Women Are Half the World

Nikita Zook spent six weeks in Ayacucho, Peru during the summer of 2013. As part of her final project, she conducted informal interviews with several women who were part of her daily routine in various ways. She wrote what she had gathered of their stories, trying to capture some of their resilience and strength. Her goal was to describe the value of their ordinary, day to day, past and present experiences, and to do that as honestly as she could, in spite of the language barrier. The following was written to be read out loud or performed as a series of monologues.

I. Luz

My story is very sad, she tells me, shaking her head.

She’s standing in the middle of her tiny kitchen as she says this: sink, two burner gas stove, wooden table, two crowded shelves, several broken appliances. She rummages through a dusty canister that holds small bags of canela, cinnamon, rice, dried things I can’t quite identify.

I was abandoned when I was three months old, she says. I don’t have a family.

I can tell by the way she looks at me, brow furrowed, pushing back dark hair with one hand, that this is a line she’s repeated many times before.

She scans the cluttered table for a knife, finds it, starts peeling a potato.

When I was six, I hid sugar in the ground in a plastic bag. I was buena inteligente, she tells me with a grin, I was smart, it was my secret.

And that’s why you have no teeth! her eleven year old daughter shrieks beside me.

Her lips close together quickly. But then she laughs. It’s true, she’s missing a few bottom teeth. I’ve never noticed that though. When I look at her, it’s her eyes–they light up when she laughs.

One Cannot Exist Without the Other

I could feel the upheaval as soon as I entered the room. My mom was nowhere to be seen, and my Nicaraguan host dad, Reynaldo, was shuffling around in the kitchen. It was early in the morning, and he was aimlessly pacing around. Eventually, he put away a rusty metal serving spoon, hanging it on a nail in the wall. He turned to grab a wooden bowl off the windowsill, stared at it, and put it on a different shelf. He didn’t seem to know what to do with himself.

I was new to most things in Nicaragua, but I knew for certain that my father was not the normal family cook. Although I had seen him in the kitchen several times, it was only to bring pichingas full of water, chopped firewood, and sacks full of lechuga inside for my mother.

My dad looked at me, gestured toward the steamy arroz and frijoles warming on the clay stove, and said, “Your mother is in town today for a routine doctors appointment. She made breakfast before she left this morning.”

Really? I thought to myself, She’s gone one day and my dad can’t make his own food? I knew men and women in Nicaragua were expected to fulfill certain roles in the household, but this seemed ridiculous. I finished eating my arroz and frijoles by myself and walked back to the bucket of water sitting on the wooden countertop. Normally, my mother would take away my dishes before I had a chance to wash them, but today I was on my own.

The Early Years, Part II: How The World Alters Us with Norman Kauffmann

The Early Years series offers a glimpse into SST’s rich history through interviews with key players in SST’s creation and beginning decades. Part I was with Hank Weaver, who was on the planning committee for SST. For the second installment, we spoke with Norman Kauffmann of Goshen, who spent years studying the effects of SST on students for a dissertation and book. 

Norman Kauffmann had never been abroad. When he came to the city of Goshen in 1969, SST’s first students were just unpacking their suitcases. No one could predict what the trips would bring. Kauffmann hadn’t even heard of the program. But by the time he retired from his position as dean of students in 1997, he was an expert in cross-cultural experience – as both a leader and an author.

Each semester, Kauffmann would watch groups of sun-burned, jet-lagged students arrive home from three months abroad and wonder what they were thinking. He observed they were different – often in monumental ways – but couldn’t pinpoint how. After he led three terms in Honduras, felt and experienced a new culture up close, his intrigue grew.

When he began doctoral work at Indiana University in 1978, a dissertation advisor suggested documenting the different ways a private Christian college and a state university changed people. Kauffmann would focus on change, he agreed, but not at home—he would study what happened when people left familiar borders.

The Unity of Song

When I went on SST, I wasn’t a student, I wasn’t in a host family and I wasn’t a unit leader. My father and mother, Harold and Patricia Yoder, led the 1972 group to South Korea. I was a sophomore in high school, barely two years younger than the youngest college student in our group. I was too young to be noticed by many of the students, but not too young to learn a lot about myself and the world.

My immediate reaction to Korea was to realize people at the college weren’t kidding when they talked about culture shock. This was the East; I was comfortable in the West. Many things were different: the hole toilets on the ground that you squatted to use and stall doors in public restrooms that went down to the ground; lots of fish instead of hamburger; marinated meat called bulgogie, which would become my favorite dish.

But even at 16 years old, I was no stranger to SST. Two friends had also gone with their parents as SST leaders to Jamaica and Honduras. My parents had always wanted to lead a unit but waited until the college sent students to South Korea. Right after they married, they did MCC work in Japan and Korea; my mother was the first civilian woman to go to South Korea after the war, and they wanted badly to go back with my family.

Filled to the Brim

I originally wrote a version of this story to use in a sermon given at my home church, Mountain View Mennonite Church in Kalispell, Montana.

When thinking back on my experience in Senegal, it is tempting to focus primarily on the things that struck me as being the most contrary to my life in the United States. The animals wandering the streets, mosquito nets over beds, and clothes hand-washed and hung out to dry were intriguing and exciting at first. These things are certainly noteworthy, and they had the most impact on me initially.

As the days passed, however, the novelty wore off. I grew accustomed to seeing such sights, and it was no longer out of the ordinary for a taxi to stop in the road for a herd of goats or a person to drop everything and pray when they heard the call to prayer. But throughout my time in Senegal, the attitude of the people who I encountered continued to amaze me. I experienced a kind of hospitality and acceptance that remains unparalleled in my life, which made the largest impact on me.