Honduran Corn Tortillas
By Laurel Wagstaff
I am a lover of hot-off-the-fogon Honduran corn tortillas. As is often the case with such things, it is not merely the thick texture, or the mouthwatering mild taste, or the way the outside is slightly crispy as to almost taste like popcorn; it is the memories that come with the visualization of those tortillas.
Now, I say “visualization” instead of “taste” because I will never be able to taste one of them again, only dream about them, since hot-off-the-fogon Honduran corn tortillas can only be found in Honduras. The memories that come with the thought of those tortillas are from my difficult, wonderful, life changing eight week stay in the rural village of Chogola Abajo in Intibucá, Honduras during the summer before my junior year in high school. I was there with the program Amigos de las Américas and was involved in doing construction projects in the community.
The first tortilla that I made was completed on my first day in community and reflected my emotions at the time. It was only the image of what the real tortillas were supposed to look like. The misshapen tortilla was laughed at boisterously by the Honduran family I was to live with for the next eight weeks, and laughed at nervously by myself.
Thrown on the Fire
Indeed, although I don’t like to admit it, I was scared. My Spanish was not strong enough to really communicate and my only English refuge was in my one partner, a girl a year older than me whom I didn’t know. But, like my tortilla, I was thrown on the fire despite my weaknesses. When it came off the fogon it still tasted good, even if it didn’t look anything like Honduran made tortillas.
Afterwards I went to sleep and I woke up the next morning feeling better. I had accepted my fears and was starting to move on.
To be honest, during my first three weeks in the community I didn’t even like eating the tortillas. No one family had enough food or money to feed my partner and me every meal, so generally we ate with whomever we had worked with that day. For each meal we ate there was a hearty stack of tortillas to be consumed.
Sitting there, amongst quickly spoken Spanish and the unfamiliarity of the situation, many questions came up. How was I ever going to be able to understand what everyone was saying? How was I going to make it through eight weeks with no word from my parents except for the occasional letter which made it through the black hole that was the Honduran postal system?
How could I finish my AP summer homework when I scarcely had time to hand wash my clothes? The foremost question on my mind, however, was how would I even be able to eat such a huge pile of thick corn tortillas? The answers to all of these questions would come in time, and when they did I was left wondering why I hadn’t seen them sooner.
I don’t know who it was that first said, “You don’t know what you have until you loose it,” but that saying proved true for me. I went for a four-day midterm break in the city of Gracias, Lempira and spent time eating Honduran-American pizza, drinking soda, and socializing in English with my fellow American volunteers.
Missing the Tortillas
There was, of course, a general lack of hot-off-the-fogon Honduran corn tortillas and to my surprise I found myself missing them. I was ready to enter back into Spanish-speaking small community life by the end of those four days, and my first day back in community after midterm had a very different feeling than when I had first come. For one thing, I accepted and readily
consumed four hot tortillas.
The next few weeks passed all too quickly, with many changes in me and my habits. I found myself eating tortillas like a Honduran, and what’s more, I loved every bite of them. The best tortillas came from my host mother, who began to give hot ones to my partner and me, as well as open up more socially when we returned from midterm.
Every day was wonderful, my homesickness faded and turned into despair when I realized that before long I would need to leave, and in all likelihood, never eat a hot-off-the-fogon Honduran corn tortilla again.
The Last Morning
My last morning with my Honduran family was difficult since I came to realize I would never see them again. When it finally came time to say goodbye I was in tears, as was the Honduran woman I had grown to accept as a second mother. I knew that the actual experience was over but so deeply had the images of the country, people, and tastes been imprinted into my mind that I knew Honduras, like the tortillas, would be something that I would never forget.
All of us Americans later that day were checked into a run-down hotel which seemed elegant and rich compared to my eight weeks in Chogola Abajo. I was sitting in my room when suddenly one of my friends barged in; my eyes went right to the plastic bag she was holding.
“Some Honduran came and dropped this off for you,” she said, obviously curious as to what the mysterious package was. I took it onto my lap and tore through the plastic to find a sizable stack of my Honduran mother’s corn tortillas, still warm from the fire. I ate the whole stack, my last tortillas, enjoying every bite.
2004 Intibucá, Honduras Volunteer
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