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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

!Feliz Christmas!

Hello mis amigos from lands near and far, Christmas is upon us and so is the sweltering humid heat that I've always associated with the Yuletide. It's been funny here as of late, last week I was downright chilled, I was donning my Northface fleece and loving every minute of it and today we're back with hot, humid and sweaty...I don't get it, such is the life I suppose of Honduras. I suppose the upside of this heat is that I get to enjoy the beach year-round; last Sunday after church Suzie's parents loaned me their truck and off we went collecting our various friends and then headed off for an afternoon at the beach. It was spectacular actually, perfect weather and perfect water. In the late afternoon some Garifuna boys were headed up the beach and stopped off to chat with us and quickly realized that they knew me from my translating work with the American doctors. We had a good old time yucking it up; they asked me about the turtle that I'd bought from them and I had to hang my head in shame and tell them that he had escaped...they seemed delighted by this and offered to sell me another that was located just down the beach. I declined even after they insisted that he'd be a soup by dinnertime if I didn't come to his rescue...I told them that I don't bargain with terrorists and huffed off. They did however manage to sell me a massive Conch Shell that I can blow when I want to call a meeting of the local, stranded, English adolescents that are threatening to kill each other and the lone adult that can save them from abandoning all sense of propriety and landed aristocracy and succumbing to outright barbarism. Just kidding, there aren't any murderous British youth about (what a sad story that was, I still can't get over the death of Simon and that was 13 years ago that I read that)...but the Garifuna (who had there own run-in with the British by the by, some 300 years back) did sell me a blowable Conch Shell...so just in case. So those that know me well know my almost Doolittle-like affection for all things animalian. I've raised ducklings...twice, I had rabbits when I was younger, tried to rescue a a rabid Chipmunk when I was 11 until my father shot it, begged my mother to turn our yard into a pasture for a blind horse, used my friend Justin Penfield in the first year of our friendship (we were 8) almost exclusively for access to his barn which housed sheep and geese and have always been a fan of German Shepherd Dogs. When I was a young child, while most of my peers imagined their future careers as professional athletes or princesses I would fall asleep at night, or in my 3rd grade math class with visions of being an Amish farmer dancing in my head (and still look with longing and blinded sentimentality upon such a life). Thus, it was only logical that given my solitude, my virtual independence, that eventually I would become a bit of a yeoman dabbler in husbandry. As I previously mentioned, I started small and by all accounts in dismal failure by trying to keep a 10 pound snapping turtle in my yard. That sounds ridiculous now that I write it and I must say that I'm not sure what I was thinking - turtles, especially the snapping variety give absolutely no affection whatsoever, they're reptilian and cantankerous and make walking barefoot in the yard a potentially painful gamble. So by all accounts I'm quite pleased that he managed to escape...or be eaten by the local opossums that live in my roof. The saga grinds on however and 3 weeks ago as I was walking to the bank by a different route I happened by a pet store and noticed they were selling bunnies for $3...memories from my childhood came flooding back and I was suddenly struck with the desire to fulfill a lifelong goal of having a free-range rabbit live in my kitchen - I know, I really set the bar high. The story is this: When we were little there were a period of years where it seemed we were hit repeatedly with nasty blizzards the likes of which are usually seen in Alberta, Canada. In that same period we seemed to have a veritable cornucopia of rabbits living in cages outside of our house (the reason we had so many rabbits can be laid entirely on a neighbor boy who, in the Summer previous, had thought it a real lark to let nature take it's course with the lone male and female rabbits that we had whilst we were away on vacation). Thus, by the time Winter rolled around that year, we as a family were blessed with in upwards of 10 rabbits living in 3 massive cages constructed by my father and cared for by the 4 kids. During one particular nasty storm the 2 juvenile males got into a fight and the one received really awful wounds. My father, much to the delight of his children, practically decreed that we would allow this particular rabbit to live in our kitchen the duration of his convalescence. I think he was angling, and we were hoping for a House Rabbit but my mother would have none of it - the moment the wounds healed that poor Jack that had grown to love the cast-iron radiator in our kitchen was back out into nature's fury were he lived out his days for the next 3 years. This little episode of course instilled in me a desire to have my own Kitchen Rabbit someday and I then vowed that at the first available opportunity I would welcome into my home a bunny of my own. So back to the pet store...it was with great glee and some mixed-up, Freudian feelings of getting to stick it to my mother that I bought an all black baby bunny and brought him home. He doesn't actually live entirely free-range, when I'm out or asleep I put him in his cage but usually he hops about the house at will and much to my delight (and with feelings of I told-you-so) he restricts his bathroom behaviour almost exclusively to one corner of the kitchen. Although he does have one habit that concerns me, he likes to eat paint chips off the wall...mother, in her usual dour way told me that he's likely to go mad and attack me but we'll wait to see. I haven't yet named him but am leaning towards Captain Gingersnap...I'll keep you posted. In other news, the PPYJ offices have closed down for the Christmas Season and will re-open on January 12th which means that in the mornings I spend my time in a little cafe next to my house and then in the afternoons head out to the local dump to work with the youth that we've made contacts with there. There is a lot to share with you about that work, it's so exciting and really taking off but I'm feeling pressed for time and really want to collect my thoughts so I think I'll wait till after Christmas to regal you with those stories. Two quick notes, Norman came home Christmas Break so I'm back to hanging out with people my own age - Juanjo did come over to my house last weekend to help me set up my 2 strands of Christmas lights. I put on Christmas Carols by the Ray Connif Singers (They're from the 60's) but he didn't really know and or enjoy any of them. The other not is that Nelson invited me long to work with him one day. He owns a shipping company that does business between the U.S. and Honduras - as the shipments come in he and his employees then personally drive them to their recipients spread out over the North of the country. So last Thursday Nelson and I took a load of goods over to Tocoa and ended up in the mountains in a tiny village that rarely if ever sees a car...it was a like another world. Nelson says the people there are what's left of the way all of Central America used to be; small, agrarian communities centered around the green and the local Catholic Church. It was fascinating to see. So this will be my first Christmas away from home and I think one of the hardest parts of being away is not being able to sing Christmas Carols in church - yeah we sing here but it's not the same and I really would just love to here some hymns a Capella. I am excited though to experience some new traditions so I'll keep you posted after Christmas about the similarities a differences and let you know about what I did. So that seems to be about it for this round, hope you enjoyed - it was varied and wandering I know. More importantly have a Happy Christmas and may you experience the blessings of being with family, friends and traditions as we celebrate the Miracle that is Jesus. Peace!

P.S. - Obama has a son in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and he works at the On The Run Mart


- Matt

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Guatemalan Grandeur

Quite the title eh? The intelligent among you will correctly surmise that today's musings will pertain almost entirely to Guatemala and the resplendent environs therein. But don't be fooled dear readers; I am not single-minded in my writings nor in my wanderings. I have had quite the varied experiences as of late and feel inclined to impart the whole lot to you. Forgive me for my pedantic prose, I can't quite place what's gotten into me but methinks I made my Costa Rican coffee a tad too strong this morning. Well since I opened this bull-session with talk of Guate and her marvels I may as well finish 'er up. This past Thursday I made my first trip to Guatemala - the astute out there will begin placing the pieces together and quickly ascertain that I seem to be traveling quite a little bit...and that would be a correct ascertation. I assure you that it isn't what it looks like - I do in fact love Honduras and despite what Robin Weinstein says I am not idling my time away here with tropical vacations on the dime of EMM (though accompanying photos may say otherwise). What in fact has occurred here is that I have been forced, yes forced to leave this land that I love. In October I needed to renew my Visa and thus it warranted a trip to Costa Rica; recently, last week in fact, I was called to the north of Guate by my directors for a Missionary Retreat. EMM holds an annual Missions Retreat in each region of the world for all of its workers...and when Steve Shank beckons there is no declining the offer. Thus, with all the plucky courage I could muster, off I trekked into the wild, unknown "land of many trees". Actually I flew, it was just as cheap as the bus and that much quicker, so an adventure it wasn't...but a funny thing did happen on the way there. I flew from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala City to Flores in the North. At my stopover in Guatemala City I had to pass through Immigration and then through a Security Checkpoint to get to my connecting flight. At the security checkpoint I went through the customary dog-and-pony show of disrobing and sashaying about in next to nothing; making a general spectacle of myself...but hey, one never knows when the random Mennonite might finally throw in the pacifist towel and unleash his fury on some unsuspecting Latin American pueblo. This particular checkpoint was a tad more lax in that it didn't require me to take of my shoes, thus I thought to myself: "self, if they don't require one to de-shoe perhaps they won't require you to remove your belt." I was all set to ask the kindly guard if she wanted me to remove my belt when I suddenly realized that I'd forgotten the word. I stood there for a minute or two racking my brain and holding my belt like a gangsta when I hit upon it and quickly asked her if she wanted me to remove my 'falda'...she just cocked her head and looked at me funny. Thinking that she hadn't heard me I repeated more slowly and shaking my belt buckle all the while "Quieres que quite mi falda?". Again she looked at me funny, then chuckled and said "si, si puede". I passed on through without event, was headed for my gate and still thinking about the guard's strange reaction when it hit me...I hadn't asked her if she wanted me to take off my belt, I'd asked her if she wanted me to take off my skirt (of which I was not wearing by the by). Imagine her surprise when a regular-enough looking Gringo began to offer to strip of his skirt for her...I'm surprised she only cocked her head at me and not her gun. Well that bit of language fun aside the trip was fairly uneventful and I arrived in Flores late in the evening just in time for a Thanksgiving meal with the other EMMers that couldn't be beat. It consisted of Chicken and potatoes and coffee but hey, it had been so long since I'd eaten mashed potatoes and broiled chicken that I didn't care. The retreat itself was held at a mission compound and was centered around teaching time based on the passage from John 15 about bearing fruit and our relationship as branches to Christ the Vine - it was incredible actually, I learned and gained a lot from it and came back feeling refreshed and refocused. The sessions were taught by Karl and Nita Landis both of whom are involved in the work of Lancaster Mennonite Conference back home. We did have one afternoon to visit the the tiny village of Flores, it's an island town that sits in the middle of lake...it's incredible, like something from a different age, very old, very colonial, almost European. I was particularly taken with the doors of the homes - I don't know what it was, perhaps the colors, perhaps my OCD tendencies kicked in, but I soon found myself stopping at nearly every home and taking a photo of their front door - I didn't want to leave a single alley or side-street unexplored for fear that some might feel left out, the doors that is...I'm a nut job. We also took a boat to the local zoo and saw some very exotic animal life...heck I got to shake hands with a spider monkey. We ended our time together on Sunday and off I flew once again into the wild blue - my route into Honduras took me two days to complete and past Tegucigalpa so I decided to hop off there and spend Monday with Norman before taking the 7 hour bus ride back to La Ceiba. So Guatemala is not the only occurrence of note that has passed lo these many days - in that I've still been unable to find a peer to replace long, lost Norman I've been forced to pass my days with his 10 year old brother Juanjo...which is just fine by me, in a lot of ways we're on the same level and get along swimmingly. The other weekend my friend Felix invited me out to Porvenir to visit his home and I in turn invited Juanjo to accompany me. Porvenir is a good 25 minutes outside of Ceiba so we had to take a very bumpy school bus on which Juanjo insisted sticking his head out of the entire trip. We spent the better part of the day, exploring the beach visiting with another friend Walter and eating fried fish on the beach...we packed it in and hitched the bus back home just before the afternoon rains arrived. Birthday numbers 34 & 35 came down the pike the other week too. My friend Tino and his older brother Emilio were born a day apart and so a group of us youth from the church surprised them one night with two cakes (which were incredible) and a meal of chicken, potatoes and fried rice. The funny thing is, is that in wanting to keep it a surprise no one bothered to inform anyone in the family what we were planning so we just showed up Monday night with buckets full of food, barged in and made ourselves at home...and then waited...and waited...almost 1 hour & 1/2 for Tino to come home from University...planning is not this culture's forte. On a final note I have some exciting news in the realm of working with at-risk youth. The other week when my friend Leda and I accompanied the team of doctors to different parts of La Ceiba we visited the local garbage dump and both felt a pressing need there, and urgency both hit us to return and start working with the youth there. We came back to the offices the next day and began planning...the next week we returned to the dump to introduce ourselves and begin to get to the know the people. The youth just kind of followed us and because it was raining we decided to meet in one of the classrooms at the local elementary school. I hadn't planned on leading any sort of discussion but I soon found myself giving my life story, my walk with Christ and my hopes for the community there...and then we played Duck, Duck, Goose...I never thought 15 year olds would enjoy Duck, Duck, Goose but they loved it...which was good because I was overwhelmed and out of ideas. Our vision is to go back on a weekly basis at first and slowly build till we're there almost everyday - we're also hoping to get the youth from our church involved as volunteers. It's a big vision we have and it won't be easy so please pray for us. Well that does it for this week, hope you enjoyed the doors...if you did you're probably just as nuts as I am. Tune-in in two weeks and see what I'm to. Blessings to you this week. Peace!
-Matt