Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Siempre un CanciĆ³n (Always a Song)

I can't help it. I love this kid. Jorge makes me laugh and it's hard to be unhappy when he's around. We were lucky enough to meet him last year when we visited El Sembrador with a work team from our church. He's a natural leader and you can't help but take notice of his infectious laughter. I immediately felt more relaxed when we arrived to see his bright smile. He's the kind of kid that laughs at my Spanish, but not in a mean or malicious way and I always end up laughing with him. That's the thing with Jorge. You always get the feeling that he really does like you and you really want him to. He's one of a very few people that I just really like to hang out with. He's fun and always in a good mood even when I'm not. I can always count on him to lift my spirits.

But the thing I love most about Jorge is the singing. There is always a song on his lips. He sings when he works. He sings when he plays soccer. And he sings while he sits on my hammock on the front porch. When I hear him through my open window, I always think of that Psalm "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord..." Jorge is joyful in everything he does and it is my joy to be a part of his life at El Sembrador.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Acts of Friendship

Every summer Friendship Church has an event they call Acts of Friendship. The congregation splits into groups and spends an entire afternoon in service to the community. Activities range from bringing pets to the local nursing home to offering free car washes at the bank. There is no cost and no donations are accepted. The idea is to show the love of Christ through service to others.This concept of giving back to one's community is not common in Honduras, so we thought that we would follow the example of Friendship Church and organize a similar day for the students of El Sembrador in the hopes of teaching a valuable lesson in selflessness. So, we asked the help of Friendship and their missions board who donated $500 to the projects. Since it was our idea, PK and I were left to run with it, which was a nice opportunity to really make an impact on the school.

One day, after lunch, we divided into our Day of the School teams. The yellow team went with PK to the nearby village of El Carbon. Some of the group assisted PK while he worked on adding electrical lines to some rooms that had recently been added to the back of the church. He also spent a lot of time cleaning up the dangerous electrical mess in the school rooms and at the water tower. It's a wonder no kids have been seriously injured because exposed wires hung around all over the place, sometimes in pools of water. We believe there about 300 people living in El Carbon. Of those, more than half are children. There are very few men so the women are responsible for everything in the town. So, the rest of the yellow team spent the afternoon helping with yard clean-up and tree trimming around the school and church...things that the women struggle to maintain on their own.

It is the culture in Honduras to throw trash on the ground when you are finished with it, so the ground is constantly littered with candy wrappers and old food. While this is slowly changing in some of the urban areas, the people who reside poor neighborhoods and villages still live in filth. As another part of our Acts of Friendship, we loaded up four or five vehicles with the red, blue and green teams and headed into Catacamas to launch a clean-up project in the market area of town. We picked up garbage for four hours and it felt like we hardly made a dent. The citizens seemed supportive though and we got lots of honks and some nearby shop owners gave out drinks to the hot and tired boys.

After our hard day of work, we met back at the church where we had a special service....special because I was the speaker! Of course, I had to have a translator, but I spoke for about 20 minutes about the Biblical principles for serving others. I used the example of the boy who gave his lunch so Jesus could feed the 5,000 and the example of Jesus washing the disciples feet. The main theme was that it doesn't take a lot of money or power to have a big impact on the world. This is a new idea for this culture, so I hope we were able to inspire them to continue this tradition of service in the future. For several days following the event, I was called "Pastora". I hope that means I did a good job. After church, PK and I had one last little act of service. We served all the boys with a little treat. We made a huge fruit salad and served it with ice-cold pop.

Marvin working on the Catacamas project. Notice how much litter there is on the ground!

Jorge always has a smile no matter what he's doing.

Victor working on the Catacamas project.

Even the staff and Bible School students participated. Anna and Karla helped in Catacamas.

Reyes tried really hard to avoid the camera while picking up garbage, but I managed to get snap this photo with Cristian Ariel and Gelbert.

As always, CT sets a good example for the rest of the students.

Scary Honduran wiring on the water tower near the church in El Carbon.

Justo worked in El Carbon to to help PK.

All the electrical work required the help of an expert and Eddy was happy to help.

PK cleaning up the scary wiring to make it safer for the kids that play near the church.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Driving Me Crazy

Never mind the language barrier, cultural differences and a whole mess of teenage testosterone. The hardest part of being a volunteer at El Sembrador is not having transportation. It has now been six months since I've been behind the wheel of a car and I am feeling more than little stir crazy. El Sembrador is nearly seven miles out of the city of Catacamas and the nearest grocery store, bank, restaurants and cute coffee shop. It's bad enough to rely on others for your every communication, but to depend on someone else to drive me around is almost more than independent me can take.

Oh sure, there are vehicles and people willing to drive most of the time, but it's almost painful to have to ask for a trip to down because I'm desperate for toilet paper. I feel like I'm imposing or interrupting all the time. It's even worse when there really is no one around to drive, which has happened on a couple of occasions now. It's like being in a prison camp and you know that all the toothpaste or laundry detergent you could ever desire is out there if you could just make it over that wall and through the barbed wire. I know I'm lucky to have a few prison guards willing to smuggle me off-campus once in a while, but I miss the freedom of my own vehicle. So, I am reduced to trying to work in trips to town with others' schedules and hording cheese and ibuprofen like I may never see the outside again. It's a pitiful existence at times and I have even had to beg and/or bribe a time or two. And in really desperate times I have taken my life into my own hands and ridden in a Honduran taxi praying the entire time that the duct tape would hold and the wheels would stay intact just long enough to get me past the scary brothel on the road to town. 

I dream of the day I can walk the aisles of Wal-Mart without worrying that my driver is bored or that I might get left behind. I am positively breathless about the idea of adjusting the seat so my knees don't touch my chest.  I can almost visualize myself happily stuck in a traffic jam on 35W. So, I have devised a plan. On the day I am released and we are back on American soil, I will leave directly from the airport to my waiting parked car. I haven't exactly decided how I will lose my travel companions, but somehow I will end up alone behind the wheel. I will turn up the air-conditioning to full-blast (never mind that it will be winter) and tune the radio to a talk station (in English) and drive myself the nearest Taco Bell. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Maybe We Should've Stayed Home

We should have known that when the bus leaves at 7:00 a.m. for a soccer game on a Saturday, just stay home. Nevertheless, we dragged ourselves to the bus where we waited until every one was ready to leave at 8:00 (Hondurans are not punctual people). Generally speaking, any ride crammed on a bus with 70 or 80 Honduran teen-aged boys is always somewhat of an adventure. Thankfully, this two-hour journey passed in relative calm and we even managed to catch a nap. We drove all the way to Juticalpa where we turned off the paved road and wound our way up into the mountains. This was the best part of our day. Was passed through several villages where the scenes ranged from quaint houses with sprawling porches and pretty gardens to shacks huddled together with yards littered with garbage and chickens pecking at the ground. The people stared up at us as rumbled past their homes occasionally stopping for a small herd of cattle to cross the road in front of us. Sometimes the kids would wave, but mostly they just watched. It was a stark reminder of our little oasis on the El Sembrador farm. We are generally sheltered from the worst of the poverty and desperation that faces most of the people of Honduras.

Finally, we arrived in a little village called Los Llaves or "The Keys" where we pulled up in front of little church surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. We were greeted by a couple of pick-ups filled with young men who led us on foot further through the town to a clearing that had been made into soccer field. There were no chairs or bleachers and as we scouted the area for the best vantage point the first of the rain began to fall...a little drizzle at first followed by a deluge of Biblical proportions that would ebb and flow throughout the rest of the day. The soccer field quickly became a lake of of dirty water surrounded by area of stinky mud. The air was thick with smoke from a nearbye kitchen where a family was boiling down sugar cane to create a molasses. The smell of smoke mixed with the scent of fresh animal dung and wet garbage and set my allergies into a fit.

Nothing...and I mean nothing...can discourage a Honduran from a soccer game. We quickly realized that this was not a single game between El Sembrador and a little village team. Apparently, we were at a soccer tournament which began with a game between two other teams while our boys stood around sizing up their competition. This being rainy season, I had remembered to pack my umbrella in my purse, but it is a compact little thing and offered little protection form the sometimes horizontal rainfall. It didn't take long for PK, CT and some of the boys to scout out the nearby pulperia where they provisioned Pepsi and snacks. The road through the village was a muddy mess, so I stayed behind and pretended to be interested in the game. I watched as ladies began appearing from all corners of the field with large pots and coolers. During a brief respite from the rain, they set up a little stand where they sold sandwiches at first, followed by Honduran nachos when they were ready. PK was feeling particularly brave (or hungry) and opted for one of the sandwiches. I warned him that we would be hard-pressed to find a restroom in this locale and that this would be a risk, but he scarfed down the soggy sandwich anyway.

I had been hoping to get some sun so I had worn a cute, new tank top hoping to brown my Minnesota shoulders a little. Instead, I stood shivering in the rain and wishing I had thought to bring something to sit on. Finally, I gave up and found a relatively clean piece of concrete against a fence to sit on, though I covered it with a plastic bag to keep my pants from being soaked through. After a little while, the rain picked up and I was ready to head for the safety of the dry bus. I asked PK to help me up from the ground. He grabbed my hand, but instead of lifting he pulled and ended up dragging me through the stinky mud much to the amusement of the boys nearby. My entire left side was caked in the wet, filth and I spent the rest of the day sulking while every boys found glee in asking me what had happened.

At some point the first game ended and our boys finally took the field. This is when PK grew too bored and wondered off. I later discovered that he had packed a frisbee in his backpack and had found some of the village boys at the pulperia and had started up a game. Meanwhile, I managed to find a spot on a cooler to sit and watch the game. For those who don't know a typical soccer game is two 45 minute periods with a short intermission between them. This is a really long time to watch a sport you barely understand and have very little interest in. Finally, the whistle blew and cheers went up. El Sembrador won. As I packed up my belongings and prepared for the slippery path back to the bus, Justo explained happily that we had just won our first game. Now it was time for the championship. My heart sank and plopped myself back down on the cooler in frustration.

It was at this point that I decided that I really needed to find a restroom. So, I courageously requested the assistance of one of the Bible School girls. We trudged to a nearby house where she requested use of the bathroom. The lady looked us up and down before responding with a curt "No." We tried our luck at a neighboring house where we met with success. I made my way to the back of the yard where a shack stood. I assumed it was an outhouse, but inside I found electricity and a toilet. Unfortunately, the toilet was splattered with some unknown liquid. Still, I managed to go without touching the seat. I tried to flush, but the toilet didn't work, so I gave up and left silently thankful for the hand sanitizer I had tucked away in my purse. Then I waited as my companion took her turn. I was surprised to hear the flush of the toilet. When she appeared at the door, I asked her how it worked. Apparently, all Hondurans know that the bucket next to the toilet filled with dirty water is meant to pour in the toilet so it will flush. I am now in on that little secret. As we walked toward the front of the house, I quickly averted my eyes from the lady of the house bathing naked with a hose in the front yard.

After a little while, I grew annoyed with the continued downpour and having no cell service. I left in search of PK. I found him pouring Pepsi for his new friends at the pulperia. We took refuge from the growing storm under the porch awning and waited. Finally, the bus driver appeared and we piled on as boys began to trickle back from the field filthy with mud and dripping with sweat and rain. I was in a rotten mood by this time and ready to be home and in clean, dry clothes. When we hit the paved road beside a little cluster of houses and a restaurant, the bus stopped suddenly. Several people got off and began pointing to something underneath the bus. I assumed we had a mechanical problem and I strained my neck to get a better look at what was happening. I looked up in time to see a line of boys taking advantage of this unexpected stop to use the restroom. Now, I have to admit that I have had to stop on the side of some secluded road to use the restroom behind a bush or tree. But I never imagined I'd see a group of 40 young men lined up alongside a major highway with houses on either side spraying in all directions!

Finally, we arrived home exhausted, shivering and soaked through to the bone. Somehow, I managed to get myself sunburned through those storm clouds. I was miserable and we probably would have been better off staying home. But it was a cultural experience to say the least and I am happy to have spent this time with the boys of El Sembrador.

PK and his Frisbee buddies. PK left the frisbee for them as a gift.

One of PK's new friends

The muddy road through the village

The local transportation

A parrot serenaded us in the rain from his perch on the powerline

The crowded stinky, damp bus after the game

One of many homes we passed in the mountains

Aww! They are so cute when they are sleeping.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

An Independence Day to Remember

We weren't really trying to celebrate, but today ended up being the most American day we've had in a while. We started at church where CT finally got to perform with the worship band. He played his trumpet while the whole congregation clapped along. After church, we all took to the field for a game of softball with the boys. It was intensely hot and humid and I managed to get the annual fourth of July sunburn on my legs. After the game and much-needed showers. I scrounged up some hot dogs for dinner (thanks to Neighbor Missionary Lady) complete with ketchup and mustard. Luckily, PK just returned from Teguc where he managed to score a large bag of Ruffles potato chips to complement our holiday meal. After supper we were back outside again for the volleyball tournament where I cheered so loud that I started losing my voice. The Lord always provides and he provided our fireworks tonight when a storm rolled in just as the games were winding down. PK and I capped off the night with a game of Skip-Bo followed by stroll in the ice cold downpour.

Even though we weren't able to celebrate with the usual picnic and fireworks, this 4th of July seems more special. We are able to appreciate how fortunate we are to be Americans. My prayer this 4th of July is that God will continue to bless the United States with prosperity, security and freedom and also that He will pour out those same blessings on the people of Honduras like the torrential rain he sent us tonight.

PK and I after our walk in the rain.

Dia de Escuela Volleyball

Official Dia de Escuela Volleyball Results:

Yellow vs. Red - Red advances to final
Blue vs. Green - Green advances to final

Yellow vs. Blue - Blue places 3rd and Yellow places 4th

Championship Game scheduled for July 12.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

¡Vamos Equipo Amarillo!

Dia de Escuela (Day of the School) has started. This is an annual tradition to celebrate the founding of the school 56 years ago. The staff and students are divided into four teams (Red, Blue, Green and Yellow) and participate in all kinds of contests and sporting events for prizes and all-important bragging rights. It's a highlight of the entire year for most of the students and we're all really excited to be included....of course, we are a divided household. CT is on the Blue Team and PK is on the Green Team. But I am privileged to be co-captain of the best team...Team Yellow and we are destined to go down in history as the greatest Dia de Escuela team of all times (at least in my mind). Did I mention that yellow happens to be my favorite color?

Anyway, today the games began with the futbolito tournament, which is a fast version of soccer played on a small court. Our very first event and we placed third! Of course, there are only four teams, but the point is that we weren't last....and PK was. I even got in the game for a few minutes much to the amusement of my teammates and the onlookers. I always knew that someday throngs of people would chant my name. The cheering crowds inspired my championship spirit and I actually kicked the ball once (kind of by acident, but I don't think they noticed). Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for them to come begging me to join the Escuela El Sembrador soccer team.

Official Dia de Escuela Futbolito Results:
Yellow vs. Red - Red advances to final
Blue vs. Green - Blue advances to final
Yellow vs. Green - Yellow placed 3rd and Green places 4th

Championship Game scheduled for July 12.

Yellow vs. Red

Ariel, Kevin, KellyFaith, Milton and Bismar