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, blood seeping from my right arm, watching the triumphant Rooster scramble to freedom. Rooster 1. Dale 0. I would never have thought that my course in neurophysiology would turn out to be so much simpler than catching a Rooster. And as if the pain was not enough, I began to believe the Rooster was a sadist as he stood outside my reach, and taunted me. Tending to my wounds would have to wait as I weighed my options and calculated a new plan of attack. “Man is the more intelligent species,” I told myself, I would emerge the victor in the next round. The Rooster-catching challenge was not the first time I had faced such an unusual task: testing myself in new ways has become an enjoyable way to expand my knowledge. I was assigned this new task while volunteering with my church in Honduras, on the Finca del Niño for orphans; the experience challenged me in ways that I would otherwise not be able to. Having been raised a competitive athlete, I couldn’t just give up to a winged-farm creature. No, this was embarrassing. It was just the fact that the task seemed so rustic and trivial—and that I couldn’t complete it? Of course I’d have to face that cockeyed Rooster again! I don’t believe in revenge but I refused to be the loser in a foreign land.
Defeat is not in my repertoire so I enlisted the expertise of a young boy named Carlos—a pundit in the field, to assist me in returning the sadist to his coop with the rest of the cordial, calm hens. I stood in awe as the seven-year-old Honduran predator swooped up a hen with ease and cradled her in his arms. It was my turn. I ran after the Rooster clumsily, flailing my arms attempting to subdue him. Carlos laughed uncontrollably as my pursuit was fruitless. I stood in the dirt outside the chicken enclosure we had just built. That small, tan, dark haired boy seemed so mistakenly naïve, yet he was so skilled. Growing up in a different culture, I completely misjudged his intelligence due to his physical appearance. On this foreign farm, I was the clueless child. By meeting Carlos, with his distinct contagious smile and missing tooth, I had actually ensured my survival for the upcoming two weeks. Around him everything was so green. Even on a cloudy day the tall coconut and mango tree branches swayed happily. The wind, birds, and the barely audible crash of the waves behind the Finca—these soothing sounds of the island kept me from breaking down in frustration at my failure. Rooster 2. Dale 0. But it was time for a banana break. “Venga a mi casa”. Getting accustomed to his erratic behavior I agreed to meet him and obediently followed at a distance. Dark clouds were gathering overhead and I leaned on the large mango tree on the dirt path in front of his house. *thud* Ok a mango fell. *thud* another one down. I panicked. I was afraid of being held responsible for destroying part of their food supply, I walked away inconspicuously, checking my back every few steps. Fortunately nobody was around to denounce my innocence and I began to circle the house. Shit! A pretty normal reaction to getting hit with a rock to the back of the head. There was that uncontrollable laughter
again, this time coming from up in the tree. Carlos was waving a machete…and with that contagious smile, I just couldn’t be mad at him. What was it that made him different than a 7-year-old in America? Or even my brother who was just one year older? Carlos apologetically offered me the mango he threw, “lo siento”. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, that’s how long it took for my lips to start burning. I later found out that the chemical “urushiol” in ripe mangos has this swelling, itching, and burning effect on your lips. If only I waited 5 more seconds, I could’ve watched Carlos scrape the mango skin on the bark of the mango tree to get the acid out. Again, as a child, I had to be taken care of by Carlos’ nana. I was rushed inside the humble three-room dirt house. All I could do was listen and obey. I sat on a chair in the small kitchen area. She operated on my mouth with soap and water and a follow up treatment of honey. When I finally regained sensation in my mouth I was still in shock. These people would be considered uneducated by an American standard, yet here I was at their mercy—praying that Carlos’ nana might be able to deliver me from the torturous inferno upon my lips. Although I was still recovering, it was back to banana time for Carlos and I. He led me through a forested part of the Finca that I had never encountered. It was away from the beach, away from all the small dirt houses, away from the volunteers. We entered a more dense area with dirt that caused my feet to slightly sink in with every step. We traveled further and were now completely surrounded by trees. These banana trees were unlike anything I had seen in Florida. They had long broad leaves with multiple short slits on each side, running perpendicular to the length of the leaf. And the way the young bananas were arranged was surreal: the perfectly sculpted bunches resembled a green, tiered wedding cake hanging around the thick trunk.
With an intuitive and keen eye, Carlos began his surgical-like procedure. He was able to discern which bananas were ready to be harvested by detecting a barely noticeable yellow tint on the bunch. He set up the ladder and climbed up slowly. And then with one swift swipe of the machete he cut the stem that held a great green banana cluster. Carlos proceeded to chop down the tree and I impulsively exclaimed “What are you doing!” Carlos explained how the main plant of the tree was dead and showed me the small emerging daughter plant at the base of the trunk. Next season the small daughter would grow up and bear new bananas. Another few swipes and it was done. “Why do you cut them so early?” I asked. “Now we have to ripen them”. I didn’t understand what Professor Carlos—the part-time botanist meant, but I stayed silent to hide my ignorance. When we returned to his house, we went to the kitchen and he began to place a few bananas in a plastic bag with an orange. I had absolutely no idea what we were doing or why. How was such a silly procedure supposed to ripen the bananas? But again, I kept quiet and did as he said. It wouldn’t be till my senior year of high school in biology class that I learned the reason behind the silly procedure. Even if he didn’t know it quite as explicitly, Carlos knew that some fruits, like bananas and oranges emit a gas called ethylene. And when fruit are contained in a small container, such as a plastic bag, the build up of ethylene helps the fruit to ripen faster. And two days after placing them in the sealed bags, the bananas were fresh and ripe, thanks to Professor Carlos. How was he so skilled and knowledgeable in all these tasks at such an early age? Carlos was a kid. He would play soccer with the other volunteers and I. He would emerge from around corners on his bike carrying a slingshot. He would chase his friends around—playing incomprehensible games. He would even pull pranks and get in trouble
with his nana. But Carlos wasn’t just a kid. According to the American standard, he could not yet read or write proficiently, but he could at least take care of himself and help his family. Carlos could set up the wood for the open fire stove. Carlos could clean the dirt floor of his house. Carlos could harvest a banana tree. Carlos could take care of a stranger from a foreign country. Carlos could catch a chicken. Inspired, no longer bleeding, lips back to normal size: it was time. I returned to the chicken coop ready to take on the Rooster. Round 3. Feathers, running, falling, Carlos’ laughter; all the stimuli outside my focus on the Rooster fused together and became irrelevant. At last, the chase was terminating as I cornered the trembling rooster against a bush. Copying Carlos’ technique I lunged forward with both arms at the squawking Rooster. *Rooster call* Victory was mine. As Carlos cheered I paused for a moment, then placidly released the Rooster. “Why you let him go?” said a perplexed Carlos. “Teach me how to catch him with one hand like you do.”
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