Sunday, February 14, 2010

Honduras - Days Six & Seven

(Note: Not a real time update)

Yes, yes … I know … I missed a day. But it was such a full and busy day! :)

We’ve continued to build. We began with a plan to eliminate thatched roofs and dirt floors … both accumulate parasites and end up creating health issues. The floor part has been conquered by the raised platforms for housing. The roof part is proving to be more difficult. We came believing that we had a workable solution, but after getting here, realized that it really isn’t practical, feasible or maintainable once we leave. Since the goal is to not introduce chemicals or building materials which can’t be found here, we’re now brainstorming for a new plan. Soooo … we have three days left to come up with an answer. If anyone out there has any brilliant suggestions, email them to me or Anthony. I only trek up the hill to use my phone once a day (in the morning), but have a fairly reliable email connection.

Today we did the equivalent of a junior high sex education class. AIDS is considered generally epidemic in several population groups occupying the northeastern part of the country. Additionally, Honduras has the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in Central America. In self-contained communities like this, it is somewhat less of a concern … but as more of their young people venture out into more metropolitan areas for education or employment and then return home, it becomes more of an issue. So, in spite of a few uncomfortable moments, we did it … Mark with the men and Amanda and me with the women. Re-use of needles for antibiotics and other medications is common as well as those in rural areas attempt to self-medicate. Such a fine line between creating fear and creating empowerment.

With some trepidation we have introduced some ‘outside’ products. Toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as bars of soap, have been added to the daily routine here. Our local team members will see that supplies are replenished monthly. It’s always a struggle to determine when the good outweighs any potential negatives and too often there is no way to effectively measure the outcomes.

The guys have completed the system to bring water up from the river. Yesterday, for the first time, the women could access water through a manual pump as opposed to having to carry it up. The supply will be limited and they will have to determine what uses the ‘easy’ water will be put to and which uses require the walk to the river. Actually the supply is pretty unlimited, but the flow is minimal and will only provide a certain amount of water in a given time.

Speaking of time, it has flown by so quickly. Only two more nights here … then a night in the city … then home. It feels like we only arrived yesterday.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Honduras - Day Four

(Note: Entry from earlier trip - not a real time post)

It is interesting to see how much electric power affects the way we live our lives. Here, where there is no electricity, life assumes an entirely different rhythm. When the sun sets completely, it’s dark … seriously dark. There’s no ambient light … really … none. Out of necessity, waking hours are determined by the presence of natural light. And it works. At home, after the sun sets, I wring several more hours from the day … usually staying up well into the night. And morning is not my friend … I prefer to spend the first hours of daylight sleeping! Here … after only a couple of nights … I’m awake when the light begins to seep into the day. I wonder how long it will take me to fall back into my old habits once I return home … combined with the different time zone, probably not very long. And I must confess that for about an hour after dark, most members of our team are busy at our computers, pushing the battery limits to the max. Within moments of our heads touching our mats, though, we are all sound asleep.

Having said that, tonight there was music and laughter and singing and dancing and these scrumptious little pastry (although pastry is probably not the right word) things filled with a jumble of fresh fruit … much like an empanada, but not quite. I couldn’t begin to tell you what they were called, but that’s something I want to find out. Given my love of sweets and fruits, it was heavenly. Torches were lit and kids were allowed to stay out until they could no longer keep their eyes open, falling asleep wherever they could find a comfortable spot to land. There are few things more joyful than the total abandon of dancing with a child. Even the monkeys participated, howling from the edges of the darkness … almost as if they wanted to join in … although probably they just wanted the yummy treats.

Today we built raised platforms to serve as ‘foundations’ for shelters. By raising the structures onto modified stilts with deep footers, the hope is that the next time flooding takes place (the rainy season begins in May), the waters and debris will wash beneath them instead of sweeping them away. By preparing more ‘foundations’ than we will have time to build on, the residents will be able to build on them as needed in the future. Thank goodness that in this area, all I am responsible for is following directions and doing as I’m told … Anthony is the construction genius.

By the way (and speaking of genius), Amanda is the person who makes sure that I know what’s going on around me … translating in such a seamless and unobtrusive way that, to some, she is almost invisible. But not to me. In this part of the country, there are numerous dialects that have been cobbled together over the years … add that to my real lack of working Spanish and without Amanda, I would be lost and clueless. She has this eerie way of knowing, just by a glance in my direction, whether or not I understand what those around me are saying or if I need her to make sense of things for me. She’s my voice and I never have a moment’s worry that maybe something isn’t communicated just right. She is amazing and brilliant and her sweet nature adds so much to the time spent here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Honduras - Day Three

(Note: This is a journal entry from a past trip ... not a real time entry.)

Today has been an adventure. I went with the women to trade supplies with people from the nearest village. I am so humbled with the way they have accepted our intrusion into their world. On the way to the meeting place, I wondered to myself how the other group would perceive my presence … it’s not like I exactly blend in and can be invisible. As we neared the gathering, two of these dear ladies linked their arms with mine and introduced me as their friend … their amiga buen.

Quite an elaborate network has been established here … exchanging different grains, freshly caught fish, fruits. We even brought back a chicken and a rabbit with us. The last two items I’m not going to think about very much … and I hope they’re still here when I leave. Living near the river, fish makes up a big part of the weekly menu. Geographic proximity has made at least one healthy eating choice a given. On other days, the men exchange other items and visit with one another. The men here are eager to share their new ideas with their neighbors to the north.

The women and I traded information today. While talking about ways to safely clean, prepare and store foods, I learned to make tortillas from scratch. Really, seriously from scratch … and to cook them on a clay stove. I think that more than anything, I provided the entertainment for the evening in my clumsy attempts to shape the dough … these ladies effortlessly and efficiently produce perfectly symmetrical circles … mine took on all sorts of interesting shapes. The high point of my day was hearing one of the mothers explaining to her young son the things she had learned today … lavado … limpiar … the cycle has begun.

Reyna is 31. She is beautiful, with eyes that dance when she laughs and a smile that takes my breath. She's brought five children into this world ... three of them died before reaching the first birthday. Her husband comes and stands quietly as she shares her story, supporting her with his presence. Having lost a child of my own, my heart and mind can't even begin to comprehend the immensity of enduring that three times. Tears fill both her eyes and mine as she speaks … the toddler in her arms squirms and pats her face as he settles into sleep. Because of her age, she will most likely bear more children. This is the way of things here.

I struggle with questions of acceptance and respect and culture. Part of me wants to be able to 'fix' so many things ... and another part of me ... the wiser part ... knows that to even attempt to do so would only leave brokenness. I'm thankful for team members who are committed to a policy of "first do no harm" and who recognize that something doesn't necessarily need to be fixed just because we don't fully understand it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Honduras - Day Two

I am awed by the gracious hospitality we are receiving in this beautiful place. We’ve been submerged in smiles and laughter since our arrival last night. There is a calm here that is almost tangible … an acceptance and joy that is free of the anchors attached to so many of the things that we often believe to be necessary in our complicated lives.

On my first trip to this country several years ago, one of my mentors told me to be careful about the questions I asked. The premise was that there were some things that I would simply be happier not knowing. The advice has served me well. Yes, dinner last night was delicious … no, I do not care to know exactly what I ate. Although I do hope to learn more about the process … I’m ashamed to admit that the very idea of preparing a complete meal without electricity leaves me at a loss.

I woke this morning to find two absolutely beautiful little girls sitting quietly by my mat, waiting patiently for me to open my eyes. And a day that begins with smiles that warm can be nothing but amazing. They’ve been my shadows for most of the day, the youngest, Naima, with one hand always attached to me in some way. After one day in their world, my life is richer.

Their mothers share their stories with me … stories of happy moments and sad moments. They tell me of the children they have lost … of the fear that sickness brings in this place so far removed from medical care. They tell me of the hunger their families endure when the floods take their meager crops. Pride fills the face of one mother who speaks of her son who has gone away to university … and the pride is tinged with a sadness created by his absence. They tell me of the wedding plans they are making for one of their daughters. They insist that goat milk is very good for me.

Floods have ravaged this area repeatedly over the last decade. Again and again, homes have been destroyed and rebuilt … often using the same methods in the same locations. Today, we made sand bags … lots of sand bags … and are brainstorming with these residents on ways to beat the rains next time. This is their place … and they will determine which actions to take. Without their wisdom and their understanding of this place that they call home, nothing we do will be worthwhile.

Already, I have learned more than I could possibly teach.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Honduras - Day One

For the next few days I'll be posting bits from a recent trip to Olancho, Honduras and my time there ... no literary efforts ... just updates that I originally posted to facebook during the trip ... so although they are written in first person, present tense, the trip is over and I'm back home now :)

Day One

I’m in a dusty truck, headed out of San Pedro Sula toward the east. As we drive through this metropolitan area crowded with people and buildings and billboards and noise, it’s hard to believe that in a short few hours I’ll be in a place with nature to contend with and no running water. We were greeted by old friends not seen for almost two years … and yet, even with the passing of time, it seems like yesterday. Already the teasing has begun about my feeble attempts at broken Spanish and my requests for a slower rate of speech. They have paved the way for us, making preparations and forging relationships.

We have been responsible and registered with the Embassy. We’ve observed the (very orderly) protests taking place … heard the rumblings about the high court’s recent decisions … or lack thereof. We’ve reviewed overland travel routes and options. There are contingency plans for everything our imaginations could conjure. We’re eager to connect with the rest of our team and to meet the people who have welcomed us into their lives for these few days.

Because I have learned on these trips to never take anything for granted, I’m typing frantically, trying to get the words out and sent before we leave the land of cell and internet coverage … knowing that the hopes of a generator that actually works, satellite adapters that can find a signal and cell phone reception are just that … hopes. I’ve phoned home, reassured children and mother … and now I type as I listen to the flurry of information being exchanged around me in the vehicle.

It’s cloudy here today … and probably cooler than back home in Phoenix … oh, and did I mention the humidity?!? Even a gal from the South forgets how fiercely humidity can slap you in the face.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Tear

The silent tear told a story that screamed to be told... a tale of hope and despair, love and loss, loyalty and betrayal. Leaving a glistening trail, it trickled across a cheek caressed by a mother's hand, kissed by a man made of dreams, patted by a child's chubby fingers. It sang of a girl chasing fireflies in the warm dusk of a summer evening and a woman chasing dreams in a life lit by shimmering stars. It traced a path left by other tears in lonely moments in other days... and uncountable joys in yet others. It told of a life lived with delight and zest, love given freely, passion embraced fully, adversity met with strength.

A hand lifted to gently brush the tear away... and a woman stood tall to welcome another day.