Causa for a Greater Cause

I have always loved cooking. Even ate the age of four, I can remember climbing up to my family’s kitchen counter to help make chocolate chips cookies. This passion continued throughout my life, as I worked at various restaurants and made artisan breads to sell at local farmer’s markets this previous summer. I hope to eventually have a career in food security, striving for easier access to healthy foods for all people.

While on SST in Peru, I was fortunate enough to be placed with a family during study who shared the same love for food. My host grandmother, Alicia, was the cook for our group and my father, Glicerio, was a cook at a local hotel. One Saturday I spent nearly six hours cooking with Alicia. We had a grand feast in the evening with all of our family, eating lots of Peruvian favorites, tallarín verde, causa and sopa de pollo.

A Walk Through the Thorns

On a hot afternoon in Olanchito, Honduras, I walked back on the dusty streets from the edge of town after my last home visit for the day. I loved my SST service assignment teaching adults in a banana plantation town how to read and write. I would visit their homes several times a week for an hour or two of tutoring in Spanish.

One of the families had four students: Senora Alvarado and her three oldest daughters. The visit would last the entire afternoon, and I treasured our time together. Senora Alvarado lived in a very small, one-room cabin with her 13 children. We always had our lessons on one of the benches outside the house, as all the space inside was taken up with hammocks and cots. I had never been invited inside, but I could see those hammocks through the cotton curtain that covered the doorway.

Her cooking fire was outside, and every day she would prepare strong coffee for me from freshly roasted beans. It seemed that coffee beans and bananas were all they could afford. It didn’t occur to me until much later while in medical school that the explanation for the blond hair and protruding belly of her youngest child was malnutrition.

From Sipping Tea to Downing Coffee: Life After SST

Five seconds after I’m awake, I check my phone. I respond quickly to the most urgent emails, scan my 12 appointments for the day, down a quick cup of coffee and bike to my first class at 8:30 a.m. I’ll be leading design processes, teaching directing for the stage, organizing rehearsals and planning projects for the next 16 hours, before getting a little sleep and doing it all again the next day.

I am in my first year of grad school. Life wasn’t always like this.

Five and half years ago, I was sitting on a bamboo mat, looking out across endless rice fields in Cambodia’s poorest province, Prey Veng. My service days included glorious hour-long moto rides across vast fields and sitting for hours at a time listening to conversations I couldn’t understand. I was living a life supremely different from the one I am now.

Tangled Paths

The children stopped to stare at the green truck as we passed. Our eyes locked: mine memorizing their angled arms and milky palms, theirs taking in my strange, thin hair and pale skin. Their mothers picked their way along the uneven ground at the side of the road, balancing wide ceramic bowls, eyes steady and careful.

After six weeks of study with the other SSTers in Abidjan, the largest city in Côte d’Ivoire, we were all heading au village. My destination was a tiny village beyond Danané, close to the western border of the country. I sat in the front seat of a Chevy pick-up, smashed between Charles, a Baptist pastor in Danané, and Lydia, his wife. Their children rode in the back. It wasn’t very far, but not knowing what lay ahead, I wished the drive would last forever.

The road was full of potholes and ruts, losing ground to the thick green vegetation. Some puddles were as long as the truck.

“The name of this village is Bougle,” Lydia said.


They laughed. “Bwug-lee.”

I repeated it over and over until she nodded, smiling. Bougle’s buildings were white-washed mud huts with packed dirt floors. Chickens ran loose in the road. An old woman sat bare-breasted on a low stool in the shade. She stared as we passed.