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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something Different

I've come to believe that there are two ways of viewing the community of Los Laureles, and poverty-stricken communities more generally (there may be more but thus far I've discovered two). The first way, the most common way, is pity. We see heart-wrenching poverty, disastrously broken lives and seeming hopelessness and the first thing we feel is pity, a sadness, even a feeling of helplessness. Pity's natural, it's a valid emotion, a first response that moves us to reach out and help. I know I felt pity for Los Laureles when I first visited here; I felt pity for La Carpio, a very similar, ghetto-like community on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, when I first encountered it. Both times I was struck with what my eyes were beholding; the homes built out of scrap metal and wood, half-naked toddlers running through dirt streets, the smells of garbage, black water and decay around every corner, the obvious tooth-and-nail struggle that these families daily live through just to survive. Who wouldn't feel pity in a situation like that? The problem though, and the problem I see so often with North American groups that show up to the community here is that they never allow themselves to move beyond pity to something deeper, something more relational. By holding on to that emotion, by viewing Los Laureles through the lense of pity, they allow themselves to control the situation, to bolster their ego and to not have to invest in or truly know the people that they're helping. How's that you say?

Pity in this context is a top-down response, it condescends from me, who is rich and has his life together, to you, a poor person with a life resembling a train wreck. If I refuse to let go of that emotion I remain in control, I can control how much I know and learn about you and what kind of help I deicide you need. I can feel justified about coming in and out of your life on intervals that I decide and I can control how much you know about my life, if at all. At all times and in every aspect, pity allows us to remain in the driver's seat. Pity bolsters the ego because it sees the most essential and critical response as being something that I can give to you, be that material, monetary or spiritual; it's me giving from my wealth of everything to you who has nothing to offer back anything that I could possibly want. This of course makes us feel good and quite accomplished; we can point to projects, hand-outs, events, even souls as measures of our success and the depth of our kindness. Finally, pity allows us to stay aloof from the actual people we claim to want to help, actually that aloofness is what allows the emotion to exist at all, it's essentially an a priori-type response. In feeling pity we cannot know the people, their gifts, their talents, what they might offer us, their stories or their hopes. Pity can't allow for that because if we do allow ourselves to begin to build co-equal relationships then the paradigm is shattered and the emotion ceases to exist.

I can imagine then you've already figured out what the second resonse to poverty is - relationship building. Not just any type of relationship though, I think our best example of how to move from pity to something deeper is to look to Jesus and his incarnational response to his disciples. He lived with them, ate with them, slept and worked with them. He shared fully of himself both materially and emotionally and expected the same in return. You could say that he didn't exactly need the Disciples, being the Son of God and all, but I would contend that he did. He needed the community, the sanctuary, the help, that they offered. Furthermore, he needed the Disciples to carry on his work and build the Church once he was gone. Was it an equal relationship? Yes and No. No, because obviously Jesus had more to offer in the way of everything - he was their teacher and savior after all. But Yes, because both Jesus and at least 11 of the Disciples gave fully of what they had to the other to build and maintain the relationship. So then, just as with Jesus and the Disciples, our own work with impoverished communities isn't one of equal giving and receiving, no relationship is. Rather it's one of learning about each other, sharing of ourselves with each other, loving each other - and out of that we come to know more fully how to truly help each other from the gifts, abilities and resources that God has bestowed on each of us. That's what it means to be incarnational, that's what it means to move from pity to relationship, that's what it means to follow Jesus' example and love our neighbor.

The following then is a video I made that I think sort of reflects what I've been trying to say. The other evening I was struck to set photos to a song that I really like. Every now and then that happens to me, I like a song and imagine a video that I could create for it, rarely do insipiration and motivation join hands but the other night they did. As I began sorting through photos, I found myself over and over being drawn to happy photos; smiling people, people hugging, people enjoying life, that sort of thing. I could of gone the sad, depressing route (I have plenty of photos like that); when making a video about a community near a garbage dump one might expect such a thing. That though seemed disingenuous, a betrayal of the people here that I've come to know and love, a betrayal of the way they've helped me in every conceivable way, a falsefying of the way I truly view Los Laureles. I did choose to include a few "garbagey" type shots, more though for context and less to pull at the heartstrings; and the opening title shot "life in a garbage dump" is meant to be more ironic than anything else, one doesn't usually expect a photo like the one that follows the title sequence after reading a line like that...that was the point. May I digress slightly for a minute? Los Laureles is not a garbage dump, no one lives amongst piles of trash, very few people even dig through the trash once it has been dumped in the landfill. It was once a community in an actual dump but those days are long over - we now live on a landfill, a very verdant and often muddy landfill. I often feel that calling it a garbage dump gives the wrong impression, is essentially a lie and can even be a let-down, in a twisted sort of way, for people that visit us here. Sorry for the digression, that's something I've been wanting to get off my chest for a while, though I doubt the people that needed to see that also read this blog. So, this has been a disastrously long introduction to a very mundane video so I shan't ramble on any further. Here it is:

By-the-bye, I've been trying to post this for days now but have been unable due to slow connections; I truly loathe Honduran internet. That, anyways, is my reason for a lack of posts these past few days.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Taking Flight

from the dead hang

 a slight swing

 going vertical


 impressive samir, impressive

marta is pleased with her nephew's performance
as we all are

Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Guest Blogger

cesar "playing" the guitar

Some of you may remember that a few months back one of my favortie serial-visitors made his way down to spend a few days with me and to reconnect with some of the kids he had gotten to know here last year. I wrote about it briefy here in fact. In that post I had asked if he might be interested in offering his own perspective on both his time here and of Los Laureles more generally. I didn't think he'd take me up on the offer as he's a Senior in high school this year and busy with college admissions essays. I underestimated Mr. Jamie Moon and this evening via email, this is what he sent me:

I arrived in San Pedro for the second time, excited to see Matt, the kids and his newer home in Los Laureles. The first time I arrived was at the same time of year last August; that was a great opportunity to see Matt’s Central American life, as well as fulfill a school-required service project. I got a glimpse into a completely new culture, and was fascinated by it; the contrast between beauty and poverty astounded me. In a place where there is so much natural beauty, there is so much poverty, yet despite this poverty, remarkable happiness. Palm trees planted on the beach, white sand sifting between toes, just a short swim from beautiful coral reefs. Clouds flirting with the tips of mountains, forming different scenic views every day, with flowing rivers and waterfalls hidden in them would make for a wonderful tourist destination. All this was easily viewed from houses consisting of tin and ply wood, with children running around, competing in games in the dirt, like tick tack toe or marbles.

This summer was different because as opposed to leaving at 4:00 every day in a taxi to go home with Matt, I stayed with him in his nice, new house, up the hill overlooking the field, mountains city and beach.The panorama from garbage trucks dumping their load up the hill, expanding the big pile, all the way to the beautiful mountains and distant, frequent lightning, was quite the view from one of his two hammocks. I ended up spending much of my time there this year, in one of his hammocks.  Sometimes it was because the kids were in bee-bee gun battles, which I decided I probably shouldn’t take part in (plus I’d rather keep my eye sight than get the “pleasure” of hitting a 15 year old with a plastic bee-bee). Other times, Matt would start down the hill, camera in hand, to an event I wasn’t invited to. So, I really didn’t get to see into the community and different families the way I did last year. While I missed walking to different homes with Matt, seeing the interactions and being part of the birthday celebrations, I was able to have nice, lengthy conversations with kids visiting his comfortable porch and hammocks while he was gone. It was a great opportunity to have conversations and interactions with the niños, as they would ask about my culture, my favorite fútbol team, this and that. It was nice to be able to converse with them, I loved practicing the Spanish and while it’s far from perfect, it’s quite gratifying to be having a full conversation in another language. 

One of the highlights of these hammock interactions came when Anuar's younger brother hung out with me while I was playing Matt’s donated, less than prestine acoustic guitar. He began strumming, with an almost-consistent down-strum, as I did the chord changing. His body seemed to be bouncing up and down, head bobbing as he sang out his song, the majority of which I couldn’t understand. It was however, extremely cute to hear his high voice singing out, free to do so. Times like this reminded me of what I realized last year, regarding the term “service” project. It’s not quite appropriate, to come to Honduras for a mere 11 days and consider it service project, which connotes to me, to be in service to the kids.Yes, I was probably a positive role-model to them – I was at least discouraging his crew to go out of the house when he told them not to, discouraging them from diving into his wine bottles while we were home alone, and did help with a little math. I was no celebrity by any means; the second trip specifically, hardly a presence to some. It was really these kids, and this culture that was doing the service to me. It was my worldview that was being expanded, not theirs. I’m the fortunate one, who gets to experience a culture of poverty, with the capability of pressing the evacuate button to send me back to my privileged life.They listened to stories about Los Estados Unidos while I got to experience Los Laureles, and allow it to make a memorable impression on me, that still influence my daily thoughts, much later. I’m very grateful for Matt’s generosity and hospitality.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Perro Loco

hanging out with my dawg

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Inter-Menno Debate...About Honduras?

Ok, so those of you that know me well, know of my deep and abiding love for all things Mennonite. From the culture, to the theology, to the hymn singing, to the recycling of tin foil; I think we've pretty much got this Bride of Christ thing locked down. It should come as no surprise then that I belong to an online forum called MennoDiscuss which as they describe it is "A place where Mennonites (and others) can gather to discuss...". The three dots I imagine are a clue as to the open-endedness of possible topics of conversation; which pretty much is the case. There have been topics as disparate as "Amish in Israel" to "How Anabaptist are Mennonites?" to "Nonresistance & Malpractice" to "How Long Does It Take You To Sew A Capedress?" to "Iced Mint Tea". The forum tends to be populated by Mennonites from the more conservative and plainer churches and was actually started by a man from the Beachy Amish Church but there a handful of we "liberals" from the main body of Mennonites (MCUSA/Canada) and even a smattering of Quakers, Eastern Orthodox, Church of the Brethren, German Baptists "and others". It's a lively place and I have had my world and walk with Christ both enriched and strengthened by participating in (but mostly observing) the conversations and relationships that develop there.

I'm telling you all of this because the other day a topic developed under the title of "Eastern Orthodoxy: Convince Me Not To Convert" and while that may be an engaging enough topic for some of you out there, it really did nothing for me. Eastern Orthodoxy, I've got nothing against you personally and I love that you basically laugh and roll your eyes everytime you hear Roman Catholics yammering on about that 'papal infallibility' thing but seriously, you just don't have it goin' on for me. Like I said, we Mennonites.....anyway I was content to sit back and observe the exchanges that took place until a certain person, who is not Mennonite or even from a Mennonite/Anabaptist-related church (he would be considered one of those nebulous "others"), chimed in and started making what I considered to be factually specious claims about the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and countries that are dominated by those church cultures.

Let me just diverge here for a moment and give you some insight into how this person is wired. Have you heard about a recent spate of parents essentially physically disciplining their children to death and claiming to have been influenced by a certain book by Michael Pearl, entitled: "To Train Up a Child"? The book essentially advocates beating the snot out of your children for the slightest infractions which is far cry from 'spare the rod' type punishment, which I am all for. Anyway, this person has a tag-line that he leaves at the bottom of every message he posts in this forum pleading with we non-children-killing Mennonites to read Mr. Pearl's book.

So, Crazy was proffering all sorts of wild claims about the high churches and various people groups around the world, most notably the Greeks, that were either trite and well-worn lies or outlandish claims based on hearsay and his own synaptic assumptions. As I mentioned, usually I'm content to observe and learn but there's something about presenting misleading facts and playing fast-and-loose with truth that really gets me angry so I jumped in with a quip about his remarks being baseless and absurd. My comments pertained mostly to the churchy aspects of his attacks but I also threw a zinger in there about his attacks on whole cultures and nations. And that's where things turned personal. He came back at me launching into a diatribe about the high churches but then reserved 5 paragraphs to attack Hondurans (he calls them hondurians) and their Godless culture. My name on the forum is HondurasKeiser and I've talked about my life and work in one of the conversations so the attack on Honduras wasn't coincidental. I almost lost it but then collected my thoughts and wrote this:

(Just as clarification, I responded to each thought or point regarding Honduras and not necessarily to each paragraph. The following conversation then reads as me quoting an individual point, responding to it and then moving on to the next point. If you'd like to read the entire topic from beginning to end, all 67 posts, you can do so here. Also, I'm sharing this with you all, not to show off my debating skills, and I think they may be wanting; but to show my true feelings on Honduras and the people here.)

Now your Honduras comments are what got my gander up.

LibertarianChristian wrote:My solution for honduras would be the death penalty and way tougher punishments for crime.
WHAT?!? I don't even know what to do with this. You mention it again so I'll come back to it.

LibertarianChristian wrote:In Honduras (And El Salvador, etc), life is cheap. There is no death penalty. People shoot each other like they go to the mall. There is no serious punishment for crime,
All true, sorry to say.

LibertarianChristian wrote:and most hondurans are godless. Their religion stands as far as they get benefits from it.
Again, WHAT? Have you taken a poll, are you quoting statistics or are you basing this off of the handful of Hondurans you've known over your lifetime? The majority of Hondurans I know, and I've met a few in my time here, are devout believers in God and tend to belong to the Evangelical/Charismatic wing of Christianity. They're not in this thing to see what they can get out of it. Most are here because they recognize that their very existence is a gift from God, that they can't make it from one day to the next without his grace and mercy. Your cheapening of these people's faith is offensive and wrong.

LibertarianChristian wrote:If you are a missionary there, you probably are being wildly successful?
What do you consider to be wild success in a missionary context?

LibertarianChristian wrote:I would recommend no one to send their daughters to a mission to Honduras. The guys, yes, the guys are highly recommended to go on a mission to honduras.
That has to be one of the most absurd, closed-minded and culturally clueless things I've ever seen you write. And believe me I've seen you write some doozies. I know many, many single, young ladies here working in the country. Do they have to be more cautious than males? Yes. Are they faithfully serving the Lord and leading others to Christ? Yes. Have they been acosted, violated or otherwise taken advantage of? Not a one. Come to think of it, I need a lady to help me reach the young girls and single mothers of the community here. Know of anyone?

LibertarianChristian wrote:But, I think that it would be more fun if an American organization doesn't support you, but if instead you try to make a living there. (But it can be dangerous). This would enrich your experience a whole lot.
I'm actually starting to get a taste of this. Fun isn't quite the way I'd describe it. Becoming more incarnate and learning more of what the average, poor Honduran lives through day to day, is.

Here we go:

LibertarianChristian wrote:When you are in Honduras, just by being white you are immediately HIGH class, even if you are a dirt poor american. Also, by being American, you are already not only high class, but royalty. You can expect royal treatment everywhere you go, and people shining your shoes and showing particular deference to you. You might think: "Ain't these people nice"? "Hondurans are so kind and welcoming". But be not deceived: How are they to each other? Hondurans are among the most selfish people on the planet. If it were not so, their country would flourish, because in a country where most people are THAT nice, prosperity is the natural, unavoidable consequence. But honduras is dirt-poor, and despicably corrupt, in all spheres of life. It is because each person basically seeks AVIDLY their own benefit, and couldn't care less about their neighbour, or about God. They care about their families, because they are THEIRS. Even we, who are bad (said Jesus), know how to give good things to our children.

There are two opposed qualities among people: "NICENESS" vs "Godliness".
Be guaranteed that if you are a white American missionary, hondurans will be EXTRA nice to you and will listen to everything you got to say
After I calmed down from reading this all I could think of were my neighbors, all 1500 of them. I live with the community of people that has set up life around the municipal garbage dump of La Ceiba. These people would have to be some of the poorest and most desperate within the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They more than any other demographic ought to be the archetype of your "greed hypothesis". By virtue of their cyclical and hopeless poverty, they ought to be the greediest, most selfish and most corrupt people in all of Honduran society. Unfortunately, they blow your hypothesis to shreds. I have never seen a group of people more self-less, more giving and more open with each other than I have amongst people here. One of my first memories from this community and one of the things that impressed me most was watching a young boy share his food. I had given an obviously hungry boy a small bag of chips expecting him to devour it on the scene. Within seconds he was swarmed by his friends and brothers and without complaint he gave each eager hand a chip or two until he was left nothing but a few chips himself. I've seen that scene played out here more times than I can count. If that's not self-less compassion I'm not sure what is.

I myself, that rich, white Gringo that lives in this community have become the receiver of countless acts of generosity over the course of my time here. From people loaning me a vehicle, to people loaning me money, to helping me with physical labor or opening their home to me so that I can use their water spigot to fill up my barrels. I have received far more from this community in the form of love and generosity than I can ever hope to give.

The same holds true for the wider swath of Honduran society I know. Is there greed out there, selfishness, evil? Yes of course, I don't idealize this place but Hondurans are not the most selfish people on earth and their poverty has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with political corruption and a governing class, most of whom aren't from this culture, and their treatment of the average Honduran more as a slave than as a fellow human.

LibertarianChristian wrote:Honduras BADLY needs the death penalty. All murderers and "mareros" should be put to death if they insist in their ways, because violence is just completely out of control.
Honduras badly needs father figures. Honduras badly needs Jesus. Honduras doesn't need the death penalty anymore than they need the U.S. army training their military for them. Turns out they don't need a military either (we all know what a threat Costa Rica is). What Honduras needs is a political class that isn't corrupt or selfish, a police force that isn't corrupt or more concerned about drivers wearing their saftey belts than gangs going to war in certain neighborhoods. Honduras needs fathers that won't abandon their families and that will be strong, guiding influences in the lives of their sons. Honduras needs Jesus.

LibertarianChristian wrote:Nobody is safe in honduras, they extortion you when you have a business, you have to pay "taxes" to the gangs, and to the government. You can buy someone's life for like 1000 dollars or less. Everybody will be nice to an American white, except someone who might be interested in kidnapping you. Everybody will try to get advantage of you, either by befriending you, by marrying your sisters or your friends, or more extremely, by kidnapping you.
I am safe in Honduras. No one I know has ever been the victim of extortion. There are places you have to pay taxes to the gangs but then again you may have to do that if you live in Brooklyn as well. I've never felt taken advantge of except for a few unscrupulous taxi drivers. I have a girlfriend, we're talking of marriage, now that you've so deftly pointed out the cultural flaws here I'm quite certain she's trying to marry me for a visa. And heaven forbid one of these Honduran natives tries to woo my sister. What would my lilly-white family do?

LibertarianChristian wrote:But their hearts... are they close to God?
More than you'll ever know.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Duke is 15

duke turned 15 yesterday.
we celebrated by sharing a bible study together.
each day i love this kid a bit more.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Inauspiciousness Is What We Do Best

 It was a rather anticlimactic end to a highly successful season for our beloved U-14 team.
At the end of the regular season we were seeded in 3rd place out of 11 teams and thus qualified for the pentaganol tournament to determine the league champion.
We tied our first game and then won our second two games and going into the final game this past Saturday we were in first place (point-wise) out of the top 5 teams.
This last game though was against the best team (talent-wise) in the league; one we had lost to 4-0 in the regular season and the team that had taken first place in regular season play.
Because of our point standings if we had just been able to manage a tie we would have forced an extra game, a true final as it were.
But we fell apart, in the most inauspicious way imaginable.
We scored first, Chamu, who hadn't scored much all season gave us our first and only goal.
This of ccourse got us excited, we could taste victory, another game, a chance at glory.
Then Duke, our center defenseman and the heart of the team had to step off the field because he was hurt, in that moment that he was gone the other team scored and our morale plummeted.
For whatever reason we could not recover and the other team ended up scoring twice more.
It felt like such a terrible way to lose.
It felt like we were better than this.
Better than the other team.
But, we're not.
We ended up in Second place.
Which is nice, really nice, it's just not first.
I think it was really hard for the older guys like Duke, Chamu, Jimmy, William and Lauro; they've been playing in this U-14 category for two years now.
Two years in a row they've ended up in Second Place.
This was their year to bring home a First Place trophy because next year half of them move up to the U-16 category.
It won't be the same.
still proud of them though

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kaká Turns 12

One of the nicest and quietist boys in Laureles celebrated his birthday last week.
I had to apprise him of this situation because neither he nor anyone that lives with him knew that his birthday was upon us.
In typical Kaká fashion he just glanced at me and smiled. After inviting him out he disappeared into his home so that he could change into his nice "going out" clothes.
Once in the taxi he informed me that he didn't want a cake but a slushy from the mall.
Thrifty me was happy to oblige.
I hadn't seen him since we went out last week when he showed up at my window this evening to chat.
Man I love this kid.