Beautiful moments as I take my leave of Honduras. Until next time…
I groggily shuffled over to the doctors’ house for my normal 6:30am coffee before hospital report – only to find the house in chaos. Thieves had come in the night breaking the lock on the backdoor and creeping into the house while the family was sleeping. The vulnerability and feelings of violation from a break-in are certainly compounded when you know the robbers were actually in the house with you while you slept. Fortunately the valuables were locked in the study, but they managed to slit the screen doors on the hanging food cabinet (it hangs from the ceiling to prevent rats from getting in) and break through the door to the pantry. All the flour, sugar, eggs, bread, cereal, and any number of miscellaneous food items were gone. We had a birthday celebration for Dr. Rudy yesterday and they stole the all leftovers from his big chocolate cake (although they left the banana cake that I had made intact – not sure if I should be happy or insulted). They emptied the sugar out of the glass sugar container. Worst of all they took all the coffee in the house. Dr. Rudy was coming in from his morning run and saw a pair of his shoes and a towel on the ground and an empty jam container, with the back door ajar. It was fortunate indeed to just lose food, and some miscellaneous items, but the feeling of insecurity lingers.
After trying to account for everything lost, and recounting everything to the police, we were left to the emptied house. Dr. Norvelle gathered everyone around and said she wanted to pray. She asked for protection from evil, for peace of heart, and some others things I didn’t quite translate fast enough to understand… and then Dr. Rudy added in at the end: “and please Lord have mercy on the robbers. Please help them not to starve. Help them to find jobs so that they can feed their families without thievery, and bless them.” Oh yeah… the robbers. I had been so upset about the missing coffee and feeling bad for the doctors that I hadn’t even thought about the people who must be desperate to break into a house just to find food. How hungry must you be to come to that point? I certainly have never experienced that hunger.
Peter (the doctors’ son) just turned 15 recently. For his birthday he asked for a nerf gun, a birthday cake,…. and a bag of rice, some beans, and cooking oil. Wait, what? I was confused when he unwrapped the huge 50 pound bag of rice. We have enough food in the house… why did Peter want more? Then, that night, all the local boys came over and Peter cooked them rice and beans. Ever since his birthday, every couple days the boys all pile into the house in the evening and cook together. Rice,beans, and sometimes they bring some fish recently caught at the river. I never thought that these skinny soccer boys I see every week might not be eating regularly, but Peter knew.
Even after 6 months here, I still do not recognize all the poverty around me. There is so much need. I plan on buying another bag of rice, and some beans to leave with Peter. At least the soccer boys will get another month or so of regular meals. Perhaps with enough food in their stomachs they will be able to concentrate in school and affect their future. Perhaps not. I don’t know how to fix the larger problem, but the reminder is good. There is always someone who could use a hand, if I could only stop focusing on my little problems long enough to see them.
As I think on what I want to take away with me, what lessons I hope to implement in my life as a result of my stay, I think much on need and waste.
I am so impressed by the amount of reuse here. There are no recycling plants within a thousand miles, indeed people do not even know that word , but waste is an abomination. When you are poor, you are loath to waste any of the little you have. When you don’t know how big your next meal will be (if it comes at all) you care about every grain of rice. Along with the wonderful boon of solar energy here (during the day the entire hospital and the surrounding buildings are run completely off solar power, the generator is run only for a couple hours at night to charge the batteries), there are many examples of conservation and reuse. Small soda bottles are washed out and used to dispense liquid medications in the pharmacy. Pages from magazines and newspapers are folded into tiny envelopes to carry pills and other small items. The large three liter (soda bottles here are 3, not 2 liter like in the States) plastic bottles are frequently used to tote water up from the river to the house.
Water is of particular importance since it is so much work to procure. Another frequent usage is to pack the bottles full of nanche berries and fill with water – providing the family with an easily transportable food source that will not spoil for several weeks.
The nurses reuse the outer packaging that IV bags come in to send hold the cytology slides. The rubber bands you see in the picture are actually the wrist of a surgical glove that’s been torn out. At times the hospital has run low on gloves, and they have to wash them out and hang them up to dry. From an infection control standpoint many people would cringe, but is it not better to have a reused glove than none at all? It is an amusing sight to see a “glove tree” with many plastic hands flapping in the air as they dry.
Everywhere you go there are products being reused, and new uses found for them. Ziplock bags are washed and dried instead of being thrown out. I remember my mother (who grew up here) doing this when I was a child, and being confused that she wouldn’t just get a new ziplock from the box? Now I understand where she came from, and the wisdom of avoiding waste.
So now I return to my country of good and plenty, where I can have all the ziplock bags that I ever could want, and what will I do? I remember a conversation about economy with my dear friend Wendy, wherein she remarked on the simple idea of using up your toiletries before buying new ones. Such a simple concept, but so often I impulse buy whenever I see a nice smelling lotion, or a new facial product, and end up with a huge backlog of makeups, toiletries, and random soaps building up in my bathroom. Or clothes? How many extra do I have that I never wear – yet keep buying new ones? Here in Ahuas I started washing my hair every third day this last month to stretch out the last little bit of shampoo until I could get out to La Ceiba and buy some. Then one of our visiting doctors left her shampoo behind and I can wash my hair everyday! Truly wonderful in this sweaty country, and a nice reminder that it is good to go without for a time, in order to truly appreciate something when you have it. I hope that I can find ways to limit waste in my life at home. I hope to reuse whenever possible, to avoid needless impulse buying, and to limit waste. I hope I wash my ziplock bags.
Granted the unexpected boon of little to do for my last week in La Moskitia. Went a wandering with camera in hand….
I wandered winsome as a breeze
Through village path and verdant field
And beauty as Truth – and Truth to be
Upon my soul was sealed
On fresh loam clothed in royal hue
The children walked and waved
Young palm leaves too were scattered ’round
As once a kingly pathway paved
I’d woke nigh to amanecer
My thoughts in disarray
Of planning, leaving, and job to find
Sometimes I wish that I could stay
A walk was cure for heavy thoughts
Truth calmed the stress and ponder
Trust I in Him, where next I go
Truth will I find, where’er I wander
Looking at the date today, and realizing I will leave Honduras in a little more than a month, makes me oh so aware of the beauty and joy here around me.
I love walking out my door to be greeted with the full bloom of tulip trees and hibiscus.
I walk into morning report and am greeted with a smile and a welcoming “Buenos dias, Lic.! All of the nurses here call me by my title “Licenciada,” but the students have taken to affectionately shortening it to “Lic.” It sounds like a cross between the word leek and lick. A funny sounding word in English to be sure, but there is something wonderfully “belonging” about having a nickname. I love it. When I first was given the responsibility of supervising the student nurses I viewed it as a chore. They were constantly making mistakes that I was ultimately responsible for, one of the doctors was unhappy about having students (and let me know about it in full detail), and whenever there were students on shift I had to be physically present checking into every detail. Yet, as I got to know each of them personally, it became a joy instead. They come here, every day of the week, working for a bare minimum government stipend (they are in their year of government social service before they can work as full graduate nurses) and happily put up with all the menial tasks that students are given. Several weeks ago we heard that the government may not pay them anything this year – that they will have been working A YEAR without any pay, and yet they still show up with smiles in place and work diligently. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I have had to work on my dislike of confronting people when there is discipline needed, and they have had to put up with a nurse manager who does not speak either of their languages very well, but I feel very privileged to have gotten to know all of them. When I see the smile and hear “Lic.!” called out in greeting I am grateful for all we have taught each other.
I have made so many dear friends here. This week was Lesvia’s birthday.
I was invited to her house for dinner and cake. This was my first Miskito birthday party. We sat on the porch of her stilt house and watched the sunset over the Moravian church. Her daughter (also named Lesvia, who was celebrating her birthday as well) had a friend come and set up a sound system.
What an interesting contrast sitting in a house with no plumbing, and watching the young man run a power line from the generator to his lovely sound setup. I was treated to a night of Miskito pop music, some Latin dance music, wonderful times of conversation and laughter, and delicious cake. Since coca cola is a huge part of the birthday tradition here (enough that a verse about it was added onto the birthday song) I found myself suddenly extremely talkative and ebullient at 9pm. One would think a daily habit of coffee drinking would diminish caffeine sensitivity over time, but in my case this just is not true.
I have made friends with all the boys on the youth soccer team. They are very amused that I enjoy playing soccer, and apparently the novelty of a gringa playing sports makes up for the fact that I am so very less talented then all of them. They frequently ask me to play when there is a pickup soccer game and laugh good naturedly with me when I fall over in the mud (yes, I am just that ungraceful, but my cleats were stolen back in November and the ground is very slippery!).
I was very happy to see one of these boys, Nehmias, at Lesvia’s party, since he was good enough to sit by me and chat in Spanish while many of the older generation were speaking only in Miskito. He was also sweet enough to walk me home, since it was well after dark. When we passed by several young men that reeked of alcohol and made suggestive comments I was quite glad that that I was not walking solo.
During the Saturday soccer match whichever boys are not playing are happy to keep up a running commentary in Spanish and Miskito. I am afraid my Spanish learning has plateaued at a not-quite-fluent-yet level, but the my Miskito vocabulary increases everyday!
One of the best things that happened this week was fairly mundane for everyone else, but was a great victory for me! The floor is fixed!
Selen, one of the hospital’s handimen, took pity on me (or perhaps he too sensed the malingering evil of these floor tiles) and gathered the necessary materials. No longer shall the fear of ballistic feces-infused scum water threaten my day.
There is so much joy to be had in every day if you just go looking for it!
Life is good.
This blog is the first I will write directly asking for your help with something. I am writing a plea on the behalf of the youth soccer league of Ahuas. Every Saturday these young men play their hearts out on the futbol field – many of them barefoot amidst the mud and cow pies. I know there were always old cleats hanging around my house when I was growing up with three brothers. I am writing to ask for beg for old cleats. Please just take a moment to look in your closet. Haven’t played soccer for a couple years? Know anyone with fast growing teenagers who might have outgrown some cleats recently? Any and all soccer equipment would be hugely appreciated – cleats, long socks, shin guards, jerseys – but most especially the cleats.
The boys here love playing soccer. They are also incredibly talented. All the kids in my neighborhood grew up playing soccer, but we never had the innate talent, grace and crazy footwork these boys have developed day by day by playing diligently. Every Saturday they gather – up to half of them with no shoes, or just one cleat. At first I was confused about the one cleat fashion, but then I realized that two boys had split the pair – thereby giving them each a little bit of traction. They have jerseys they have gathered and, in some cases, sewed themselves. Even when the rain comes pounding down they keep playing – playing for the joy of the game.
The league gives the youth of Ahuas (and the surrounding villages) a chance to get together and play an organized game of soccer every Saturday leading up to the championship later this year. Some of these boys walk from villages 3 hours away just to come play. With ever encroaching narcotic trafficking, and the options for easily ruining (or loosing) your life making a quick dollar, having a healthy alternative way to spend time is very important for these boys and young men. Our players range from age 10 to 18, but don’t feel bad for the little guys – they are some of our best players.
Last Saturday all the boys came out and meticulously went over the field picking up cow dung and sharp rocks. The painstakingly laid down boundary lines using sawdust, and spent hours tying cardboard over the surrounding barbed wire fence (so they wouldn’t immediately puncture the ball). You can see the results below.
So please, if you or anyone you know has some cleats they could donate please drop me a line. If you are the Santa Cruz county area I have some people who will help me gather all the donations and I will pay for them all to be shipped here. If you are in another city please still comment and I will facilitate the cleats getting out here. Even if we could get 20 pairs together it would make a difference!