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Newsletters

These are periodic updates on my life in Honduras. They are organized according to the date when they were written.

I've been two weeks in Iowa now, on the job search and not doing as much reflecting as I would like. But I will make a list of things I will miss in Honduras.

  • Mangos (though I recently had decent ones, from Wal-mart of all places) and other fruit
  • Baleadas (I'll try my hand at making them)
  • Tropical landscape
  • Speaking Spanish (a lot)
  • Honduran time
  • Simplicity in conversation and lifestyles (as opposed to complexity in the States)
  • Knowing your neighbors, and seeing them out in the street
  • Accessible public transportation
  • The closeness of the community-- you can make visits walking
  • The refreshing feeling of drying off with a fan after sweating or bathing (notice I don't say the heat)
  • Many friends

Timeline of important events:

  • (7/08) Dengue fever
  • (8/08) Staff infection (forcing me to have to go to the States for treatment)
  • (10/08) Neighborhood is saturated with rain water and almost flooded by the river-- the computer lab is evacuated for about a month
  • (12/08-1/09) Home again for Christmas and in Nicaragua for regional retreat
  • (3/09) Murder of two young neighbors on the street, while I was giving class (hundreds made it to the burials)
  • (5/28/09) Earthquake 7.6 on the Richter scale-- swayed buildings but no local damage
  • (6/28/09) Coup to oust former president Zelaya
  • (8/09) Visit of family members-- awesome vacation
  • (8/09) Sick 10 days with Typhoid fever-- right before leaving

I now only have two weeks left in Honduras. It is exciting to have a change in my life, but I will feel I’m missing something when I leave this country, since I have found friends and had experiences that won’t easily be communicated with people where I’m from. The biggest challenge and greatest reward in my time here have fallen in living in the same community where I worked, a community of the “people”, on the other side of a socioeconomic barrier that made it more difficult to be fully integrated than with persons of backgrounds more like mine. But it has been valuable to enter in a different community and try to understand it, in a world when so many judge what they don’t understand.

I still have certain things I want to do before my time comes to a close, and I am busy as always finishing up my work. I went to visit friends in Tegucigalpa once more, and last week my dad, uncle Gaylen and cousin Jacob came to have a Honduran adventure. They saw where I live and we experienced rivers with large boulders to jump off of, corral reef, waterfalls, and caves among other things, and no blocked highways. Some of these were new experiences for me.

I will comment more on what has occurred in Honduras, since I have been able to learn more and hear opinions of various people.

The situation is complicated. One of my fellow MCCers works for a social justice organization, Association for a More Just Society that has material documenting the corruption of ousted president Zelaya. He violated court orders and his referendum toward forming a Constitutional Assembly supposedly was illegal (but I have heard people say the constitution favors neoliberal policies allowing transnational companies from Burger King to off-shore production to pay no taxes). The question is, why didn’t they bring him to trial instead of expelling him?

It seems that the Honduran oligarchy wanted him out, and a list of businessmen who contributed financially to the coup has come to light. What is worrying in this is the way the media was censured the day of the coup and the slanted information most channels give, sine most are very aligned with the new government, because of their owner’s interests. I heard that the police were going to break into a radio station (Radio Global) in Tegucigalpa, but they couldn’t enter because 500 people stayed out late preventing them from entering. So it is really hard to know the truth behind things.

There has also been repression toward protesters against the coup. When Zelaya was at the border with Nicaragua, they put in place an 80 hour curfew , and people were without food and water, some having to drink grey water.

If they gave a survey, I’m under the impression most Hondurans want Zelaya out and see him as a criminal, but there is a lot of misinformation. There is division, and I hear differing opinions from the people I live and work with.

The Central Mennonite Church in San Pedro has joined churches of other denominations in forming a Reconcilation Committee supporting the pilgrimages of peaceful marches against the coup and in favor of restituting Zelaya as president. Some marchers are peasants with little clothes and water. No one ever spoke of reforming the constitution before Zelaya’s proposal, whose motivations are suspect to me. But somehow these groups have been attracted to the idea of a new constitution and their marches aren’t simply pro-Zelaya, but a call for a more just and less exclusive economic system. The director of my organization has expressed regret that Christian organizations training the poor to be active in defending their rights turn their back once they do so.

At the same time not all the marchers are peaceful. The cities are notably awash with anti-coup graffiti, and in Tegucigalpa they burned a bus and a Popeyes restaurant, something the media takes advantage of in order to portray all marchers as a national security threat. Some of the persons I live with have strong contempt for the marchers. There is a heated conflict between public education teachers, usually on Zelaya’s side, and groups of parents, since because of teacher strikes, students have lost more than a month of classes.

I noticed one of the propaganda commercials of the current government that showed a snippet of Chavez calling for the army and police to be harsh against the protesters that are against him: “throw them in jail”. Perhaps the governments of Chavez and Micheletti (the new president) in spite of being at different ideological points, aren’t so different.

As Christians, it is almost impossible to agree on the best equilibrium between the two ideological extremes, but with biblical values we can agree on some significant points for justice.

  • We can agree that the worker deserves a decent wage. No one should have to work for a pittance.
  • We can agree that all acts of public corruption are wrong.
  • We can consistently oppose human rights violations, manipulation of information and restrictions on free expression, without thinking of the worthiness of the cause of the transgressors.
  • We can refuse to resort to violence as a means of justice and remain free of blame other than blame unavoidably incurred from being Christians and lovers of truth and justice.
  • We can agree to help whosoever is in great need, motivated by that need not a judgment as to whether their actions deserve our help.

In spite of our ideological differences, if the full truth of things on earth could be known and eyes opened, when motivated truly by principals of love, I think our response would be self-evident.

Being in Honduras these days just go more interesting. That's because on Sunday there was a coup d’état to oust (ex-)president Manuel Zelaya Rosales from Honduras. I will try to give a perspective that you might not get from reading news articles. It is also important to say that these events do not put me nor any other MCCers in any personal danger.

For some time now “Mel” Zelaya has been planning a popular referendum/survey held with voting booths to see if the Honduran public would approve of adding a fourth ballot box in the November elections to call for a Constitutional Assembly to amend (or rewrite?) the republic constitution. What that would have done isn’t entirely clear to me. From some I’ve heard it would have been a step toward justice for the poor in a society heavily dominated by the rich business elite. From other sources, that Zelaya wanted to extend his term length (I’m not sure how if the next president would be determined at the same time as the fourth ballot vote), which the constitution limits to one term and mold a populist government more like that of leftist Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela. Before being deposed, Zelaya was accused of abuse of power on a number of counts. The new government claims it is illegal for the president to call for a Constitutional Assembly. A judicial order forbid the voting to be held on Sunday, but on the previous Thursday Zelaya led a crowd to break into a place where the booths were stored. The new government claims (as the I heard the Attorney General say on CNN) that there was an order for Zelaya’s arrest, that Zelaya wrote a letter of resignation (which he denies) and that they had to remove him from the country to Costa Rica because of the some potential chaos had he stayed.

The morning before this special survey was to be taken, the military deposed Zelaya. Most of the morning power was cut. All day cable channels were cut and national stations were either cut or showed the special Congressional session in which they swore in the Congress president Roberto Micheletti as president. There have been curfews from 9pm to 6am, and now from 10 to 5 (though this hardly affects me since it’s not safe to be out that time anyway). The country is divided and there are manifestations on both sides. Pro-Zelaya crowds burnt tires in the park and have blocked major roadways. Today my Project was going to hold a retreat at its farm and had to cancel because of blocked-roads. Pro-Micheletti crowds filled the Tegucigalpa square yesterday and outnumber pro-Zelaya crowds.

The Honduran media is very slanted toward Micheletti’s government, with articles and stories denouncing Zelaya and justifying his ousting which the new government doesn’t consider a coup. In my community, people most of all want peace and Zelaya is seen as having disturbed the peace. I think however, this is an example of illegality combating illegality. Most Hondurans understandably display a certain cynicism toward politics.

The international community pushes for Zelaya to be reestablished. I think the Honduran political establishment and much of the population is too staunchly opposed for that to be possible without conflict. Fortunately there has been no blood shed so far. Pray for peaceful resolution.

BBC article

WSJ article

Honduras

It is long-past time to write again—I will blame my long silence on the fact that there is no longer an Internet connection at my place of work since a couple of weeks ago—both a loss and a definite blessing at the same time. If any of you were worried I’d been killed, it was probably with good reason, but, no, I’m still here to tell of my adventures. Here are some highlights:

Bikers

Back in April, I had the privilege of seeing two bikers heading across Latin America to attend the Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay. Lars and Jon actually took a bus to Honduras, since it was out of the way for them, and they were full of stories, which you can see on their website. Michael and Liz came up to see them and the and we all gathered in my community and worked a bit on the construction going on the second floor at my church.

Easter week I spent in Tegucigalpa to visit some other MCC workers and a few weeks later we had a team meeting on the shore of Lake Yojoa, a beautiful setting and heaven for the bird watching contingent we have an the team. After the meeting we had a final appointment in Tegus for our legal status, and my Honduran residency card is almost in my hands, just in time for me to leave Honduras.

Computer classes

As for work, I finished up a round of classes and am on to my last term before I leave Honduras. Students showed excitement at the graduation and there was no problem filling up classes for the next round. I give two different levels of classes for mostly adolescent groups and a more focused class on Saturdays for mostly finishing high schoolers.

Church

The church has made much progress on its second floor thanks to some donations. The walls are up, as is the frame for the roof. What remains is to put up the roof sheeting and spackle the cement-block walls. They hurry to get the roof up in time for the mini-rainy season. Lots of men (at least in the construction sector) have been unemployed, including from the house I live in, probably due to the credit crunch in the current global economic crisis. What happens in North America really does affect people all around the world.

Dangers

Last time around I told of the deaths of two teenage neighbors killed in the street. People remain conscious of that and there is growing concern about levels of violence. My community like so many in Honduras, is partially lawless, with “order” kept by an armed extortionary group. Recently a man who took a short individualized-typing course at the computer lab was captured by police immediately after robbing a bank and killing one of the guards. Generally grown males don’t enter the computer lab—this was an exception. The other staff members met him and besides being a little loopy he seemed innocent enough—I guess loopiness should be taken as a bad sign. Apparently he was not criminally-minded, just desperate after being evicted. Violent deaths seem to be in the rise, and Hondurans fear for their security. In San Pedro, not a day passes that several bodies don’t pass through the morgue (The night after my neighbors were killed I went with them as a driver to the morgue and clearly remember the forensic vehicle going in and out for other cadavers). Most deaths seem to be those involved in some way with gangs or organized crime, or those who don’t cooperate with their extortion.

On the 28th of May, there was an earthquake, 7.1 on the Richter scale with its epicenter just north of the Bay Islands, that woke everyone up at 2:30 am in the morning. I woke up with the noise of the roof moving and sensed in the dark that the walls were undulating. It took me a few seconds to figure out what was happening, and I am slow to get panicked, so I didn’t really rush out of the house. All the neighbors were out on the street. They say it is scientifically inexplicable why an earthquake of that magnitude didn’t do more damage than taking out a major bridge and 7 deaths. Apparently the sea or the depth of the quake helped soften it. The buildings in my neighborhood where not visibly damaged other than some minor cracks. The following night churches were full- for many Hondurans, this was God knocking on the door, calling people to repent. Honestly, if I am harmed in Honduras, it will probably be on one of the public transport vans. If hypothetically speaking each time I got on there were a 1/1000 of a chance of being in an accident, after three years, averaging 4 rides a week, it becomes a 46% chance. So I am very thankful, more than usual in the last period for the ways God protects us, in whom we have true security.

I just finished reading The Shack, William Young, about a man’s encounter with God at the site of his greatest pain, and he asks God all the tough questions. It gives a refreshing sense of who God is, and a lot to think about. I also just finished reading The Shock Doctrine, Noemi Klein, which contends that economic structures in the world have shifted toward encouraging rather than discouraging low-intensity conflict as a means for profit for a newly-emerged “disaster capitalist complex” of Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and the like. Whether thinking of Honduras, or globally, lasting social peace comes through solution to social problems and the incredible economic inequality that plagues the world, rather than the building up of walls. Even more than that is the need for Christ’s peace in reconciling human beings. Blessings.

The neighbors here mourn the loss of two young men, Ariel and Edmond. I knew both of them; both lived on my street. On Wednesday, March 4th, they were both killed at gunpoint from bullet wounds in the head. The local media published stories that both were gang members and had been involved in serious delinquent activity, and that they were killed by neighbors taking matters into their own hands, but that is lies; the neighbors know well that these young men had not committed crimes. The most they might have done is have been seen associating with someone linked to crimes.

They were killed in the afternoon in the street. A large crowd of people gathered to watch and wait until authorities, news media, and the forensic team came, eventually taking the bodies to the morgue. The began a viewing ("velorio") early that morning and up until the burial the next day. In this culture, someone remains with the body at all times.

Approximately 200-300 neighbors and friends along with families formed a caravan of two buses and a number of pickup trucks in order to take these two young men to two different cemeteries. The number of people that went was impressive and a witness to the fact that they were missed and were not delinquents. I drove my host family's vehicle. A bunch of young men had to stop highway traffic in order to help the caravan make u-turns. Ariel was buried in a cemetery close by and Edmond in one removed from the city.

Neither of these young men went to church, but they had family members in the church I attend, who show amazing strength.

Honduras

I near the end of my term in Honduras, confident about this year of work ahead of me and comfortable and adapted as far as possible to the community where I live, even though each day brings its new surprises.

I returned back to Honduras January 5th, a day later than planned since I couldn0t make my connecting flight. This meant being sent straight to Tegucigalpa and not receiving my luggage the same day. The very next day, with borrowed clothes, I left for Managua, Nicaragua with the other MCCers for the regional MCC retreat that occurs every year and a half. Unfortunately I didn't see much of Managua, but it was good to compare notes with other MCCers. I particularly enjoyed hearing of the work of Alan in Nicaragua who teaches theology and conflict transformation classes in a seminary with students who participated on either side of the war during the Sandinista revolution.

This retreat was a spiritual retreat with exercises led by a Mexican Mayan Catholic and a Swiss German volunteer. We had one afternoon to sight see in nearby Granada along Lake Nicaragua, one of Latin America's largest lakes. We took a boat ride through some small islands and saw cranes and a monkey (probably a pet of one of the houses).

Once back in San Pedro, it didn't take long to get immersed in work and other my measured participation in church activities.

My Honduran church experience has always been a culture shock that still hasn't completely worn off and I continue to observe and participate because of the intrigue it creates. As ill-fitted as I am for the local Mennonite Church, my primary relationships are with people within the church and their lives revolve around church activities. Hondurans may lack money, but they have little lack for time; recently the young people where holding all-night prayer vigils several times a week. When I decided to go I did find a space to pray in my own way, but I always feel foreign to their loud manner of pray and loud liberations. They have started construction on the second floor as of two Sundays with the resources that they have and plan on continual fundraisers.

Registering kids for classes was slow at first as I wanted to start my classes earlier this year, but in the end I had to turn a lot of people away. Classes are going as smoothly as ever and I have a number of repeating students who seem to be a fan of the classes. I also hope to start conversation groups for some of the students in the English Lab. The lot outside has been filled with gravel and now no longer floods with rains.

This past Friday, one of my neighbors was almost shot in the head, with the bullet grazing him, and we still know little of how or where he is. He was always a friendly guy and easy to talk to-- he repeatedly told me about the time he took a computer class before I came. I didn't realize he was working as a mugger (he never would have done anything to neighbors). As it happened he and two others were assaulting a taxi just outside where I work and were caught by an armed group that takes justice into its own hands to stop delinquent activity. They almost confused the pastor's son with one of the delinquents. At least I know no one will confuse me with a delinquent.

Las Saturday was the big day for Bessy, the youngest in the Mencía family who turned 15 and had a traditional ceremony with stand-ups, a flower girl, and symbolic objects-- shoes, candles, a watch, and a ring. I helped take video with my digital camera. Afterwards, they served food to about 100 people at the house. Turning 15 for a girl is obviously an important milestone in Latino culture.

This week has produced a lot of unusual rain for this time of year. This isn't the first time in my short years here that I have seen weather patterns that older Hondurans will say they have never seen in their lives. I guess with climate change you can expect anything.

Honduras

Merry Christmas to everyone! A lot has happened since the last time I posted. I write from cold, snowy Iowa, a very different place than balmy San Pedro. I came to the states three times this year, but this was the only time I originally intended, and I already had my tickets for this time before my previous lengthy stay from my staph infection.

I need to start back in November. Eventually we did get all the computers put back in the 6 de Mayo center, as the several feet of stagnate water that had filled the lot for weeks receded enough to bring in twelve small truckloads of dirt to fill it in. I helped work shoveling and leveling the dirt one of the days it was hauled in. I started up classes as soon as possible and increased the number of class days a week, since the special-ed kids had finished their year. Even so, I barely finished the course in time before Christmas break. Naturally, there was some loss of students because of the gaping holes of no classes in the middle of the course, and in some groups just the faithful few stayed with it, but all in all it was a good group of students. The second-level students had fun starting blog pages and making illustrated Powerpoint stories.

We had the graduation ceremony on December 10, with perfect attendance. The following day we had our Christmas party at Project MAMA complete with a piñata for someone’s birthday. My favorite game was one called “chicken,” where two people would try to look over each other’s shoulders to see a number on the other side. It is fun to see middle-aged women with less inhibitions than their North American counterparts.

In other news, my Honduran family purchased a vehicle: a solid gray Nissan pickup, without power steering, originally 4x4 and now with its second motor. Preliminary mechanic work stressed their wallets. Most people know that a vehicle is a liability, not an asset, but for a Honduran family, it has a lot of symbolic value to be able to have a car. A Christian neighbor told them God had said this would only be the start of their blessings. Jesús has been learning to drive, and I along with other neighbors gave him lessons. There was a mishap involving bumping into a gasoline pump with the left headlight at the Esso station, which makes me feel I teach computers better than driving. After the damage is paid I guess it serves as a learning experience.

Jesús now has a license. A normal license costs 250 lempiras, but involves several days because you have to have a driving test and medical exams. However, in order to not lose days of work, he paid 600, which got him the license no-questions-asked and they simply put O+ for his untested blood type. I still don’t have a Honduran license, because they still never have issued me a residency card (that will probably not happen till the month before I leave). However, if I paid $200, I too could get a license, no-questions-asked. That’s just how it works in Honduras.

We had an MCC team meeting in the beach town in Tela in early December, and said an early goodbye to Josh and Maria, who will be leaving in January. On the 12th I left for the states, the trip home I had planned a long time ago, unlike the last one. I’m flying in from DC and came home with my sisters, both at EMU in Virginia, but Rebecca was studying in DC that semester.

Honduras

My life has taken unexpected turns since returning to Honduras. I have been happy to be back and see the people I had been absent from for awhile. My students were happy to have class again—some had been bored without me. Some had checked every so often to see if I had come back. I was able to retain almost all students who had been coming, and began giving class.

However, I had only just managed to finish review before a new interruption came about. On Wednesday, the 15th, rain began to flood the outside lot of the center where I work. It has been raining ever since as the country hardly recovers from one cold-front before another begins. My neighborhood has flooded in the low places from rain water—people with houses on low ground had to deal with up to a couple of feet of water in their homes for the last two weeks. For this reason streets are continually built-up, and people with a bit of cash raise the roof and floor of their houses. Those without the money to do so, unfortunately have to deal with water every year. The water rose enough to leach into the library and tutoring room, while the computer labs are at a level high enough rain water isn’t a risk, and my house has remained water-free.

Tuesday the 21st, the level of the Chamelecón river, which has channels going past my community was a meter from going over its banks. My neighborhood is below river level, so if water did spill in (as it did after Hurricane Mitch, in 1998), it could fill above the rooftops. The Ulúa river, a larger river parallel to the Chamelecón, did in fact go over and flood various communities that still remain inundated, while thousands crowd in shelters. That day, MAMA, my organization rented a truck to remove everything from the center to their storage space. Fortunately the big flood didn’t come, but times remain tense, until the rains stop with the neighborhood still saturated with water. My teaching is on hold, because none of the computers are there, and if they were, my students would have to wade in flip-flops through a foot of two-week old stagnate water with sewage leached into it. They want to fill in the lot with dirt and raise the floor of the front rooms, but can’t begin until the water level goes down.

I always find things to do in order to feel occupied and semi-productive, but it is frustrating having lost so much teaching time this year. Last weekend I visited Michael Wiebe-Johnson, a SALTer in La Camp, near Gracias, Lempira. It has to be one of the most picturesque places in Honduras, flanked by precipitous mountains on two sides, with poor, but quaint adobe tile-roof buildings and houses, including two colonial (or old) churches. Michael works for CASM, a Honduran Mennonite education that works in rural areas with disaster relief and projects like organic fertilizer. Meanwhile I have also seen Josh and Maria’s farm again—they now have four pigs due for butchering at Christmas and some sheep. This weeek MAMA will be packing up provisions to deliver to affected communities.

The time has come to go back to Honduras. After four weeks of antibiotic treatment, my staph infection was considered gone. My left eye had been affected by that infection, so it has mostly resolved simply from the antibiotic. I was on a steroid for the inflammation, but no longer am taking anything prescribed. I do not know if I will ever see the same again with the left eye. Each time it has looked better to the ophthalmologists, but there is still a spot just a little below and to the right of the visual center that is blocked. The complete healing process has a time table of 3 months, so I am hoping it will keep getting better. At least I can say I have no blind spots with both eyes open. I also feel healthier.

This unexpected home leave lasted for awhile, and I did not know at first how long I would be home. I inadvertently adjusted to transitory life at home, though without all adjustments of staying long-term. The contrast of the Iowa and Honduran landscapes seemed more striking coming home, but it will probably be an adjustment returning to Honduras, and picking up where I left off with work. Now the amount of time I have remaining with my term (11 months) seems much less. A visit at Christmas time will cut up the time and make it seem shorter.

I am excited about being back, but hope my absence won’t be too difficult to explain to people. It is comforting to know people from both countries have prayed for me, and I continue to hope in God for the best.

A few important things have happened since I last posted. Number one is that I am not even in Honduras, but rather at home. I recently contracted a staph aureus infection that manifested itself in my left arm and reached my left eye. I was treated at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics near where I live and am now at home on an IV antibiotic treatment, which seems to be clearing up the problem. I will back up a couple of weeks to tell the whole story:

Honduras

On Friday, August 8, they inaugurated the new English lab that will be one room over from me. A non-profit organization set up the lab with computers for use in an English language learning program that would be offered to the community at the cost of maintaining the lab. Alejandra Perdomo who worked with me in the computer program before being in the States for a year, is back to run that lab, and I was also excited about giving support to the English-learning students. That day I was bothered by a growing pimple/boil on my left arm. That afternoon, the whole outside area was flooded by a sudden rainstorm, and that evening I had a dinner invitation with a Mennonite family in San Pedro.

The next day, Saturday, I left for Jeff and Soila's wedding near Tegucigalpa. Jeff Eshleman was a former MCCer who will now be moving to Guatemala with his wife. That day my sight was fine. It was a beautiful outdoor wedding at a campground with beautiful cool and sunny weather. Jeff had a lot of relatives and friends who traveled all the way to Honduras. Sunday was when I first noticed my left's vision was affected. That day I helped escort some of Jeff's relatives back to San Pedro where they were to fly out.

By Monday, I noticed there was a spot in my left eye's vision I couldn't see out of. I went to two different ophthalmologists that day. The first thought it might be an infection, but was unsure and recommended the second, a retina specialist. This guy though that a stroke had occurred in the back of my eye and couldn't promise recovery of my vision. He recommended an injection with a drug to depress my enlarged retina and some laser treatment.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent with tests, doctor's visits, calls home, and calls with MCC's Kathy Martin who was immediately on the case. MCC has been very supportive through all this. During those days, I was tired and sometimes in pain at the left eye. Wednesday the ophthalmologist talked about starting a laser treatment (which would not have been the right thing), but that afternoon MCC was finally able to get through to an acclaimed retina specialist from the University of Iowa, who wasn't in agreement with the Honduran doctor's diagnosis. Given the delicateness of the situation with my eye, we made a decision for me to return home for treatment.

I traveled from San Pedro leaving 2 am Thursday morning and arriving in time to make an appointment Thursday afternoon. The ophthamology clinic at the U of I is perhaps one of the best in the world. They tested different theories, but from the beginning the ophthalmologists suspected the infection in my arm which by that time was much uglier. From Friday night to Tuesday I had to stay in the hospital on IV antibiotics, till tests and paperwork came in, so that I could go home on the portable IV. I can do most things, but I have to tend to a PICC line and always carry a machine and IV bag wherever I go, but that is a lot better than being in the hospital. My vision is improving slowly. It may take a number of weeks, but my ophthalmologist is very optimistic about my response.

Honduras

It has also been a crash course introduction to US medicine, and I can't help questioning the cost (the highest in the world) of the care here, though I don't in my experience dispute its quality. Everyone agrees the health care system is facing a crisis (my own take is high malpractice insurance and high administration costs, including all the paperwork to prevent lawsuits). I also observe that, unlike buying a home or going to a mechanic, doctors do not take cost into consideration when ordering tests or treatment, whether absolutely necessary, or necessary in an unlikely scenario. And though my costs are covered, I wonder about those who can't afford health insurance, hence out of reach of basic care in one of the most "developed" counties of the world.

Returning from a poor country and being accustomed to a low cost of living, it will be difficult for me to come to terms with the cost of my treatment, especially in light of the position of privilege this puts me in in comparison to the Hondurans I relate to (though I have lived in a economically depressed community, I didn't become "poor"). I receive and am grateful for my blessings, and thank God for the return of good vision.

Toward the end of July, I had dengue fever for a few days. It gave me a fever, and seriously weakened me but I quickly bounced back. It was really a mild case, but the blood test still came back positive. Adam Lawrence, one of the SALTers, also got dengue at the same time, but a more serious strain of it, and this was right at the last week of his term. We said good-bye to him and Sarah Winter on the 20th of July. I don't think dengue is a cause of the infection I currently deal with, but maybe it weakened my immune system.

My computer classes had been going smoothly before I had to leave, but of course my courses will be cut in half. When I return, I will probably start over with classes. Hopefully, my students will be flexible and understanding; Hondurans are very good about that.

I know many people have been praying for me, and I know that God works greatly through prayer. I feel those prayers have been answered as my eye recovers.

It is time for another trimonthly update (I'll make it sound like I intended it to be that (in)frequent) to share about my life in Honduras.

I continue to live with host family. It is not without its challenges, specially for such a long time, but besides giving me company, it has been an enriching experience and helps me to understand Honduran culture a lot better. Their oldest daughter Queylin is taking classes at the university and as recently dealt with some severe allergy problems, that once gave her an attack for which they had to urgently take her to the clinic. Cristhian the middle child has been taken by the "American dream" -- wanting to go the the states a few years to save up money. He almost took off one night except his supposedly "free" ride with a coyote friend left him, and his parents, concerned about the danger wouldn't let him go. Once that dream enters a young man's head, I'm not sure how much a parent can do. The family is relatively well-off, but goes through times of need.

My work has recently taken a turn for the better (though it always seems time consuming). There were moments when being too heavily loaded made me lose patience with students and revise my attitude toward teaching. I ask the question what am I here for-- as one of many gringos working in a developing country--some for good, others for bad, some with an impact difficult to weigh. I came more with a desire to learn and understand than to serve, knowing not to overestimate one's "helpfulness." If I could measure how much students really learn from me and how much it will serve them in the future, I'm not sure it says anything if I am not loving and genuine in my relationships, including with students (which is harder to do when stressed).

As far as a summary of recent events, the church had another baptism at the riverand the young people made and sold deep-fat fried hamburgers as a fund-raising event to help out on a project that enlarged and tiled with ceramic the stage area of the church. I notice the church often seems to make ambitios places such as a week of special services for ladies, and when their is lack of sufficient support from congregants, the pastor or leaders give a scolding.

I took time to go to the farm in el Ciprés to visit other MCC friends and help them plant trees. It allowed an escape from the city and a visit to a Catholic mass. Later I went to Azacualpa, Valle to visit Adam, another MCCer in the SALT program and got my first waterpark experience in Honduras (that town has its share of mansions whether from influx of dollars or illegitimate sources of money) In enjoyed getting a glipse of Adam's Honduran world and see a different church. A couple of weeks ago I ran a quarter of a marathon (6.5 miles). I went about a 7:30 minute per mile (I did 6:45 for a whole half marathon once), but I hardly did any training.

Honduras

I also have to go backward a bit to fill the gap since the last update. In April for the first time since coming here, I made a visit to the states, which was worth it in spite of the carbon emissions of my flying there. I went for my friends Josiah and Carmen's wedding in Lancaster, PA, but I made a loop through several places. Upon arriving my uncle picked me up and we went from Dulles back to DC by bus, which filled up with immigrants-- many likely from Central America. My aunt and uncle work at an International Guest House, and my time there afforded me a picnic with my cousin Anthony and a bike ride with my uncle to downtown DC.

From there I picked up my parents and youngest sister Nicole in Baltimore who traveled to see me. We stayed with a good college friend, Ben, along with other close friends. The day of the wedding the cold I carried from Honduras had worsened to the point that I couldn't talk. I spent the morning with relatives Melanie and Ismael communicating with pad and paper. At the wedding to all those important faces I hadn't seen in a long time I could barely whisper. I enjoyed the simple but elegant ceremony and reception. Hondurans always say "God permitting" when expressing plans, so God permitting I will be able to speak whenever I next see you.

The third round of my trip was to EMU, my college, where I go to see other important people, not least of which my sisters Rebecca and Maria, who were finishing up their semester. By this point the surroundings seemed normal, but my initial reaction was "surroundings"-shock (I think the time was too short for culture-shock).

Once back in Honduras I went straigh to the doctor (I know that might seem opposite to some) to find out what was ailing me. Turns out I probably was running a fever most of the time I was in the States. Two injectos in the butt did the trick-- one from the doctor and the other the next day from an hermana (sister) from church deemed qualified.

Soon after getting back the MCC team had a meeting in Tegucigalpa. The trip there in a rented van was long from an accident and the first of a series of flat tires. The meeting like most offered good bonding time through hiking and a concert of Honduran folk singer Guillermo Anderson at a fair in the mining town of San Juancito.

In closing, I heard about the death of a college acquaintance, Matt Garber, in Costa Rica. It is shocking and very saddening news; he was a very positive person with great potential for serving God. A reminder of how fragile life is...

I write this right after Holy Week, the week Christians celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made for humanity and the consequent exaltation he received for his humiliation.

This week gave me a break from my normal responsibilities. My computer classes have been underway and I have been really busy—teaching a total of 21 hours a week in addition to the responsibilities of maintaining the place. One of the sections is high-school aged and will be more advanced. I now think I may have stretched myself a little too thin by putting in too many classes, especially when interrupted by kids wanting homework help.

Fishing

Among the things I have to tell about in this time period—one day I went “fishing.” This was with my host-brother, his uncle, and a neighbor. I wasn’t much of a help since I was pretty awkward with just line, a hook, a weight, piece of Styrofoam, and a reed cut along the way. The bait was sardines captured in the waste water that runs along the streets in my neighborhood. We traveled on bike, along the creek through surrounding corn and banana fields, passing a few poor little kids carrying loads heavier than they could lift. Where we fished stank like sewage apparently from field runoff—simply washing an arm with it gave me a rash. No one caught anything—though the others claimed to see a crocodile. We did pass right by the San Pedro airport and take back some corn cobs from the neighbor’s field.

The Massacre

The 2nd of March there was a “massacre” in my community about a kilometer from my house, in which 7 people died in a billiard place. My limited understanding is that those responsible were from the Mara Salvatrucha taking vengeance on another group they call “los Olanchanos” (from a Honduran department) who are involved in drug trade and control an area that I think includes where I live (they are known to murder any muggers or thieves who try to operate in their territory) One of the 7 victuims pertained to them, the rest I suppose where at the wrong place at the wrong time. News Story This sort of thing is fairly common – there have already been a handful of “massacres” this year in the San Pedro Sula area, related to organized crime, which is why I am thankful for the Lord’s protection that I continue to receive through prayers.

The wedding

Honduras

On March 15th, I had the privilege of participating in the wedding of a couple from church. I was among about 12 couples as the functional equivalent of a standup (except we sat most of the time). The couples were formed based on height (respecting existing relationships) and I ended up being the tallest male. Edwar and Yossy’s wedding was pretty with everything, including the paint of the church’s walls, the same shade of green. The “standups” formed arches through which the flower girls, ring bearers and bride passed through. The bride and groom had chairs to sit on and actually knelt to make vows. Otherwise most elements were similar to North American weddings. They had reception afterwards in which quite a few people were served.

Holy Week

Honduras

The week before Easter is vacation for many Hondurans (whether they celebrate Easer itself or not). I went to the pretty town of San José, where my host-family originates. I didn’t plan to stay long, but it turned out that way when there was no bus service for two days. I go to enjoy time in a swimming-area in the woods owned by one family of the relatives, where they also have tilapia fish. Anticipating their opening they took out the nets and caught a good number of big (about 9 in) fish. Unfortunately the weather turned cold, which impedes swimming. San José happened to be having its patron fair which was interesting to see—the crowning of the town beauty, a few fireworks, and a guy serving as legs for a wooden bull with attached fire crackers that ran about chasing kids until the whole square filled with smoke. The only Holy week tradition I observed was a traveling procession that included an effigy of Judas and a number of masked witches that danced with the town band.

In such places you always meet interesting people, like Wilmer, who went around with a bottle of liquor, but was very well read—he had knowledge of Mayan history and excitedly told me about Mayan remains he had found in nearby caves. He could also quote more scripture than me, but eagerly turned the subject from there to books on witchcraft.

Easter Sunday I was with the other MCCers for a potluck meal in which we also celebrated Adam’s birthday with a piñata. It was the first potluck meal in a long while. Since than I have become very busy with work-related things. I don’t necessarily lack spare time, but spare time on a computer, yes.

Neighborhood Justice

Recently there was a robbery on my street (which is very rare apparently). It was accomplished in daylight—the culprit pried open the bars over a window and took a television, DVD player, and propane tank, I think. Everyone knew who did it: a skinny single guy who does odd jobs to try to support himself, known to be a marijuana user, and who could commonly be seen running down the street humming as if he were a bus. One evening after I had gone to bed, he was found and all the neighbors got together to grab the poor guy, beat him up, and tie him up for the police.

I am exited to be going to the States for the first time in over a year and a half. I will attend the wedding of a good college friend and see my family and a number of relatives on the way.

Well, it seems like time for another update on my life. I am here, starting a new year of work, continuing to enjoy my life in easy-going life in Honduras, with all of its daily surprises.

I spent New Years over at the farm (where MCC volunteers Josh and Maria live). It was a relatively quiet New Years, considering you usually would stay up later than we did, and be serenaded with exploding fire crackers all night long in a more populated area. We enjoyed our time breaking a piñata for Maria’s birthday.

Honduras

The first weekend of January was cold and rainy. In one sense I like the relief from the heat, but you often can feel under the weather, whenever the cold fronts come in. However, this month even the sunny days are not too bad. The second week of January I made a trip with my host-family, compliment of my parents, that had been postponed from the first cold weekend. We went to Lake Yojoa, and most of us stayed in a cabin, though Cristhian and I slept in another room, and I didn’t sleep well with his tossing and turning. The following day we went to a National Park along the lake and a place with possibly the largest waterfall in Honduras. I especially enjoyed the road trip aspect, driving my Honduran family through scenic places, and they had to forgive me for going a little too fast to avoid all the potholes.

Honduras

The 17th was my birthday, and it was celebrated first with a tres leches cake (made with three types of milk, and a favorite of mine) Consuelo made for me. I went to church that night, expecting that they would call me up and sing for me, though not expecting a meal prepared for all who came to church that day. I was a little tired after sitting through a 65 minute sermon, but I felt very honored by their pray for me and their expressed desire that I feel at home here. The next day my birthday was also celebrated with the other gringos and with yet another cake, a delicious carrot cake that I ended up sharing with two different beggers who happened to arrive hungry at the MCC office. Today (the 3rd) I will be going to a Super Bowl party at the country rep’s house.

As far as my work goes, I won’t start my regular classes until the 13th of February which is the week kids begin at public schools, so I can go their first day and recruit to fill up remaining slots. In the meantime, I have been working on the website for the project, and painting my own room and the room they redid to start computer English lab using Rosetta Stone software. My own room will have dark sky blue at the ends and a light blue on the sides.

Honduras

Christmas greetings to all! I am spending my second Christmas in Honduras, and this year feel more desire to see family and friends in the States than the last, but I wanted to save my visit for next Christmas since it wasn't too long ago that my family was here. Fortunately this year I have experienced a number of Christmas reminders. I sang in a Christmas choir at the downtown Mennonite church, I got to eat some North American Christmas cookies along with Honduran fare of tamales, chicken sandwhiches, and pork. I heard a few fire crackers, and I got my fill of Christmas songs during our MCC team meeting. We had our meetings at Cerro Azul National Park near Lake Yojoa (photos), and it was a gorgeous setting, though rainy and cold. I thought the rain would take out our chance to hike, but God blessed us with a nice hike, through thick and mossy cloud forest.

Leo

After that I made a brief trip to Tegucigalpa mostly to visit people. I stayed with Sarah Lawrence, a friend of MCCers, and Leonardo Chavarria, who I hadn't met, but had spent a year at EMU, my college. We had a good time hanging out and comparing notes.

The day I returned home (Sunday), at my local church there was an American ministry group of "prophets"-- two gringo women and the rest Latinos. They were mostly concerned no one was missing salvation, or that no sin lurking in a household was preventing its (financial) "blessing" from God. It wsa a little strange having an American woman, speaking Spanish, trying to slay me in the spirit.

Christmas eve I sang in the choir during the service at the downtown church, and I returned late in the evening to still experience the fire crackers and loud music in my neighborhood.

Graduation

I'll briefly mention a bit about Queylin, my host sister's graduation, on the grounds of a large hotel. It was outdoors, but with formal table setting and a nice meal. The ceremony began with an evangelical-sounding prayer, the national anthem, and the diploma ceremony itself could not be seen, unless you joined the crowd of people that bunched around the front to take pictures. I think the teachers get their cut of all the money the students have to raise for the event, just like the arbitrary $5 "re-take" of the final exam that many students had to go through in order to graduate.

In the meantime I am enjoying a break from my regular work, and trying to start a website for the MAMA project.

Have a blessed new year!

Honduras General

I hope this little update finds you all doing well. I sense the year coming to a close and the beginning of holiday season, which feels good to me. When my classes end in december I will have a different change of pace, which I look forward to, although I enjoy having students and seeing their advancement. We have had some cold fronts that give a break from the hot weather. However, the price for cooler temperatures is overcast skies, humidity that makes everything musty and moldy, and head colds. I woke up on night absolutely freezing, which is a rare experience for me in Honduras-- of course the house offers very little protection from outside temperatures, hot or cold.

Recently the MCC team said good-bye to Jeff, who completed his three years as the connecting people's coordinator. We had a nice meal to celebrate his time. He is going back to the states by bus, via Mexico, but will be back in Honduras in January. For me, it makes me feel a little more senior, and I will miss taking advantage of Jeff's good orientation to Honduras.

A few weeks ago, I had an experience that made me thinking about security in this country. I was walking back from a grocery store with Sarah, another MCCer. It was out in the same direction as the transportation hub to go from downtown to my neighborhood, so it is an area I have to pass through regularly. Heading toward the office, a guy followed us and mugged me when we were on a street with few people. Interestingly enough he spoke perfect English, and he apparently knew where the office was. I had just $10 on me. Hondurans seem to be able to tell stories of robbery, either of themselves or of friends. Recently a family from the downtown Mennonite church had a break in. It doesn't help that sometimes the police themselves can be corrupt-- I heard a story about someone whose vehicle was stolen and they found it in the parking lot of the police station. He had the keys to prove ownership of the vehicles and the officers allowed him "without shame" to take the vehicle.

My host sister, Queylin, will soon graduate from high-school equivalent with a degree in accounting. Graduations here are a big deal here, and expensive. We will see what it is like, but I sense it is a show of status (even though high-school graduate accountants are often paid less than $200 a month). So the graduation will be held in a nice hotel, with limiting seating (not something the whole family of the graduate can easily go to). I guess there are some students who just don't graduate, because it is too expensive for them. I will be the "godfather" not of Queylin, but of a student of mine. And on an MCC budget, buying the appropriate gifts is expensive.

This weekend I played the boardgame Settlers of Catan for the first time in more than a year. It reminded me of college.

I hope you have had wonderful thanksgivings those of you who live in the U.S.

Officially a year and a month has passed since I came to Honduras. I have been here long enough that people are asking me when I will leave, and members of my host-family are telling me two years in advance not to forget them. As I walk toward the pickup point for transport to my area, one of the vans passes, slightly less than packed full, and the guy leans out and makes eye contact with to ask if I want on. It's true they invite anyone to hop on, but I realized I have been here long enough that the guy likely recognized me, and knew where I was headed (it caused me to think about the fact that there are probably many more Hondurans who recognize me than that I would readily recognize, since I must have a memorable appearance).

Fall has come, which means rainy season, more humidity, sometimes cooler weather (bathing actually makes me cold). I anticipate some mold growing on the walls, how my clothing will get musty if I don't wear it for awhile, and how the field I run in will always be soppy. There not exactly the same fall seasonal changes as in the states, but at least I feel a rhythm I recognize from last year. It is also hurricane season. Many people were scared my neighborhood would flood from the swelled Chamelecón river after Hurricane Felix, but nothing happened (although another nearby river did overflow and flood some communities).

The MCC team has grown. We had a team meeting a few weeks back, in San Pedro. A couple, Amanda Lind and Andrew Clouse has come to take over the Connecting People's position which Jeff will leave in November. The SALTers are Adam Lawrence, who will work with environmental education in a mountainous area (Azacualpa, Santa Barbara) and Sarah Winter, who will teach English in Tocoa, Colón (the position of Kari before her).

My work has been plenty recently, since lot of kids (or adults) wanted to register for computer classes that will run to the end of the year, and I have more groups than I have had in the past. There are now 52 people in regular computer classes, plus the special education kids who are supposed to come in once a week (some never come, and others want in all the time). And with the fuller schedule, there's hardly time for the kids who come to use the Internet for homework or play games. Naturally, there is somewhat a clash between my vision of the place as educational, and kid's want of entertainment (not that they are entirely incompatible).

I have also begun staying downtown a day or so most weekends, which has allowed me to attend more easily the Mennonite Church that is there and get to know new faces, as well as see other MCCers more easily.

I will leave off with that. As I write this, my hands are chaffed from helping to fill in the lot around my house with ground, so that it will drain better for the rainy season.

Honduras General

This last period has been one of transitions--and goodbyes. May through July I had the privilege of getting to know James Weber, a communications student from Goshen College who came down to film a short pormotional video for the MAMA project, which I look forward to seeing. This is not the first video he has done; he also worked on Fuerza, a documentary by Goshen students on immigration. He left Honduras about the same time the SALTers; Kari Dyrli and Greg Lamb completed their 11 months, and head back I think with an experience they are grateful for and plenty of heavily-lacquered wooden Honduran handicrafts (I suppose I'll get those some day). We celebrated by eating out at the San Pedro Chicago Uno Grill (I guess you find those all over the world). The day before I am putting this up, the new Salters, Adam and Sarah arrived.

The IVEP program (where international students go to the US) is on the same calender. My co-worker, Alejandra Perdomo also left August 10th for a year in the states where she will have to get accustomed to a new language and culture. She will work at Goshen College, under my high school Spanish teacher.

Honduras General

Of course the main event to tell about in the last month is the much anticipated visit of my family. My parents and three sisters arrived on the first of August for 10 days and got to see a good bit of Honduras in that time. The day after they arrived, I took them to see where I project office, and the community where I work and live. I was a little concerned about how it would go considering everything said would have to go through me as translator, but it went well, and didn't feel ackward. We taught my Honduran family to play a card game which helped foster interaction. We were served good meals, that introduced my family to Tres leches cake (made with three kinds of milk) and baleadas (the king of Honduran snacks). I also had them experience a church service and a ride back downtown in the back of a pickup truck.

While they were here, we also saw the Mayan Ruins at Copan, a traditional colonial town (Gracias, Lempira), the farm where an MCC couple lives (Josh and Maria), and La Ceiba area. Some of us went to some islands off the coast called Cayos Cochinos, where there is good snorkeling.

Some of us did get sick, but it was fortunately when we had more of a chance to rest. I also took my mother to a pharmacy to get her a shot. The pharmacy would sell it with out prescription, but the shot couldn't be administered at a clinic without presciption. So there was a bit of running around: go to another pharmacy contacted by the first where there was a doctor to sign the order, and then on to the hospital. But all in all, it costed less then 5 dollars, which compared to costs in the states, might make the hastle worth it.

My work hasn't changed too much recently. I will finish up present classes this month and start again in September.

Blessings.

As always I have a number of things to tell for this last period. I have been busier this last month or so at my work. I am studying a bit of accounting to plan lessons on Microsoft Excel that would be appropriate for high school business students, many of whom need to be prepared for a practicum. It is helpful to know the accounting terms in Spanish, which aren't direct cognates of English (activo for assets, pasivo for liability, or utilidades for income). This business computer course and the regular community course will last about till August, depending on the group.

Teaching is usually satisfying, but I don't think it is my ideal job (though fine for three years). It can be frustrating when kids come to use the internet to do homework, and their assignments are almost always to copy a definition, or worse still print information to answer a particular question (they never have to write an answer in their own words), that they could just hand it in without reading. Often they know little about the topic, and I have to do practically all the work, minus the copying, if they are to complete the assignment, besides the fact that the Internet is not a good textbook. This problematic teaching method occurs in many Honduran schools, I think. I have more recently made an effort to always engage students in thinking about what their homework means. There are also a few little kids that are always tapping on the door, wanting in to play games (which I sometimes allow them to do in certain hours). The pastor's little son will ask me during church if "there will be class tomorrow... And the next tomorrow?"

I suppose I will also give a brief mention of how a female student recently fell in love with me, basically from the first day. I received a long letter about her enthusiasm for the course and excessive phone calls and messages, usually about the course, but some rather directly about her love for me. However, I have managed to communicate that I didn't share the same feelings and didn't want frequest phone calls, and I don't think there were any seriously hurt feelings. I suppose something like this will happen again while I am in Honduras (I'm just that attractive, right?). Hondurans like to bring up the subject of romance, and my Honduran family is just waiting for me to fall in love with a Honduran. And when you are from the US, thare are quite a few Honduran women that would be interested.

Right before the recent Gold Cup, I watched in the rain a friendly match between Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago (Honduras won). It was held in San Pedro's Morazán Stadium, and was the first game I've gone to.

The week of June 14th, MCC Mexico and Central America had a retreat in La Ceiba, at a hotel on the beach. Although not all MCCers are North Americans, for me it still felt like a dip back into North American Mennonite culture (including a hymn sing and watching episodes of The Office on an ipod screen). The sessions of the retreat were on migration with a Nicaraguan presenting (click here for more on that topic). The day after the retreat a group of us went to some cays (little islands), where there was good snorkling, and ate a meal on a little island with only Garífunas.

I look forward to my family coming soon to visit, on August 1...

I seem to be getting a little behind in my posts, originally I had a pattern of one every month and now it is more like one every two months.

The computer class I have been teaching, that includes the applications of Microsoft Office is now over, and we had a little graduation ceremony last Saturday. I am beginning teaching another course for business students with an emphasis on accounting with spreadsheets. That will mean more work, but it should be rewarding, and it will be fun to teach a class that will be more advanced. This course will also cost the students quite a bit more than the normal ones.

I have had a bit of traveling since the last post. In March I went to visit the MCCer who lives in Tocoa. Kari Dyrli is here for one year and teaches at a school in the same town. Tocoa has a lot of African palm trees, used to make cooking oil. We saw a bit of Trujillo, a small coastal town set in a hook-shaped bay, and last major town on the coast as the eastern part of the country is sparsely populated. Greg Lamb, another SALTer was along. He and Kari were hoping to get permission to go back to the states by land, but MCC denied them that proposal.

Honduras General

This last period also included Holy Week, which here is like a spring break. The Friday before, the MAMA project went on an outing to a place with swimming pools, access to the ocean, and a small zoo. That Saturday I survived another vigil at church (if you want to know about vigils, you can see the first newsletter) and the following Monday, I went to a beach with other Honduran young people. Later in the week I made it to Tegucigalpa area to see a it of the holy week celebrations they have there, processions that walk over carpets made out of colored sawdust with intricate designs.

I also spent a day with several other people going hiking through a national park a ways outside of the city, where there is a cloud forest, with patches of original forest. Cloud forests are like cold rain forests, which manage to retain a lot of moisture despite little rainfall and occur at high altitudes. At lower altitudes in that area of the country, there are only pine trees, a similar feel to Colorado. On the way to the park you pass through the ruins of the Rosario Mining Company, which decisively made Tegucigalpa the capital when it opened in 1880, and it operated until 1950-something as a large silver and gold mine. It paid market-wages for dire working conditions, and whatever was the economic benefit to Tegucigalpa is likely negligible in comparison to the fortunes of its New York investors.

A week later the MCC team had a weekend meeting at he farm where two service workers live. A bit after that I accompanied one of the country-reps to the southern area of Honduras, where MC supports a basically agricultural project of the Brethren in Christ Church. We visited several areas where the project works, fairly isolated and in a very dry area, like a desert.

About a week after that, the whole local church went on an excursion to a beach near Tela. organized by the youth in order to gain some funds. It was very fun to spend time with people from the community/church outside of a worship service. I put on sunscreen, but it must have washed off, because my delicate white skin got sunburnt.

Also, some good news is that my entire family is coming to visit me in early August, giving me a bit of work to plan for it. The next number of months will be busier, and I imagine they will go fast.

I have now finished 6 months in Honduras, which makes the next two and a half years seem shorter. As far as work is concerned, there is not really anything new to tell, but I have a few new highlights to tell about.

More than month ago I went with several other young people from the church to the annual retreat for all Mennonite youth in Honduras, which took place at a camp. There were some 500 participants and the even took place at a pretty site in Santa Bárbara with pine trees and a rocky spring. It reminded me in some ways of camps in the United States, including the rustic sleeping conditions. It lasted from a Friday night to a Sunday morning. It generally took about two hours for all 500 participants to be served each meal, and Saturday afternoon they had recreational games. The speakers Friday night and Saturday morning were a North American from EMM and his translator. The speaker Saturday night was Brazilian, an evangelist who had an incredible power over those present. He was full of energy, and the crowd was wild. The closest sociological comparison I can make to something in the United States would be an intense football game. At one point, after blowing the shofar, most participants began to weep and some danced in the Spirit. At the second blowing of the shofar, most people were up front. The guy threw out water, and the pockets of the crowd where people got wet collapsed to the ground. After a short message, he called up ten people who apparently had accepted Christ and relating to them very naturally, he led them through prayers of forgiveness for their fathers. He also led prayers for receiving the blessing of God, promising solutions to life's problems; jobs or healing from sickness.

Honduras General

The second highlight from the last month was a day spent accompanying a North American group to La López where a Mennonite project called "Peace and Justice" has worked. In the 90's the neighborhood made international news because of its gang violence. 3 major gangs, los 18, los Vatos Locos, and the Mara Salvatrucha operated in the area, acquiring arms by attacking security guards and imposing taxes on transport in and out of their territories. The Peace and Justice project helped call gang members to conversion and helped them find work when the broader society wouldn't accept them. There was a machine there for removing tattoos, which in Honduras are a symbol of gang involvement. Violence is still a problem in Honduras; in the newspapers it said that Honduran congressmen have compared the homicidal rate to that of Iraq's. The afternoon involved an informal soccer game with the kids of former gang members. I don't think I need to mention whether it was the kids or a bunch of Canadian women who won.

Honduras General

Finally, two weekends ago I traveled with my host family to the hometown of their extended family in Comayagua for the occasion of the 15th birthday party of a cousin. That age is for young women is a big deal in Latin culture. They worked and did all the decorating and cooking the night before and the morning of. The party featured the birthday girl and her acompanying "court" in formal dress. They had a procession and a short dance. It was a chance for me to meet new people, observe Honduran family dynamics and get some fresh air. The following day they took me on a hike through nearby mountains and fields. We saw several little mills where they grind and cook sugar cane to remove the sweet part.

If you are still reading, I will tell a little bit about work. We are in the middle of a computer course. The kids are learning a decent amount, but it is always a challenge to manage the different learning paces so that no one gets bored. Some of the internet cables apparently are damaged and I caused a computer to fail, but we fortunately had an extra that wasn't being used since it didn't have a monitor, so we still have 10 computers for the students, 8 with internet, and not the same 8 with working floppy disk drives. All have Windows XP Service Pack 1, and I was trying to experiment putting Service Pack 2 on the one, but that didn't work, and now it will need a new reinstallation of Windows. Have I mentioned how much I hate Microsoft?

You can also remember in thoughts or prayers a young man from my church here who has from what I know reached Atlanta, where a member of the church lives. He left more than a month ago, but was ditched by the first coyote, robbed of about $500. He remained in Mexico for awhile, and the church member from Atlanta hired the second coyote.

Many of you are in my thoughts, and there are many people I miss...

The Christmas season has passed and a new year is upon us. Currently I am getting back into the swing of things. This past week we began registration for the next Microsoft Office/computer course, which will have room for 40 kids over a few months. The computer lab will also have a schedule for kids who come in for reinforcement classes or who come to complete assignments using the Internet.

For over 3 weeks over the holidays I didn't have responsibilities here. The first week I went with Greg Lamb to Tegucigalpa. This time I was able to get to know the city better. The hills of the city outskirts afford views across the city that give one a better impression of where everything is physically located. The whole city is ringed with mountains, and there is one big hill near the downtown. On the Sunday, we went to church and hooked up with a few people we knew to go to the village of Santa Lucía on one of the neighboring mountains. We also got to know the taxi route to where we stayed well.

One morning was spent making our way through the most crowded market ever and the dusty streets of Comayagüela just to find a bus to take us to a random town not far as the crow flies. The town was pretty but not really worth the effort. On another day we also did some hiking with the same school teachers, who teach at an English school up in the mountains in El Hatillo.

I was "home" over Christmas and New Years. Both nights (the 24th and 31st) are celebrated by setting off lots of fire crackers (despite attempts to prohibit them). There is a constant sound of distant crackers throughout the evening. One tradition is to make tamales or sandwiches (with chicken and a special sauce). These are festivity foods that are eaten on other special occasions as well. Everyone stays up late on both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Many Hondurans might dance and drink, which makes the holidays somewhat suspect for evangelical Christians. Some churches have long services on those nights to keep people away from the partying on the streets. I think Christmas is more of a religious holiday (i.e. celebration of Christ's birth) for the Catholics than for evangelicals. At least at my church the Christmas Eve service was not different than any other.

I gave my Honduran family gifts that my family had sent from the states. They gave me a shirt, and I also had a new pair of pants I had gotten from a tailor. The other big holiday tradition is to "estrenar" -- show off new clothing. My Honduran brother for instance had an entirely new outfit down to the belt and shoes to wear Christmas eve. The youth from the church had a gift-exchange on New Year's eve. North American decorations like lights and Christmas trees are in Honduras to a certain extent. In Tegucigalpa there were nativity scenes in many of the plazas.

Honduras General

The Christmas break also gave me a change to visit the MCCers at the farm in el Ciprés and help out with some painting. Aside from when I was gone, it was a little difficult to keep occupied, so I look forward to beginning the classes again. Last Wednesday (the 17th) I had a birthday and received three different cakes -- one from the project staff and the other from the family.

I hope you all have a blessed start to the new year whatever you may be doing.

The end of the year has arrived and it is time for Christmas break. Just yeasterday we had the graduation for the computer course I was teaching. One has to understand that graduation ceremonies in Honduras are a big deal. A two week cooking class has a graduation with diplomas, and kids get certificates even for attending reenforcement tutoring. The latter part of the class covered as much as there was time to teach: changing appearence of text in Word, making tables in Excel, and exposure to formulas, and the basics of PowerPoint and practice pasteing, moveing and resizing images. The computers are working fine, although with 256 megabytes of RAM they freeze up really easily, and Windows must be the most fragile of operating systems. A kid just has to click some ten times on the same icon and the computer is done for. So it can be a challenge teaching kids how not to freeze computers up.

Honduras General

I will be staying with the same family for a year. They are doing well. They are finishing their construction project (an added room and wall), and are trying to finance the large gate for the pickup truck that they have faith God will someday bless them with.

Honduras General

The younger brother of Consuelo (the mother of the house) is supposedly close to making it to Minnesota where Consuelo's older sister lives. They have been praying for him. A coyote has taken him accross Mexico. I'm not sure if at this moment he has crossed the border into the US. His wife works in a maquila (somewhat infamous clothing factories that abound in San Pedro) and they hope someday to be able to have their own house. Their two-year-old son sleeps at my house. He recently had a birthday celebration which they celebrated with a cake and a Barney piñata. Barney is the kid's favorite show.

There are frequently special events with the church as well. Last Saturday the Mennonite youth in the area had a rally. The sermons focused on the potential youth have through the blessing of God. They emphasized that God wants to do great things in the lives of the new generation. At some point in the event, a large portion of the participants were what we would call "slain in the spirit." This means that the minister might touch a participant's forehead, and sometimes immediately or after awhile, the participant will simply fall to the ground. This type of ministering is very common in Honduras.

It is a challenge worshipping in a church very different from my own, but the church services have pushed me toward better discipline in my prayer and reflection. I am drawn more to faith by the simple trust my host family places in God. It is easy to stand as the foreign observer in the church services. More recently I begin to sense more and more how people are pouring out their hearts to God often in the face of problems or ne eds. It is not something you see as often in North America, at least not in church.

Tommorrow I will be leaving wth Greg Lamb to travel in the Tegucigalpa area. I will spend Christmas with the family where I live.

I guess more than a month has passed since last writing a newsletter. I was going to wait until putting up a website, but that is still going to take more time.

Work
At the computer center where I work, we have now started a new course that will last until the end of the year. This course teaches basic use of Windows, typing, and Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for middle-school aged students. So far we have finished the typing unit, which is very difficult for them, and at best will make them slightly faster at hunting for keys. I do the majority of the teaching and also give a few tutoring sessions (mostly with English, which is extremely hard for them), as well as attend to special education kids that come in to use the computers.

At the same time, I now have a lot less work at maintaining computers because they now have a program that prevents permanent changes on the hard drive without putting in a special code, and because each computer has had its hard drive recently reformatted. After every restart, the computer returns to its earlier state, just like a public-use computer. Before this, three computers had already failed on me.

During the last number of weeks, Jesús (the father of my host family) has worked at home adding on a concrete-block wall and an extra room to the house. I helped one day sifting sand for the mortar and helping lay block. They always lay the blocks in sections, leaving space for columns of concrete with vertical rebar in between. Mortar or cement is mixed on the spot as needed. When they need to put scaffolding, they just poke holes into the wall to be filled in later. The same applies to putting in the bars over the windows. The roof is tin? sheeting. The final stages include a smooth layer of a special cement over the walls (not plaster; I'm not sure what we would call it), pouring the floor, putting in wiring, repairing what was earlier chiseled away, etc. There isn't exactly a correct order to doing things, and of course no building codes. The thing about cement-block walls is that you can always chisel away (for example to put in wiring), and patch it up later.

Travel
In the last month, I've had a bit of a chance to travel. One longer weekend I traveled with Alejandra (the person that I work with) to Tegucigalpa. We stayed at the house of the family of Leonardo Chavarria, who is working as a language assistant at EMU as part of an exchange program. The family lives rather far from the city up in the mountains surrounded by pines, and for the first time I was cold in Honduras. They took me into the more commercial zone of Tegucigalpa, and that night I had a chance to get to know the young people of the Mennonite church there. We went to a coffee shop up on a hill overlooking the city and then rode around in a large van past various parts of the city until reaching the church retreat center up in the mountains not far from the house. Along the way we passed by the large US embassy, and there was a larger area walled off for the mansion for US ambassador. I'm not sure why the US needs such impressive facilities. Maybe they were built during the Contra war.

It was also evident that Tegucigalpa was poorer than San Pedro. Tegucigalpa really has no industry, while San Pedro benefits from its proximity to Puerto Cortés. Tegucigalpa is a lot hillier; it never flattens out like the Sula valley. The hills surrounding the city, easily visible, are covered in shanties. I was told about one hill where there is no water or electricity. The residents survive by growing and selling flowers. There the streets are covered with flower petals, and the women get up very early to walk down the hill, as there is no bus.

What made the weekend memorable was that our suitcases were taken by Dutch visitors at the Mennonite church in Tegucigalpa. They put their suitcases on top of ours and later took off with ours by accident. I had to wait about a week to get back the contents. I traveled back from Teguz with nothing but money and a Bible in hand.

Another weekend I went to La Ceiba to visit Greg Lamb. La Ceiba has a pretty downtown and is on the coast, but the better beaches are a ways away in the Garífuna towns. (Garífunas are descendents of African slaves). I got to see where Greg works, which is an organization called "Peace and Justice" associated with the Honduran Mennonite church, that works with reducing gang violence. In some areas, including where I work, delinquency is a major problem. Someone has commented to me, "in Honduras there are only two sports: soccer and gangs."

The Saturday before the last I gave the sermon. Since there are so many church services, all the adults regularly preach. Saturday is considered the youth service. I preached from the book of Galatians, about living by the Spirit, rather than the law. Needless to say, my message was not the same style as theirs, nor the same length, and of course there's the language-difficulty. I hope you are all well. Life here can certainly have its challenges, some of which seem like they were custom-designed just to test me. But God uses all such things to draw my attention and faith to where it belongs. Feel free to drop an e-mail anytime.

It seems like there are a lot of things to talk about, even though not that much time has passed, and I'm really not very busy. I didn't escape getting sick from amoebas and parasites. If you wish to know the gory details, you can contact me, but I won't elaborate on that. The many medications prescribed by the doctor for this worked very quickly.

About 2 weeks ago, the Mennonite church of Seis de Mayo had a "vigil," which means church lasting all through the night, consisting mainly in load praise songs. It took place on a Saturday night-- nine hours of worship services with a 30 minute break in between for coffee and baleadas. I didn't get to bed until 5 am. There was also preaching, speaking in tongues, and an emphasis on making noise. The youth were encouraged to dance or at least sing with excitement. I had never seen exorcisms before, but that night there were two, one of them being my host brother. A bunch of people had to restrain him, and they kept repeating over in over "in the name of Jesus." Finally he went limp and everyone applauded. During the time for giving testimonies, he spoke of feeling "blows," after entering "the presence of the spirit."

Normally worship services are not that intense. There is church 6 days a week, but the family I live with doesn't always go. Wednesdays it is always led by women, and Fridays it takes place somewhere else on the street in front of someone's house. Soon after the vigil the MCC Honduras team (8 people) met for several days to talk about how life is going, hear from a Honduran guest speaker about Honduran culture, and the Mennonite church in Honduras, as well as some time for recreation. It was good to get to know the other gringos, and to see Greg Lamb who I already knew from college.

My job at the computer center is going well. My role as teacher is still not as organized as it probably will be in the future. I am not yet teaching my own classes, but rather helping Alejandra with the classes that are already taking place. At times I have also done tutoring. Students can often demand individual attention and it is hard to attend to them all, especially when using the internet, which many want to do, and few know how. Now I got internet to pretty much all the computers, my work at updating and keeping them from viruses has greatly expanded. Sometimes I wonder if I should have waited a few more weeks before "getting around" to connecting the hub.

People here make a lot references about going to the States. Many of them have family members there. The neighbor kids have a father who lives in Atlanta, and my host mother Consuelo has a sister that lives in Minnesota. Consuelo tells her little nephew less than two years old that Caleb is going to take him inside a suitcase on an airplane to the United States, as she stuffs a little airplane of food into his mouth. My family likes to joke about how I can get them into the States. Of course it's not all a joking matter. Five young men from my street left for the north, Consuelo tells me. It doesn't seem to me that people in Seis de Mayo are that bad off, but I don't know how much they are already supported by immigrant relatives. For them it seems the only way to better their life. I am told that money sent from the United States is the biggest industry in Honduras-- a larger part of their economy than bananas or maquila factories. In this area, leaving for the states is not necessarily the perilous journey I read about. People will make a $5000 "investment" (payment for the coyote to take them the whole way to the states) and live in the states for 2 years and then come back, and if you don't get deported apparently this is a very good investment. I learned that the city buses (converted school buses) where probably brought here in this fashion.

When Hondurans do know someone in the states they can have, as Consuelo said, "nice things." I guess "nice things" refers to the watch Consuelo was recently given, to toys with batteries, lights, and speakers, and I'm sure to that battery-powered car I saw a toddler driving around. I know I speak from the gringo perspective and don't really know what it is like for them. But I think the cost of family separation can be very high.

Well, now to make this end on a more positive note. It really isn't me to start screaming and shouting about the "joy of the Lord" like they do at church services here. But I am blessed by the kind of learning I am experiencing here, and the openness of the people, and the sense of hope that they exude. I continue to appreciate you thoughts and prayers.

Greetings from Honduras. This is now my fifth day in Honduras, and the third day in the community of Seis de Mayo, which is outside of the city of San Pedro Sula, second largest and industrial center of Honduras. Seis de Mayo is the community in which I will work, and it primarily consists of houses, but in the general area there are schools, a clinic, soccer fields, and stores. I guess you could say it has the "small town" feeling, although thinking of small towns in the US isn't going to be at all helpful in visualizing.

The first two days I spent with the MCC country representatives, getting acquainted with the MCC office and the office of project MAMA, which is the organization that runs the computer center and library where I will work. Since then I have moved in with a host family in Seis de Mayo, where I will stay for a month. In the meantime, they will try to fin a place for me to live more permanently, either an apartment or extra rooms of a household.

San Pedro Sula is similar to what I expected after having visited Ecuador, although Ecuador has a somewhat better economy. San Pedro is very spread out and flat, as it is in the Sula valley. You can see mountains well from the city, but not in Seis de Mayo. Like most cities, San Pedro presents its economic contrasts, for instance it has a water park and large malls, although it has no tall buildings. City transport is primarily retired school buses, or large vans called rapiditos, crammed full of people, that drive fast and occasionally race each other (not so far, though). You see a lot of signs with Christian slogans on buses and buildings, such as "Cristo vive." Praise and worship music is among the other styles of music that are blaring in the marketplace. The cathedral has a big sign advertising what appeared to me to be an evangelistic mission.

Seis de Mayo doesn't seem like city like I expected. It has many trees, and unpaved roads that fill with water and mud. If it rains as much as they say it does in October, I may need boots. People talk a lot about how high the water was during hurrican Mitch. It completely covered the houses. My host family still lives in the same house, which survived, but they lost everthing else that they owned and gained a foot of mud inside the house. Seis de Mayo is a marginalized community, but they do not represent the poorest in Honduran society, which would probably be those that live on the river bank. I've found that cold showers feel quite good; the water really isn't cold since the ambient temperature is always warm. This morning, my host mother, Consuelo, said that a gangster stopped by demanding money (he didn't take much). However, generally my street is "tranquilo"-- it isn't often visited by gangs.

The Mennonite church in Seis de Mayo has an evangelistic style of worship with a praise band and hearty sermons, and they meet practically everyday for worship, including once a week on the streets. One of the pastor's sons is my age, and has spent time in Canada with the IVEP program, so he seems particularly friendly. Everyone has been very welcoming. Although I graduated with a Spanish major, by their standards, I know "a little bit," and I think it's assumed that Spanish is a much easier language than English. They are surprised that I've come for three years, and wonder impressed I would decide to come to Honduras. I think for them there is an irony there, as they would dream of coming to the United States, and have friends or relatives that made it there. On Friday I spent the day at the center getting to know how things are done there. The children are very cute, and they had fun that day practicing measureing the length of objects.

I appreciate your prayers as I transition to a new culture and get used to hearing Spanish without always needing people to repeat. This morning my grandmother died, so this also presents a challenge to my transition.

Updated September 18, 2009