By Blake Daniel, Duke Divinity Intern
This past Saturday I learned how to build chicken coops. No, not long, industrial chicken coops like you see on poultry farms; rather, chicken coops made from two-by-fours and wire, made to sit comfortably in one’s own back yard.
I learned this as part of a service project we did in Hurdle Mills, NC, at the home of a wonderful Latino farm worker family. Alexandria Jones, my wife Erin, and myself met up with some friends from all over central North Carolina to put our muscles to work building two chicken coops, both of which can hold at least ten chickens and provide meat and eggs for an entire family. While working in the hot sun for several hours was very tiring, the group’s enthusiasm, humor, and desire to serve more than compensated for the hard labor. It was a great opportunity to meet a farm worker family first-hand, to practice Spanish, and to get an inkling of an idea of what life is like for farm workers who work all day, every day, in the hot North Carolina sun.
Forfeiting the usual Saturday sleep-in, Erin and I awoke early to drive to tobacco farm country in Hurdle Mills, NC. We showed up to the farm property, unsure of who exactly we were helping and what condition their home was in. But, as we approached the home, we were greeted in Spanish by Francisca, a young mother of four with a patient, hospitable spirit. She extended a warm welcome and we were promptly invited inside their doublewide trailer to watch Sponge Bob with the kids and drink 7-Up.
As we waited for the rest of our team, Erin and I warmed up our rusty Spanish conversation skills in getting to know Francisca and her kids. Their hospitality and warmth was staggering. Erin sat on the couch and chatted with Gilberto, the youngest son, about “Silly Bands,” while I tried to get a better handle on the family’s life by talking in the kitchen with Francisca. Soon after, the rest of our party arrived, and we began working outside on the family’s two chicken coops.
There is something profound to me about working side by side with people from whom I am very different. On Saturday I – a twenty-something white American male – was drinking 7-Up in a doublewide trailer courtesy of a Latina woman who has more life experience than I could ever imagine. I was pounding nails with Leonardo, a Mexican-American non-profit worker who had volunteered his time to help Francisca and her family, and whose jokes and amiable spirit kept us all laughing despite the heat. It was a joy to hear the Spanglish around the group as we all scurried like worker ants to construct the coops before the day ended – asking for “tornillos” and “clavos” as though we had worked together forever. In a Scriptural way, service projects such as these are the reverse of the Tower of Babel, for despite our cultural and linguistic differences we all united and worked together for the common good. It was a slice of heaven on earth.
After a delicious lunch of tostados, Pepsi, and fruit, Erin, Alex, and I called it quits and said our good-byes. Before we could leave, Francisca ran up to Erin and me and asked for our phone number: “Quisiera verles otra vez!” — I would like to see y’all again!