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

Monday, June 23, 2008

I've Been Thinkin' About You

Greetings friends, family and random passersby I expect you’re here for the latest dispatch from La Ceiba, Honduras and as fortune would have it that’s what I’ve set forth to write; Great Guns, the laws of supply and demand win again! As I sit here withering from the oppressive summer heat I’m led to reflect on the fact that I’ve been a resident of Honduras for nearly 2 months now…where hath the time wandered off to? More importantly, what do have to show for it? Some brightly colored brochures and a classroom full of Catrachos that have had the English Alphabet drilled into them…not exactly what I had in mind when arrived here back in May. It’s been a real test in patience; I’m learning to wait on God...and the Dutch. There have been benefits to not having been thrown headlong into work with the gangs of La Ceiba…I’ve had plenty of time to catch up on back episodes of “Family Guy”. No seriously, I’ve been given the chance to gradually acclimate to my new life here, to visit San Pedro Sula, to hike and swim in Pico Bonito and to make some good friends in the church here. The past two months have certainly not run the course that I had envisioned but they’ve gone well and I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had thus far.
So part of the reason that PPJ has been so slow in beginning its 2008-2009 gang program is because the Dutch have been remiss in sending out the promised funding. The other reason though is that were missing a “Promotor”; that’s what we call the position in Spanish but I can’t quite figure out what that title means in English, I don’t think “Promoter” accurately translates. The Promotor essentially does all the leg work that the Coordinadora (Coordinator) plans and envisions…incidentally as a Voluntario (Volunteer) my job is to assist the Promotor in any possible way. Felix was the Promotor but recently stepped down, leaving an obvious and gaping vacuum in the power structure. How ever could the Coordinadora and the Voluntario be expected to effectively communicate without the vital link that is the Promotor? Thus any amount of work that could have been done apart from the Dutch Dinero came to a halt – what luck. Not that Felix doesn’t continue to be an ever-hovering presence here in the office, he usually stops by twice or thrice a week and whisks me off to court battles, or to visit friends in far-flung barrios…I love it. One day two weeks ago he stopped by and told me that it was time I started meeting the gangsters, he said funding and a new Promotor were right around the corner and that it would be beneficial to start building relationships with them now. So off we went to Barrio El Confite (The Candy Neighborhood…it’s not aptly named) the first person we ran into was my good friend Angel, he seemed a little more relaxed than normal, I asked how he was doing and he answered “Tranquiiiiiloooo”. We chatted for a bit, Felix and Angel exchanged indecipherable remarks and then off we went back to La Ceiba…I was dumbfounded, why had he dragged me out here to stand in the street for 5 minutes and then turn around and go home. It took me a little bit to realize that Angel had been so Tranquilo because he was riddin’ high on the marijuana, Felix confirmed this when he said that “todos andaban drogada”, it wasn’t just Angel but the whole lot of them that were feeling relaxed…Felix in his wisdom thought that meeting me in a drugged up state would not be the best way to for the boys from Confite to commence a relationship with a missionary. So now the Dutch, the Promoter and Marijuana are all banes to my attempts at working…Daddy’s gettin’ upset!
So English classes at the church began last week and my oh my what a ride it’s been already. We meet Wednesdays and Saturdays at the church for an hour & ½ with about 30 people ranging in age from13-65. We started out with the basics, the Alphabet, vowel sounds, diphthongs and nouns around the classroom but pretty soon we were clipping along to possessive pronouns and demonstrative pronouns. I thought to myself, good grief Matty what a fine teacher you are…that was until there was an out and out mutiny. It’s kind of humorous actually and I have to think that what I’m about to relay would never happen in a classroom in the U.S., leastways not with adults. We were just getting into the finer points of possessive pronouns when a older gentleman in the back of the class motioned for my attention, stood up and began to opine (more to his fellow students than to me) that he felt as though we were moving too fast, that perhaps we should go back and relearn the Alphabet (not the most important concept to grasp but he was unsure of exact pronunciations). After him another adult asked to be recognized, she stood up and gave a 5 minute speech essentially expounding the same point that her predecessor had…this went on for 15 minutes with student after student expressing desire to relearn the Alphabet; I’m quite certain that had I permitted it they would have talked about relearning their ABC’s for the rest of class and never actually gotten around to doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they let me know we were moving too fast; I just couldn’t believe it was happening in this fashion, each person felt they needed to have their opinion heard before any action was taken. I think I actually offended people by cutting the speeches short and actually teaching the Alphabet for the 3rd time. I know I’m too be culturally sensitive and take the posture of a learner in a host culture but I’m having a hard time reconciling the need to be heard and the need to actually teach…this may be an interesting exercise in ESL, I’ll keep you posted.
So a funny thing happened on the way to the Mall the other day…yes we have a mall, it’s about the size of a mall you might expect to find in Shamokin, Pa but it’s nonetheless a mall (and it’s air-conditioned). So where was I – ah yes a funny thing happened on the way to Shamokin…I was in need of a new pair of headphones (gots to have my tunes whilst I run) so during my lunch break I hailed a taxi (yes we have taxis too) got in and said “lleveme al Mall por fa”. I had no sooner shut the door and the taxi driver burst into song and I do mean burst...he sang with the gusto of a person trying out for a Broadway show, in other words it was not terribly appealing to the eardrums. They were Praise Songs so I felt bad for having to stifle a laugh but it was all I could do to keep from doubling over, especially when I looked up and noticed that his wife and ‘co-pilot’ was clapping and singing along with him. It was hilarious and awkward all at once…how does one respond to a sing-along in a taxi…I joined in, it seemed like the right thing to do and I think my hosts appreciated it.
So I’ve kind of become, how you say, sappy. I’m not sure what it is but from time to time, every few years or so, I become incredibly nostalgic and sentimental and prone to feelings. I hate it and look forward to the time that I once again am able to be a rock, a hard, impenetrable rock. It’s strange though these days; I’ll just drift off and think about people, events and places that I haven’t thought about for ages. The other day I caught myself reminiscing about middle school and faintly wishing that I could go back and live my 6th grade year over…my 6th grade year! Who in their right mind would want to live in 1993 again? Me apparently. I find most often that it’s music that takes me on these absurd trips down memory lane. I’ve always connected songs with events in my life (I’m not terribly remarkable, who doesn’t really) but for instance when I hear “Wonderwall” by Oasis it’s hard not think about my 8th grade year and listening to the top 5 at 9 on 93.3 or when I hear “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve I’m immediately transported to Nowell Strite’s basement watching Cruel Intentions with 12 of my closest friends during my Senior year of high school. London Beat’s “I’ve Been Thinking About You” (one of my favorite songs) takes me to December, 2004 in an OIP pizza shop during a snowstorm in Newberry, Pa with Zach Ritter and Amy Dowling…I could go all day. So where does “Moon River” take me? Yes, “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Henry Mancini. I’m not sure where it takes me but the other day I felt compelled to buy it on iTunes after hearing it on television and I’ve since listened to it about 20 times – it makes me think of my parents, the Girios, the 60’s (man I really miss those 60’s), simpler times, 95.5 ‘The Music of Your Life’…I think I’m losing my mind my Huckleberry friend.
So I saw Get Smart the other night at the local theatre, excepting that here it’s called Superagente 86…and it was in Spanish – what a hoot. It was strange though, I went with some friends and I ended up feeling bad for them; the jokes, the cultural references, the humor of Steve Carrell, they just don’t translate very well and they were a lot of instances where I was the only one laughing in the entire audience…not that I minded…just thought I’d share.
So to finish this bit randomness up I’ll post some lovely shots of Pico Bonito, that’s the nearby national park. Some newfound friends, Nelson Zelaya and Norman Chinchilla, have been schlepping me all over Ceiba and surrounding vicinity. Last Friday they took me to the national park and we spent the day hiking, swimming in the river and driving through the countryside, it was a fun time and the views were stunning. It’s an incredible thing to be perched atop a mountainside and be able to view the ocean and the surrounding environs. La Ceiba really is a little slice of Heaven in a lot of ways.
Well that’ll ‘bout do it my wayward readers – Blessings to you this week and if you get the chance pop in your London Beat CD and let your mind drift. Peace!

- Matt

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Honduras Happenings

Hello dear readers and welcome back to your favorite sporadic blog on the World Wide Web. I have been quite the little adventurer since last we chatted so let’s dispense with the pleasantries and just get down to business shall we?
So it occurred to me that many of you out there are not fully aware of the work that I’m doing here…or at least what I am supposed to be doing, I’ve explained it so many times to so many people that I assumed that anyone at all connected with me knew exactly what was going on here in Paradise. That there is what you call self-centeredness. Anyway, I thought I should do the Christian thing and enlighten y’all. I work as a missionary for Eastern Mennonite Missions and I came to La Ceiba, Honduras with the desire to reach out to youth that are trapped in a gang-lifestyle and who want to leave but don’t know how. That my dear friends is not the whole story however; my church back in the Philadelphia-area, Frazer Mennonite, began a partnership with Iglesia Menonita Central in La Ceiba almost 2 years ago and so my coming here has served a double purpose. I work with the Peace & Justice Project of the Honduran Mennonite Church helping them in their ‘Gang Restoration Program’ and at the same time I work with the congregation of ‘Central’ serving as a “human link” in the partnership and assisting them in any capacity that they desire. While that sounds all nice and well, the past month & ½ haven’t panned out exactly as such – it’s been slow going…very slow going. I have yet to start really working with gangs for 2 reasons, the first is that Program begins each June and ends each May; I arrived at the beginning of May and so the Directors decided to hold off on my initiation into the program until the ‘new year’ commenced. Thus, I should have started in June but the Dutch (the real Dutch not the Pennsylvania knock-offs) threw a wrench into all of our plans. A Holland-based donor called ICCO essentially funds the entire Gang Program and for some reason has yet to deposit the necessary funds for beginning this year’s program...apparently once the Dutch get their act together and send the dough we’ll be able to start working. That’s all to say that since May 5th I’ve spent the majority of my weekdays in the Peace & Justice Project’s (PPJ) offices designing brochures, doing translation and transcribing documents into the computers. It’s been a real hoot…a lesson in patience. On the church side of the equation I’ll begin teaching bi-weekly English classes this coming Saturday, by all accounts I’m expected to have a full house; this should be interesting…but exciting.
That’s certainly not to say that I’ve passed all my days in a stuffy office…they let me out now and then to socialize with the common-folk; I’m paraded about as the token Gringo twice a week and then whisked back upstairs and chained to a desk. Seriously though, I’ve had a quite a few little adventures since my arrival…just today I got hauled off to court. My friend and co-worker Felix and I sat in court proceedings today to watch the sentencing of 22 prison guards involved in a prison massacre back in 2003. I’ll post a Reuters link to accompany this but to briefly explain; in 2003 a few incarcerated gang members began attacking inmates that had been placed in charge of the prison’s day-to-day functions. Guards intervened and locked the 20 ‘gangster-inmates’ in a cell and lit fire to it, the fire spread to other cells as did the gunfire from the guards. In the end 64 inmates, 2 visitors and a baby were killed. The sentencing was supposed to have happened today but for whatever reason was postponed until mid-July. Each defendant is expected to receive about 30 years in prison (the maximum sentence allowed in Hondie). PPJ has been working with the victims’ families for the past 5 years, offering counseling, prayer and lobbying the government for prison reform…that’s why we showed up at the sentencing today. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N04302305.htm
So I haven’t been entirely honest, I have had one gang-related experience during my stay here. Two weeks ago Elba and Felix, the directors of the Gang Program invited me along on a 2 day retreat in the mountains with about 60 ‘reformed gangsters’ to celebrate the end on the year for the program year 2007-2008. I was a whirl of emotions, I was excited to finally be able to get to know the people that I had come to work with but at the same time I felt queasy; I’m always a little shy and stand-offish when I’m put into a new situation and meeting new people…it takes me a while to warm up and become my outspoken, brazen self. It went well though, the retreat consisted of three different groups of “jovenes” one each from La Ceiba, Tocoa and San Pedro Sula and culminated in a round-robin futbol tournament…I was not asked to play and to be honest I didn’t really want for my first experience with the gangsters to be one of embarrassing myself on the futbol field. All in all it was a pretty heady time – in the evenings we had “camp meetings” where former gangsters got up front to give their testimonies, rap/reggaeton about their love for Christ, perform in dramas and read poetry about their struggles…it was an incredible thing to be sitting there witnessing these young men, who only a year or two before had been deeply entrenched in gangs, violence and drugs, now sharing about their transformation and absolute gratefulness to Christ. In that moment and for the first time since my arrival in Honduras I felt perfectly at home and with a purpose…it was very peaceful. For me the biggest thrill of the retreat was being able to reconnect with an ex-gang member that I had met 2 years ago on my last visit to Honduras named Angel. It was in meeting him, listening to his story and seeing the work of PPJ that had moved me to want to return to La Ceiba and work here with EMM – it’s hard to explain the emotions that I felt when I realized that he was still here, still working his way through the PPJ program, good grief – that he was still alive. I had prayed for him nearly every day for 2 years and to see him then felt like the culmination of…something…though I’m not sure exactly what – but something incredible. What’s more he remembered me, he said that he’d never expected me to return but that he’d always hoped I would…he remembered my sister Mallory too; he still wore the bracelet that she’d given him two years prior. He also asked when she was coming back, as I remember he had quite a thing for her. It’s hard to describe how satisfying and incredible it was to see him there, to listen to him give his testimony, to simply sit back and talk with him. All in all, despite my complete lack of futbol talent, the retreat was an awesome time…now if those Dutch would get their act together I could do more of that.
So after frittering away my time in the office and lazing around a retreat center for a few days the Directors of PPJ decided that we needed to take a little vacation to the beach – I offered no word of protest. The office staff takes an annual weekend retreat to Trujillo every June and since I’m officially office staff I got to tag along. I remembered Trujillo from my visit in 2006 but I had kind of forgotten just how beautiful and perfect the town actually is. It sits on a little mountain overlooking the Caribbean, the architecture is Spanish-Colonial and the beaches are pristine (which is a feat for Honduras coastline, La Ceiba’s are filthy) – for me it’s the quintessential Central American village, the kind of place an expatriate-type could lose himself in for a few decades. Despite my love for all things water I actually spent very little time in the sea, instead Felix, Irvin an myself spent time exploring the town, relaxing in hot springs and gawking at the mass of ostentatious Gringas that had descended on the town. Just as an aside, I’m going to say something incredibly ridiculous, I know it’s nonsense and fairly absurd but I can’t help it; anybody that really knows me is aware that by-and-large I am an absurd person. Anyway, what I want to say is that I dislike seeing other Gringos in Honduras – I know they exist, I know that there’s a veritable cornucopia of Gringos living right here in La Ceiba and that nearly all of them have lived here longer than a month & ½ but I can’t help it…nothing gets my gander up more than to see Gringos boppin’ down the street in their shorts, tank-tops and sandals, with their bottles of hand sanitizer and sun block. I’m not sure what it is but I prefer to think that I’m the only Gringo living in Honduras…again, that’s what you call self-centeredness. That irrationality aside, the trip to Trujillo was glorious and despite the Gringos I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Well with all that out of the way I think I’m gonna wrap this little bit of nonsense up now. Hope you all have a glorious week and that your summers are not slipping by too rapidly. Come on back next week and we'll chat about the first week of English Class, the funny accents in Hondie and snipits from my daily routine. Blessings to you this week. Peace!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Continuacion...

Hola mis amigos y Bienvenidos a mi Blog otra vez! Two days in a row - that's a record here at 'honduraskeiser'. We should celebrate or something..............I've got nothing, never mind. Let's just pick up with where we left off. When we left Matthew yesterday he was in the middle of supporting a Hunger Strike in Central Park and dancing with Garifunas...let's see what happened to him.

Hmmm...so he's still hanging out at the Huelga de Hambre (Hunger Strike) with some of the local Garifunas. They're descendants of Caribbean slaves who now live in coastal villages throughout Honduras, Belize & Nicaragua. In addition to Spanish they speak their own language which is nothing like Spanish and many know English as well.

I couldn't resist, you can find some of the strangest and funniest 'thrift-store' t-shirts in Central America. I'm in Heaven.

Even the local Swiss showed up to support...seriiously.

...but, moving on...

During my second week in La Ceiba my church, Iglesia Menonita Central threw me a welcome party...it was strange...and fun...and uplifting.

First they re-enacted my arrival, they made it a point to comment on my mountain of luggage, I only had 3 suitcases but they enlarged that to 10 for the skit. (I'm the guy in the middle by the way).

Here they're pretending to she me around town.

Then they dressed me up in an apron and made me memorize the names of foods for the purpose of...

Making me sell said food to the congregation, i.e. to make a fool of me.

I did a great job.

The Pastor's son

Even Marla, my adopted mother got in on the act.

One Wednesday Pastor Betty and Hermana Juanita invited me along to Corozal, a Garifuna village, to minister to some of the Christians there...

This is a seaside village.

As I mentioned yesterday the Mennonites, nay, most Christians in general are a mite restrictive when it comes to entertainment. Thus when the Carnival celebrating Saint Isidor (San Isidro) came to town it was made clear, many, many times that Christians could not attend said celebratory functions. Saturday however there was a parade to kick-off the festivities and my boss, a high-ranking member of the Church practically ordered me to go to observe the parade and get a taste for the local culture...I only stayed for 15 minutes lest any wayward Mennonite see me and think poorly of their newest missionary.

A few days before the CarnivalEach intersection along San Isidro Blvd. had mini-stages where people would congregate and dance at all hours of the night. I didn't attend this part. Notice the soldiers guarding the stage during the day.

The Parade...this was one of the hottest days I've ever experienced and I was beginning to feel claustrophobic ...which probably lent itself to me leaving soon after arriving.

Truth in Advertising

Bimbo is a bread company that sponsored a float in the parade...I loved the irony.

So that's about it for my major adventures, I'll leave you with a few random shots I've taken around the city.

A little ways from home

Homework & Hammock Time

My place of employment. Translation: Peace & Justice Project, Honduran Mennonite Evangelical Church. We offer mediation in interpersonal conflicts and education in nonviolent peace (is there violent peace?)

My roommate

Well folks that about does for this week, two days in a row, what a treat. Come on back next to hear about my first week with the gang members and my weekend trip to Trujillo. Blessings to you this week. Peace!

- Matt