We’ve been pretty busy since we got here, going into the Maestro en Casa school center every day, acquainting ourselves with the operations, students, and staff; settling in. To this point, I have to say, it’s been a very welcoming and affirming experience. We like it here, though we haven’t yet had much time for ourselves. Today was our first free day, albeit totally unexpected. We were suppose to help out with a morning computer class, but after having walked in, there was no electricity. It’s rather difficult to hold a computer class without any electricity, so we walked home and are enjoying some personal time and space. The walk is a little arduous, almost three miles in and then three miles back. It’s uphill both ways. Actually, it’s pretty flat here as the cities lie in a small valley. I don’t much miss the hike up the steep hill to Montaña de Luz. It truly is beautiful here. The clouds often hang on the mountains as we are so high up. There is an abundance of pine trees and fruit trees, and everything is green. When the sun is out, as it was for the first four or five days, the days are warm, but never humid or oppressive. The nights are cool. There is a fresh crispness in the air that reminds me of the Berkshires in late Spring and early Autumn. When the weather is like this, you feel very privileged to live here.
But we’ve had hard rains over the last few days. That’s tested our nerves and our resolve a little. We don’t have a washer or a dryer, so we wash our clothes in the pila (an outside cement pool with a cement washboard attached to its top), then let them dry on the line. Here’s a tip: don’t leave your clothes out on the line during a rainstorm – particularly one that lasts for four days. We both have only about six changes of clothes altogether. When half of our clothes were still wet after three days, some panic started to set in. We’re going to be all right, but for a while it looked like we weren’t going to be able to leave the house. So much is controlled by water in Honduras. We only get running water here every other day and we don’t have an elevated tank. We have to think about things that you would never think about in the States. Can I shave today? Can I flush the toilet? Is there enough water in the pila to do the dishes? The drinking / cooking water we have to buy five gallons at a time. When we do have running water, we have an electric, shower head heater so we can get a hot shower. It doesn’t seem to work, however, if the flow of water is not strong enough. I’ve never had a problem, but I take my shower first. Three times in a row, Laura was without hot water. Thank God she finally got the thing to work, for her sake as well as mine. When there is no running water, we obviously have to fill up the toilet tank manually. The mechanism inside has been working correctly at about the same rate as the electricity and the water. All these things tend to be frustrating and they distract from our otherwise idyllic existence. I have to admit that yesterday, particularly discouraging, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.
The people here are wonderful. They are friendly and welcoming. But at the same time there is both a cautiousness and weariness to them. You can sense this as you pass them on the street. They walk with their heads bowed. Their clothes are worn and faded. Their faces seem to hold a lot of worry. They generally look much older than they actually are. Yesterday Laura and I went to the 7:00 PM vigil mass at one of the two principle churches in the town: Nuestro Señor de Intibucá. The other church is Nuestra Señora de La Esperanza. It’s apparently just around the corner from the one we go to, but we haven’t actually seen it yet. The 7:00 PM Mass should have been the Sunday liturgy, but May 30 is the feast of the Visitation and the Marian feast was somehow more important. The church was packed, at least double what it was when we attended the previous week. Most everyone had flowers clutched into their hands. Those who didn’t have flowers were given flowers by those who had brought extra. In the middle of Mass, everyone processed up to the statue of the Virgin Mary to present their flowers. As a priest, I’ve seen this a thousand times, this seemingly exaggerated, piety on the part of the Latino community. I’ve always respected it, but never really fully understood it. I’ve just chalked it up to not being part of my cultural and religious experience. But there was something else here. I sensed there was a strong message that I needed to hear.
Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker and in my opinion a modern day saint, was often critical of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and its insensitivity to the struggles of the poor. But ironically, she frequently reflected on the peaceful, beauty of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s an opulent place, and many would argue that the outlandish amount of money spent on its construction and upkeep would have better served the needs of the poor in New York City. But Dorothy Day experienced how the poorest of the poor found self-worth and dignity simply by sitting in a pew in the cavernous shrine. To the poor, this space, this refuge was theirs, even if the hierarchy greedily imagined it to be their own. It was their space. That was what I experienced at Nuestro Señor de Intibucá yesterday afternoon. The people were all smiling. They all wore their best clothes. Their heads were held high. There was a sense of pride, belonging, and worth. I realized at that moment that all of my frustration with water, and electricity, and toilets, was but a small taste of what most of these people experience every day of their lives. Their lives are indeed toilsome. While I’m worried about whether my clothes will dry, they’re worried about whether five pounds of beans will last the month. And yet they are so beautiful. And yet they are so beautiful.