Thursday, September 30, 2010

But by the Grace of God...

As part of the new process for screening student applicants for next year, El Sembrador staff is visiting homes and talking to the families of prospective students. I had the opportunity to go along on a recent outing, where we visited several homes of current students who may want to return next year. Even though we've lived here a year already, it's still shocking to see the living conditions of the impoverished families of Honduras.

The homes were very humble with adobe walls and hard, packed dirt floors. Most had electricity and clothes hung out to dry along fences and clotheslines. We were welcomed in to visit with the family and after a short survey of questions, we moved on to the next location. We made a loop through Catacamas and a nearby village before making our way to the last home just up the road from the school. 

Funny how we passed the home of Rommel almost every day, but never noticed it. Rommel is a quiet, shy kid with strong muscles and a brilliant smile. He and CT have become close friends. Rommel is very talented in the wood carving area and he has been CT's teacher and mentor over the last few weeks. He is an average student by Honduran standards. He's 16 and he doesn't say a lot. But on more than one occasion he has leapt to the defense of CT, who is often mocked and sometimes bullied by the rowdier students. He is a joy to watch during church services. He prays fervently, sings every song without inhibition and always has the utmost respect for speakers and presenters giving them his full attention. He loves to play soccer and lift weights in the salon. He can be an easy kid to overlook sometimes, but when he speaks everyone around him listens. He seems to have a wisdom about him and even the younger kids take notice of he's an old soul who deserves respect. I didn't notice until after this visit to his home that I never see him with the other boys at the tienda even at break times. It's strange how I didn't notice before. 

We weren't sure exactly which house was his, so we stopped at a little one-room shack made of nothing but old wood planks and leaning to one side. Two giant pigs wallowed in the mud nearby and the dogs barked ferociously as we passed. A very old woman greeted us on the bench in front of the little structure. She is Rommel's grandmother, wrinkled and hunched but with a pleasant smile. She has led a hard life and you can see it in every line in her little face. She directs us to the nearby Auto Motel that we've all been warned about. Rommel's mother works there. The motel is nothing more than a row of car stalls where people pull in their vehicles and sleep inside them for the night. It is rumored to be a brothel where the prices are by the hour and include company for the night. After a quick stop in the motel entrance, we were directed a small house a few feet away. There, we found Rommel's mother. She is a small woman, but very pretty and I could see the family resemblance to Rommel right away. Unlike the other homes, we were not invited inside. Instead we seated ourselves on a little bench. We had been eagerly welcomed at the other homes, but this visit was instantly tense and awkward. She was shy and very nervous. She wrung her hands repeatedly as she spoke her one-word answers. She didn't smile or even look anyone in the eye. Instead, her eyes were firmly fixed on the ground. She has only completed the third grade and I was surprised to hear that she is only 35 years old. Her husband is 62. She has five children, four daughters and Rommel. Her oldest daughter is 18 lives nearby and works at an identical auto motel down the road. No explanation was offered is to what type of work the women do there. I looked around at their dirty plot beside the sleazy motel. It is no more than one room with just a doorway and no doors or windows. There is a little outhouse close by with a shower curtain for a door. It was pushed aside to reveal a single bucket and a roll of toilet paper. There is no electricity here and probably no plumbing either. The family doesn't own this little hovel. It belongs to someone else. She doesn't know if Rommel will return next year. Maybe he will go to school in Catacamas. Maybe he won't go to school at all.

As we walked away, I thought of CT's good friend, Rommel and the hardships he must have endured in his short life. I thought of not seeing him at the tienda. I thought of how easy it is to overlook him sometimes. Then, I thought of how this boy with nothing had stood up to defend his friend with everything. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Heartbreak

We are constantly reminded that the calendar is steadily progressing forward and our time here is almost complete. We are already dreading those very hard goodbyes to our new family. But for me, the hardest goodbye has already been said. My heart is broken for Reyes, who left the school a few weeks ago in an attempt to reach the United States illegally. Thankfully, the deadly trip was delayed for now but for Reyes it meant leaving  El Sembrador behind.

When I came to El Sembrador I was so naive. But now it's so clear. The idea that U.S. is the answer to all life's problems is so ingrained in this culture that it's impossible for these kids to see any other way. If the American dream is to own a home, then the Honduran dream is to cross the border. At first, I thought the allure was money, status and jobs. But I have seen that it is so much more than that. For Reyes it is not just his dream, it is his only path and he can see no other. Reyes has had a good life here, relatively speaking. He's had food to eat, a grandmother to care for him, an education and a nice home. It's not that he doesn't appreciate these things, his heart is just too broken to stay and make a life in Honduras. Reyes never met his father. His mother left for the States before his first birthday in an attempt to provide for her family. Reyes is one of the lucky ones. His mother still calls him every week and the money she sends home is steady and consistently provides for him and his grandmother. He is lucky in that he knows his mother, at least as much as he can from 3000 miles away. He knows that she works 20 hours a day and shares a home with 10 other people including his brother. He knows that she has lived a hard life and that there's no picket fence and two-car garage. Now, at 16, Reyes doesn't see the U.S. as his meal ticket. He just longs for his mother to hold him. His hope doesn't lie in his future, but his past. He is desperate to reclaim the family he's lost and be reunited with a childhood he never had.

I am afraid for Reyes....not just for the dangerous journey that lies ahead...not for the corrupt police, ruthless coyotes, drug runners or murderers that he'll face. I am more afraid that he will make it to his family in New Jersey. Because Reyes is not a baby anymore and his mother is no longer that young woman who left him so many years ago. While I am certain that their reunion will be joyous, I fear that the comfort will be short-lived. In his mind, Reyes has made his mother into the super hero and selfless martyr that he has needed her to be all these years. She cannot possibly live up to the expectations of her little boy. I wonder if he will be destroyed to find her to be so ordinary. I wonder if she will play the parental role she denied herself only to find him resistant to her influence or indifferent to her own suffering heart. I wonder if his feelings of abandonment and her feelings of guilt can be resolved. I worry that the trip to the border is just the beginning of a long and painful journey that Reyes has resigned himself to. Most of all, I worry that there is something that I have left undone or something I have left unsaid that could have made his path a little less rocky. As I write this last sentence, I find that tears are steaming down my face. Did I tell him how much I love him? Did I tell him how much God loves him? Does he know that God used him to help bring my family to Honduras? Will he remember to lean on the Lord when his heart breaks? Have I prayed enough? By trying to convince him to stay, am I cruel to try to deny him his mother? Do I try to convince him for his own good or to appease my own broken heart that already misses him so much?

The issue of illegal immigration used to be so black and white to me, just numbers. Now, it is an issue so personal and so painful that I will never be able to just see the numbers in the newspaper. Now, I will see families, children, mothers....people that I know...people that I love. I don't know what the solution is or even where I stand on the issue...I only know that it's no longer black and white.

For now, I leave the unanswered questions and the political issues in God's hands and ask for his special protection for Reyes. I pray that He will bring our paths to cross again someday and I thank Him for this very special time when I was allowed to be just a little part of Reyes' life for just a little while.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Independence Day Honduras!

It was a really hot and humid morning, but that didn't keep people from the sizzling sidewalks of Catacamas for the annual Honduras Independence Day parade. We were lucky to find a spot close to the beginning of the parade with some shade and a little step for us to sit on. Like most parades, the best part is the children. Lucky for us, that's all there was in this parade....lots and lots of really adorable Honduran kiddos. The only adults were the few stage moms carrying umbrellas and shielding their little princesses from the harsh sun and pushing them in front of my camera.

The parade took most of the morning. We followed the last marching band up the packed, sweaty street to our favorite coffee shop where we patiently waited for our frappacinos. It's a good thing that Hondurans don't have personal space issues because I'm pretty sure a few of them would have been angry at us for shoving our way past them on the sidewalk. Afterward we called Texaco and ordered a pizza and then caught a cab to pick it up and back to the farm.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First Day of School

Today, CT begins his first day of 8th grade. He'll be attending the first half of the year here at the MK school, where he is the only student. I pointed out to him that this made him the top of his class and the teacher's pet, but he was not impressed. We are lucky to have AT (Awkward Turtle) here to teach him. I'm hopeful that she will finally be able to teach him some organization skills! His classes are mostly taught through video with worksheets, tests and quizzes given by AT, who will also track his grades and collect his work.

He has the typical English, history, pre-algebra and science classes. He'll also have Spanish II and Bible classes. But he's most excited about his art/photography class, which will be taught by AT four days a week. One day will be devoted to photography and the other three days will include art projects and art appreciation according to the curriculum provided by the MK school. AT even has a camera she'll lend CT for his projects and lots of great ideas to make the class fun and interesting. He'll also have time to work in the wood carving area with the boys (his "shop" class) and for trumpet practice.

Most importantly for all of more whining about how bored he is!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Nod to Victor

Victor has perfected the art of the Latin American male head nod. The little tilt of the head that is supposed to get the attention of women. Without saying a word, he is able to command attention from every female within a mile radius. While the head nod should be insulting, somehow it's made cute and enduring by Victor. I mean this guy is so cool that he doesn't even bother to utter a single syllable to command everyone's attention. Of course his infectious, broad smile doesn't hurt either. The girls are in constant state of swooning in his presence and he does an excellent job of pretending not to notice while still managing to convince each one that she has his admiration.

We first met Victor last year on our first visit to El Sembrador, but it wasn't ladies in our group who were charmed by his quiet but confident demeanor. The men were immediately taken with Victor's tremendous work ethic. Always with his Uncle Ruben, Victor is a tireless worker who takes obvious pride in every project. Unlike most of the boys who will make any excuse or take advantage of any drop of rain to stop and sit under the gathering tree, Victor rarely takes a break even when scheduled. He performs his duties with the care of a brain surgeon. Now that I've gotten to know him a little better, I've realized that this is a very curious personality trait indeed. Not only is Victor's dedication to his work counter to the relaxed Honduran culture, it's also a stark contrast to his cocky, ladies man, soccer star image. I find this to be the most intriguing thing about Victor. He is an instantly likable kid despite his frequent brushes with insubordination and unruliness. He will spend hour laboring in the hot sun sanding down a picnic table without complaint. But in class, he's the first to refuse instruction or to chime in with snide comments to disrupt the class. The funny thing is, you can't be mad at him. Literally, this kid can get away with anything. Everyone just understands that beneath the rebellious, superstar facade he is someone who is genuinely passionate about making something of himself. 

As for me, nothing brightens my day like that little nod from Victor as he passes me in his crazy pajama pants and paint-splattered t-shirt on his way to pour concrete or fix a broken door. I think that Victor's playful nature, work ethic and leadership qualities means he doesn't really need El Sembrador in order to succeed. But somehow it feels like El Sembrador might need Victor.