10 | My Rape / Why We Don't Go To The Police | 1963 | Part 1 - Thoughtful & Cautious
I'm 19 years old, a sophomore at Cornell University, and anticipating with great excitement the coming summer.
I've been accepted into a program for international service work – the Cornell-In-Honduras Project. Eight of us, students from all areas of study, are spending a term immersed in intensive Spanish classes, and together preparing for a 10-week stay in Honduras, Central America. It’s not the Peace Corps, which had its inception under President John F. Kennedy three years previously, but we will be doing similar kinds of work in the areas of education and community health. In 1963 the notion of young North American volunteers, travelling overseas and offering services to communities, is still quite unusual. We are idealistic and hopeful. Unbeknownst to me, this initial step into international service work will not be the last one.
Our team of eight is sent to a small village in a mountainous jungle area. Though less than a hundred miles from the capital city, Tegucigalpa, and connected to it by the only paved road in the country, it seems extremely remote. The arrival of seven teenage university students, and our 23-year-old team leader, is an odd novelty to the villagers. They welcome us with wide-open hearts. We organize the building of a health center, which will house a community kitchen and meeting hall, as well as a medical clinic for the doctor and nurse who visit the region monthly. We design and help build a system to protect drinking water from the human and animal waste that contaminate the water supply. This contamination in the region causes severe illness, and even death, from gastroenteritis, in 4 out of 5 children before their fifth birthdays. I teach reading and writing Spanish to children who must work in the fields to support their families and cannot attend school. Also in the classes are illiterate adults who haven’t had the opportunity for schooling in their youth. We make many mistakes, are graciously forgiven, and quickly accepted into the small town and surrounding rural community. I fall develop a crush on Alejandro, who lives in the capital and regularly visits his grandparents in the village. He takes us, in his little Karman Ghia, for swims in the nearby river. I come to know three young men from a nearby village who visit and serenade us with their guitars and teach us Spanish love songs. On special days the unofficial mayor and his wife, who own the only store in the village, pile us in the back of their truck and drive to the beach in neighboring El Salvador, a boisterous and sometimes terrifying ride at breakneck speed over rutted dirt roads. As summer ends, we say our tearful goodbyes, and depart on the Honduran national TAN airlines for our return to North America - Miami, Florida to be exact. Culture shock ensues when, on entering the ladies room in the airport, we encounter women in stiletto heels and minks; yes, minks in the 98 degree heat. But we have each other, at least for the next few hours as we reconnoiter in the airport lounge to make our plans for the final leg of our journey. We’re each heading home for a for a few days of R&R, before starting back at university. Our spirits are high. We’re celebrating a job well done, new vistas opened, friends made, and a dream of adventure fulfilled. I set off north with John and Stephanie, who are going home to New England, while I’m heading to Rochester in upstate New York. Together we will hitchhike to Baltimore. There I’ll leave them to catch a bus for my thirteen hour trip home, while the two of them continue on north together. We travel light, each with a small backpack. I remember wearing my favorite moss green cotton shirtwaist dress. Things go well for the three of us on the road. We catch rides with long distance truckers who are happy to have the company. We take turns sleeping in their bunks in the rear of the cabs. On the evening of the second day, we arrive at a truck stop just outside Baltimore, where we are to go our separate ways.
I’m a bit daunted setting off alone and make a mental note to be especially cautious.
We speak to a few truckers in the diner and find one who agrees to take my companions to New England. Another will take me to a suburb, Glen Burnie, where he says I can easily hitch a ride to Baltimore and the Greyhound bus station.
By now I’m feeling road weary and, for the first time all summer, I look forward to being home.
The truck driver I’m with suggests he leave me at a highway crossroads, a good spot to find traffic headed for Baltimore. It’s a typical suburban American crossroads, with gas stations and food marts on two corners. I say my thanks to the trucker, and consider putting my thumb out at the curb next to one of the gas stations. But another plan seems wiser. Being thoughtful and cautious, I enter the station. There are two men working on a car, and I ask for the manager. One of the men, nice looking, gray haired, identifies himself as the owner. I think of him as elderly. Looking back, I would guess he was in his early 40’s. “Is it okay with you if I hitch a ride into Baltimore from one of your customers? I’m heading for the bus station there.”
“Well, if you want to wait here for half an hour, I close at 10, and I’ll give you a ride.”
“Sure, be glad to.”