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

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.

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.

Another that doesn't usually join us for outings.


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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chita Turns 12

 Chita, also known as Edwin, turned 12 the other day. 
Last Saturday in fact.
I'll admit, I haven't been the most consistent in my birthday celebrating lo' these many months. 
Of the hundred or so birthdays I have on the calendar I think I've maybe celebrated 10 with kids.
Time to cut the fat and do some prioritizing.
Chita is one that I just can't cut.
A loyal, sweet and selfless child; he can wield a mighty temper at times but is always quick to forgive and forget.

4 of 8 children from one of my favorite families in Los Laureles.
That little one Darwin there, I wish he were mine, he's darn near perfect.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Random Scenes From the Past Month

I have no excuse. I have officially been on Christmas Break from school for more than a week now and still I have been loathe to blog. Jojo Daniele is here with me and so, as is my want, I may just shift the blame to her. She's the reason I don't blog - she just keeps me so busy. On this lazy New Year's Eve Day though, she suggested we run our morning errands and then hole up in a coffee shop and have a writing day. Here we are then and instead of writing and blogging I spent the first hour or two re-opening a Facebook account. I don't loathe blogging, I loathe myself. I have been keeping busy though and thus the following is a quick photo recap of my many pursuits these past few days. Oh, and Merry Christmas/Happy New Year from Jojo, the youth of Laureles and myself. It certainly doesn't feel like Christmastime, what with the 80 degree weather, but I suppose it's the right thing to do (send the Yuletide greetings that is).

Jojo with her "sister" Dariana. 
Trying out heels.
Not sure how I feel about that.

 Chucu, Norman, Gina and Me up in the mountains on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.

 Jojo tried having a convo with the Macaw.
The Macaw won.

 Darwin, child number 7 of 8 in Marta's family.
Love this child.
Completely and Absolutely.

 A random cousin of Duk's.
He insisted that I take his photo.
I did and then picked him up and threatened to carry him off to the U.S.
He cried.
I love children.

 Dariana on her birthday back in November.

 Mateo, child number 8 of 8 in Marta's family.
I do not love him completely.
Perhaps one of the most obnoxious children that I have ever met.
He carries the name well.

 He tried burning his mother's shoes.

Me on Christmas Day.
We spent the night there on the 24th and when I woke up at Duk's house they had coffee waiting for me.
Happy New Year from Los Laureles.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Working Down The Line

Saw this on my walk home the other day and liked the symmetry of it.
That's all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Carlos Turns 14

One of my very favorite people of all time, Carlos Jose Ucles Ferrufino (affectionately known as Chucu), turned 14 the other day. I may not be in the community on a daily basis but I still keep my birthday calendar up-to-date and attempt to celebrate, or at the very least acknowledge, the many birthdays that come down the pike each month. Chucu though is special; he is bright, intelligent, always with a smile and quick to lend a hand. He exudes innocence and an innate sense of justice; he won my heart the day I met him back in 2009 and he's become part of the core group of Laureles folk that I trust and rely on. That said then, when his birthday came around we gathered together in his home, his mother made baleadas for the guests and we shared cake, coke and laughs. It was a lovely mid-week evening with even lovelier company.

Chucu y Mateo 
Probably the only good photo taken all night.
(even in spite of the two middle-fingers being thrown up behind my left shoulder) 
The rest of the photos on my camera, as taken by Chucu's older brother Tati, were of various relatives and neighbors, all of whom seemed to be in varying stages of Bell's Palsy or outright Shock.
 Eduardo, a random cousin and neighbor.
His palsy is barely noticeable but certainly beginning to take effect.
 Josep, another cousin.
His too is just coming on.
 This random, fatherless child, who was not related to anyone there as far as I could tell, had the nervous habit of repeatedly saluting people. I'm not making this up; I have 3 different photos as taken by Tati, and in everyone this little war-monger is saluting the camera.
With a sudden and serious spell of the Bell's.
Demonic Possession...one of the two.
 Chucu's Mother.
Drunk on Coca-Cola.
 Chucu's Grandmother.
 Lety, the crazy neighbor-lady.
Just barely alive.
 Another fatherless, mouth-breather.
Downright catatonic.
 And not to be outdone.
Chucu's gang-sign throwin' sister.
H.B. Chucu.
I love you.
I swear.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I'm A Grandfather

I hate when people refer to themselves as the parents of their pets, or worse, when older adults begin referring to the pets of their grown children as their grandchildren.
I'm not quite sure what makes me loathe it so. 
I have to think that the stoic folk of my great-grandparents' generation weren't giddily anthropomorphizing every whimper and sigh that their four-legged children emitted.
Did they send pictures of their pets 'round at Christmastime to help announce the Birth of Christ? Did they screen their cats for HIV/AIDS? Did they take their dogs to "Doggie-Daycare" or the local "pet spa"? Did they spend as much money on their pet's health and entertainment as they did on the children that they actually, biologically produced? 
The salt-of-the-earth, level-headed folk of 70 years ago treated their pets like animals. They chained them outside to a tree, they gave them scraps of food off the supper-table for their dinner, they expected them to perform a useful function, and, when their health finally failed them they quickly and painlessly disposed of them with a .22 caliber rifle.
Thus, maybe my disdain then comes from something I see at work in the modern psyche, something that has undermined the modern family and societal interrelationship, something that keeps parents clinging to child-rearing more generally because their own children have become cold and unfeeling and have rejected...never mind, that's too deep for this blog...we'll talk about it later.
I think more superficially though that the OCD monster in me likes to categorize things properly and without a blurring of the lines: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Genus, Species, Race. Everything has its place and order and ne'er shall we blend the categories simply because you have a ridiculous emotional attachment to a soul-less, conscience-less beast that only "loves you" insofar as it can receive pleasure and sustenance from you. In other words, unless you've actually married and produced children with Checkers the Miniature Schnauzer please put the kibosh on the whole my-pet-is-my-child hokum because it's just not true and it makes you appear infantile and absurd. Again that's the OCD monster speaking, not me.
When I first purchased my animal I vowed to never anthropomorphize her actions or intentions. She is a lower life-form driven entirely by survival habits and pleasure-seeking chemicals in the brain. She no more loves and is attached to me than any other person that could satisfy, on a consistent basis, those two basic drives. If a vacuum cleaner could consistently feed, caress, and shelter her she would just as soon attach to it.
Most importantly though, I vowed never to call her my daughter or allow my mother to refer to her as a grandchild.
Two weeks ago Keiser, who has lived at Maureen's house for nearly 2 years, had puppies. Maureen had planned this event; she cross-bred her with a Belgian Shepherd back in September. The resulting mix is supposed to be something akin to the perfect dog. The puppies are perfect...I feel something inside of me that is similar to warmth and affection when I think of them. Oh feelings. 
It was with much chagrin and dissimulation then when today, upon leaving church that Maureen's mother approached me, hugged me and asked if I'd be stopping by to see if my grandchildren had opened their eyes. I smiled nodded and said that absolutely I'd be stopping by to see them. What kind of parent would I be if I didn't?
Perhaps the most beautiful animal ever.
 Except for maybe her offspring.
 They eat non-stop.
 Keiser is a patient parent.
Much like her father.