Since coming here in September, Laura and I have had very little contact and engagement with persons from the US. That’s not entirely true as Kristen, our director, and other long-term volunteers, are from the States. Still, they live here, and this makes a big difference in how they engage with us and with Hondurans. In this past week plus, however, it seems that we have been inundated with US visitors. In many ways this has been a tremendous blessing to us personally. We have been able to have long and deep conversations in English with people who share in basic underpinnings of our culture. But at other times, I’ve noticed just how out of place these people can be. It has caused me to reflect on what it means to be a foreigner. What does it mean to tread upon another’s soil?
Thirteen undergraduate students, a grad student, and their engineering professor from OSU were at Montaña de Luz last week. They had projects to complete for which we are indeed grateful. We now have a wind turbine that generates sufficient electricity to light three outside light bulbs. It has capacity to provide even more energy that we will eventually use. This is important as electricity is incredibly expensive here. They worked on purifying our water supply. This was probably successful, but we still have to do some more tests. This too will be of great benefit as we now spend about $25 per week to purchase drinkable water. They also built a model hydroponic unit growing fish and plants in an eco-sustainable system. The science is way beyond me, but it’s cool, none-the-less. Though the projects were of value, they were here for such a short period of time. It’s hard to imagine what impact Honduras and Montaña de Luz had on them, or what impact they had on us. Even as the environmentally enmeshed plants and fish will grow, they did not have time enough to swim, root or sprout.
They left Sunday. Laura and I left Saturday on a long bus trip north to the city of El Progreso. A brief three day vacation, we managed to visit some friends. Acquaintances that we have both known were on a week-long medical brigade. On Sunday, we toured the city with them. They, having made this trip for many years, were more familiar than us with the city. Oddly enough we found ourselves in the midst of a large motorcycle race through the cordoned off streets. I couldn’t help but think how we stuck out: eleven exceptionally white people walking through city streets turned into a motorcycle race track. With everyone cheering and rooting on the events, we were all but oblivious save to avoid getting run over. The night before we had dinner with someone who had been a long-term volunteer at Montaña, and now works raising money for a youth empowerment non-profit in El Progreso. On Monday, we visited an amazing young man, Shin Fujiyama, and the program he founded, Students Helping Honduras. He brings thousands of college students down to Honduras on week-long service trips every year. They build schools and assist in the continuing construction at a complex with an orphanage, a private school, and 44 families that have been relocated from a desperately poor shanty town. Shin’s passion and inexhaustible energy has built something of profound value: a place where lives have been transformed. But the presence of gangs and desperation has brought theft and violence. Shin reluctantly enlisted the service of the military to halt the ambushing of supplies and insure security. They have also forayed into the community to arrest gang members, drug users, and dealers. Unfortunately, some of the families blame Shin when their sons get arrested and he has received death threats. An unintended consequence, the foil of poverty, that no good deed should go unpunished.
We were picked up to visit Shin and his program in a large rented school bus. Initially, it was just us and two staff in the school bus. But we went to another hotel where a group of 75 students from Clemson University awaited us. We actually waited for a larger bus to come as ours drove off to pick up a smaller group of students from Maryland University at another location. We drove off with the Clemson students, packed like sardines and blasting unintelligible rap music through the bus’s stereo system. Even though all these kids spoke English and presumably were my cultural kin, I have yet to feel greater culture shock than in those fifteen minutes on a packed yellow school bus. I also noticed that none of them seemed to be looking out the window. I remember thinking that all of these kids are having an unparalleled, life experience, but I also wondered how many of them would truly recognize its beauty.
At the hotel, there was also a group of missioners from the US. One morning they were all outside next to their van. They must have been preparing to evangelize somewhere (or maybe simply build something) as they were all gathered together in prayer. They praised God vociferously. About fifteen yards away from them a street person, somewhat obscured behind the hotel’s gate, stood rummaging through a trash barrel. Call me cynical, but the fact that they didn’t notice him didn’t surprise me in the least. That, I considered typical. What surprised me and even caused me to tremble was that he paid them no attention. He couldn’t help but hear them and see them. They were that audacious. But for him they were of no consequence whatsoever. That is a sobering reality.
When I was pastor at Holy Family in Springfield I ran across an anonymous quote. I was so moved by the quote that I painted it on our sacristy wall. It was later painted over by someone who found it and my pastoral philosophy unattractive. I can’t recall the exact words and have not been able to find it on the internet. Forgive my paraphrase. “Whenever you enter upon another person’s culture, the first thing you should do is take off your shoes, because the ground upon which you walk is sacred.”