Today Laura and I complete two full weeks at Montaña de Luz. You might think that things have been difficult what with our dealings with scorpions and tarantulas, but that has not been the case. Whereas there are a lot of new things to which we need to acclimate ourselves, we are both extremely happy. We are meeting incredible people who have been extremely welcoming. We are a bit overwhelmed as we sometimes find ourselves scratching our heads as to why people do things the way they do, but we are doing our best to maintain an attitude of humility. We are the students and our hosts are the teachers.
Still, some things can be incredibly frustrating. Laura, for instance, is dumbfounded as to why this town has no running water. In Montaña de Luz itself we have running water, but in the town below where Laura and I will live in another two weeks, there is no running water. The people get water the best they can, many walking to the river, miles away, with huge containers to push back on wheel barrels. Why is there no water, you ask? The owner of the well had a rather old and defective pump to draw the water into the town’s water system. The town is only about 12 or 13 years old, since Hurricane Mitch. The owner of the well claims that it needs to be replaced and that he hasn’t gotten paid by the municipality for providing water. The bottom line is that the owner wants about $18-20,000 dollars to restore the service. This basically means about 500 lempira (about $25 US dollars) from each family living in the town. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a lot more than you think. It might mean dinner for a family for a week or maybe more. The families also can’t trust that if they give the money, the owner of the well will keep up with his side of the bargain. So it’s the expense, the lack of trust, and the possibility of corruption that keeps this whole community from getting water. They’ve been without water since April and every day there is yet another promise that the service will be restored. In the meantime, people walk miles upon miles to the river to fill their containers with the brown slime from the river that passes for water. However, I’m pretty sure that Laura will fix the problem if it still exists when we move into town in two weeks.
Last Wednesday we took the van into the little town of Ojo de Agua, about five miles away from us. A little girl, age 9, named Cristal lived in that town with her mother and two older brothers. The girl, her mother, and the two brothers were all familiar to Montaña de Luz. The mother and Cristal are both HIV positive, but her sons are not. A few years back Montaña de Luz was supporting the family by paying for their rent in the town of Nueva Esperanza. The mother and Cristal received emotional and medical support as well through Montaña de Luz. This program was eventually discontinued for a variety of reasons. The mother now has some work that takes her away from her family and pays her very little. She had to move from Nueva Esperanza to Ojo de Agua because she couldn’t afford the rent. The mother is now petitioning Montaña de Luz to take her daughter because she can no longer provide for her daughter’s physical safety in the community, nor can she maintain a sanitary environment conducive to her daughter’s ongoing HIV care. We drove our van as far as we could in the rutted, washed out channel of gravel that substituted for a road. Then we walked another quarter of a mile up a hill among the houses built into the shale rock of the hillside. Although most of the homes looked humble and poor, Cristal’s house was undoubtedly the poorest. The house had three little rooms, without any evidence of a bathroom, a kitchen, or any electricity. Below their home was a brook with very grey water barely streaming down the hill. The assumption was that was where they did their laundry, bathing, and gathered water for drinking, washing, and cooking. Cristal was dressed in a beautiful blue dress, all smiles, knowing exactly why we had come, and on her best behavior to impress us. Cristal spent all her time with Laura and the rest of us talked. The mother pleaded with us to take her child. After a long conversation, the filling out of paperwork, the collecting of documents, everyone, the mother, the brothers, Cristal, and us, drove back to Montaña de Luz. Cristal had her backpack ready; all of her earthly possessions fit into a school-sized backpack! After an hour or two at Montaña de Luz, after the family shared a final meal with Cristal and the children of Montaña de Luz, we drove the family back to Ojo de Agua. Cristal stayed.
We all have mixed feelings about this. Cristal will be safer. Cristal will be healthier. Cristal will have better material supports and her life will be more secure. But is Cristal better off without her mother? Even though her mother and brothers are five miles down the road, she will realistically see very little of them. Cristal’s mother wanted to see Cristal at Montaña de Luz. Cristal herself wanted to come. But what of the emotional burden that will follow Cristal and her mother for the remainder of their lives? Service is not always about doing what is best. It is often only about doing what is possible. And still there are thousands of Cristals for whom even the least will not be possible.