Cofradía, Honduras: Chicken Feet and Generosity

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Cofradía, Honduras: Chicken Feet and Generosity

There’s not much to do in Cofradía, so one afternoon a week I end up sitting on Norma’s couch. Norma’s house is an entertaining place to be. The TV is always on and loudly talked over. There are dogs, chickens, cats and rabbits running through the main room from one door the other. I’m greeted with sweaty hugs from various small children who briefly appear in the doorway before running away to climb trees or play outside. You can feel the breeze off the river that brings with it the faint smell of the cows that graze right across the street.

It’s impossible to leave her house with an empty stomach. Soups (chicken, beef, pork, fish, tripe, beans – you name it and she’ll make a soup out of it), enchiladas, tamales, tacos and even chicken feet spaghetti one time (I eat anything and everything, but I struggled with that one). I’m then handed the traditional late afternoon cup of coffee made Honduran style (half coffee, half sugar) and a piece of sweet bread. If I stay any longer, I’m plied with mangoes or ciruelas that the kids pick off the trees.

Honduras is the country everyone tells you to skip, except by anyone who’s ever been here. Don’t get me wrong. Before you buy tickets, you need to know what you’re getting into: extreme heat and humidity; dusty, dirt roads; power and water outages; and probably at least one bout of horrible diarrhea (don’t blame the chef – it’s your gringo stomach). You’re also in for one of the most naturally beautiful, culturally radiant and friendly environments.

My first day in Honduras was like being a kid again. I had to learn how to flush the toilet, where to get drinking water and how to drink it (it comes in bags here – you have to bite the corner off), and how to take a shower (nothing like a cold bucket shower to wake you up in the morning). I also quickly learned a few lessons: the only way not to visibly sweat through you clothes is to just wear black. Catcalls and stares are inevitable and best ignored. Your feet aren’t actually tan- it’s dirt.

I worked at a bilingual school and the first few months were tough. I had to learn to be a teacher, use my nervous Spanish on a daily basis and spent a week with dengue, feverish and vomiting. I got used to public transportation that consists of being packed into standing-room-only buses and whipped around turns at horrifying speeds. There were days where I was hot, tired and sweaty, and all I wanted to do was lay in AC, order in and watch Netflix (tricky with no AC unit, no food delivery and power outages).


My Students PIC: EAF

Cofradía is full of contrasts. In my four years here, what was a sleepy, rural town has become more and more metropolitan (although I use that term very loosely). There are dirt roads peppered with internet cafes and restaurants that are starting to look less Honduran and more “American,” with AC and kitschy art all over the walls, and reclaimed materials converted into tables and decorations. There are families living in basic concrete houses with bathrooms in the yard made from old sheet metal and tarps, yet they have smart phones. We’re a small town in the middle of nowhere Honduras (which is already the middle of nowhere), but a kid might greet you on the street with absolutely perfect English. There are frequent town-wide power outages, but you can get high-speed internet put in any house in the vicinity.

These rising contradictions can be attributed, I believe, to the bilingual schools in the area. Honduras has what has been dubbed “English Fever.” Starting about 20 years ago, the first bilingual school in the town was started by an Australian expat who still lives in Honduras. This school brought foreigners, usually Americans, who in turn created another off-shoot school, which led to another, and eventually even Honduran-run bilingual schools to meet the demand of parents wanting a better future for their kids through English. I am part of this cycle as well, having recently started my own bilingual program in a town five minutes down the road.


Cofradía PIC: EAF

This previously monochromatic town now features occasional American, European or Australian volunteers wandering around. With them, they bring different music, food and sometimes money. I have never seen a Honduran eat peanut butter, but you can buy three different brands of it at the grocery store. It’s not uncommon to hear American music blasting from cars. And there is always the “gringo price” for anything without a price tag, sometimes double or triple the normal price, under the assumption that because we’re foreign we must have money to spend.

For many of my friends and family members back home, it’s hard to figure out what the draw is of Cofradía. Why do so many foreign volunteers come here and why do they stay? It’s hot and humid, my house only has running water every other day and I’m writing this right now in the dark because the power is off and will be off for the rest of the day. There are the humanitarian reasons, the idea of helping others and improving children’s lives by giving them better opportunities. This is why people come, but that doesn’t usually make people stay for more than a few months.

It’s hard to write about why I’ve stayed and why other people love this town so much without sounding clichéd and sappy. Norma, whose house I spend a great deal of time at, has become what volunteers call my “Honduran mom.”  Most volunteers end up with one. A family that adopts you, feeds you, takes care of you and makes sure you know you have a place to call home so far away from your actual home. It’s as if Hondurans don’t know any other way to live other than being generous. Almost all Hondurans know poverty and know how fleeting wealth can be here. They know what it’s like to have nothing and to need. Because of that, generosity is culturally ingrained. Of course, this isn’t universally true, but the times I’ve seen Hondurans unwilling to help out someone else are few and far between.

Cofradía isn’t a hopping tourist destination and there isn’t a lot to do and see here. There are, however, plenty of people to meet and lots of food that will be offered. You will be forced to learn dances, drink coffee, eat cake (so much cake) and celebrate any opportunity they can think of to celebrate. Joy and generosity run deep here and it’s hard to leave that once you experience it.

Elizabeth Faris

Elizabeth Faris

I’m a writer, translator and teacher. After growing up outside of D.C., I’ve moved from D.C. to Boston, New York City, and finally settled in Honduras. During the day, I work as founder and administrator of Garden School Victoria, a bilingual school in Brisas del Valle, outside of San Pedro Sula. I also teach preschool and fourth grade. I pursue my other interests, writing and translating, in the afternoon and on weekends.