Extreme

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We really should know better!

Violet is a young woman from upstate NY. She recently obtained her undergraduate degree in engineering from Buffalo. She’s been volunteering at Maestro en Casa since September 1st. Laura and I have really enjoyed her energy and youthful spirit. She left this past Monday to move on to Nicaragua for a few months before returning to the States. We wanted to treat her to a fun day so we invited her to come with us to visit the caverns at Taulabé on Sunday. Unfortunately she wasn’t feeling well that day and opted out. Laura and I decided we needed the day away and headed off for our adventure.

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The caves are about an hour and a half away on the main road heading north toward San Pedro Sula. They are only a few miles south of Honduras’ one lake, Lake Yojoa, and literally about 100 yards from the main highway. Apparently, they were discovered in the 1970s when they were building the highway. We got off the bus, walked across the highway and entered the empty parking lot of Las Cuevas de Taulabé. Sunday morning at 10:00 am at one of Honduras’ few tourist spots and the place was deserted save for the two tour guides and the ticket guy hanging out at the admissions shack. It turned out that the ticket guy also ran one of the stands out on the highway that sold homemade honey. We had low expectations of what the caves would offer. As we were walking in our phone rang (we only have one), and Laura went off to the side to take the call, while I went up to the admissions stand. The older of the two guides gave me a rundown of the prices for the tour. The basic tour, 300 meters into the illuminated part of the cavern, cost thirty lempira ($1.50) for Hondurans and $4.00 for foreigners. As residents we could get the Honduran rate. But the guide was pushing the ‘extreme’ tour. The extreme tour brought you 300 meters further into the cavern. It was not illuminated and you needed to carry flashlights and wear a hardhat. For the regular tour, the guide was optional, but for the extreme tour he was required. This tour cost an additional 150 lempira ($7.50), and the guide’s tip was not included. By this point Laura had returned from her phone call. I explained to her our options, very suspect of the extreme tour. But Laura was apparently up for an adventure and we opted for the extreme tour. That word ‘extreme,’ particularly in Spanish, seemed to carry a foreboding air.

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Outside the entrance, some 40 feet from the admission booth, the guide asked us if we had a camera to take pictures. As almost always is the case, we didn’t. The guide explained that people usually like to take a before and after picture because we will probably be extremely dirty upon our exit. We laughed, believing him to have made a joke, but he hardly smiled, and we both realized he hadn’t been joking. The caves were gorgeous with huge stalagmites and stalactites, and unusual formations pointed out by our guide. We, the lone tourists, wound our way along a well laid concrete trail with railed stairways. It was breathtaking and we realized our low expectations were premature and unwarranted. Then we came to the end of the 300 meters and saw the posted sign “End of Tour.” I read the sign and had a flashback to seminary days and reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” It was the beginning of the ‘extreme’ part. Our guide led us beyond the concrete walkway to a muddied path that rose at about a sixty degree angle to a rock ledge ten feet above us. Our guide stopped us there and gave us very serious, ominous instructions on how to hold our flashlights and the importance of sticking together. “If you feel as if the rock you’re using as a foothold seems loose, find another one.” For this we were paying an additional $7.50 plus tip! Pride and our American sense of ‘getting what we paid for’ pushed us to continue on. It had taken us all of fifteen minutes to amble our way through the first 300 meters. For the next hour and a half we scaled muddied walls and slid down the other side, inched our way along crevices over fifteen meter drops, and ducked bats. In one chamber, our guide had us turn off our flashlights. The blackness was invasive.

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We were going in a downward direction for most of the journey. This meant less oxygen and more heat. We also discovered we were not alone. Probably twelve, young, Red Cross volunteers were also on the extreme tour running emergency simulations. It didn’t seem at all fair that they had ropes. We nervously joked with them that maybe they’d have opportunity for a real emergency situation with us. But, we made it, unbruised and covered completely in mud. I gave our guide a healthy tip knowing that we would probably be the only idiots that day to take the extreme tour.

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We took the bus further down the road to Lake Yojoa for lunch at one of the thousands of restaurants along the lake shore (well, maybe not thousands). It was a brilliant day, sunny and warm, as compared to sunny and cold in La Esperanza. We both looked like we had crawled out of sewers. None of the locals seemed to notice, however. I suspect they’re accustomed to American tourists coming from the caves. We both had a new take on what it means to be an “ugly American.”

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We said goodbye to Violet that evening, laughing with her over our experience. Our muscles have been remembering and complaining about our jaunt through las cuevas all week. It’s also been a week of goodbyes for us. We’ll be heading off to Concepcion this coming Monday to start our new job with Shoulder to Shoulder. The kids at Maestro en Casa are finishing up their school year. We’ll make sure to come back for graduation sometime in late November or early December. We’re looking forward to Concepcion and Shoulder to Shoulder. I’m sure that whatever we encounter, it will be yet another extreme experience.

Dampened Spirits, Uplifting Grace

 

 

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It is the heart of the rainy season in Intibucá, Honduras.  We went through the heart of the rainy season in Morecelí, El Paraiso a year ago, but we don’t remember it anything like this.  We had been used to it raining about four out of every five days.  The rains were always hard, but they usually wouldn’t start until about 3:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon and they would generally end by the time we went to bed.  But lately it has been raining every day, often starting in the morning and not ending at all.  It’s been a constant, dreary sort of rain with overcast skies and a penetrating dampness.  To top that, however, unlike anywhere else in Honduras, it’s cold in La Esperanza.  Wearing long sleeves and a sweatshirt is not mentioned in any of the Honduran vacation brochures.  I guess being so high up the clouds just get caught in these mountains.  I’m sure that La Esperanza is feeding all the rivers throughout Honduras, but it can’t possibly be raining as much anywhere else.  If it were not for the dry season, this would certainly qualify as a rain forest.

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Tuesday we planned for a dinner party.  Colorado State University is doing a long-term study down here on the health effects of indoor cook stoves.  They’re in the initial stages and we’ve been helping them to get acquainted with La Esperanza, and particularly finding them housing.  Two of the post-docs, a boyfriend/driver, and a Honduran partner arrived in La Esperanza on Monday and we invited them for a home cooked meal in the evening of their first full day.  During the day, in-between the rain, we were curing wood that was being used to build false, slanted roofs over our flat roofed buildings at Maestro en Casa (flat roofs, torrential rains ongoing for months, equals leaking ceilings – not a brilliant design idea).  Curing the wood consists of painting the wood with an oil and gasoline mixture.  By the time we were walking home, we were soaked from the rain and smelling of gasoline.  Still, we were looking forward to hosting our dinner party.  At 3:30 pm the electricity went out.  It usually comes back on, but not this time.  Our guests got lost trying to find our house.  I had to go out and stand at the corner in the downpour to find them and lead them to our house.  Cell phone service was spotty so we kept losing their call.  They finally arrived and sat down in our dark house.  Our electric lantern was losing battery power and we had no candles.  The dinner, however, cooked on our propane stove was excellent, and we all laughed at the complex challenges we face.  The bomb shell came when Benjamin, the Honduran, asked how Laura and I had managed the earthquake from last night.  This came as a total surprise to Laura and I who had slept through a rather significant shaking.  Apparently at 10:00 pm the previous evening, a rather strong earthquake centered in El Salvador shook our department of Intibucá relatively harshly.  I guess we were tired because neither of us had woken up.  The lights came on as our meal was ending and we all applauded.

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The next day, Wednesday, we had planned a trip back along the Frontera to Camasca and Concepcion.  We’ll be living and working in Concepcion (we’ve found a beautiful house that I’ll tell you about in a future blog) come November.  The bus leaves at 6:00 am, so we decided to get up at 4:30 am.  It was a good thing that Laura had set her cell phone alarm because sometime during the night the electricity went off again.  To my knowledge, there were no further earthquakes.  We were in almost absolute darkness preparing ourselves for the journey.  It was raining again.  And the absolute worst thing – no coffee.  But we made the bus.  Either because of the earthquake or the rain, or more likely, both, the road was even more gutted and fallen than it had been.  The treacherous passes were perhaps a little more treacherous, and unless it was my imagination, the sheer drops along the cliff edges seemed even more profound.  But we got there.  We saw our bi-lingual school in Camasca where we’ll be soliciting sponsors so all kids will be able to attend.  In Concepcion we stayed at the clinic and met some wonderful people visiting from the States.  It was an incredible trip and we are really excited to be part of the team.

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Alex is the tech support man at Shoulder to Shoulder.  We met him the last time we were in Concepcion.  He’s a great guy and we’ve had wonderful conversations with him.  He’s from La Ceiba on the North Coast.  On our first visit he told us he was expecting a child in a few weeks. On this visit I asked how the mother-to-be was doing.  He said she was fine, but it would probably be another couple of weeks before he would be a first time, proud father.  As we were leaving today, he was outside the clinic by the gate on his cell phone.  He ended the call to say goodbye to us.  Laura wished him luck with the prospect of his soon to be child.  He informed us of the arrival of his daughter, Grace Alexandra.  Grace seems an apt name.  It wasn’t raining when we left.  It isn’t raining now since we got back.  So at least that’s a plus.

Our Anniversary

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Laura and I are celebrating something of an anniversary.  We just returned from our third consecutive Conference on Honduras in Copan Ruinas.  The conferences always occur in the Fall, September or October, and they always bring together a wide network of non-profit organizations.  In a sense these conferences mark milestones for Laura and me.  We came to the first when we were investigating sites for possible volunteer placement.  We met the folks from Montaña de Luz and also Susan Stone from Maestro en Casa where we are at now.  Last year at the conference we initiated our volunteer experience in Honduras.  This year we went again.  It provided us a good space for reflection on our one year anniversary in Honduras.

Copan Ruinas is unlike any other town in Honduras relative to its comfort and attention to its tourist trade.  We stayed at a hotel that had the availability of a pool a short walking distance away.  We arrived the day before the conference and took advantage of this to walk down to the pool.  There was hardly anyone else there and Laura and I had this luxurious comfort all to ourselves.  We lounged back next to the pool and after a few minutes, Laura leaned over to me and jokingly asked, “Are we still in Honduras?”  That evening we also had a nice meal at a fancy restaurant where the prices were also unlike anything in Honduras.  We could have had four meals at a restaurant in La Esperanza for the price of the one there.  Still, it was extremely nice that we felt thoroughly pampered for a few days.

Birds at Macaw Mountain, Copan Ruinas

Birds at Macaw Mountain, Copan Ruinas

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Lest you think that our personal delight and indulgence was all we got out of our conference, the “anniversary” did inspire our reflection on what we are doing and will do in Honduras.  The conference focus is on the sustainability of charity and developmental work.  The conference confronts the question of whether the work of NGOs here is truly enabling and transformative.  If you have ever read the book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton then you are aware that even good will can be harmful if all it does is create dependencies.  True charity comes from a place of respect and dignity.  At the conference someone said something about the absolute difference between pity and compassion.  Pity is the emotion that distances us from the reality of suffering.  Compassion draws us in.  I wondered about that in reflecting upon our year in Honduras.  Our year has not so much been about what we’ve done or accomplished.  We have not created a tally sheet of our good works.  It has been much more about what we’ve met and encountered in people, events, and realities.  We’ve been transformed in those encounters.  Wanting to do something, to meet a need, to solve a problem, simply to help, always seems to be the starting point for compassion.  I’m sure that is why both Laura and I have come to Honduras.  But it has not been the end point.  This journey of compassion is much more about relationship than it is about particular outcomes.  In the poverty of Honduras, among people who many might pity, we have been abundantly enriched.  It is only our hope that we might have yielded some enrichment for others.

The three conferences we’ve attended have always marked the time for our reflection on our time here in Honduras.  When we came to Maestro en Casa we knew that our time in Honduras would be limited by our lack of resources.  Maestro en Casa is not in a position to offer us a salary or a stipend.  That has been fine with us as we believed in its mission.  We have certainly found our lives transformed here, particularly with the students whom we have come to know.  You will recall, however, a couple of blogs ago, I spoke about our trip to the Frontera (border of El Salvador and Honduras) and our encounter with a medical NGO, Hombro a Hombro, Shoulder to Shoulder.  They have offered Laura and me a job as Communications and Development Director.  Our discernment has led us to agree to accept the position.  We will continue our work with Maestro en Casa through the end of the academic year here in Honduras and be present for the graduation sometime in November.  Through the upcoming month of October we will take some time to travel to and from the Frontera, acquainting ourselves with the mission and work of Shoulder to Shoulder and looking for a residence.  We will officially begin the new position in November.  The salary will satisfy the expenses we incur here in Honduras and allow us to stay in Honduras without concern for our well-being.  It is extremely difficult to make a decision between two goods, which is what we have done.  It will be sad to leave.  But thankfully, we will leave with gratitude.  It is also exciting to move forward, knowing that new experiences of transformation await us.

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I don’t know if we will return for next year’s conference.  After each one we have said that it would be the last.  I am sure, however, that there will yet be another time and place for us to reflect on the wonder and beauty of our lives and to discern the new paths that yield transformation.

An additional note:

Many of you who read this blog have been financially generous to Laura and me and the work we have been engaged in at Maestro en Casa.  As always, we are indebted and grateful.  Maestro en Casa is an excellent program that provides quality education to persons who want and need it.  Laura and I intend to maintain our relationship and support of Maestro en Casa.  You are welcome to do the same.

In Memorium

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We received terrible news on September 3rd.  It will be difficult for me to forget that day as it was the day before my birthday. Laura’s youngest sister, Nancy, died.  She had battled breast cancer, seemingly successfully, and was in remission for four years.  Two years ago her cancer metastasized into her bones.  She accepted the physically challenging treatments for a second time, attempting to stave off the progression of the disease.  She maintained her courage, hope, and dignity, but must have tired greatly.  At the end, she did not linger or seem to suffer greatly, certainly a gift to her family and friends.  As soon as we received the news, we made arrangements to fly out to Atlanta the next day.

I recall similarly returning from a visit from Honduras some years ago.  I had then received news that my mother’s sister was in a coma.  She died the day after I returned home.  It is a surreal experience to make such a trip under the cloud of grief.  The expectation, of course, is that you are on vacation, but the reality could not be more distant.  There is no means to make the buses or the planes go faster, and anxiety increases with each mile passed.  In Atlanta the immigration officer asked us his standard series of questions.  “So, you’re taking a vacation?”  “Actually,” I hesitantly responded, “we’re here for a funeral.”  His face fell, he sincerely expressed his sorrow, stamped our documents, and let us through quickly.  It was a powerfully transcendent moment of connection where our common humanity was honored.

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Life is so precious and yet so fragile. We attach ourselves so thoroughly to those we love.  Millie, her mother; Laura and Jane, her two sisters; Michael, her brother; Rob, her husband; Robert, Andrew, and Daniel, her three sons ages 20, 18, and 15; her close friends and family, are forever attached to Nancy.  So intensely beautiful, while at the same moment so intensely sad.  Laura and I feel so fortunate to have decided to take our quick trip in late June.  We saw Nancy and her family.  It was one of the principal reasons we made the trip and the reasons why we couldn’t manage to see all of our family and friends.  But we spent quality time with Nancy, something we will always cherish.

My personal faith has always been premised on the inner feeling that so much love present within me, and my trust of its presence within others, could not possibly be limited to the brevity of physical life. That accounts for the sense of the surreal in our rushed trip to Atlanta.  We’re back now.  Nancy and her family were much better off than most of us and they enjoyed comforts that few of us do.  It’s impossible not to consider the extreme difference of what life is like there as compared to here.  That is also quite a challenge for me, and an added dimension to the surreal quality.  Without making judgment, it’s always jarring.

Yet, I have to say that this time I was struck with how superficial the differences really are.  Our friends here, upon learning of the loss of Laura’s sister, offered the same condolences.  The connection to our humanity, the knowledge of vulnerability, is the same here as anywhere.  There is so much more that unites us than differentiates us.  It is truly sad that we so seldom live with a sense of our common humanity.

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September 15 is the commemoration of Honduran independence. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are all parade days here in La Esperanza.  On Saturday, all the kindergarten kids march.  On Sunday, all the escuela children (1st – 6th grade), and on Monday, the actual day of independence, the older colegio teens (7th – 9th grade).  They all dress in band uniforms, a military look.  It seems every child in town is given the chance to march.  Walking around the town along the parade route, all of the families wait in anticipation for their son or daughter to pass.  When they do, they beam with joy.  Cell phones are raised over the heads of the crowd to get a snapshot.  I imagine if the family has a little extra money, they get that picture printed and post it to their wall.  The pride and joy seem to flow from one family to the next.  Though the context and the cultural expression are so different, the feel for what is truly important never changes.  How precious.

Life is a gift. Love is its honor.

A La Frontera

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One of our friends just emailed us, slightly concerned because I have been remiss in updating the blog.  I have been aware of this and feeling somewhat guilty.  I can assure you that we are both fine.  I do have to say that it has been a challenging month for me while recuperating and healing after my fall.  Everything we had read on the web informed us that healing from broken ribs takes from 4 – 6 weeks.  Still, those for whom it applies don’t want to imagine that ‘they’ must have said that so as to avoid giving anyone false hope, and in reality healing must take a much shorter course.  For me, however, celebrating four weeks today, webmd.com seems to be right on the money.  I am at the eighty-five percent phase and suspect that I will take the full six weeks.  Last week I was able to get to work every day, but mostly I left early.  I would like to say that I was either in too much pain or too tired to write the blog, but that would be misleading.  I have been doing a lot of reading and downloading movies, so sometime after the severe pain from the first week and a half lessened, I certainly could have written.  In fact, mostly staying at home, I had very little inspiration.  You would think with all the time in recent years that I have spent in recovery of some sort, that I would have become rather good at it.  But I am a lousy patient, tremendously self-centered and needy, most certainly driving Laura crazy.  The four walls have simply not become my bosom friends.  I needed an adventure.

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So we took one this last weekend.  We really wanted to get more of a feel for the rural department of Intibucá.  We had recently made a contact with a young woman working for a health and education NGO, Hombro a Hombro / Shoulder to Shoulder, in the southern section of Intibucá.  She had given us a general invitation to come down and visit.  We sort of forced a long weekend out of last weekend and took her up on her offer.  It is, after all, Labor Day, and all of you are enjoying picnics as I write this.  My birthday is coming up this week, and Honduras is entering its independence month.  We had plenty of reasons, and excuses, to treat ourselves to a mini-holiday.  We have seen some of the North, East, and West of Intibucá, but we had not experienced the South.  It’s called La Frontera (the frontier) partly because it extends to the border of El Salvador and partly because it is unimaginably rural.  The trip all the way to the “municipality” (truly an overstatement) of Santa Lucia is about 40 kilometers or 24 miles.  It took four hours by bus with very few stops as there is little to stop for.  It’s almost entirely an unpaved journey which at various points appears more like a river bed than a road.  In that forty kilometers we dropped about 5000 feet (gratefully not all at once, but at times that seemed a little too likely).  Ah, but such incredible beauty!

There were vistas, unadorned, uncelebrated, and uncommercialized, that challenged the majesty of the Grand Canyon.  There is a sense of purity to the geography and the people who live here that witness a sacredness that we felt privileged to experience.  Santa Lucia and the two other towns we visited, Concepción and Camasca, are built into the hilly landscape.  The houses and the few small businesses are knitted closely together, either because of the challenging topography or the social need to huddle securely together, or both.  The small in-town roads are all cobblestoned, and quickly end a few hundred yards from the central square.  The bright colors and intricate designs of the buildings, reminiscent of the ginger bread houses of Martha’s Vineyard, betray the pride of the people.  The people themselves are sincerely amicable and literally go out of their way to welcome you.  So pastorally idyllic, it would be easy to forget the hardship of what it means to live there.

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But it would be truly arrogant not to notice.  Outside of the quaint towns and beyond the breathtaking vistas, people live in some of the most extreme poverty that exists in our world.  Lack of clean water supplies, lack of adequate nutrition, no electricity, exposure to extreme heat and torrential rains, no access to medical care, little or no education, and a host of other unmet basic needs mean that life is a constant battle for survival.  That is of course why Shoulder to Shoulder is there.  We were impressed with the little we saw of dedicated service.  They have a large staff of doctors, nurses, nurses aides, health promoters, and teachers.  Unlike other NGOs, they have only one non-Honduran employee on the ground in Honduras.  They are committed to sustainability and empowerment in a very visceral way.  They care about the people they serve.  For some families it could be as long as ten hours to the nearest hospital.  The clinic, gratefully, can be reached in one or two hours.  As awed as we were by the beauty and privilege of visiting the place and the people, we were spiritually moved by the service.  Would not our world truly reflect the inner beauty of our humanity if we took greater consciousness of caring?

It was good to arrive back in La Esperanza:  civilization and coolness.  We hope that we also can reflect the same generosity of Spirit that we encountered on our journey through the frontier.

Gratitude

 

Maestro en Casa's first greenhouse.

Maestro en Casa’s first greenhouse.

For most all of my life, I have been accused, unjustly I have held, by friend and foe alike of being accident prone.  I have vigorously defended myself against such characterization, always believing that I maintained the high ground.

“How was I to have known that the huge tree limb that I was sawing off from our roof would fall unto my leg?”

“It seemed to me that the seat back would support my weight as I decorated the altar.”

“It never occurred to me that stepping onto the icy, make-shift ramp over the stairwell with rubber soled shoes was not a good idea.”

My excuses seemed reasonable enough to me.  But over the years, the evidence of broken bones and other injuries have seemed to mount against my reasoned protests.  To risk the use of trite metaphor, I have lost my leg to stand on.  This past Monday, I, along with a teacher from our program, the maintenance man/gardener/watchman, and a student, were working together on the construction of the second greenhouse for Maestro en Casa.  This has become more imperative given our present fiscal crisis.  We were placing the upper crosspieces, attaching them to the pylons that had earlier been cemented into the earth.  The crosspieces were placed at about fourteen feet from ground level.  Our borrowed tools included two metal step ladders:  one about ten feet high, and the other about seven.  As I am almost always taller than any Hondurans in my company, I was assigned to the seven foot step ladder.  It was very rickety and the ground was very uneven.  Still I, with the sense of immortality generally associated with children and teen agers, proudly stood on the top step so as to easily reach the height I needed to achieve.  I did well through the morning.  By the afternoon, however, the ladder had seemingly become even less secure.  In a fateful moment it tilted a little too far to the left and I was at a loss to compensate.  As always is the case, it all happened in slow motion, and I came crashing down on top of the ladder on my left torso.  Long story short, I broke at least one of my ribs, possibly more.

Site of the 2nd greenhouse (to the left of the first one)

Site of the 2nd greenhouse (to the left of the first one)

This has been very painful.  I haven’t been back to work since, save for teaching Friday’s second socioeconomics class.  I was barely able to make it through that.  Otherwise, I have just been sitting around and catching up on some reading, and it has given me a little space for some reflection.  I know that this is going to sound like I am begging your admiration and praise, but I do consider myself very lucky.  I have some Percocet that we had brought down with us when we first came.   We also have some ibuprofen that seems to be working well.  Even if we didn’t have these drugs with us, I would be able to walk into any pharmacy here and buy them, relatively cheaply and without a prescription.  I’m also not at risk for losing my job even as I am going to need some extended time off.  It would, however, seem rather inane to fire someone who doesn’t have a salary.  I am in a position where I can afford this.  The only thing about this that is irritating is the discomfort of my pain and my impatience for rest and healing.  After three or four weeks my life will return to normal and I will little remember my inconvenience.  The only scar that will remain will be that I will have to admit, still rather reluctantly, that I am indeed accident prone.

But most Hondurans here are not so lucky.  An accident similar to the one I’ve just experienced would be a life changing one.  The Honduran would likely attempt to go back to work, not having the type of security that I’ve grown accustomed to.  Going back to work in such a condition would likely cause him more severe medical problems.  Eventually, he would lose his employment anyway.  Though the drugs would be as readily available to him as they are to me, they are only relatively inexpensive.  He would probably not be able to afford them.  There is no such thing as workman’s compensation.  There is no disability, no safety net.  My accident has become a challenge to my comfort and an assault to my ego.  His would become a challenge to his survival.

Some of our friends ask Laura and me if we feel safe here.  Isn’t there a lot of crime?  Isn’t there a lot of drug traffic?  Are you worried you might be assaulted or kidnapped?  Aren’t the people desperate?  It is a different world here, and in some ways we have to be a little more vigilant than we normally would be in the States.  But recognizing just how tenuous life is here, realizing that the line between managing from day to day and struggling for survival is measured by the insignificance of one, rickety ladder, I am always surprised by how orderly this society actually is.  People manage to smile, manage to laugh, and always figure out a way to care for those less fortunate.  They have always been nothing other than kind to us.  My accident has made it abundantly clear to me that I do not have to live, and don’t live, in the daily peril that most Hondurans do.  I am fairly certain that if I did have to live as they do, I wouldn’t smile as frequently, nor laugh, nor be as kind to those less fortunate.  Most definitely, I would not be as kind to people like me.  So, in the end, how could I be anything other than justly grateful?

Harrowing Passages

Laura and I had a taste of what our teachers experience on a weekly basis traveling out to the remote villages and towns to offer classes to seventh, eight, and ninth graders.  We normally wouldn’t have that opportunity as, with the teachers gone, we’ve been staffing the office on those days.  But the State Department of Education has mandated that we have photos on file of all our students.  We went out on Tuesday and Wednesday as official photographers of Maestro en Casa.  Tuesday’s journey brought us to Jesús de Otoro, a relatively large town just off the main highway that, like La Esperanza, serves as a commercial center in support of the smaller aldeas in the surrounding hills.  It only took us about an hour in the car.  It would be a little less for the teachers, who would generally travel by motorcycle.  It was a pleasant trip and we had the fortune of meeting more of our students.

 

Memorial Cross on the way up to San Isidro.

Memorial Cross on the way up to San Isidro.

Wednesday’s trip was something altogether different.  San Isidro is an extremely small, poor, and isolated village.  To get there, we had to come all the way down the mountain from La Esperanza into the valley of Otoro.  Then, we went back up again, probably two-thirds of the way, along an unpaved, rutted and washed out road.  We traveled a good two hours (again less time on a motorcycle) into the wilderness, treacherous inclines and declines, at an average of about ten to twelve miles an hour.  The few people that live there, do so in order to harvest the coffee.  You can’t make much of a living harvesting coffee, and the people basically live off of the beans and corn they grow, completely cut off from the rest of the world.  It was an absolutely breathtaking experience and one I doubt we’ll ever have again unless I can get Laura on the back of a motorcycle.  Not likely.  The four wheel drive vehicle we were in is old, held together by prayer and duct tape, and we would seldom take it on such a trip.  As most vehicles in Honduras, it was reconditioned from an automatic to a standard transmission.  Sitting in the front sit, I could feel tremendous heat coming from the stick shift as it struggled up the steep rises.  On the way back we stopped briefly at the site of a memorial cross marking the spot where a bus with twenty plus people lost its brakes and plummeted down four to five hundred meters into a canyon.  As we started back out, our driver, Arturo, stopped immediately, pumping the brakes vigorously.  The heat from the transmission had thinned out the viscosity of the brake fluid, almost causing the brakes to fail.  After a few minutes, the pressure returned, and we drove on without further difficulty.  I did, however, wonder whether there would be room on the memorial plaque to add our names.

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More than anything else, the two days of travel gave Laura and I a deep appreciation for the commitment of our teachers.  They don’t get paid a lot.  At least three of them do not have electricity in their home, and, like many Hondurans, at least one has a home with a dirt floor.  It is clear that they work at Maestro en Casa because they need jobs.  But, it is equally clear that they fervently believe in the value of what they do.  As so often is the case in the thankless job of education, here and in the States, they do what they do because they have hope in their students.

Money is very tight right now.  I’m told that this is not an uncommon event for Maestro en Casa at this time of the year.  The school year will go to November.  At that time we’ll have an influx of registration and an infusion, albeit modest, of income from tuition.  As we are yet a ways off from November, we’ll knock on wood and rely on the kindness of supporters and foundations.  Hopefully, we’ll squeeze by as I’m told we have in the past.  But, we are living from hand to mouth, a very sobering feeling.  I jokingly told one of our administrators here that Laura and I would be happy to give up our salary.  It’s easy to be generous when the donation is zero.

Laura with students outside classroom in San Isidro.

Laura with students outside classroom in San Isidro.

Almost four-hundred students, and our yearly budget is about $40,000.  You can do the math, but even in Honduras, the per-capita cost is incredibly low.  We’re a no frills education program, and the lion’s share of our income directly serves the educational needs of our students.  Maybe a quarter of our operating budget comes from student’s tuition.  Another half comes from a small amount of rental income, private donations, and foundational grants.  That leaves us with about one-quarter, about ten-thousand dollars, that we are short.  If you’ve read the website, you know that we have a greenhouse where we produce tomatoes.  A second greenhouse is in the process of being built, but presently the construction is on hold as we look for funding to complete it.  The hope is that the revenue the greenhouse will generate will meet that $10,000 short-fall and Maestro en Casa will become virtually self-sufficient.  There is good reason to hope that this will be the case as the greenhouse, after only its first season, is beginning to produce fruit (pardon the pun).  Still, we are not there yet.  We continue to confront the day to day struggle of meeting expenses while holding onto the long-term vision of creating a sustainable, regular source of income.

San Isidro

San Isidro

Laura has been working on applying for foundational grants, both to meet our annual budget and for the greenhouse.  This is encouraging and hopeful, but the results will not be immediate.  We are also reaching out into the community here to make more contacts.  There are some leads that indicate we may be able to rent some of our unused space.  We also might offer computer classes and/or English classes on a fee basis to interested parties in the larger community.  That could help a lot, but it is very unlikely that it will completely fill the gap.

The people who read this blog, our family and friends, have been incredibly generous to Laura and I personally, and to the first program we were involved with in Honduras.  Since coming to Maestro en Casa in La Esperanza, I have not asked for any money.  Given your great generosity, it didn’t seem appropriate.  But necessity is always humbling.  And here and now, we feel great need.  Anything you can give will be of tremendous value.

On line, you should go to http://lencaeducation.org/support-us/.  That will bring you directly to the page that you need to be on to make a donation.  If you simply go to the web site, click on the tab “support us” that appears on the top of the page on the far right.  Do not choose any of the five drop down menu items on this tab as you will end up on an entirely different page.  Instead simply click on the tab heading, “Support Us”, and that will bring you to the correct page.

I hope you’ll see the tremendous value of your donation.  My expressions of gratitude for your unselfish generosity are insufficient.  I am confident that you will shame me once again.