inspirational place?

I have seen what it means to be the second poorest country in the Americas. I have seen the glassy stare of malnutrition, naked coughing children, and despairing mothers. I have seen seven-year-olds pounding laundry on a rock in a river possibly contaminated with cholera, a river that runs black with pollution. I have seen pregnant women with legs like sticks carrying loads of firewood to a cement block house with only plastic for a roof.

I have also seen the three beggar children who live next to the theater asking not for money but for tickets! They came to the opening night dressed in what was probably their only clothes -- previouslye I had only seen them in underwear or shorts. Once the performance began, they were glued to their seats laughing gleefully.

teatro la fragua works small miracles. I have seen them. I have been invited back next summer to coordinate a drama workshop for grade school students here in Progreso. I will do everything I possible can to return. I will also do all I can to help Jack continue running the theater by asking for continued support from those who can see how important spiritual and cultural food is for a country deprived of a basic culture and history.

---Tana Rohner-Rogers

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