Sunday, June 08, 2008

Where do I begin?

I have so much to say about Honduras! First of all, I should say that I am back, for those of you who were worried. I thought maybe I should give day-by-day highlights to recap the trip. But then I thought, when we have a story to tell don't we always say, "Where do I begin?" So I will give place-by-place highlights instead.

Estancia Dona Maria
This was our B&B and in fact was chronologically my first post-airport San Pedro Sula sight, besides the many Pizza Huts along the way. (No red roofs, though, just regular buildings and the modern logo.) Our lodgings were nice, with two to four team members to a room; I shared with the two twenty-something girls. The main thing that made it stand out from the surrounding neighborhood were the brightly painted colors and well-cared-for plants that gave it a quite tropical look. Like everything else in the surrounding 'hood, it had a locked gate, which they opened for us when we came and went. San Pedro Sula is not what anyone would call a safe city. (More on that later.) But I swear slapping a fresh coat of paint on the place would give visitors a whole other impression. Anyway, if you ever visit San Pedro Sula (which, somehow, I doubt) then definitely stay at this place! We gathered on the front porch each morning and evening before meals and it was quite lovely to lounge around there. Bonus: the occasional lizard scampering about the wall. Yay for lizards! (They eat bugs.)

The Work Site
We were there to build a house, and build we did. Now of course a Global Village team is rarely if ever going to be able to see an entire house go from start to finish in their limited time there; rather, the job is to significantly advance the work for the mason and laborers (and family members who will live there, who are required by Habitat for Humanity to put in a certain amount of "sweat equity") with our volunteer efforts. This house was more on the "start" side. The foundation was there and we started laying concrete block. I will never look at mortar the same way again, as one of the Canadian team members pointed out on the next-to-last day when we walked by a random wheelbarrow and trowel on the sidewalk near our hotel.

We built on a lot that probably once had some other house on it but was now vacant. I would definitely characterize it as a Poor Neighborhood. Then again, Honduras is so poverty stricken it was hard to find a Rich Neighborhood, although we did get to drive through one on our last night there. THAT was funny, because our van driver (hired by Habitat to take us around all week) basically told the security people at the gated neighborhood entry, "I want to show these Americans the houses" and they let us drive in to do so. (Sorry, Canadian team members - when it comes time to throw weight around it's all stars and bars, not maple leaves.) But back to the more common Honduran neighborhood where we spent the majority of our time: we also spent a lot of time in the yard of the house behind this new one, the neighbor, who graciously allowed us to squat for a week and a half in her yard, piling blocks, eating lunch, and so on. This neighboring household also included lots of chickens, a dog, a cat, and the cutest two-year-old girl ever who was delighted to have so much attention and won't know what to do with herself when we don't come back to her on Monday morning!

The Van
I love group bonding. Nothing like piling a dozen folks into a big white van every day to toddle around to the work site and back. And there's even less than nothing like piling those folks into the van on the "R&R" weekend to drive three hours from San Pedro Sula to Copan to see the Mayan ruins. Listening to the team leader's iPod the whole way. Which consisted largely of country music. Which delighted exactly three people: him, me, and our token southern girl. Of course, when Johnny Cash came on everyone was delighted; he has that effect on people. Him and "The Gambler" - who doesn't love "The Gambler"? I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say that might be the single greatest song ever written. Well, there were many, many stories told on that trip, but I rather think some of my team members might want to abide by the "what happens in The Van stays in The Van" policy.

Those Mayan Ruins
I liked them! It was so green there! Somehow I always pictured Mayan ruins as being in a vast brown expanse. Even though I was well aware that I was in a country of mountains, rainforest, jungle, and the like, I was still somehow surprised by the greenness of it all. The Copan Ruinas were beautifully situated and if I were a Mayan I would have lived there, too. Also, there were macaws, which are big and red and beautiful and flew really close to us and then just kind of hung out in branches over our heads squawking.

We saw statues of kings, the multi-step tiered type structures, very old Ceiba trees with giant roots, the ball court where you might be sacrificed at the end of the match (giving whole new meaning to "take one for the team"), and even Mayan plumbing: a toilet and kind of "drainpipe" carved into the stone. Actually, I shouldn't emphasize the human sacrifice, although I kept joking that the purpose of our trip was to sacrifice a Canadian. As our tour guide explained, they really did see it as an honor to die for their civilization, which is really just like our U.S. army soldiers do when they go fight a pointless war. Or like our politicians say our soldiers do, I should say. Plus the Mayans invented zero and did other smart things. Have you ever invented something as significant as zero? I sure haven't.

This was the other place we rested and recreated, on the north (Caribbean) coast. It was cloudy on Sunday so we basically had the beach to ourselves. Two of us swam (me and a Canadian), several of us lounged in hammocks, we stretched out on towels or lazed around under a little thatched roof thing, and they cooked us really freshly caught fish for lunch, serving up the whole thing on a plate from head to tail, which we then had to fillet ourselves. I should point out here that I was FAR from vegetarian this entire trip. Being volunteers, in a poor country, with a non-profit hosting us, being a diva is not allowed. That coupled with my complete avoidance of any raw fruit or vegetable (I didn't get the hepatitis vaccine) meant I ate anything and everything that was cooked and placed in front of me. Even a fish who stared up at me from the plate. I was most fascinated by the eyeball (which I prodded a bit, much to the dismay of my teammates) and the teeth. Have you ever had a fish served to you like that? It totally has teeth. Tons of tiny, sharp teeth. I touched them.

The other main thing that happened on the beach is that a Garifuna girl happened by and braided my hair for the price of fifty lempiras (around three dollars - though I gave her twice that). I like my braids, which basically lasted the week but are on their last strands now. Then we drove through the Garifuna village, even poorer than the Poor Neighborhood in which we build, and kind of thought our van driver was going to drive us into a lagoon at one point, and then returned to San Pedro Sula where our B&B owner made us lobster for dinner. Yes -I even ate fresh lobster. I ate every kind of meat on the planet, I think, down there. I was so not in charge of my food choices. (When I was talking about that with Brian today he said, "Even veal?" and I laughed. Thankfully, no. They're way too poor down there to have veal.)

Stadio Olimpico
I'm not really sure why it's called Olympic Stadium, but we had the immense privilege one evening of seeing the Honduran national soccer (futbol!) team play against Puerto Rico in a World Cup qualifying game ("Adelante seleccion!") which was terribly exciting. We all even got jerseys to wear, so we were like the most spirited gringos ever. I really dug the whole experience, from the riot gear police who kept their backs to the crowd the whole time as they watched the game to the nine-year-old kids hustling you to buy beer, snacks, and gum (for which they took your order and which they then fetched and brought back -- I could really get used to not having to get up to buy beer at the game! ever!) The bad thing was the rain; the field was so wet the start was delayed thirty-five minutes while officials fretted, but even though it kept raining they played anyway. It was such an important game. So the players sloshed around the field and within minutes they were all muddy and soaked, and the ball, like, never rolled out of bounds because it just stopped half the time after someone kicked it. We had to slosh through puddles of water on the way in from the parking lot, too, and by the way my Skechers are awesome because that stuff was ankle-deep and my socks didn't get wet. GO, Skechers! And go Honduras, who won 4-0.

Hogar de Amor y Vida
Towards the end of our trip we left the work site early one day to go donate school supplies and toys we had brought to a home/orphanage for children with HIV and/or AIDS. That place is awesome. The land, labor to construct it, and so on have been donated and it relies on donations still, but I have rarely been so impressed by anything I have seen, ever. There are almost forty children living there, and their ages range from 2-19. They live in immaculate shared rooms with bunkbeds, divided by gender and age group, where weekly chore lists are posted. There are displays in the hallways featuring the rights of each child, duties, and values to live by such as integrity, respect, honesty. These kids really are one another's family, most of their parents being either dead or in some cases having given them up, unable to deal with the problem of raising an HIV-positive child (whether emotionally or for lack of health care or both).

But the thing about it is that after our tour we busted out the toys we'd brought and played some baseball, jacks, jump rope, water books and pencils and things. These kids shared and took turns like no kids I have ever seen. Ever. I gravitated toward the baseball crew, so our team leader, Michael, and I were pitching to a couple boys who took turns batting. Then the adolescent deaf girl was standing around watching and Michael and I motioned for her to come over, and the boys included her in their "line-up" so seamlessly my jaw dropped. I saw it time and again with each toy and each group of children I observed. This place is really teaching them to be respectful of one another and raising them well, and we were all very moved. It was sad when the kids asked us not to leave; they were so happy to have people at their beck and call to play with them. The woman who started this place is amazing. They even have a building where you can stay if you want to go volunteer there if you're ever in San Pedro Sula (have I mentioned I doubt this?) and if you are interested in donating monetarily let me know and I will hook you up. I can't think of a better place I have ever seen ever. "Be the change you wish to see in the world," indeed.

El Salvador
I had a seven-hour layover on the way there and I became REALLY familiar with the international connections part of the San Salvador airport. I think I witnessed the sunglasses stand woman's entire shift. (And I did buy a much-needed cheap pair of sunglasses.) I ate two meals, discovered a favorite bathroom, and memorized some of the ads that were on a continuous loop on the televisions. On the way home, yesterday, I had only a forty-minute layover and I was almost disappointed. It felt SO familiar when I got there, that I felt like I was already home. I was also all kinds of glad to get out of the San Pedro Sula airport - yuck. Hard chairs, hard tile floor, nary a restaurant past security, tiny, yuck. If you ever go to San Pedro Sula (ahem) I pity you if you are taken to the airport three hours before your flight, as I was.

OK, so that's setting. I'll post again later about some of the characters of my trip. There were plenty of characters all right. We'll save theme for last.

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