A Weekly Journal Chronicling My Life
As It Intersects With The Garbage Dump Community Near La Ceiba, Honduras

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ceiba Summer

So I'm back in La Ceiba for the rest of my quickly retreating summer vacation, after a very restful month with my family in the United States. William Nickols, my sincerest apologies. I know I promised to blog at least once before I left for the North but lack of ambition and inspiration being what they are these days, I wasn't once able to crank out a single post in all this time. Never fear though my fearless reader/student; Daddy's back in the saddle and he's got enough of both to fill a small corner of the internet.

I have a serious post to lay down here sometime in the next week but in the meantime I thought to show you a little bit of what I and the boys from Los Laureles have been up to these past 2 weeks. It's been like old times in Los Laureles; without that pesky job of mine to keep me distracted I've been able to spend nearly every waking hour out in the community with the kids. Though truth be told we've been out exploring the rivers and mountains of Greater La Ceiba as much as anything else. I've enjoyed it though; spending time with the boys, now young men, is why I'm truly here and it's been a blessing to be able to devote my nearly undivided attention to people of Los Laureles. I like teaching, I like my students, but nothing compares to spending time with the kids in Laureles. That's what gets me up in the morning.

The other week I took a group of boys swimming and when we arrived at the swimming hole we saw a band of men and boys throwing rocks at a harmless snake. Hondurans have an unnatural, and what I might consider an effeminate, fear of all things reptilian. In the presence of a serpent-creature they either shriek and wet themselves or they hack and pelt until dead.

I have little tolerance for either response.

Both are borne out of ignorance and superstition which I detest and consider weaknesses beyond forgiveness.

I immediately threatened the entire group with bodily harm if they continued to pelt the poor creature and then I ran to rescue it. Scooping it up I brought it to show the kids, to teach them that snakes are good, God's creatures and only slightly responsible for Eve's fall into sin. 

The boys though scattered, excepting Duke who seemed genuinely interested in the whole serpentine affair.

I handled it a bit before flinging it upon the heads of the men that had been trying to kill it.

They went all wobbly and fainted.

or I let it go...

So these next series of shots are just of kids running off rocks and falling into water.
It's nothing special I know, doesn't exactly make for great blogging, but it does look cool.

The first is Tolo with a student of mine, Jorge, that has become good friends with the boys of Laureles.

Jorge is a unique character in that he has taken to the guys from Laureles despite their very different backgrounds and stations in life. The guys for their part have accepted him as one of their own and now we can't go anywhere without checking to see if Jorge wants to come along. 




I forgot to include the splash.

Next up is Chihua, the daredevil and de facto leader of the group; even I take direction from him.
Wherever we go he finds the highest height to leap from.
Jorge offered to take him skydiving and Chihua said, and so long as he would be landing in water, that he would accept and also forgo the parachute. 

I kind of believe him.







Looking down on the river from on top a waterfall.

And now for Mardin to jump off that waterfall.





I promise he landed in water.

Mother says I'm Dr. Dolittle; I'm not, I just love animals.

and maybe wish they could talk to me.

or in Camilla's case come live with me forever.

Today we drove up into the mountains to visit our beloved family in Toncontin.
We spent much of the day visiting with people at Pancha's mother's house but in the afternoon we decided to hike out into the mountains. It was a beautiful climb and we managed to snap this photo just before the rains let down.

L-R: Courtney, Edgardo, Gina, Jojo, Bobby, Danila, Meli, Cesar, Memo, Pani & Abel
(not pictured: Me, Vicki and the rain)

Well that's all for now - I know it wasn't anything illuminating but jumping off of rocks, playing with wild creatures and hanging out with Laureles kids and Gringos has been about the extent of my life these past two weeks. Look for something new early this week.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Camilla Wants to Apologize

Williams Nickols my apologies for not posting sooner...it's mostly Camilla's fault; she's such a needy monkey.

She's such a good friend though; always so quick to check me for lice, eat my leftover fruit and show me her devotion by growling at me when I try to extract myself from her vice-like grip.

She's the best.

Camilla is also reminding me now that it's late and I don't have nearly enough time tonight to cover all the happenings in Laureles in any sort of proper way.

Hang on William, a new post is coming this week.

Camilla promises.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Los Laureles

It's no secret that I love Los Laureles. The people, the homes, the very contours of the community evoke my affection. In thinking about what to write on this month I found myself at a loss for good stories. There's a funny anecdote here and there but no grand meta-theme to tie it all together and Lord knows I like me a good meta-theme. What I did find though were about 356 photos that I've taken over the last few months. Taken as a whole these photos highlight what I love best about my people in Laureles; their joy, their resilience, their freedom and true community.

Oh and worry not, I didn't post all 356:

This is Noel a sweet kid and one of the few students that I'm helping this year with their studies.
He comes from a good solid family, is driven and generally avoids bad influences.
He's a joy to be around.
 

One of my all-time favorites, beloved Chucu.
I told him I needed his photo for a project and this is what he gave me.
He's another that I'm supporting in school; everyone that's ever met him agrees that there's something special about him. One lady said that just the way he carries himself is unique.
I have high hopes for this one.
 

Her not so much.
This is Chucu's Aunt Paola.
I've never heard her string a coherent sentence together; she's just a quirky gal that has eschewed nearly all social relationships, preferring the radio and the bottle to human interaction.
This day that I stopped by I found her sitting chest deep in the family's sole source of clean water, the outdoor sink.
She was drinking booze and eating Cheetos.
Admittedly it was an oppressively hot day and the water looked mildly inviting, the bloated and floating Cheetos notwithstanding.
 

Dear, sweet, selfless Heidi. Perhaps the kindest person I've ever met.
She's another that we're helping in her studies.
She's so quiet and timid though that she won't ask me directly when she needs something for school, rather she'll use Duke as a liaison.
Speaking of Duke and this girl.
There's nothing romantic going on between the two, though I wouldn't object to such an arrangement.
Heidi is so loved by this community that at the beginning of the school-year, when I had nothing extra with which to help her go to school; Duke took it upon himself to buy her school supplies and uniform.
He works Monday-Friday and studies on the weekends and the little extra that he had he used to help Heidi study.
That should give you an idea of how highly the people of Laureles hold Heidi in their estimation.
 

El Renco.
He's a crippled Cobbler.
Cobbled a number of my shoes for me, this one.
I overheard a conversation between two younger men in the community a month ago.
One suggested that the other, being a better cobbler ought to give up his back-breaking, day-laborer work and start cobbling shoes for a living.
The recipient of the suggestion, the aspiring young cobbler calmly quashed the idea.
His reasoning was that the community couldn't support two cobblers and that if he hung out his shingle, El Renco's business would quickly dry up and he'd be ruined.
"El Renco is old, this all he has left to support himself, it would be a sin to take that away from him."
That's Los Laureles, right there.
 

A pigeon with clipped wings.
Not sure what to say about this one other than it never ceases to amaze me what the children (and adults) find to keep as pets here.
I once saw a kid here walking a crab on a leash.
After some goading from his friends though he used that leash as a slingshot of sorts to fully pulverize that poor crab against a brick wall.
I wanted to slay that child.
Still do at times.
Never liked that child...or anyone in that family for that matter.
The whole lot seems rotten right down to the core.
Families like that, where the lot of them are just downright intolerable (and slay-worthy), are just so frustrating.
I'm recollecting an old Williamsport family from the swim team right now.
They were that way.
Still are I would imagine.
I'd bet the swim team family and the crab family would get along famously.
 

Not to be outdone, the sister had her own clipped-winged pigeon.
Misery loves company.
 

Sundays after church have become our sacred time in the river.
Johnny loans me his truck, I load up as many children as I can in the back and off we go to Las Mangas.
It's glorious.
 





Sometimes my Gringo-friends join.
Nodi doesn't seem terribly impressed with them though.
 


The lot of us that particular Sunday.
 

This past week I was at Marta's one evening and thick black smoke began billowing out of one of the abandoned buildings in front of her house.
Turns out a few kids decided to set a tire on fire inside of it.
There's not much to say here.
It made for a cool photo-op though.
 

Tolo and I share April 22nd as our birthday.
Every year we try and celebrate together in some way.
This year he opted to go out to dinner with me in the evening.
 

He brought Chihua along as well because...it's Chihua and who doesn't love him.
 
That's all I've got. That's my view of Los Laureles. It may be biased and partial at times but I'm ok with that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Judas Priest

I once ran over a blind man on my bike.

That's not the worst of it.

I though about that the other day as I was sharing with my 7th graders the Parable of the 'Good Samaritan'. We'd been discussing the beginnings of Christianity within the Roman Empire and our textbook happened to mention that Jesus taught in parables - a word no one in my class seemed to fully understand. Aghast at their lack of basic biblical knowledge, I turned to my laptop, played a few examples of parables from "Godspell" and then began to explore their meanings with the class. We looked at the 'Parable of the Sower', 'The Prodigal Son', 'Lazarus and the Rich Man' and then finally arrived at the 'Good Samaritan'. I asked if anyone knew what message Jesus was trying to convey with this particular story. There were the typical responses of "Be kind to everyone!" and "Don't ignore people just because they look different or messy!". My particular favorite came from a young boy who said "Never trust a priest!". Finally, one girl raised her hand and very softly said "It doesn't matter how good you look on the outside, what matters is what's in your heart."

Those words landed me solidly in the gut.

I was so proud of her and felt thus moved to tell the class a story.

In my first year as a missionary here I lived in a busy downtown neighborhood. I knew very few people in my barrio aside from my landlords; in contrast to everyone else it seemed, who were intimately connected with one another almost daily. I rode my bike nearly everywhere I went in those days and in short order my twice daily trips to and from the church offices became just another cog in the predictable and rhythmic clock that was the life of my neighborhood. One sunny noontime day I decided to leave the office early and head back home for lunch. It was a short ride from the offices to my house and as I cleared the last corner onto the long street at the end of which sat my dwelling, I noticed a man begin to shuffle off the curb and towards the middle of the street. I was a long way off when I first noticed him but even then was surprised that, given his unnaturally slow gait, he would attempt to cross the street when he could clearly see me coming. As I drew closer I noticed that his pace hadn't changed much and that if he didn't alter his tempo we would most likely collide. Surely I thought, he could see me and would adjust his stride accordingly.

He didn't.

It wasn't until I was on top of him, literally lying on top of him, that I realized he was blind. I didn't exactly hurt him, as just at the last minute (though still not realizing he was blind) I braked and swerved to avoid hitting what in that quick flash I presumed to be a complete moron.
Lying there though, nearly face-to-face I could see the anguish and discouragement begin to gather around his mouth and eyes; not from any real physical pain because the collision had simply been he and I slowly falling into one another. No, the anguish I imagined came from a place of frustration at once again being knocked-down because some fool-hardy speed-demon realized too late that he was blind. I felt severe and wrenching pity for what I'd done to this man.

And then I did what I never thought myself capable of. I grew hot with embarrassment. Panic overtook me; surely the many people on their porches and along the sidewalks, my neighbors, surely they had seen what had just transpired. What they must think of me! My head began to spin and the only thing I wanted to do was be as far away from there as I possibly could. Without even saying a word to the man I got up, jumped on my bike and rode as fast as I could back to my house.

I'm still ashamed to tell that story.

My 7th graders were justifiably appalled and did not hesitate to tell me so; I think one student might have even mentioned Hell in the chaos that overtook my classroom. I shared that with them though to drive home the point of how corrupted we truly are. I was a missionary in a land that practically worships missionaries; I could do no wrong in the eyes of many here and yet when push-came-to-shove I was no better than the Jewish Priest on the Jerusalem Road. Pride was alive and well in my heart and proved as much when it mattered most.

"Don't assume then" I exhorted my young rapt audience "that just because you go to church every week, go to catechism classes or have taken your first Holy Communion that you're a good person. This parable tells us in a very clear and simple way that it matters not what you look like on the outside in terms of religiosity, what matters is what is in your heart and we know what's truly in our heart by the way we respond to the unexpected events in life; to the blind men stepping into our path."

I thought about all of this the other day in Los Laureles. My time there has become vastly diminished what with this teaching job and all but I have not lost sight of the fact that I am here, living here, because I want to serve that community in any way I can. I was there though on that lazy Sunday afternoon to watch a soccer game. Soccer games, especially in poor communities like Los Laureles can become heated affairs with emotions running high, fist-fighting and the occasional discharging of firearms. I've seen it all. What I'd never seen though is what happened this particular Sunday afternoon. I was sitting with my good friend, confidant and former neighbor, Johnny, watching the game when from behind us, up the hill on the road, came marching a troupe of masked men carrying semi-automatic rifles. In their midst they marched a young man with a car tire shoved down over his shoulders so as to restrain his upper-bodily movements and with a plastic bag over his head. These men weren't from Los Laureles but rather from the poor, neighboring, river community of La Fe (There are a lot comings and goings between the two communities and so they know each other well). One of the masked-men noticed Johnny sitting there on a rock and, because Johnny is something of a mover and shaker in the Laureles world, the man came over to pay his respects and explain what was going on.

To fully grasp the gravity of the situation as I'm about to describe it, you need to know something of life in La Ceiba. Many of the poor suburban neighborhoods of La Ceiba (the suburbs are not for the rich in Honduras) are controlled and run by gangs connected to the major gang networks of MS-13, Mara 18, Los Bloc and others. Fortunately Los Laureles, La Fe and Los Bomberos haven't been infected by the gangs but that may be changing. In order to fuel and fund their activities the gang of a particular neighborhood will extort all of the various small business and homeowners, requiring that they pay what's known affectionately as a "War Tax". If a person or business chooses not to pay, the gang may be obliged to run them off their land or kill them...or both. They also extort people living in neighborhoods that aren't controlled by gangs and major businesses in the downtown La Ceiba area. It's a frustratingly awful existence for the poor people that live in these neighborhoods or the hard-working folk struggling to make a living off their businesses; only to have surly, lazy men show up at your door demanding either money or your life.

In case you're wondering, the police are of no service to the people here and sometimes are even of service to the gangs themselves.

With that in mind let me recount what the masked-man told Johnny.

Apparently the young man, now stuffed so neatly into a tire, was a gang member from the San Judas community, one of the most dangerous, gang-infested neighborhoods in all of La Ceiba. He had been sent by the gang there down into La Fe to collect rent from a small, poor woman who ran a little grocery out of her home. What the gangster was unaware of was that the community of La Fe, in light of the fact that the police are completely useless, had recently held a meeting and formed their own protective militia. They're on everyone's speed dial in the community there and so at a moment's notice can arrive to dispense of any unwanted criminal elements. That is exactly what this poor woman did - when the young man demanded the war tax be paid she feigned going into her house to get the money and instead called the La Fe militia. Within minutes 5 men with semi-automatics descended on the woman's house, I suppose with a tire in-hand, and had him detained. They then began marching him on the road out of the community and towards the main highway where they thought to wait for the police to arrive and take him away (and under his breath the masked-man muttered: "and release him the next day."). It was on that march that they passed by our community soccer game and decided to stop to take a break.

As the masked-man was recounting this story for Johnny a crowd began to gather round the "tired", young gang member. People that had been avid spectators of the soccer game came streaming across from the other side of the field to see what the commotion was; within minutes there were easily 50 people gathered in a humming, sweaty circle around the young man. I must admit that curiosity got the best of me and I too walked over to get a better look. It was in that melee that some of those gathered around began to beat the young man; people began kicking and punching him in the head, one man took the butt of his rifle and jammed it into the man's shoulder. The man, his face still covered by the plastic bag, began to cry. Something within me was screaming "DO SOMETHING!" but I didn't know what, I thought maybe to simply place my body in front of the young man but I found my feet reluctant to move. In that moment of my own indecision Johnny came bursting through the crowd, gun in hand and barged right to the middle of the circle. Cursing and yelling he defied anyone to touch that boy again; he demanded that the people there show compassion. "It's one thing to protect your community" he shouted "It's quite another to act like animals." One of the masked-men made a move towards Johnny, liking he was going to confront him, but a few larger Laureles men appeared out of the crowd at Johnny's side and the man stepped back. A woman from La Fe walked up and took the bag off the boy's head and then turned to the crowd and began to specifically point out other men and boys in the circle that had at one time or another been involved in drugs, theft or gangs. "None of us are perfect" she pleaded "and all of you were given second and sometimes third chances at life. Let's do the same here." The crowd wasn't exactly placated and there were some that were still quite visibly eager to have another crack at the boy, still sitting there on the ground with a tire around his torso. Johnny and the other Laureles men and the woman from La Fe held firm though and within a few minutes the police arrived and so the crowd dispersed.

As the young man rode off in the back of the police truck, Johnny and I drifted back toward the soccer game that had continued unabated in spite of the very large and unnatural disturbance taking place on the sideline. Out of the side of his mouth he said to me: "If they wanted to hit him they should have done it in a fair way; taken the tire off him and let him fight one-on-one...there was no way that I was going to let them beat that boy to death like that though...not like that."

It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, be you a priest, a missionary or a poor man from the garbage dump; what matters to God is what's in your heart. And sooner or later the events of life always force what lives in your heart to come out, probably when you least expect it.

  Johnny with our champion soccer team from a few years ago.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gringos Are The Worst

I've been hanging out with a lot of Gringos (and other hangers-on) and I mean a lotsies. This may come as surprise to some of you because if you know me you're painfully aware that one of the more absurd quirks that I have developed in the span of my time here in Honduras has been the general feeling of loathing and disdain that seems to envelope me whenever I see another foreigner (Gringo especially) on the street. This other foreigner in question of course has done nothing wrong, although they're usually dressed like a gypsy, and smell the part too. No, the fault lies entirely in my court; I simply have come to assume that Honduras is mine - I am the only white person living here and so to see another white face is to thusly disrupt that false paradigm that I've created in my head. This isn't to say I don't like Gringos & Expats; heck some of my best friends here are white...
  As you can see.

And lately these new-found white people friends have been everywhere with me.
Within the past 2 months I've made friends with a whole lady flock of white friends.
Now you might say to yourself: "Oh my, look at all those nice white girls from the United States."
And you'd be wrong.
And probably a little racist too.
Because two of the girls are Austrian mid-wives, one is a Canadian mid-wife, one really is an American (by way of New York) and the other (the tiny one you can barely see) isn't even white. 
She's an Indian from Texas!

The other Saturday I took my flock into the mountains to hike them out to the waterfall.

On our way out I made sure to stop off in Laureles and pick up a few children to accompany us.
Here's Nery, one of the kindest children you could ever hope to meet.
Juan Carlos is wondering about somewhere...

...oh there he is with the Lady flock.
Nery seems to be enjoying himself there too.

In that we've received copious amounts of rain these past few months, the falls were particularly strong that day. So much so that I was a little scared of standing under them as I usually do.

I included this one only because it kind of looks like snow there on the rocks...which I miss.
I takes about an hour to hike to the falls and about another hour to hike out.
Upon commencing our return trip, one of the ladies from the flock placed her iPhone in my camera bag.
When we were 5 minutes from the exit of the trail I discovered that the iPhone had fallen out somewhere.
She and I and one of the boys turned back around and went looking for another hour with no luck.
That was really a lot of fun.

The next day I was sitting in church and just felt the heat wafting in from the outside.
I had the sudden urge to go back up to the mountains and spend the day in the river.
Upon leaving church I called my old reliable neighbor in Los Laureles, Johnny and asked to borrow his truck for the afternoon.
I then proceeded to pick up the lady flock, a whole slew of children from Laureles and some snacks and off we went.

Abel
Doing well in spite of losing his mother not too long ago.

Me and Chucu high upon the rocks.

Austrians are strange, this I've come to believe.
And they hate the Germans...just can't stand them.

Here's a kid I hardly ever see.
Darwin Espinoza, youngest brother to two of my closest companions, Lauro and Sergio.

Manrique
Another that doesn't usually join us for outings.

A
Strange
Entry

And then there is Nadine the Austrian Mid-Wife

All in all in what was a relaxing and enjoyable weekend





Even if it was spent with White People.