31 January 2009

Honduras, Day 8: Tegucigalpa

Friday 6 June

We left Villa Gracia midmorning for our last mission-related stop: a visit to an organization that receives funding from our presbytery. The Proyecto altenative in downtown Tegucigalpa started as an outreach to marketplace kids* to help get them in school (education is not mandatory, and tuition and fees are high) and keep them off glue.* The Proyecto has expanded to include preschool education, secondary school scholarships, health care, and job-training for parents.

(R)The Proyecto Alternativo facility

The preschool classroom

A primary school client.
His mom brought him for a doctor's appointment.

Proyecto staff members. The woman center is the Director. The young woman seated at right came to the program as a child and received assistance from primary school through high school, and became one of the first to receive a scholarship to a colegio (post-secondary, like a junior college here) . Upon graduation she returned to the Proyecto as a staff member.

* for more info on "marketplace children" and "street children" in Honduras, link here

for info on glue boys link here http://gvnet.com/streetchildren/Honduras.htm

In San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa we saw ragged boys sucking on plastic juice bottles containing a couple of inches of amber sludge. They hold the rim of the bottle in their teeth to keep the opening directly under the nose. They wander through traffic begging or selling trinkets. I know that crack and meth addiction are no less devastating here, but this sight tore at my heart. With such a visible token of destruction there is no avoiding the obvious. And these were all kids, all boys -- which leads one to equally grim realizations of where all the girls are.
Glue-sniffing is the drug scourge of Latin American cities. Glue is cheap and kills hunger, making it attractive to starving kids. The glue is so toxic, and these kids so depleted to begin with, that survival is a matter of weeks or months. Entire missions have developed to cope exclusively with reaching the glue boys.
Three times on this trip, Loren and I simultaneously hesitated in our incessant photo-snapping, and then lowered our cameras. Silent agreement that to take a photo was a further violation, an exploitation of this person's misery. The first and last instances were the glue boys. The other was a man passed out in the middle of the mountain road, a victim of market-day binge (market-day is payday). All three times we had that moment of clarity, the moment of decision not to be a tourist. Yet here I am describing the images I could not commit to film.
The whole week was, for me, a delicate balance of conscience: bearing witness to the work of the Co-op and the Proyecto weighed against the inherent voyeurism of mission-tripping. I can better understand my parents' unease in their mission years. They came to feel that they were being asked to inflict US culture on the community rather than address the needs that were mandated by their undertanding of Christianity --feed the hungry, clothe the needy, heal the sick, and teach the love of Christ.
Contrary to popular cynicism, most missionaries are well aware that they bring cultural baggage replete with self-righteous assumptions and prejudices. They are also well aware that they are blind to the specifics of this baggage. They are no more likely to behave like 19th century colonialists than anyone else visiting a poor society. No more likely, though perhaps equally likely.

But no one, no one ever became a missionary to get rich.

30 January 2009

Honduras Day 7 and 8: Villa Gracia

Thursday 5 June
Just about dinner time we arrived back at Villa Gracia outside Tegucigalpa. Luisa had prepared yet another feast. This time we felt at ease enough to insist upon helping in the kitchen. We also had a chance to purchase gifts from the little shop at Villa Gracia: all handcrafted products made by Heifer client organizations.
By now I have regained just enough Spanish to make simple conversation. Tim has pushed me all week to practice, alternating between encouragement and gentle (almost too subtle) correction. He laughed at my "Nicaraguense" pronunciation of some words.
Marcella has finalized our travel arrangements, from Tegucigalpa to ElSalvador by bus (luxury coach, not the rattletrap kind) tomorrow evening; flight out of San Salvador on Saturday morning, to Dallas and then Charlotte. I'm dubious about the bus and the hotel, anxious abouut the thought of the border crossing, but relieved to have a plan in place after so much uncertainty.
The newspapers report that the airport will not reopen to large jets, ever. A military base halfway between here and Siguatepeque will be remodeled as the new international airport for Tegucigalpa, and Toncontin will take only smaller planes.

Newspaper photo of the crash on Friday 31 May at Toncontin.

We were the next flight, the very next flight, due at Toncontin. Not that we were ever in any danger, but it's still sobering.

Friday 6 June, morning

This morning we got to sleep in just a little bit. Of course I couldn't.
So I had a looooong cup of coffee and a stroll-about, chatted with the dog, etc. This is a happy place.

Honduras Day 7: Goodby, La Esperanza

Thursday 5 June
goodbye to La Esperanza.

Today we head back to Tegucigalpa.

Goodbye Maira, a steel magnolia --what is the Honduran equivalent?

Goodbye, purple mountains majesty, seen everyday from our car windows -- our morning and evening blessing...

Goodbye, Lake Chiligatorro, we could all pronounce this by the end of the week...
Goodbye, peanut gallery, may you all become dentists someday...

Goodbye, Comipronil, thank you for inviting us and giving us a chance to give.

Goodbye pulperia-across-from-the-hotel, source of bottled water, ibuprofen and pepto-bismol, as well as snacky-type things.

Honduras Day 6: Quebrada Honda

Wednesday 4 June, afternoon
Susan in the street outside Comipronil office. "You are not taking a picture of me in scrubs!" In addition to the hard work, we had time to hang out a little with Maira and with Christino, the tech trainer for Comipronil. While we worked Don Tim our fearless guide and guardian angel, spent the morning on his cell phone with Heifer's Tegucigalpa office, trying to get our travel nightmare unscrambled. At this point Toncontin airport was still closed, and we didn't know how we'd get home.
After lunch in La Esperanza we headed back up the mountain road one more time, to the church at Quebrada Honda (which I think means "broken water," eg whitewater?) where Comipronil has built what is essentially a public health office on land donated by the church. In the absence of government services the co-op is doing what it can to provide basic health programs like vaccination and prenatal checkups. The building has three rooms and a porch, which is a fourth room --the waiting room.
The first room is a little pulperia, the equivalent of a convenience store. The other two rooms are used for storage or whatever is needed. We did intake in the pulperia, dispensing in room 2, and the third room was the dentist's surgery.
There was no electricity.
Here's the natural light we were working in:

Here's the same room with flash exposure.
Again, low-tech works just fine.