Gustavo and the Butterfly Farm
- Central America and Mexico, Honduras
- Personal Essay
On a cloudy Saturday morning, I take seven-year-old Gustavo and his little sister Doralisia to the butterfly farm in the nearby village of Raista. As we walk along the muddy path from Cocobila, Gustavo and Doralisia hold hands, splash in puddles, and pick up the fallen yellow nance fruits. They chat the entire time in the indigenous language, Miskito, about the animals we pass: cows, horses, chickens, pigs, and occasional pet parrots, which screech back at us.
Gustavo and his family are my neighbors, along with all of the domestic animals that wander freely around the narrow spit of land between a large freshwater lagoon and the Caribbean Sea. Cocobila and Raista are both indigenous Miskito communities in the Mosquitia (the Mosquito Coast), the easternmost edge of Honduras, which is accessible only by boat or small plane.
We head straight to the farm and find Eddy, a soft-spoken and gentle man who spends his days catching butterflies, tending the host flowers and plants, and managing the farm. Eddy is a former lobster diver who started the butterfly farm several years ago with the help of another Peace Corps Volunteer and a local nongovernmental organization. The idea was to provide an alternative means for Eddy to support his family while at the same time establishing a model for environmental education and awareness. Most Miskito men in this part of the coastal Mosquitia are divers or fishermen, working under dangerous conditions and often exploited by boat captains and by large companies that buy the products of the sea. Eddy works full time with a few others at the farm, raising butterflies to export to zoos in the United States and guiding tours of local school groups and occasional tourists.
Eddy, Gustavo, Doralisia, and I enter the netted butterfly pavilion just as the sun comes out from behind the clouds. Butterflies respond naturally to sunshine, so hundreds of them in every shape and color flutter silently around us. They pause gracefully on the bird of paradise plants, passion fruit vines, slender tree branches, and other plants that fill the pavilion.
Gustavo and Doralisia open their eyes wide at the thousand shades of green dots with vibrant flashes of blue, red, orange, and yellow. Eddy points out tiny white eggs on the backs of leaves and the different butterflies, with names such as tiger, zebra, owl, swallowtail, and sulfide. They watch the brilliant blue morpho feed on a dish of sugar water, and learn that the "eyes" on the wings of certain species function to scare away predators.
Inside the thatched hut next to the pavilion, we look at the transparent green and gilded cocoons, hanging like wrinkled leaves or drops of water, and observe the fat, spiny caterpillars sleeping inside them. Doralisia and Gustavo stare through a large magnifying glass at these bizarre and extravagantly adorned insects.
On the hot walk back to Cocobila, my little neighbors suck contentedly on candies I have given them and excitedly point out each butterfly we see along the way. They had learned the importance of flowers and plants in the butterflies' life cycle and the relationship between the caterpillars and the beautiful butterflies in the pavilion. They had learned not to throw their candy wrappers on the ground.
Eddy is a positive role model for kids like Gustavo, who most likely will follow in his father's footsteps and work as an underpaid lobster diver. Hopefully, some of the children who visit the farm each year will be inspired to care for and protect the natural resources in that part of Honduras. And I hope that Gustavo—as well as his incredible home within the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve at the edge of the Caribbean—will be spared the exploitation that threatens so many indigenous people and their environments around the world.
As we peel ripe mangos on the porch a few days after our excursion to Raista, I ask Gustavo what he would like to do when he grows up.
"Be a teacher," he replies shyly. I hug him tight.