Iguana Go Home PfP-3

When the family dog trotted out of the kitchen dragging the dripping severed head of an Iguana, I knew that dinner was going to interesting that night…

Our minibus arrived in Ojoche after a 20 minute offroad or “nonroad” expereince. The village of 80 families  sat on the Honduran border surrounded by not much else. The purpose of our visit was to construct a kiln for the community of 12 women potters who had been organizing for this moment over the past four years.

A brief history of the group opened a world of variables that were as confusing as inspiring. Originally the group had been about twenty women. They were all Catholic. Then some Evangelical Christians moved in and began converting. Then some women dropped out of the Potters community, Then some Baptists and Lutheran Missionaries came to tiny El Ojoche. More converts, more drop-outs. The Potters group fell apart. A year went by and the true potters, now of many differing religions, all get together for one more try, but finally united in their desire to improve their art and their lives. An international community building group called Kairos called in Potters for Peace and a deal was made. If the women buy the land and buy the materials for a kiln, PFP will build it for them and teach them how to use a fuel- efficient “Mani” low-fire kiln…

At Home in the Kitchen


We are each assigned to live with a family and we were warned that these people were poor. Our meals promised to be rice and cheese and eggs, but no beans because the price was too high. Our group gathered in a circle among the women and after some rhubard-rhubard-rhubard chatter (which concerned me,  as it turned out) we were assigned our “mamas.” I was escorted up a steep rocky slope by a stout woman in her thirties named Mayalin. My Spanish was good enough to get through normal conversation. On top of a small hill, not far from our work project sat the farm of my Mama, her companero and their two wide-eyed daughters ( 9 & 11). Conversation stopped as I took in my new home: The four of us spent the next three days together. Really close together. And not alone. Adobe walls, dirt floor, three hens each with a full set of scrambling chicks, each living in a corner of the house. One of the trio huddled her brood under a television set that sat on a kitty corner shelf. Oh, there was also a -four week-old kitty and two dogs, that technically did not live in the house with us, but they visited all day long and accepted tables scraps. And you KNOW they hung around me. The dogs were emaciated to a point that I have only seen in images  of  the abused animals of hoarders. Every rib and vertebrae poked sharply against their stretched skin. They ate tortillas and little else. When i asked how come the dogs were so thin, they told me this are a thin dog breed.

Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, TV Room, and Chicken Coop.

Robert Pillars, our intrepid leader, selected a location for the kiln by the riverside. Our first task was to transport a thousand bricks from the top of the hill, down to the site. After only one roundtrip up the narrow path, lugging two oversized bricks, I made the brilliant suggestions that we form a human chain and pass the bricks down the hill. Well, a wave of respect and awe swept the workers, for this innovation clearly showed that we had brought the right stuff to El Ojoche.

Brick Brigade

After the brick pile grew, Robert and Alvaro (his son-in -law and right hand man) began laying out the foundation. It was immediately discovered that these bricks were not built 2:1 as bricks are supposed to be. the 2:1 ratio means that you can cut a brick in half and reuse it later. It also means that making the kiln exactly square (an absolute necessity) was going to involve a lot of brick cutting. And what tools did we have on hand to cut and custom fit our bricks ? Why, we had two dull machetes and a hand trowel. And that is what we had and that is what we used.

first, you get some bricks....

Moriah Goes on a Chopping Spree

Over the next three days, the nine of us and ten or so local women laid in the bricks one by one, cutting and chopping at least two per row. We applied different thicknesses of mortar, called “mescla” depending on the location we worked on. I gained additional favor in the group because i could not remember the right word, so be began to call the mortar “soupa chocolate.” My reputation grew because I also suggested a way to predict some of the cuts that might be needed (it was just theory) and hence my nickname became “ El Professor.” I might as well add, here, that the initial hubbub about housing assignments arose because the house that I was originally assigned to was a twenty-minute mountain climb from the works site. The little lady that owned the house took one look at time and said that such an old man could never survive such a climb every day. OY.

A Well and an Outhouse in Every Yard - Sandinista's Fulfilled Promise



Because of my Spanish, I was up to my elbows in the project. Two-thirds of the team worked on the kiln and my group built the chimney. We only interacted and blamed each other every four rows. Each row of bricks was laid, then measured with a ruler, right-angle iron and a level. The hard part was the customized brick trimming by machete. It slowed us down, but when an excellent even-cut brick fit perfectly, it was worth it.

all in all, it's just another.....

...brick in the wall

The Women of El Ojoche

We Made the Cover of "Kilns Today"

So, the first morning I had my rice, tortilla and some peas and an egg. I told Mama what a great breakfast it was. The next morning, she served the same meal without the egg. She explained that the dog had eaten the two eggs that day, but maybe we would have more luck tomorrow. She also promised me a special dinner.

Now, I knew what was coming before the dog left the kitchen with its reptilian protein prize. An hour before, one of the little girls interrupted my post-work nap and shoved a two foot iguana in my face to scare me. It did not. It was kinda cute. For dinner, I correctly guessed.

When mealtime came, I did not know whether we were having the filet of mini-dinosaur or the Fricassee of Godzilla’s offspring… what arrived on the table was Garrabo Soup: eight inches of curled iguana tail in a thick yellow stew.  At least  I knew to ask “How does one eat this prehistoric throwback?” the answer was “con los manos” (with your hands). You tear the bits of leathery grey flesh off the multitude of tiny vertebrae with your teeth. And then throw the bones to the dogs.

I can clearly state that iguana tastes nothing like chicken unless your poultry is rank, sinewed and all neck bones. I tore in, chewed and chewed, spit out perhaps a few more bones than is customary, but my lavish praise distracted my hosts from the larger portions the family dogs were receiving. I can get through this. I can get through this. But then I grew concerned that if I praised the meal too much, they might repeat the following night as a farewell dinner.

No eggs again. For breakfast, tortillas and cold Iguana leftovers.

Not Your Mother's Iguana Recipe


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: