Poverty and Paradise

Our recent trip home was very brief, but very enjoyable.  It was just a little over a week, but most of it was taken up with Emma and Kay’s “one-year anniversary and public wedding ceremony” among friends and family.  Laura and I have taken to staying at houses we find via airbnb.com (the internet version of Bed and Breakfasts).  We stayed in West Springfield with a young man who runs a hostel for travelers in the Andean mountains of Peru.  He was very interesting.  In fact he was returning to Peru the day after we would leave to return to Honduras.  It was a little strange staying in an apartment where all the belongings were being packed up, but it is a hundred times better than staying in a hotel.  With just a week, we didn’t see all our family and friends, but it was good to reconnect with the many we did see.

Emma and Kay at wedding celebration.

Kay and Emma at their wedding celebration.

Emma and Kay’s celebration was an absolute joy.  We met Kay’s parents for the first time, plus many more of Emma and Kay’s friends, and re-connected with relatives and friends whom we hadn’t seen for a very long time.  We stayed until very late, actually the early hours of the next morning.  The bartender and many from the wait staff had left, but the DJ graciously hung around until we were all out the door.  The next day we met up with Emma and Kay again at the Clarion Hotel in Windsor Locks, CT.  We spent the night there in order to get up early the next morning for our return flight to Honduras.

We were a little bit nervous about showing Emma and Kay around Honduras.  After all, the places we frequent, as well as our two homes in La Esperanza and Concepcion, are not exactly tourist spots.  We subjected them to long and arduous bus rides over unpaved roads for four days.  Concepcion was dreadfully hot, to the point where it was uncomfortable even to move.  But they saw our haunts, met many of the people we’ve come to know so well, and witnessed our pride in giving them hospitality.  They saw Honduras for what it really is, its subtle charm and beauty hidden beneath a shadow of extreme poverty.  Then after four days, we dropped them off at the airport in San Pedro Sula from where they would fly to the island of Roatan.  This would be their real Honeymoon vacation, a tropical island where they would be waited upon and spoken to in unfaltering English.  We felt good that they would have some time to relax and enjoy the deep blue of the Caribbean.  Paradise at last!

Emma and Kay enjoying the outdoors.

Kay and Emma enjoying the outdoors.

But after their return home, Emma was speaking with Laura on the phone.  She told her mother that they had enjoyed their entire trip, but they had enjoyed their time with us much more than their time in Roatan.  Emma said that after having experienced the ‘real’ Honduras, the comfort and pampering they received in Roatan almost seemed disingenuous.  The thin veil of luxury did not so well conceal the poverty beneath.  In any case, they preferred the Honduras we have come to love:  a genuine people whose poverty is from a lack of possessions, but not a lack of character or integrity.  It does make you wonder, however, where one can find paradise.

Laura and I were simply thrilled to have the opportunity to show Emma and Kay around.  We love taking the role of hosts, showing our guests the beauty we have found among our humble surroundings.  We often take volunteers and visitors into our homes, for a dinner or an overnight.  As I write this, we will be hosting two young Hondurans this week from Tegucigalpa who will be making a documentary for our bilingual school on the Frontera.  Meeting new people, sharing our life and our world, could there be anything more joyful?

Arturo and Paul talking on trip to San Isidro.

Arturo and Paul talking on trip to San Isidro.

But everything is not always joyful.  We are sometimes reminded that life in Honduras can be dangerous as well.  For me, the scorpions and tarantulas are enough of a reminder of this.  But even they are only comical allusions to some of the more serious danger.  The week after we hosted Emma and Kay, we returned to Esperanza on a Friday afternoon.  One of our friends from Maestro en Casa where we had first volunteered in La Esperanza had left us a message on Facebook.  One of the teachers, Arturo, a gifted, intelligent man with whom we had become good friends, had died.  This seemed impossible to us.  He was young, only 33, and very healthy.  He had a young family.  How could this be?  We had a difficult time accepting it.  It was the result of a car accident.  Along the very road where Laura and I had walked for seven months to get back and forth to the school, there is a small bridge over a culvert.  It is only a small brook, but during the rainy season the culvert was always getting clogged up, and the little brook would flood over the road.  A few weeks ago, walking along the road, Laura and I realized that they had finally fixed it by reconstructing the bridge.  Still, there were no guardrails along the bridge (Honduras would never consider the need for guardrails), and the road itself narrowed there at a sharp turn.  I recall thinking at the time that it was even more dangerous after the repairs than it was before them.  It was there, we were told, that our friend Arturo lost control of his vehicle.  It isn’t entirely clear what happened.  Perhaps the car flipped over into the shallow, but swampy, water.  Perhaps, he hit his head and fell unconscious.  But just like that, he was gone.  Life is fragile.

Arturo and Paola at Maestro en Casa Graduation 2014.

Arturo and Paola at Maestro en Casa Graduation 2014.

Life is precious.  We are grateful for having known this man.  We are grateful for having met wonderful people here in Honduras.  We are grateful for uncovering the richness and beauty of this amazing country, so poorly hidden beneath the flimsy veil of poverty.  I think, perhaps, we have seen paradise, as fleeting as it is, when we have really searched it out.