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. 

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