How To Xorok

The process of making tortillas is a deeply important Mayan tradition.


Xorok: a Q’eqchi Mayan word that describes the action of baking tortillas, usually corn tortillas as corn is the primary staple of the Mayan diet

By Jessica Williams - Peace Corps Volunteer, Belize (2013 - 2015)


Understand that corn

Is so much more than food

Understand that corn is

The measurement of a season

The foundation of a meal

The strength of a family

Down here,

Corn is a way of life


Take twenty men and plant a field of corn

Wait for the sprouts to grow tall

Keep the weeds chopped

Wait for the sun to dry it all

Keep the birds off the crops

Wait five months

Keep the faith

Take five men and harvest the corn


Pull the ears from the husks

Shell the corn from the cobs

Keep going until you rub a blister on your thumb

Cook it over the fire

Wash it in the river

Grind it on the stone

Keep going until your knees, your back, and your arms ache


Gather your sisters by the fire

Around the table that barely reaches your ankles

Roll out a small ball of ground corn, shaping as you go

Join the steady beat of the percussion section

Women pounding their palms against the tables

Banging out a rhythm laden with the day’s heavy heat,

Forming perfect little sun circles with the curve of their fingers

Learn how to hear the heartbeat of a village

Held in your hands

Waiting to become something alive again

three and a half:

Watch. Try. Fail.

Try again.

You’ll get there one day.


Pass around the bowl stacked full of tortillas fresh off the fire

Burn your fingers but take extra anyway

For this, there is always enough to go around

And everyone is welcome at the table

For the rest of your life

You will associate the smell of cooked corn

With the feeling of being surrounded by family

Take a bite

Find that it tastes like home

This poem was entered in the Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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