Tortillas at Dawn

Submitted by Joyce Hollyday on October 8, 2010 - 5:19pm
The gift of interdependence

The sun was a mere glint of orange on the eastern horizon. I had just spent a short and restless night on the floor of a church in the tiny town of Ocotal, where I had journeyed with the first U.S. delegation of Witness for Peace, a nonviolent, faith-based effort that established an ongoing prayerful and protective presence in Nicaragua’s war zones.

Around us, U.S.-backed forces known as contras were raiding vulnerable villages and terrorizing the population. We shared the church with refugees, mostly women and children, who had fled under fire from their homes scattered throughout the mountains, leaving behind what little they owned.

When our group awoke before dawn, the refugee women were already slapping out tortillas and cooking them in a dome-shaped clay oven. They invited us to partake in their meager breakfast. Uncertain about where they would spend the next night or find their next meal, they shared everything they had with us, affluent strangers from a country that was sponsoring a war against them. We communed with tortillas and coffee, feeling deep gratitude for their profound generosity.

Almost three decades separate me from that moment, but it remains vivid in my memory. I have longed to be like those women. I don’t romanticize the privation and violence that they suffered, but I envy their sense of community. They understood that their lives were deeply intertwined, that the future of one would be the future of all.

That truth enabled them to be generous in a way that I have found again and again among the economically marginalized all over the globe, but rarely among those who believe their security resides in money and possessions. Those of us who inhabit a world of abundance often act as if scarcity is our lot

Most of us live in societies in which the security of the communal has given way to the sovereignty of the individual. The joy of interconnectedness has been largely lost in the relentless pursuit of self-sufficiency, the misguided idea that each of us has to be financially and emotionally prepared to meet any crisis that might visit us. The women of Ocotal remind us that it doesn’t have to be this way.