Monday, April 16, 2012

February 24th, 2012- Recalling Honduras

Our third full day in Honduras began later than its predecessors.  I feel comfortable in saying we all welcomed the extra moments of rest which followed two days of hard work.  Breakfast was at 8 am, and consisted of a flour tortilla with eggs, cheese, and re-fried beans inside.  Admittedly, I'm not an advocate of re-fried beans, but I thought the combination was pretty tasty.

Our work also shifted for day three.  We would not be doing construction, but would be spending the day with the children of Casa De Luz's Zambrano branch.  We would be doing some activities together, such as a music time and craft/snack supervision, but the team would also be breaking into small groups and leading the kids in different activities, two groups were involved in English exercises and one was focused on play.  Rachel Bickel and I worked together, teaching the kids English terms for numbers (1-10), colors, and shapes.  The children who benefit from this daycare program are younger than those in the English program I was involved with briefly yesterday.  The first group proved to be the smaller of the two, but Rachel and I had a good time helping them learn English through flashcards.  Once again, I admired the sharpness of some of the children.  They also helped us with our Spanish.  As the children left, they each got a hug from every team member.  So few of these children get much positive affection, particularly from men, but I hope they felt loved.  I know that we did.

We walked the short distance to the Schubert's house for lunch (would you believe subs, chips, and Gatorade?) with the welcome addition of homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Mmmm...mmmm good!  The afternoon class was twice the size (35 or so) of the morning group, but they were still fairly cooperative.  Sometimes we barely got through our material in the time allotted, other times we would finish up with several minutes to spare.  That's when things got complicated, because I didn't know how to communicate much beyond what was on the flash cards and asking, "How do you say... in English? en Espanol?  I commented to Val (who is fluent) that I had never used as much Spanish as I did that day.  I wonder if I made sense to the kids?  We managed the extra time as best we could.  After the kids were gone we spent about an hour giving Casa de Luz a good cleaning.  While the mopping was being completed, several of us chatted outside.  I got to know I nice older couple from North Carolina who decided that rather than making repeated short-term trips they would just move to Honduras.  Now they make short-term trips to their family in the States!

Our work for the day completed, and what satisfying work it was, we walked back to the Schubert's to relax for a bit.  The Schubert's have a wonderfully large blue and white hammock.  It could have been a napper's paradise, but it was hard to enjoy it for too long because Blake Lewis (somehow never far away) would quickly come harass you.  The Schubert's also have a big brown dog called Duke who was great fun to play with.  That evening, we had pizza (some homemade and some from Free the Oppressed's restaurant), fabulous Coca-Cola, and more of those delicious cookies.  In truth, I could have eat all of them, and in my passive aggressive way, I tried to.  I learned some Honduran geography by studying a wall map and plying Ed with questions.  Up til then, I'd had no idea that by landing in San Pedro Sula, we basically drove halfway across the country to get to Zambrano.  Also of note, if you travel East from Zambrano you will eventually reach a province called Gracia De Dios, or Grace of God, which has virtually no roads.  The main way to travel is via river.  In some way, pre-colonial Honduras is preserved there.  We chattered around the table, shared stories, laughed, and generally had a good time.  Having given up my seat at the table, I spent some time flipping through magazines in the living room.  National Geographic is full of pictures of a beautiful world I would like to see more of.  A Doctor friend of the Schubert's was also visiting that day, and she was reading a Tolkien book.  I chatted to her a bit about that.  Amazingly she was just starting the Children of Hurin, and had completed it by Sunday.  Wish I could read like that.  Our evening at the Schubert's ended in the outdoor gazebo, with a small fire to keep us warm.  We traveled home, had devotions, and then off to bed.  Back to work tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

February 23rd, 2012- Recalling Honduras

Our second work day also began with an early breakfast at 6:30 am.  Shortly after 7:00 am Ed picked us up for another day of work at the future Zambrano Public High School.  I resumed my task as water boy, though without the same level of strength and freshness that I had possessed the day before.  The water levels of the piela were also lower, meaning more effort to draw each bucket.  After a few hours labor Val took Marlene, Alan, and I to Casa De Luz to help her with ESL classes, something that I have particular interest in.

Casa De Luz, we learned, was built by a group from Spain as an educational center.  Funding dried up, and for a long time the building was abandoned.  When Casa De Luz took over, Val had the building painted a fun, bright green with beams the color blue.  It's a simple construction, about the size of two trailers and subdivided into three sections.   Val expressed some concern that we might have small crowds, because she had told her classes their would be American visitors.  Some Hondurans, I gather, are pretty shy about showing off their English skills.  We spent the morning reviewing flash cards concerning shapes and colors with the three or four girls who came.  They spoke somewhat broken English, and I attempted to utilize my ridiculous command of Spanish, but we got by.  The girls, who ranged in age from pre-teens through mid-twenties, showed great intelligence and sharpness and demonstrated a flourishing knowledge of the odd conventions of the English language.  Shortly before lunchtime, Val returned us to the work site.  I had planned to return to Casa de Luz for two more rounds of English classes in the afternoon, but Ed said my water carrying services were needed at the High School and so that would be the focus of the rest of the work day.  Oh boy.

After another leisurely lunch (subs, chips, and gatorade again) at the Schubert house, the hard work of keeping the water barrel satisfied began.  I recalled the afternoon for a Spiritual Formation class assignment in this way:

One of our projects has been to pour a cement floor in a large room for the new high school in the mountain community of Zambrano (to date the students have been meeting in a crowded local home).  This project took us two days to complete, and I volunteered for the job of “water-boy,” carrying large buckets of water about 100 feet to a 55 gallon barrel, which was used to keep the concrete mixer fed.  It was hard, hot, painful, endless work, because the water level was constantly being depleted.  The first day I was able to keep up pretty well, but the second day it was just a little hotter, and I was significantly more worn down and my feet, hands, and back were throbbing.  I was struggling.  Adding to my trouble was Emilio, a Honduran man who worked alongside us all day, and was the head of the school’s parent association.  Emilio was periodically stealing my buckets of water away, those buckets which I so desperately needed to keep up with my work.  He was taking them to aid in another part of the project, which I knew, but that didn’t keep me from getting annoyed with him, nor prevent me from feeling intensely sorry for myself and my “thankless” suffering.  I don’t know if Emilio read my mind on one of these occasions, but as he carried a bucket away he turned and said “Muchas gracias,” or “thank you very much” in the Spanish language.  For a moment, I felt a tangible weight off my shoulders.  My burdens became lighter, and my self-absorption less consuming.  This week, I’ve been putting effort into thanking God for all the wonders that He does, but through Emilio I’m learning that one way we thank God is by thanking His those who walk alongside us.

Another saving grace was that the city water came on over lunch time and refilled the piela, thus making for lighter lifting.  Otherwise things got steadily more difficult as the afternoon progressed.  My hands got so raw that at the end of the day, I was putting half-filled buckets in a wheel barrow just to avoid having to carry the buckets the short distance to the barrel.  It is amazing how much small changes of width, like the thin plastic grip that had survived on one of the buckets, or the handles of a wheelbarrow could affect my tolerance of the task.  I was relieved when the work day came to its merciful conclusion.  While this was only the second work day it proved to be, in my view, the second hardest physically of the whole trip.

After dinner, our team gathered for devotions.  I shared then what has become a lasting impression about the two days of cement work at the Zambrano Public High School.  It became my conviction that the work of laying down cement floors at a High School was very important Christ-exalting work, striking a blow against a long entrenched evil.  To give a little background: hundreds of years ago, Honduras had been colonized by the Spanish who, unfortunately, and to their shame, treated the people as slaves.  Though the nation has been independent for quite some time, many Hondurans still regard themselves with a slavish mentality.  Generation after generation Hondurans, though physically free, have spent their lives merely trying to survive their poverty, working as day-laborers with little hope for anything beyond the day's refried beans and tortillas.  Talents and gifts go utilized.  The ruling families have done little to relieve this situation.  Even sadder, their own government has contributed precious little to help their brethren.  Even though the school we worked on in Zambrano is a public school it had not received a dime, not a centavo, of assistance from their own elected leaders.  It seemed to me that in some small way, we struck a blow against an entrenched evil of institutionalized ignorance by laying down a floor for a school.  Perhaps some day soon, children will sit in those classrooms and their minds will be stretched in such a way that they will be able to loose the chains of of the bondage of generational poverty.  That's my prayer anyway.

Friday, March 23, 2012

February 22nd, 2012- Recalling Honduras

Our first full day of work in Zambrano began with an early (6:30 am) breakfast of dry toast and some cereal as an additional option.  They also had fruit nectar in cans, which were also common in Mexico.  They taste like the actual fruit they come from.  After breakfast, Ed drove us over to the work site in Zambrano.  We will spend the first two days at the future home of the Zambrano public high school.  A few of the rooms already have cement flooring.  Our goal is to put in a floor for one large room (to be divided into three rooms) with cement.  Ed suggested we be careful where we walk.  There were a few places, in the untouched rooms, where people had deficated.  Ed commented that animal poop doesn't bother him, but people crap does a little.  We began by moving sand, gravel, and fill, via wheel barrow across a canal, traversed by three planks of wood, and formed new piles closer to the future cement mixing site.  While we began the work process, Val made sure that we also divided ourselves into half hour shifts of prayer walking around the site.  There is some gang activity in the area, and this is the best way to confront those issues.  I took my walk at around 10:30 in the morning, wandering around praying for the rooms and the surrounding area.  I wanted to really walk around town, but having been warned against that, stayed within a quick walk of the school house.  Theft is a huge problem in Honduras (another missionary would later refer to it as the "national pastime") and so when we went to have lunch at the Schubert's, a few of the men stayed behind.

The Schubert home is behind two metal gates, one opening to the general property and the gardens owned by the Schubert's landlord, and one which provides access to the Schubert's home itself.  It is a simple, but very beautiful home: stone floors, high wooden ceilings, a woven hammock, toilets where you can flush the toilet paper, and the perfect place for picnic, underneath a simple shelter.  The house is also full of pictures, and I enjoyed a careful study of several of them.  Our lunches, consisting of subs, a bag of chips, and gatorade were quite satisfying after a hard mornings work.

The afternoon featured the beginnings of our cement work.  I volunteered to be "water boy," in the hopes that I would have steady work and would not have to deal with extended periods of nothing to do.  My task was to keep a 55 gallon bucket full, which, in turn was used to feed the cement mixer.  I got the water from a "piela," which was a large cement above-ground pool of water.  I was assisted in this work by Marta, a Honduran woman whose home we will be working on later in the week.  Her husband was a man named Celan.  We were told that Celan is basically unemployed, though he works as a day laborer, and when there is a team, he does not seek work, but rather works alongside the team.  He does this out of gratitude for the work the team's, and the Schubert's, do on his house.  We were all very impressed by this, and by Celan's incredible strength.  He was always demanding that his wheelbarrow be filled to the brim.  "Celan is muy puerto," was one of the first Spanish phrases I cobbled together and one that I returned to often.  As we worked, Marta and I talked about our families, particularly our young children.  Celan and Marta's son is about Elinor's age, and is being tutored alongside the Schubert's daughter Cheynece, an excellent opportunity to be sure.

We worked well into the heat of the afternoon.  Arms weakened, energy began to wane, and hands became raw with the repeated lifting of five gallon buckets.  The end of work was greeted with open arms by me.  I spent time picking up around the work site and throwing rocks at coffee can lids with Blake Lewis, Chris' son, and our youngest team member.  We also watched Ed do the troweling and smoothing of the cement, the last task of the day.  It was nearing dark when we returned to Casa Santiago.

We were given time to shower.  While it had been advertised to us that Casa Santiago had hot showers, in reality it seemed that one was hot and the other cold.  Gary Bickel and I where in the bathroom at the same time, and he allowed me to take the hot shower.  What a guy!  After supper, Gary, Allen, and I watched a little TV.  It was all in Spanish, except for a few movies, and somehow seemed superfluous, as big a role as TV plays in my life at home.  Just didn't seem like I needed it there.  Craving another comfort from home, Coca-Cola, I asked our hostess (an English speaker) if she would translate for me to purchase some at a local store.  It seems that Coke is available everywhere, if signage is to be any indicator.  Initially, she agreed to this, but it was ultimately decided that the good stuff could be delivered.  I paid four dollars for three two liters.  Not bad...  The evening ended with a fine supper, devotions and prayer, and then off to bed with little ceremony.  Tomorrow's going to be a tough one, and we all need our beauty sleep...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

February 21st, 2012- Recalling Honduras

We met the team, except for Allen, at Salem UCC Church at about 1:30 in the morning.  The drive there was uneventful, except that, minutes before we departed Rachel locked our keys in the car.  After prayer, we divided the team into two suburbans and began our journey.  We only got as far as Emlenton (about 10 minutes) before the other suburban had oil pressure problems and had to stop.  After a change of vehicles, during which we arranged for Cindy Weimer to get the other set of keys from my mom, we were finally on our way to Pittsburgh International Airport.  We were glad that we had allotted a little extra time.  Most of us slept maybe an hour on the way to the airport.  Made the trip noticeably short.

After dealing with a rather surly lady at check-in we made our way to the terminal in  time to grab a quick breakfast.  Having not flown in sometime, I was excited to be at the airport, to be on an airplane.  Trouble started with a long delay, which turned out to be the airport's fault.  Something about the gas pump not reading the airplane's fuel level correctly.  We lost about 30 minutes, which made me nervous because we only had 45 allotted to make the transfer in Houston.  (I'll have to do something about that travel agent!)  The plane was something of a puddle jumper, only three seats across.  When we finally took off, Rachel was quickly asleep, but I struggle to sleep while sitting up.  I chipped away on the week's Spiritual Formation class assignments.  Through a few short cuts, we managed to regain about 20 minutes to reach our next plane which, as misfortune would have it, was nearly as far as it could be from our landing gate.  Rachel and I ran ahead to hold the plane, but to no avail.  Thankfully, the rest of the team made it with literally moments to spare.  It texted my relief to my Dad and my friend Mark Livengood.

I lost all phone connection once we got decently above the clouds.  I was surprised how long it held on.  The plane to San Pedro Sula was much nicer than its predecessor.  Six seats across.  I had my own row.  There was space for my legs.  There was power for my laptop.  I had a second breakfast and finished a bag of Mom's fabulous chocolate chip cookies in anticipation of the heat of Honduras and unknown food supply.  When we reached Honduras, we all found it quite beautiful from a bird's eye view.

We eventually landed (about noon) and got processed through customs without much drama.  Miraculously, our luggage all arrived safely.  We met Ed and Val, who quickly escorted us out of a very modern looking airport.  We loaded our bags into Ed's truck (which has lasted, I later learned, for ten years) and a van that bore a resemblance to a VW bus, but more angular.  It was hot in San Pedro Sula, but not unbearably so.  We traveled toward Zambrano on a trip that would take the rest of the day to complete.  We stopped at a Wendy's about  two hours in to eat lunch and meet some of Allen Hansen's relatives, who are also missionaries to Honduras.  The Wendy's featured an armed guard and was missing many items from the menu, including soda.  I had a chicken sandwich, which was rather overcooked, and a frosty, which was nearly perfect.  We stopped at a mall in the same complex as well, and had a drinks from a Cafe Americano (I had a blackberry slushy which was yummy.)  I also perused a hat that they wanted, shockingly, $60 for.  Perhaps a front for drug money laundering, Val suggested.

As we traveled, we plied Ed with questions about Honduras and their ministry and enjoyed some beautiful scenery, interspersed with brief brief periods of sleep.  I unfortunately missed most of a breath-taking lake.  We observed, with Ed's insight, some of the corruption of the Honduran government, chiefly in the form of unfinished bridges and some poor roads.  As we traveled on the terrain became drier and more mountainous.  We arrived in Zambrano shortly before dark.  The place where we are staying, Casa De Santiago, is a very well maintained guest house featuring beautiful, colorful, Italianate decor.  After some thought, we settled on married couples separating, men and women in separate dorms.  Before supper, we had orientation in the living room.  While Val was speaking, the power went out and we were sitting in complete darkness.  Val acknowledged the situation briefly and then continued her comments.  A generator restored power after a few minutes.  We had a supper of thin ham slices, refried beans, fried plantains (woody & sweet the taste), fried eggs, and extremely sweet and sugary juices.  Given that we were all rather worn out from a long day of travel, it wasn't long before we headed to bed anticipating our first day's work to begin at about 6:30 in the morning.  It was a sweet rest.

Today, I thank God for a safe arrival in Honduras, that our luggage made it, for good food, gracious hosts, a team that seems to get along, comfortable weather, and a sleep worthy bed.  God is good.