Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sandra Theall's Fairy Tale Garden

There are many fairy tales in which a character steps through a doorway and suddenly travels into a new world. Surreal elements like vibrantly colored singing birds, unusual trees and mystical beings makes the visitor wonder if he or she is dreaming.

For many, the images from picture books and movies are the only way to experience such magical places. But for Sandra Theall of Abbeville, all she has to do is walk outside of her home into her five-acre garden.

“I feel like I’m transported from the chaos of the real world into a fantasy every time I step into the yard,” says Theall. “I couldn’t live in a place where I couldn’t be outside every day.”

Trees and bamboo surround the property to provide both privacy and intimacy. Red-tipped Photena shield the yard from the noise of street traffic, Oak, Elm and Cypress create canopies of shade, and Japanese Magnolias, Crepe Myrtles and Red Buds decorate the scenery with bursts of color.

“I’m a big tree person,” says Theall. “Nothing else bothers me like the loss of my trees.”

A bubbling half-acre pond surrounded by Greek statues like Zeus and Persephone provides a refreshing swimming oasis for white geese and Muscovy and Peeking ducks. Multi-colored peacocks named Limpy, Peabody, Thelma and Louise dance around the property singing about the beauty surrounding them.

“My pets follow me all over the yard,” says Theall. “I’m never alone because there is always a cat, dog or bird peeking around the corner at me.”

Although Theall loves all the living things in her garden, her pride and joy are her many Hibiscus. She is president of the Acadiana Hibiscus club, and has seventy-five different varieties of the flower. Many of them, she hybridized herself.

“There is no greater thrill for me than having a seedling bloom for the first time,” says Theall. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

According to Theall, Hibiscus prefer morning sun and evening shade. Her many varieties have names like black dragon, godiva, silver memories, red snapper, sweet cheeks, Atlantis, elephant ears, nanette peach, pagan fire and Creole bell.

“A gardening secret is to keep mulch around your Hibiscus and trees,” says Theall. “To have a successful garden, you have to be committed and love working in the yard. There are days when nobody wants to go outside.”

A gravel road led me from the high-paced traffic of Highway 14 to the serene beauty and peacefulness of Theall’s garden. Thelma and Louise ran in front of my car to announce my arrival to Zeus and Persephone.

“I was a high school teacher and love ancient history,” said Theall. “That’s what inspired the statues around the pond.”

It had rained earlier that morning and the garden was thick with humidity, mist and drops of water slowly falling to the ground. Dark clouds occasionally blocked the sun, casting shadows on the Greeks, while one of the peacocks sang like the fat lady at an opera.

Limpy captivated me with his beauty while he posed for pictures on a small pasture of green grass. I was excited about his cooperation during the photo shoot, but became concerned as he got closer and closer to me. It made me wonder if his earlier song had been war music.

Luckily, Mrs. Theall’s gardener, Robert Castro was nearby cutting bushes. I asked him if Limpy had a history of violence, and if I should stand still or run for my car.

Castro laughed and said, “He’s attacked me a couple of times. But I think you’re safe.”

Castro comes to Theall’s garden once a week to help with the maintenance of the property. I’m glad he was there that day because Thelma and Louise snuck up behind Limpy and there were now three birds coming in my direction. Although a picture of a flock of peacocks pecking me to death seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, I cut my photo shoot short, and slowly backed away from the beautiful, yet fickle feathered gang.

Theall gave me a tour of the property in a small off-road vehicle that resembled a golf cart, but which she referred to as, “The Gator.” We rode through tunnels of rain soaked foliage to discover ju-ju be fruit trees and bamboo fields laced with orange trumpet vines.

The beauty of the scenery made me wonder if I was a character who had stepped through a doorway into an enchanted forest. Music, vibrant colors and exotic plants all supported the existence of the fantasy world before me. But the real magic of Theall’s garden, is the fairy Godmother who dreamed it to life.

The Hibiscus club meets every first Tuesday of the month. If interested in attending, call Sandra Theall at 337-893-0064 for details.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nutrition Plus Knowledge

One of the easiest ways to increase the life of your automobile is by changing the oil regularly. This simple maintenance can prevent many engine problems before they start. The same logic can also be applied to the human body.

“If you take care of yourself before you have health issues, your body will respond,” says Brenda Shelvin, wellness enthusiast. “The human engine is the colon. If you keep it clean, you’ll be healthier.”

Brenda and her husband Barry Shelvin are the owners of Nutrition-Plus at 1105 Veterans Memorial Drive in Abbeville. The couple opened their doors in 1994 and offer wellness items ranging from vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fish oils to weight loss, weight gain and body building products to herbal teas, organic juices and gluten free foods.

“People want to be healthier and try more natural products, but they don’t know where to start,” says Mrs. Shelvin. “You can’t always follow what others are doing. The best place to start is to look at what is going on with yourself.”

Mrs. Shelvin has previous work experience in sales, and the healthcare industry as a Registered Medical Assistant. Mr. Shelvin, who worked in the oilfield, was an avid bodybuilder and the first runner up in the Mr. Acadiana bodybuilding contest.

“I’ve always had an interest in fitness,” says Mr. Shelvin. “I love working with people and helping them feel their best. This is why I started Nutrition-Plus.”

According to the Shelvins, in order to be successful in this industry, one must be knowledgeable about the wellness products. Equally important is being able to listen.

“The best part of this job is the people,” says Mrs. Shelvin. “I’ve grown with them over the years like they’re family. In order to help them, I need to hear what they’re saying. If their stories are important to them, they’re important to me.”

Mrs. Shelvin’s most memorable moment at Nutrition-Plus was when a mysterious woman showed up and said that she was going to pray for the business. The same woman was spotted playing the organ at Mrs. Shelvin’s church days later. No one ever saw the organist again, but witnesses say that she was extremely talented and played beautifully.

“We’ve had a lot of ministers who come here and say they’re going to pray for us,” says Mr. Shelvin. “It must be working because we’ve been open for sixteen years and have a lot of loyal customers. We’re very appreciative of all the support the people of Vermilion Parish have given us.”

Mrs. Shelvin’s son, Blaine Turner runs World Class Smoothies in the back of Nutrition- Plus. Drive-thru customers have their choice of refreshing energetic drinks that can either help them lose or gain weight. Flavors include (but are not limited to) strawberry, raspberry, wild berry, banana, cappuccino and pina colada. Mr. Turner also sells barbecue dinners on Sundays.

During my interview with the Shelvins at Nutrition-Plus, many customers came in with different needs. One man bought something called Brewers Yeast and claimed it helped keep fleas, ticks and mosquitoes off of his dog.

“I need something like that,” laughed Mrs. Shelvin. “Mosquitoes are always biting me.”

Since I’m required to work a job at my interviews, Mr. Turner instructed me on how to make a Big Kahuna smoothie. After spilling every ingredient that I touched, the finished product was a delicious treat that was supposed to help me gain weight.

“You need to start eating more stuff that sticks to your bones,” Mrs. Shelvin said. “Tell Blaine how you like your red beans and rice and he’ll make up a batch for you.”

At first I thought there was a red beans and rice flavored smoothie, which didn’t really sound too appetizing. But then I smelled a pot of home cooking on the stove, and realized not only my mistake, but how lucky I was to get an offer for a custom made dish from a man with the skills of Mr. Turner.

The most valuable lesson I learned from my visit was how everything that you put in or on your body can affect your health and mood. The Shelvins taught me that the equation to wellness and feeling good is nutrition plus knowledge.

For more information on the products offered by Nutrition-Plus and World Class Smoothie, call 337-893-6005.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Strength to Satisfy the Hunger

I was recently having lunch with a friend who had just graduated from college and was planning the next phase of his life. He shared with me that the process of reaching his personal American dream overwhelmed him.

“I’m just ready to be there,” he said. “I want to start living and be happy.”

His frustrations were not new to me because I’d experienced the hunger to get to a destination where a buffet of happiness was waiting. But after twenty years, I still haven’t reached this magical place. So where do we get the nourishment to satisfy our appetite for the perfect life? Where do we get the strength?

When I graduated from college, my goal was to find a job that would not only support me financially, but would fulfill all of my career aspirations. In my mind, everything would fall into place after that. I’d find somewhere to settle down and buy a house and start a family, all protected by a white picket fence.

But to my dismay, my first job as a manager at a J.C. Penny in an Atlanta mall didn’t fulfill my hopes and dreams. Except of course for the access to large discounts on socks and underwear.

So I went to graduate school in Connecticut (with many pairs of multi-colored boxer shorts), and received a Masters in Business Administration. This brought me to a job as a marketing manager at a uniform company in Chicago. I had a great two and a half years there, but was starving for something else. Something heartier.

Then one night as I searched the Internet for a take-out menu for the pursuit of happiness, (which I hoped could be delivered in twenty minutes or less like a pizza) I believed that I had figured out how to satisfy my hunger.

“A book,” I thought. “All I have to do is publish a book, and like Scarlett O’Hara, I will never be hungry again!”

Shortly after my realization, I moved to New York City to study writing. Finding a tolerable job that supported me proved to be difficult, but I focused on the day a book with my name would sit in a library. I thought this would also be the day that I’d reach this wonderful, perfect life where I could feast and satisfy my hunger pangs forever and ever.

After eight long years, I published a novel. Seeing it on bookstore shelves gave me a feeling I’d never experienced before. For a short time, I thought I had arrived at my life’s destination. For a short time, I thought everything would fall into place and I could finally start living happily ever after. For a short time, I tricked myself into believing that I wasn’t hungry anymore.

But then, my stomach started growling again. My body and mind were exhausted and couldn’t find the strength to continue the journey for food. Instead, I sat and starved.

For several months, I thought about and analyzed the past twenty years. Where, when and how had I gotten off of the path to this perfect life? Why did I have to keep traveling instead of just arriving?

As I thought about everything I’d been through on the journey, my mood began to change. Memories of my first fall in Connecticut, a summer of beach volleyball on Lake Michigan in Chicago, walks through Central Park in springtime, all made me smile.

Why had I expected to reach a place where I would live happily ever after like an animated movie? Even Shrek had parts two, three and four.

I’m not saying that I’m unhappy with my current situation. It satisfies many of my needs and wants. I love writing this column to you, and becoming reacquainted with my family and the place where I grew up. Living in my childhood home brings me great pleasure, even if there are challenges like hunger pangs or being forced to cut my mother’s toenails.

What I am trying to say is that if I ignore the hunger out of fear that there is a time limit on reaching the ultimate destination, I won’t be living my life. There is a lot more I want to accomplish. Other places I want to live. Different jobs I want to work.

I think it is wonderful for those who have arrived at the perfect life that satisfies all of their needs and hunger. Although I can never know for sure, I assume that it was a long and hard journey.

For those of us still traveling, we must keep our heads up and enjoy the ride. Although the destination might seem like Utopia, most of its value comes from the experiences it takes to get there. Through determination, hard work and faith we will reach it. By standing up to the fear and believing in ourselves, we will satisfy the hunger and find our strength.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Garden that the Broussards and sheep Built

A crystal clear swimming pool shaped like a mountain valley stream greets visitors when they step into the backyard of Kenneth and Myra Broussard in Kaplan. The water reflects light onto a garden filled with ceramic frogs, multi-colored glass globes, roman statues and exotic plants and flowers. It’s hard to believe that the quarter acre oasis was once a pasture that sheep used as their own personal port-o-let.

“My friends with gardens get jealous because the manure makes everything grow so well here,” laughs Mr. Broussard. “I can’t fertilize anything or it would take over.”

Mr. Broussard grew up on his parents’ farm in a house that still stands next door to his current home. When he and his wife Myra moved to the location in 1975, the couple was inspired to begin building their garden.

“My dad was a farmer and my uncle, Paul Broussard was an agriculture teacher,” says Mr. Broussard. “I got my love of gardening from them.”

Potted periwinkles dance around an assortment of ferns such as Sword, Boston, Bird’s Nest, Maidenhair and Holly. Sago and Cardboard palms reflect off the pool’s water while hydrangeas, hibiscus and ginger provide variegated leaves for lizards to sunbathe, and flowers for bees to pollinate. A large Oak tree, with the help of bamboo, River Birch and Crepe Myrtles provide shady areas decorated with Bleeding Hearts, Nandinas and Fake Birds of Paradise.

“Every spring I have an urge to buy plants even though I don’t have place to put them,” says Mr. Broussard. “Fortunately, I help my son-in-law who has Romero’s Quality Lawn Service and Landscaping, and I can buy plants for his customers. That way, I don’t have to buy as many for myself.”

In addition to the many plants, flowers and trees, the Broussard’s garden also includes a small greenhouse and an Acadian Style Cottage with a sign that says, “The House That Pop Built”. Three fountains provide the calming sound of water, stain glass ornaments reflect bursts of color, and a statue of Saint Francis watches and guards the area.

“There are a lot of caterpillars eating my plants,” says Mr. Broussard. “But I don’t kill them because they turn into butterflies.”

Mr. Broussard’s advice to a gardener is to water in the morning to avoid insects and disease. He says it’s also very important to build up beds and ensure they have good soil.

“It’s like building a house,” says Mr. Broussard. “You need a good foundation to hold up the walls. You also have to maintain the garden because beautiful plants and flowers don’t happen on their own.”

Mr. Broussard, a retired public school principal says he gardens to relax. He tried painting, but it didn’t have the same calming affect as being outside in nature.

“Kenneth used to say that he liked to garden because the plants didn’t talk back like the students did,” laughed Mrs. Broussard. “We have so many wonderful memories from the garden because we’ve hosted gatherings of friends and family. We even had a wedding here.”

When I visited the Broussard’s garden, I immediately became jealous because of the swimming pool, and a variegated hibiscus that I’d been looking for but couldn’t find.
But I became even greener with envy when my eyes saw the Fake Bird of Paradise. The beautiful ornate red and yellow flower resembled the interior of a lava lamp or what I imagined the tongue of an outer space alien to look like.

But I forgave the Broussards for having better plants than me when I found out that they are members of the Kaplan Beautification Committee. Mr. Broussard and fellow member Joel Howard are responsible for the roses on Cushing Boulevard that always make me smile when I drive by them.

My visit to the garden was very rewarding because I left with a potato vine, small Rain tree, clippings of hydrangeas and the recipe to a secret gardening concoction to keep plants well fed and healthy. But the greatest gift of all was the knowledge I gained from spending time in the inspirational garden that the Broussards and sheep built.

Gardening concoction passed on to the Broussards by Marcia Greene:

Can of Coke
Can of beer
Cup of apple juice
Cup of ammonia
Cup of dishwashing liquid
Dilute with water and spray on plants in early morning.

For more information on the services of Romero’s Quality Lawn Service and Landscaping, call 337-652-3916.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Strength to be Old and Cool

I was recently looking through the Abbeville Meridional and saw an advertisement wishing a young man named, Chad, a happy birthday. There were two pictures of him, one as a Little League baseball player and the other as a high school graduate. The caption above his youthful images read, “Lordy, Lordy. Look who’s 40!”

I was a teenager the first time I heard that expression, and remember thinking, “Wow. That is so old that it’s funny. Why would anyone let that happen?”

Now that I am forty, the age doesn’t seem that old or funny. But with teenagers looking younger and younger everyday, and my lower back feeling older and older, I sometimes forget that half of my life has yet to be lived. So where do we find the energy and youth to handle arthritis, hair loss and a new generation who thinks they’re cooler than us? Where do we find the strength?

Being the youngest of eight children, I always thought I was cooler than my siblings. I listened to CD’s instead of 8-track tapes, watched MTV instead of American Bandstand and wore parachute pants instead of bell-bottoms.

I thought I would always be the youngest in my family. But then my brothers and sisters started having children. At first I reveled in the fact that I was no longer the baby, and might be promoted from the kids’ table to the grown up one. After a while, however, this new generation alarmed me because they had cooler clothes, better skin and more energy and confidence than me.

I was able to prevent the new mavericks of cool from affecting me too much by avoiding being within five feet of more than three of them at a time. But a couple of months ago at a high school graduation party for a niece and nephew, an army of youth surrounded me.

The new graduates and their friends had the confidence of an astronaut who had not only walked on the moon, but also lunched weekly with Drew Brees, Johnny Depp and Lady Ga Ga. Rightly so, because they’d just completed a huge phase in their lives and had a bright and prosperous future ahead of them. I admired their ambition and positive outlook on life, but also feared that they’d discover I wasn’t as cool as them.

At several points in the evening, I found myself surrounded by more than three of them, and took a step away because I had no idea what to talk to them about. They were the young in-crowd, and I was a forty-year old who knew none of the songs from the movie, “High School Musical.” I would have looked like an idiot if a sing-a-long had broken out.

To make myself feel better, I stood by the oldest person I could find, (my mom) and gave her a lecture on why orthopedic shoes were NOT cool. Every now and then, I shot the graduates a dirty look to ensure they kept their youthful skin, hairlines and perspectives away from my insecurities.

A few days later, my niece pleasantly surprised me by asking my opinion about certain aspects of college. I told her about my experiences not only during my collegiate years, but how my decisions affected me later on in life.

I don’t know if my niece will follow my advice, but it did mean a lot to me that she asked for it. For those few moments we spoke, I wasn’t someone old and un-cool. Instead, I was an elder with wisdom who had learned from mistakes and knew things that couldn’t be taught from books or by young Hollywood stars like Zac Efron.

As each day passes, I find larger piles of hair in the shower drain and it’s a little bit harder to get up from a sitting position. The newest and coolest sneakers make my feet hurt and my eyes require brighter light in order to read. Technology confuses me more and more, and the music of the hottest and most popular singer gives me a headache and somehow makes me constipated.

But as each day passes, I add more experiences under my belt. They help me live the next day, and the next and the next. We are all getting older, but a few gray hairs don’t mean that we have to stop enjoying life. With our wisdom, there is coolness. With our age, there is strength.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Jacques Couvillon Journal Write


Through a series of writing exercises we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

Frozen Treat to Beat the Heat

My first ever business venture was when I was about eight years old, and my cousin Gretchen and I set up a snoball stand in my front yard. Our two flavors were grape and cherry Kool Aid, and our secret recipe for making ice was to put cubes in a washrag and beat it with a hammer.

“Ice is the number one key in making a good snoball,” says Toby Gaspard, professional snoball maker. “You want it to be like snow.”

Husband and wife, Toby and Kayla Gaspard own and manage Southern Snoball (next to the car wash) in Kaplan. Customers can drive up to the white building and order ice cream, nachos, chilidogs, and of course, snoballs. For the health conscious, sugar-free flavors are available, and for the un-health conscious, stuffing your frozen treat with chocolate or vanilla ice cream is a fantastic option.

“I’d suggest rainbow flavor to a new comer because it has strawberry, bubble gum and banana,” says Mrs. Gaspard. “A lot of kids also love having their snoball covered with Gummy Bears.”

According to Mr. Gaspard, the hardest part of running a snoball business is being on your feet all the time. The best part is serving the public.

“It’s a very physical job,” says Mr. Gaspard. “You have to be quick and keep the line moving. You also have to be friendly and have a lot of personality.”

The most popular flavors at Southern Snoball are the stuffed cotton candy, pink lady, and rainbow. Mr. Gaspard’s favorite is cotton candy stuffed with vanilla ice cream, but his wife prefers pink lady and their two-year old son, Aiden is a banana man.

“Snoballs are a part of summer,” says Mr. Gaspard. “I love seeing the excited looks on kids’ faces when I hand them the cup.”

Southern Snoball is opened Monday through Friday from 3 P.M. to 6 P.M. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 P.M. to 6 P.M. But this fall the Gaspards plan to increase their hours when they start offering daily plate lunches.

I recently visited the snoball stand to find out more about this frozen treat industry. When I arrived, employee Alicia Gaspard, with the assistance of her two daughters, Shelbi and Alyssa, were servicing the customers. I had never been on the other side of a drive-thru before, which was kind of cool because looking through the window was like watching 3D television without having to wear the strange glasses.

When the owners arrived with their two sons, Mr. Gaspard showed me how to make a snoball. Instead of using my creative washrag and hammer method to make crushed ice, he used a large metal machine that lightly scraped a rectangular block of ice about the size of a loaf of bread. The result was homemade snow.

What the Gaspards didn’t know was that I was a serious snoball connoisseur who visited several stands throughout Louisiana, and then ranked them on different criteria. Speed, texture of ice, flavor options and price were all factors that determined my rating.

Considering that I had carte blanche when making my own snoball, (and they didn’t charge me) I gave Southern Snoball a ten out of ten. But I must advise those who are ever given the opportunity to be a kid in a candy store to stop at five flavors. Otherwise, your frozen treat to beat the heat will give you a sugar rush.

Southern Snoballs is located at 1214 Veterans Memorial Drive in Kaplan. To join my journal writing class beginning July 8th, please call 646-387-2558.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Jacques Couvillon Journal Write


Through a series of writing exercises we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

Strength to Kill a Chicken

After graduating from business school several years ago, I was more confused about what to do with my life than before starting. My diploma was supposed to answer all of my questions and guide me to the right path to follow. But I didn’t have the courage to choose a direction. I didn’t have the strength.

I needed a distraction, and so flew down to Bolivia to visit my best friend, Jay who was in the Peace Corps. We’d traveled together before, and always had fun and memorable adventures on our trips. But this one’s purpose was to escape decisions.

All I knew about Bolivia was that it was in South America and that Spanish was the national language. But what I didn’t know about this third world country was that many of its residents didn’t have television or electricity, most of the mountain roads were unpaved, and some bathrooms were nothing more than a hole in the ground.

I’d worked at summer camps before and didn’t mind roughing it when necessary. But there was one thing that was excruciating to me the first few days in Bolivia. It was the silence.

Jay’s house was in a small rural community where no one except for us, spoke English. When my friend would leave for work during the day, I was alone. With no television or anyone to speak to, silence attacked me from every angle, like a swarm of Malaria infected mosquitoes.

I’d been alone plenty of times before, but had always had something to occupy my time and thoughts. Be it driving, or eating or watching television, I could always concentrate on the task at hand to avoid letting my mind escape to thinking territory.

So I’d read anything and everything written in English that I could find. But after several days, fighting off the silence became challenging and exhausting.

When Jay would return home from work, he wasn’t in the mood to speak. He’d grown accustomed to his quiet life in Bolivia, and preferred to spend the entire afternoon and evening in silence.

“Are we monks?” I asked Jay. “Are you going to make me wear a robe and take a vow of celibacy?”

“Why do you have a problem with being quiet?” Jay asked back. “It gives you time to think and make decisions.”

I didn’t let on to my friend that he’d hit the nail on the head. That he’d discovered my greatest fear at the time. That I was jealous that he seemed to make perfect decisions so effortlessly.

The day I couldn’t take the silence any longer, Jay told me to pack up because we were going on a trip. He had to visit a native village deep in the wilderness of the Andes Mountains, and it would take us two days of bus rides, walking and hitch hiking to get there.

When we arrived, we set up camp in a one-room cinder block building that was used as a school. The rest of the structures were deep in the woods and made of adobe or tree branches tied together. There was only one store, which sold a few staple items like corn, coffee and kerosene.

“We have forty pieces of bread for four days,” Jay said during our first meal in the village. “That’s ten pieces per day, five per person.”

I had never had to ration food in my life, nor had my diet restricted to only bread and water. It didn’t alarm me, but I became aware that living in Bolivia was not at all like summer camp.

After a couple of days, Jay and I went to visit the village chief, who lived about an hour’s walk in the forest. On the way, we’d occasionally run into a donkey carrying a child, who was wearing brightly colored clothes donated from other countries. It wasn’t unusual to see t-shirts advertising Coca-cola or promoting Reagan for president.

When we arrived at the home of the village chief and his family, I saw that they too had received some of these donated clothes. The leader’s wife wore a burgundy polo shirt and navy pleated skirt, and he wore light blue ski pants, a navy hooded Puma sweatshirt and a bolero hat.

“It’s 85 degrees,” I said to Jay. “Why is he wearing that?”

“It’s probably the only clothes he has,” Jay said. “Not everyone has a choice about what to wear.”

We all sat down on logs arranged in a square. While Jay spoke to the chief in Spanish, I silently took in the new world surrounding us. The children were shoeless and the house was made of sticks, mud and straw. A few skinny chickens, pigs and donkeys slowly moved around us looking for food.

The wife disappeared for a few minutes and then returned with a burlap sack and handed it to me. The contents moved around, which caused me to drop it immediately and jump up from the log and step back.

“What are you doing?” Jay asked. “Pick it up. You’re being rude.”

“I’m being rude?” I asked. “The woman hands me a moving sack and I’m the one being rude?”

Jay explained that there was a live chicken in the sack, and that the chief and his family were giving it to us as a gift. I told my friend that it was a nice gesture and all, but that I doubted American Airlines would let me count it as a carry-on when I went back to the United States.

“It’s for us to eat here,” Jay said. “Didn’t you grow up on a farm? You can kill it and we’ll eat it later.”

“My family got our chickens dead and featherless from Piggly Wiggly,” I explained. “My grandma knew how to wring their necks to kill them, but she never shared her technique.”

“You can either kill it, or we’ll starve,” Jay said. “It’s your choice.”

I excused myself and walked to a small creek and sat down on the bank. The chief’s children were washing their clothes in the water, and then beating them on rocks. This was the richest family in the village.

At that moment, my guard was let down. Silence and thoughts filled my body and mind to capacity and then erupted into tears through my eyes. Perhaps it was the diet of bread and water, the humiliation of not having the strength to kill a chicken, or the impact of seeing lives without choice.

It was time to think and make decisions about my future. This choice was a gift that I couldn’t let rot like a piece of fruit in the hot sun. Not choosing my path would be weak.

One of the villagers killed the chicken for us, but before we could eat, we got word through a hand radio that Jay’s father died. On our journey out of the Bolivian wilderness, my friend asked me for some quiet time alone.

“Not a problem at all,” I said. “I understand.”

Silence is now a part of my daily routine. It helps me think about all of the choices I’ve been given, and guides me on my journey. With thoughts, there is clarity. With decisions, there is strength.

For more information on the Jacques Couvillon Journal Write, starting this Thursday, July 8th, call 646-387-2558.