Monday, July 18, 2011

A weekend of being tourists

Saturday morning, we left at 7:00 for a "three hour trip" to Copan.  But first we stopped for fuel and water.  Then we took a side trip to Santa Clara, a village way above the valley where the road is.  It was a road full of very rocky places, several deep ruts/dips and mud in a few spots.  But Fredy managed to get us there in one piece.  The school has been built by donations from several churches.  All of the buildings are brick with Spanish tile roofs and ceramc tile floors.  The windows are screened and open to catch the breeze.  This weas by far the best of the schools we saw in our travels.   It is a bilingual school and two of the girls who were in the Santa Cruz shelter are boarding students here.

After about half an hour - I did not wear a watch this week so time has been relative - we returned to our van and headed back down the mountain road and the highway to Copan.  In several of the villages and towns, speed bumps have been installed to keep people from flying through and endangering lives.  Remember this is a country with no speed limits and people also ignore the double yellow line in the middle of the road.  Speed bumps in a loaded van are not fun, though, and added to the wear and tear of our derriers.

We finally reached Copan about 1:00.  Yes, that is six hours after we left home. ;-)  Our first stop was Macaw Mountain.  This attraction was built by a man from Knoxville who came to Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer and pretty much never left.  All of the macaws, parrots and toucans we saw are birds that have been rescued from poachers.  They come to Macaw Mountain to heal before they are returned to the wild.  Most of us had our pictures taken holding two or three of these beautiful birds.  We would normally have been allowed to walk through the aviaries; however, this is mating season so we had to leave the birds pretty much alone.  Macaws are mate for live and live to be about 80 years old. 

We had lunch here and then headed for our hotel and some shopping.  I confess to having gone a little wild on the latter before heading for the hot tub at the hotel.  After a nap, we had a late dinner in the hotel dining room.  On Sunday, we got up late and ate big breakfasts before heading to the Mayan ruins.  Copan is the last Mayan site built and it is from here that Mayans disappeared completely at the end of the 9th century.  All that was left when the Spanish arrived about seven hundred years later was ruins.  Reconstruction began in 1891 and continues today.  Apparently the site is so rich that they can uncover in two months enough things to study for two years.  Nury told us they are behind in the study part of things and have stopped digging until they catch up.

Our tour guide was named Marvin (!) and was quite knowledgeable about the site and the history of the Mayans.  We had a good time with him.  He told us that bananas and palm trees are not native to Honduras but came from Asia.  I can't imagine Honduras without either of those trees.  We did see some incredibly old capok trees that have survived earthquakes and hurricanes.  One of them looked to be growing out of the hill at a sixty-five degree angle.

We had lunch at a restaurant in town.  The taco soup would have been sufficient since most of us were still digesting breakfast.  It was really very good.  We also had baked chicken, potatoes, carrots and green beans.  Sunday dinner just like Mom used to make!  After a little more shopping - Adam finally found his hammock - we got back onto our van and started back to San Pedro Sula.  The homeward trip only took four and a half hours with one stop to stretch about halfway.  We siad good-bye to Javier, our favorite waiter, and Belinda, the bartender at the pool.   This morning, we will head for the airport and begin our journeys home.  Susie Cox returns to Los Angeles and the rest of us come home to Kingsport by way of three different airports.  We have become a family in this short week.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Last day in th shelters

This morning started off slowly.  Fredy needed to get the tire we blew yesterday replaced.  He ended up getting new tires for both front wheels.  Frankly, given the roads we have been driving, I am surprised flat tires aren't a daily or weekly event.  In any case, it was after ten when we left our hotel.  It did give us a chance to sleep in, though.

We returned to Santa Cruz which is a little more than an hour from here.  The children had just finished their morning school work before heading off to school after lunch.  So we had very little time with them. The older boys went outside to play soccer with Adam Harpster.  Betty, Caitlin and Beth had the girls making note cards - another learning:  never put out more stickers than something needs since the more there are to choose from, the more they will stick on whatever they are making.  The younger boys enjoyed the bean bag toss we brought.  When the children sat down for lunch, we helped serve them, heard them say grace and then Gordon thanked them for letting us come to visit.  We ended by singing the Doxology and then headed for our van.

Baldamar, the leader of the Santa Cruz shelter, took us to see the home of one of the children who comes to the shelter.  It was more than a mile away and the roads were precarious at best and impassable at worst.  We ended up walking the last few blocks because Fredy simply couldn't get the van any farther. 

This house was better than most because it had a concrete floor and a new tin roof, gifts of the congregation to which an Osman Hope board member belongs.  The home is a single room with a blanket hanging down the middle to give a sense of living space and sleeping space.  There is electricity but no plumbing.  The cooking is done outside and there is a kind of lean-to for storage.  The mother sells spices to make a living.  Her market is locals and the children sell the spices by going door to door in the town.  Lately, the economy has been so bad that very few people are buying.  So, even though she grows as many of the spices as she can, her stock is very low and her clientele even lower.  There are five children in this house ranging in age from four to fifteen.  Despite the extreme poverty, the family has done everything they can to make their home beautiful.  It is surrounded by flowers and trees.

We had lunch at Nury's family home on Lago de Yojoa (yo ho' a).  This lake has several tilapia farms in it so our lunch was freshly caught and fried tilapia.  Hondurans eat fish like we eat fried chicken - with their fingers.  They also fry their fish whole.  Yes, that's right, from tip to tail!  The first thing I did was remove the head and a few fins.  But the work was worth it as this was some of the best fish I have ever eaten.  It was accompanied by a kind of vinegar cole slaw, pickled spicy onions (there were jalopenos in the jar, too) and pineapple for dessert.

After we ate, Nury cut Emperor's Canes for each of the ladies.  This is an ornamental that is quite expensive in the States.  The stalk really does look like rhubarb red sugar cane.  The flower is not really a flower as we think of them at all.  It looks like this:   

WE finally drove back into San Pedro Sula and did some shopping at Nury's gift shop.  We head for Copan tomorrow morning very early so I will say good night and get ready for bed. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Santa Cruz

Let me tell you about where we are staying.  In the US, this would be called an extended stay hotel.  We have a living room/dining/kitchen - complete with pans, two burners, a fridge and toaster oven - two bedrooms and a bath.  With the exception of the Brewer family, there are two of us in each apartment.  It is really quite comfortable.  It is air conditioned to the point of chilly so Susie and I usually turn it off when we return home at night and don't turn it back on; however, the maid always does that for us.

Hotel Villa Nuria has its own restaurant, gym, laundry, pool and mini market.  I don't think any of us has used the gym but the pool is our afternoon respite and we have eaten all breakfasts and two dinners in the restaurant.  Oddly, pizza is one of the things they do well.  The whole compound is gated/walled for safety.

Today, we went to Santa Cruz which is outside of San Pedro Sula by about an hour's drive.  There is no speed limit here so I have no idea how many kilometers away it is.  On our way down the road, we had a flat tire!  So all of the men got out to take care of it.  Fredy told the ladies to stay inside.  There was very little room on the shoulder and we did worry about our folks standing in the road.  It didn't take too long to fix and we were back on the road once again.

Santa Cruz is the cadillac of shelters.  It has two very large rooms with high ceilings and ceiling fans.  The children have showers as well as toilets in the bathrooms and each of them bathes before going to school.  The ages here range from about five to fifteen years.  Two of the boys who were there this afternoon we 18 but they are assistants rather than students.  We did some crafts to start then played games, adding musical chairs and statues to our repertoire.  We ended with balloon animals and swords and then jump rope.  All of the children like to jump rope.

As half of us worked with the children, the other half worked to paint the inside of the church with which the shelter is associated.  It was oil-based paint and Gordon said the fumes really got to him.  Needless to say, it wasn't easy for these folks to clean up.

Santa Cruz is a decent size town with a central square and a "shopping district" of sorts.  After we had driven through the town, we came back into San Pedro Sula with just enough time to take showers and change for dinner.  We went to a Mexican-style restaurant in the city.  Nury, Fredy, Ingrid, Esther (two girls who came to Kingsport last fall for a visit) and Ileana (administrator of La Lima) all went with us so we were quite a large party; however, this restaurant seemed to cater to large parties.  The food was quite good and I think a good time was had by all.

And now it is time for bed once again.  We have said our prayers individually tonight and are very tired.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day Three of our Journey

We began our day today back at La Lima.  Most of the men finished painting the outside of the shelter in two shades of blue.  Adam played soccer with many of the boys off and on all morning but only after he and I discovered that neither one of us can make a God's Eye - a relatively simply craft involving two popsicle sticks and a few yards of yarn.  Rebecca and Caitlin excelled at this craft, though, so Adam and I could slink off to other things without too much guilt. 

There were more children there this morning than usual. Apparently, many of those who would normally be in school in the morning decided they would rather stay at the shelter and play with us.  So play we did.  We played Sevens again and did a few rounds of the Hokey Pokey.  Then the children showed us how to play two different games that start out like "ring around the rosey" but end differently.  In one, everyone freezes in a pose and has to hold it or be called out.  The other requires a person in the middle to close their eyes and spin around before pointing to the next person to take their place.  There are songs with both of these games but I didn't understand a single word.  There was another circle game too but I honestly don't think I can describe it.

After lunch, we went to the Jesus Rivera shelter where we only had time for them to sing to us and for us to play the ubiquitous Sevens.  It was the first time our painters had a chance to play.  Then we drove through the neighborhood and down to the river where most of the people live in shacks made of cardboard or plastic with tin roofs.  They run their own power lines in, however, so most of them have television and internet even though they do not have running water or plumbing.  Life is strange.

Then we visited Villa Nuria which is a shelter run by the Iglesia Episcopal.  We did some crafts, Betty and Caitlin painted faces and we did balloon animals and swords.  And yes, we played Sevens one more time.  I think that may be our trademark game.

Our weather probably was cooler than Kingsport today and the humidity was less during the day.  That doesn't mean we weren't feeling the heat, drinking lots of water and wrapping wet bandanas around our necks or heads all day long.  We came home to a wonderful breeze at poolside.  Dinner was at a local "American" restaurant with a few typical dishes on the menu as well.  They were out of beer and wine so most of us drank water, bottled of course.

Tomorrow, we will start out early as it is a long way to the Santa Cruz shelter. 

One thing I have noticed here:  we are used to seeing pictures of dogs and cats, maybe a bird, on signs for veterinarians.  There is a veterinaria not far from our hotel and the sign features a chicken, a pig and a cow!  We have not seen any cats on our wandering but quite a few dogs.  All of them are very thin.  So are the horses and cows we have seen by the side of the road.  There are many people who drive carts pulled by horses, usually on the side of the road. 

And with that, I believe it is time for me to go to bed.  We have all found that the heat saps our strength and we are glad to go to bed early.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our first day in a shelter

Continuing with the theme of learning, the first thing we learned today was that we can relax into Honduran time without any trouble.  We did not leave as scheduled even though Fredy and Nury were both here and ready to go.

Let me tell you about our two invaluable assistants.  Fredy is our driver.  He makes most of his living in this season of mission trips, driving groups like ours.  He knows all the main roads and all the back ones, too.  Fredy has his ear to the ground and makes sure we do not travel through neighborhoods that are too dangerous.  He is married and has three beautiful little girls ages 11, 7 and 2.  In the past, he has worked on cruise ships.  He spent five years washing dishes, was only allowed to be home for two months a year and earned $400/month!  Something to consider next time one of us takes a cruise.

Nury is an entrepreneur, politician and tour guide.  She is a native of Honduras (as is Fredy) but her parents sent her to boarding school in the States for high school.  I believe both her sister and brother are legal residents of the US and she and her parents also have residency in both places.  Nury does most of the translating for us and helps Gordon decide what we need to do different from the original schedule.  She owns a string of gift shops and is involved in the local arts council.

Which brings me to our second learning of the day.  You can plan all you want but the kids will determine what really happens.  We arrived at La Lima shelter about 10:00 this morning.  Our plan called for a group of activities in the morning and a second group in the afternoon.  Well, half the kids go to school in the morning and the other half go in the afternoon.  So we needed to the morning crafts with both groups and fill in with games where we could.  Betty O'Neill got started on the wall mural right away.  Her husband, Mike, and Nury helped her at first and then Beth Dowty got into the painting this afternoon.  The outside painting that needed to be done had to wait until there were brushes and rollers available - another trip to the store and, yes, it was only the men who went (I guess we didn't learn that lesson yesterday after all).

We decided that we would do balloon animals with the kids after the crafts were done.  So Rebecca, Caitlin, Adam, Susie and Beth all learned how to use the balloon pumps and that tying the balloon is the hardest part of making balloon animals, something I learned years ago.  I have to say we made some very creative animals; however, the big winner of the day was swords!  We made sword after sword - they had a tendency to pop - and Chris Harpster was the biggest kid there.  At one point, he was right in the middle and they were all wailing on him with their own swords.  I think we might have to start calling Chris "the dread Pirate Roberts."

After lunch, we had a new batch of kids and started all over again.  Except the balloons had gone into the lunch time so we didn't repeat them.  We brought a kiddy pool to make bubble solution in.  The deal is to get a kid to stand in the middle, use the hoop as the balloon wand and make the bubble around the child.  Well, it didn't work out that way; however, the kids had a wonderful time trying to see how high they could get the bubble wall to go and, in the afternoon when Gordon brought more soap, they got about four feet high.  This was a really big hit.

We had games planned and jettisoned many of them - too hot outside mostly, although Adam had them going with the soccer ball - so Chris and Caitlin called on their camp counselling days and played a slapping/clapping games called Sevens.  I haven't learned it yet.  At the end of the afternoon when all the adults were too tired to do much more than watch Betty and Beth paint, I pulled out the memory card game Bunny and I bought at Target one day.  I started making sure all the pairs were together because I figured we would play with half the cards (36 instead of 72).  One of the little boys came over to see what I was doing and helped me match everything up.  We put half away and shook up the rest before laying them out.  By that time, three girls had joined the circle.  That first game was pretty quick and we discovered who likes to cheat and who doesn't.  So we used all 72 cards for the second game and added two more players.  We barely managed to finish the third game, with about seven players,  before the team left me behind. 

The neighborhood where this shelter is located is exactly what you picture when you think of a barrio - dirt roads, chickens and ducks wandering around, no grass to speak of and a lot of corrugated iron roofs and walls.  But there are many homes that at least started out as concrete block structures so it is a real mix of poor and desperately poor.  Plumbing is primitive at best.  But every house has gated entries.  Nury told us that it is so dangerous that children are not allowed to play outdoors except maybe at school in an enclosed yard.  The drug cartels are powerful here.

We came home to a refreshing dip in the pool, prayer time and a good dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Now about those pictures.  I confess that I brought the wrong cord to transfer pictures.  Alas, no one else brought their computer along with their camera.  So we will have to have a big slide show when we return home.

Good night, my friends.   More tomorrow.

Things I learned on our first day in Honduras

Chris Harpster and his son, Adam, picked up Caitlin Stone and me at 3:00 sharp yesterday morning and we set off for Asheville to catch our flight.  Coming up Buckner Gap in North Carolina, we blew a tire and learned that two people can change a tire in 20 minutes in the dark and that two flashlights were sufficient to see by.

We made the plane with time to spare and learned that even at 6:00, there can be air traffic - thanks to the fog.  We arrived in Atlanta and met up with the rest of the group as they came in from Knoxville and Tri-Cities.  Adam learned that it is easy to fall asleep almost anywhere.

And then we arrived in Honduras.  Upon landing, we learned that there can be delays even when there is no air traffic.  It took about fifteen minutes for our gate to be made ready.  The next lesson was that you can start out in the middle of the line waiting at Customs and end up being last.  We met up with Susie Cox, Beth Dowty's aunt, who flew in from California to join our group.  Waiting seems to be a national pastime and no one is anxious about getting anywhere in a hurry at all - unless you are in a vehicle or riding a motorcycle.  Then the need for speed urges drivers to use their horns as often as possible.

The afternoon rain storm came as promised but it lasted longer than the ones we have in Kingsport and immediately clogged the streets with water.  I suppose this is what makes Honduras a country as full of green as any poster of Ireland.  This is a beautiful country.

Our first meal in country was at Power Chicken.  Yes, that's right, the mascot looks like a pumped up chicken in an outfit reminiscent of Super Man.  The food, though, was really good.  We had chicken, beef, pork and short ribs, spanish rice, fried plantain slices (no, I didn't try these) and yucca fries (yes, I did try these and they are good but needed ketchup ;-).

In the afternoon, we learned not to send the men to the grocery store.  I am sure there was a long line at checkout but it still took them an inordinate amount of time to buy bread, peanut butter and jelly, water and snacks.  Maybe there were too many snack choices.

We returned to Hotel Villa Nuria, having dropped our luggage off before lunch, and Gordon began the process of checking us in.  This involves having someone come into each apartment with the residents to make sure there are the requisite number of dishes, silver, pots, pans and towels.  Also to see that all the lights and the air conditioner are working.

Then we spent the last of the evening unpacking ourselves and then all of the supplies we brought with us.  Sister believes we have more than any of their other trips.  You all have been very generous and we thank you.

The final learning of the day was that the internet likes to keep you waiting, too.  So I waited until this morning to get this message to all of you.  Today, we will visit La Lima shelter and I promise to take pictures.  Then we will learn whether the cord I brought will work for downloading to the computer!

So much to learn and only a week in which to do it!