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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Inundation

Well friends I’m back and I must say these past two weeks have been a bit more exhilarating here in ‘ole Ceiba town; nothing to write home about mind you but I’ve certainly been more active than I was in the beginning of the month. Come to think about it, I’ve done a little bit of everything here as of late, all in all it’s been a busy two weeks. Which is nice – it’s always a treat to not have to dig and dig for ideas to write about in this blog of mine. On a different note entirely, I am addicted to CNN...which I find mildly disturbing. When I lived back up north I did my level best to avoid the major political networks - I wasn't one for burying my head in the sand, on the contrary, I preferred to gather my news from out-of-the-way sources like NPR, Harper's and Realclearpolitics.com. Such high-brow activities are slightly more difficult here in the land of uncertain Internet and of course it's next to impossible to tune in to 'Fresh Air' on NPR on a regular basis. So lately, in my thirst for political happenings in the Motherland, I've been forced to sit through hour upon hour of CNN commentators basically repeating themselves - the lone bright spot being Lou Dobbs with whom I often find myself in agreement...again disturbing in that I've never gone in for populism...I find idealism much more appealing. Sorry for that, I just thought you might like to know what has become of your decidedly apolitical Mennonite.
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So the rainy season has really and I do mean really begun; it's an almost daily 2-3 hours of straight, torrential downpours. I've mentioned in the past that I was looking forward to this time of year because it might offer some respite from the infernal heat...unfortunately I was wrong. The rains seem to produce only mild relief, actually they just make everything more humid and close...not to mention they flood the streets so that walking or riding a bicycle downtown becomes a battle against being swept away to the storm drains. Some relief from the heat is better than none at all I suppose though so for that I'm thankful...drenched but thankful. So who am I listening to as of late? Well the other night as I was flipping through the Tele I happened upon a Mexican station that was broadcasting a festival from some quaint, tiny pueblo...and the music they played was irresistible. I'm sure not everyone will like what I heard but if you have an ear for artsy folk music mixed with traditional Mexican music (kind of like the Gringo equivalent of Carl Sandburg meets Dan Zanes) you'll like Tarahumara...especially the song 'Fiesta de San Benito'...if I sit back and close my eyes while listening to this I can almost imagine that I'm in the midst of a wild Mexican fiesta out in the country somewhere. So my English class at church is one die-hard group of old ladies...these women will stop at nothing to learn the language. The other night it was raining like a mother and just as class was about to begin the power at the church (and the surrounding neighborhood) went out...we were completely in the dark. I was silently thankful because I wasn't much in the mood for teaching that night and I thought that without power we would cancel classes and I could call a friend to go get coffee in a part of town with lights. I couldn't have been more wrong. The kindly little church ladies proffered no option of canceling class - instead they remained seated in the pitch black and despite my inability to see more than 2 feet in front of my face I knew that their eyes were all trained on me, patiently waiting for class to begin. One of the oldest ladies suggested we learn Praise Songs in English...which was met with great enthusiasm from the rest of the class so line by line we learned 'Open the Eyes of My Heart' and 'This is the Day'...eventually (an hour later) the lights did come on and we continued with regularly scheduled material. I continue to be impressed by their genuine desire to learn this language of ours. So I've noticed something, the people here like to party, they'll throw a fiesta for just about anything. In the last month I've eaten more cake than I care to count and I can't imagine that this current trend will be slowing anytime soon. Lately we've had parties for Ondina (Teacher's Day) the Youth at Church (Children's Day) and three different birthday parties. It really has struck me though that Hondurans just really like to celebrate events in each others lives with lots of people, lots of food and lots of singing...I like that...oh and apparently in some families the custom is to smash eggs on the head of the 'Birthday-Person'...I don't like that. Speaking of Children's Day (which we haven't had in the U.S. for decades by the shway) the Church threw a party the other Sunday and as part of the festive activities they put on a skit about Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego (what three young men being thrown into a fiery furnace have to do with celebrating children I'll never know). Anyways, I was drafted into the skit and made be to the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar - kind of an ostentatious role I thought...how does one channel "Gold Statue"? The other week Ondina, Karen, Elba and myself traveled to San Pedro Sula (on the nicest bus I've ever set foot in...it was air-conditioned and everything) with the dual purpose of attending a conference on emigration issues and visiting our project counterparts in la Colonia Lopez Arellano. The conference was a bit of a bust for me - it left me feeling angry and defensive of the U.S. (which is truly a first for me). I don't want to enter into a discussion on U.S. immigration policy, I think there are problems with the current laws and while our government's policies certainly exacerbate the problems in Central America I don't think all of the fault can be laid at the feet of the U.S. - the Central American governments (corrupt as they are) should be given their fair share of the blame as well and should be brought into the discussion to help fix the problem. Unfortunately, the organizers of the conference basically used the event to air their obvious dislike of the current U.S. government and made it known in unequivocal terms that the current emigration/immigration issue was entirely the fault of the U.S. - Such narrow-minded, vitriol serves only to embolden nativist sentiment up north and never really gets around to actually solving the problem. The other half of the day was spent in Lopez Arellano visiting the workers there and getting to know some of the former gangsters...it was exciting to see former gang-bosses, former murderers now carting around their young families and participating in the local church. In our work with the gangs and youth here in Ceiba I spent the other afternoon with my favorite group of youth at out Leones painting a school. I didn't do so much painting...more goofing around really but it was just fun to hang out with the kids and get to know them better. One last thought, we had another march the other day...for the 'International Day of Peace'. I've never seen a group of people that march around the way these people do - they throw marches like Gringos throw BBQ's. Between the marching and the random parties it's a wonder anything else gets done around here. I'm not entirely sure what the marches accomplish...I'm being very serious here now, as I was clopping down Saint Isidor Avenue I wondered what this was doing to help the gangsters, feed the hungry and generally benefit my fellow man...Well I suppose that about does it for this week - come back next time and we'll see what I've been up to. Blessings to you this week. Peace!

- Matt

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

So It's Come to This...

Well here we are again ready to begin another decent into random musings and I gotta tell ya, that’s about what you’re gonna get this time around. I’ve been sounding the death knells of well-informed repartee emanating from La Ceiba for weeks now and it seems that since last I wrote the axe hath fallen; there just don’t seem to be occurrences of great note transpiring here. Don’t get me wrong, life is grand, I’m loving it in fact and can’t imagine being anywhere else right now but life here has become, well...life. It’s no longer a new world bursting with strange and wondrous secrets; now it’s my life, normal, steady, beautiful (but fairly predictable) life. Needless to say this week’s dispatch is what I’d really call the bottom of the barrel, I’m really reaching here but I do hope you enjoy.

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So I've learned to ride my bicycle no-handed...I know I'm about 10-15 behind the curve on this one, most of my elementary school chums were doing this as 7-year olds. Alas, the curse of no-hand-eye coordination made it such that it took me til my 26th year to finally master this simplest of tasks. I don't know how it came upon me exactly, perhaps riding the streets of Ceiba on my lime green equivalent of a Huffy and seeing the mass of persons riding about no-handed like Circus Bears lit within me the desire to finally learn how to do it. Anyway, I've been practicing and practicing (haven't fallen once) and last Friday night it finally came to me; I'm not entirely sure how but it did and I was so elated I kept riding around the street just to keep on doing it. I was so pleased with myself. I should say that I haven't exactly mastered the art quite yet, I'm not yet able to sit back and peel and orange, talk on the phone or clip my fingernails (all of which I've seen here) but we're getting there.

- So it's finally starting to cool off here (slightly) - I feel as though the rainy season may soon be upon us. No one here is able to tell me with certainty when the rain will actually commence, which strikes me as strange because in Costa Rica people practically had the start and end dates of the rainy season marked on their calendars. People here just keep saying "The rain will becoming soon...in just a little while we'll be drenched" - they've been saying this since the middle of August and I've been waiting patiently. Anyway, I think they may soon be correct - the weather has started to cool and noticed this because the other day when I went to the beach I packed a long sleeve shirt because I thought to myself "Matthew, you will be cold when you get out of the water"...in the middle of July that would have been a crazy statement to make but now, in September, it strikes me as perfectly rational...and I was right. I needed that long sleeve shirt. Aye por fin el clima esta cambiando.

So speaking of the beach, Monday the 15th was Independence Day for most of Central America...as in Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala & Costa Rica all have the same day, September 15th, as their Independence Day. Last year on the 15th my friend Kelly Kim and I watched the parades in San Pedro, San Jose, Costa Rica...this year I took a slightly less patriotic tone. I was invited to the beach with one of my co-workers, Karen Flores and her family and thought it better to be in the blistering Honduras sun next to the ocean as opposed to standing in the blistering sun in the middle of downtown Ceiba...so off I went. It was lovely time with the fam, we played UNO, ate incredible food and relaxed in the tepid water of the Caribbean. A lovely way to celebrate Independence I thought.


Independence Day Celebrations from a year ago in San Jose



An Independence Day March in Ceiba...and fotos from the beach




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Read "The Life of Pi" the other day...loved it. I highly recommend it to anyone. That's all really, just thought I'd throw that out there. Oh, I suppose I could mention that I found this lovely little book exchange right next my house, they have stacks and stacks of novels for the taking...and boy have I been taking. I'm reading everything I can get my hands on, Madame Bovary, Portnoy's Complaint, In Cold Blood...good grief, even a history of the Johnstown, Pa Flood. It's like my own little personal library.
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Here are few random shots of things I thought were interesting:
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Found this fellow in my bedroom the other night...I killed him...thoroughly.


Thought these clouds were pretty impresive...didn't produce any rain...but they looked cool.


Street-turned-Creek after a recent downpour

So I suppose that's about it...I warned you before hand that we had really hit a low point - in all seriousness things should start to pick up here in a few weeks, I have a few short outings planned and more work with the gangs so stay tuned and Blessings to you. Peace!

- Matt

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Up A Lazy River...

Welcome back once again to Honduras. I have to say I’m finding it difficult to dredge up material for this week’s segment. It just feels like not much has befallen me lo these lazy days of late August….lazy days, that seems to aptly describe how life has been here as of late. No major trips, no swinging from jungle vines into pristine pools of mountain water, nope, just your typical workaday world here in steamy La Ceiba. Not that I’m complaining mind you, life has been dreamy as of late, just not terribly noteworthy. So with that bit of malaise I suppose I’ll end it here and try to think of something to tell you.

So a funny thing happened in Minneapolis the other night, Bill Clinton got a rousing round of applause from a Convention Hall full of Republicans – that Lieberman is a trixy fellow. And let me say if I may that while I haven’t been a Republican for quite some time I think that Sarah Palin is hilarious, authentic and just fun to watch.

So I’ve lost another friend and I got to tell you I’m getting kind of tired of this. My good friend Norman Chinchilla shuffled off to Tegucigalpa last week to continue his university studies in medicine. I’m happy for him and all and certainly don’t want to keep him from his studies but I have to admit that I kindly asked him to hold off on continuing his education for 2 years until my term ended…he kindly declined. Peace out Norm.

I joined the worship team at church last week and am loving it. It has been so long since I’ve been involved in worship leading and it feels so good to be back in the saddle as it were. Unfortunately I don’t really know all the songs very well that I’m leading, they don’t use hymnbooks or overheads and thus expect me just to pick up the lyrics by listening along…Spanish lyrics mind you…that’s darn near impossible. Needless to say, last week there were not a few instances where whilst I was singing one set of lyrics, the congregation and other members of the worship team were singing an entirely different set. It got so bad on one song that I just started singing “lalalala”…in tune of course. It’s ridiculous of course and I can’t imagine it would fly up home but down here no one seems to care – which is nice.
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Who am I listening to as of late? Well I’ve set aside Moon River and Londonbeat and am now hooked on the Argentinean version of Nirvana – Soda Stereo. I first heard their one song “De Música Ligera” when I was in Costa Rica one night but no one could tell me who sang it…I was a mite frustrated. Well I kept my wits about me and my ears to the ground and finally last week as I was riding in a taxi with Norman’s brother Saco we heard it and I about leapt through the roof. Not wanting to miss my opportunity I composed myself and asked Saco who it was that sang this gem of a song…he just stared at me in dumb silence, it was the kindly taxi driver who finally enlightened me. So now after months of waiting I’m hooked on a bunch of Argentineans that haven’t made any music since the mid-90’s. Better than nothing I suppose.

So I’ve gotta tell ya I hate Denver…as in Colorado. By all accounts it strikes me as a lovely city in an incredible state but I am sick and tired of watching their news stations. I get the major networks here in Ceiba through their Denver affiliates…strange I know but not as strange as Costa Rica which pipes their U.S. television in from Erie, Pennsylvania. Anyway, it seems like every time and I do mean every time that I turn on the television and flip to one of the major networks the local news stations are up and chattering about mindless nonsense. How many times a day do we need to be told about the weather in the High Country or about the lack of rain on the Front Range? It really is quite ridiculous, they essentially talk about the same stories every hour for almost 30 minutes at a time and then during commercial breaks they advertise the upcoming hour’s stories that are usually the same stories that they just finished droning on about. It’s about all I can take, I’ve thought about writing the “Team at 9 News” a strongly worded letter requesting that instead of repeating the same stories over and over again they actually take a break and wait for new events to occur; but in that I’m not exactly in their target demographic I doubt they’ll listen.


Last week I participated in the National Mennonite Women’s Retreat…not as a participant, but as a presenter for Proyecto Paz y Justicia. It was a lovely time, PPJ erected a booth and we handed out information to women milling about during their break times. My favorite part was the chicken barbecue…which I feel as though needs some explanation. These people down here, the Mennonites that is, make the best chicken barbecue that I’ve ever tasted; they use a special sauce that they call ‘Salsa Menonita’, the recipe for which they learned from the first Mennonite Missionaries here 50 years ago. It’s become a church-wide tradition to hold chicken barbecues at just about every major function and use this recipe, a recipe that only the Mennonites down here employ. I’ve gotta tell you that it feels strange to be inhaling chicken with a decidedly Pennsylvania Dutch flavor accompanied by beans and tortillas but I’ve come to really like it. Anyway, that bit of “culture-mixing” aside, I spent my morning at the Women’s Retreat, came home got cleaned up and headed off to teach English at the church when I got a call from Saco asking me to go back out to the retreat later that night for the evening service. I thought it a bit strange that an 18 year old wanted to spend his Saturday night in a church service for women but I obliged and off we went. We were there for about 5 minutes when I realized that his sole purpose for coming out to this thing was to check out all the young Mennonite ladies from distant parts of Honduras – I think he was disappointed with the turnout because he was ready to leave about 15 minutes after we got there…oh adolescence.



One last thought before I end this bit of randomness, I’ve started teaching some former gang-members English here in the office. Marlo and Rafa come twice a week for about an hour each time and little by little are learning the Alphabet and how to present themselves to strangers. It’s slow going but I’m really enjoying it.


Ok, that’s it – not exactly award-winning commentary I know but as I said in the opening paragraph, these have been some lazy day here as of late. Hope all is well with you all and Blessings to you this week. Peace!


- Matt