Sunday, August 12, 2007

Foreign Aid

"Unless we change the system, all the charity in the world won't take us out of poverty." - Elvia Alvarado, Honduran campesino leader. From her biography Don't Be Afraid, Gringo, one of the best books I've ever read.

Compare the above to a quote by Dr. Michael Dyson, "Poverty can be ended world-wide by rich countries doubling their aid to poor nations."

Is more foreign aid really the solution?

Oxford University economist Paul Collier says that foreign aid has not raised growth rates, lessened poverty, or bettered economic policies. "Huge sums of money, accompanied by endless hectoring, lecturing, and setting of conditions, have had, on average, zero impact." - from Development to a Different Drummer

Still drawing lines that divide

“…Professor put my life on the board. He drew a line that angled uphill: ‘Many evangelical students see their life as a progression from the legalism of their youth to a more mature Christianity that stresses issues of lifestyle and justice and explores authentic Christianity. It appears they have moved forward.’ Then he drew a circle and wrote “legalism,” “simple lifestyle,” “freedom to drink,” and “issues of justice” at different points. ‘They move along, but they are not going anywhere. They just change one means of judging themselves as superior for another.’

“I had used the “broadening” of my faith perspective in the same way I used the legalism I was born into: to draw lines between myself and others. I considered myself right in relation to others because my Christianity now included concern for the poor, a realization that those who consumed alcohol could be Christians and a commitment to social justice and a simple lifestyle… I had torn down one house and built another that looked so different I never realized that the foundation of the houses was the same.”

from Religious No More: Building Communities of Grace and Freedom

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The long time-interval

the yearning; Chicago 2006

‘Has any of you been compelled to live through a long time-interval between the consciousness of a desire and its fulfillment?’ - Brave New World

There is a growing conciousness of a desire in me. The mustard seed desire is also sprouting in others. Sarah from Kenya talked about it this week. She told me that her HIA friends who don't consider themselves Christ-followers feel the same hunger too and want to work for human rights and justice to help bring the fulfillment about. Another anonymous someone scratched into the wood of the desk I worked at, "¡Jesus, venga a Honduras!" This too became a growing ache of mine. "Jesus, come to Honduras!" I have never longed for redemption and the accompanying liberation from poverty so strongly as in Honduras. I heard creation groaning.

The "now but not yet" kingdom, Dr. Green says. It's here, but not all the way. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing the reign of Love at all.

Last night I read in Isaiah 25, "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain the LORD will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; the LORD will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; the LORD will remove the disgrace of the LORD's people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken."

I imagine God will be somewhat like my grandma, bustling around the kitchen preparing an elaborate curry dinner, excited to have her family there after so long. God will do all this for "all peoples." Isn't the promise beautiful that the death shroud will be destroyed? What rich imagery, a tender God wiping away all our tears. God is love.

Oh, I hope the promise is true. We are the greatest of fools, Paul says, if Christ did not rise from the dead and this hope is false...

Monday, August 6, 2007


I turned 20 midair from Miami to San Francisco. The schoolteacher from Napa sitting next to me, coming from a month spent with her daughter studying in Chile and Peru, woke from sleeping to say happy birthday. My family came to meet me at 1 in the morning in San Fran. My eyelids were heavy with sleep but I felt so happy to see them.

Since I've been back, I have heard a lot about this word "processing." Admittedly, it gets a lot of airtime in my speech as well. It's expected that when one gets back from experiences abroad - HIA, Youth Hostel Ministry, and anything involving time in Africa or Latin America - one must spend a significant amount of time "processing."

I guess I'm not sure what that means.

I imagine this handheld blender, and my experience in Honduras is this thick chunky mixture in a bowl. Now I'm supposed to "process" it. Just flip the switch to liquify, plunge the blender in the bowl, and WHIIIRRRR it up a little. Presto! Experience processed. Next!

So I guess haven't started "processing" yet. It's been pretty tranquilo at the Dirty Dog Ranch. That's what we call our home here. Our two cocker spaniels are still digging out of the fence and tearing through the creek, burrs, and mud. I've been peeling peaches from our garden to freeze for the winter, and going running (for the first time in months) in the morning. We went and saw my grandparents, which was really nice. Grandma suffered a stroke while I was away and had to be hospitalized for a while. This weekend she was on her feet again, moving around the house as usual, clucking over her grandkids and laying out her fine dishes as if we were special guests.

Aside from showing my family some pictures, I haven't thought much about Honduras. I'm not going to force this whole "processing" thing. Ít'll take it's natural course, slowly, I suppose, over dinner conversations with my roommates, memories in the middle of the night, and prayer. I don't want it to be the sort of burden that some HNGR interns come back with... the sort of internally swollen cross-cultural experience that is so deep and profound to the individual that it becomes inaccessible to others. I want to be able to share the things I learned and thought, to expose these things to the light of community understanding. I hope they gain richer meaning as a result.

Help me share and ask questions, challenge me, because I still don't understand a lot of what I was exposed to. I also look forward to hearing what you've been learning and becoming. God teach us to listen and give us grace with each other when we don't know the right questions to ask.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mayan Reincarnation

Last weekend Abby, Cesiah (a coworker of hers), and I went to the Mayan ruins at Copán. They were amazing. A few years ago, my family took a trip to the ruins of Chichinitza in Yucatan. You really can't compare the two. Chichinitza, or "chickenpizza" as my sister calls it, was grandiose. It was the size that wowed me. Copán was apparently the Paris of the Mayan world. For good reason. The art was impressive, especially the intricately carved stone and stelae commemorating past kings and ceremonies. One pyramid was made of stone blocks where each block was carved on the front with glyphs.
One thing I loved about Copán was that the jungle still has a hold on the ruins, though they are mostly cleared for tourists. Somehow it makes me happy that almost all great civilizations are claimed by nature and time.
Inside the museum at Copán, next to some butterfly carvings, I read that the Mayans believed their warriors were reincarnated into butterflies. Flitting around the ruins that day had been little irridescent blue butterflies. Hence the following poem.

Mayan Reincarnation
Soft wings
touching stelae
bare feet
whispers of legs
they say, the
reincarnation of Mayan warriors.

Fitting beginning
for lives living
to end.
limbs once
lifting for sacrifice
are now
as myth gives
truth birth,
that warriors

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dreams, disconnect, driving.

I dreamed in Spanish. It happened so softly, subconsciously, that I was hardly aware the words were Spanish until halfway through the next day when I remembered the dream. It is beautiful to dream in another language for the first time... I have been waiting for the moment since I first started taking Spanish classes. Fluency, here I come! Well, that might be another few years. Sin embargo, estoy mejor que estuve cuando llegue.

This picture is where I want to build a little house and live surrounded 360 degrees by mountain after layered mountain. The aldea is called Curaren, and the one we stayed at is Alubaren. When Spanish Catholic missionaries arrived in the 16th century they built arched and vaulted churches in the pueblos. Now soft green mold covers the old stones, and centuries have worn the faces from the figures of the saints inside. Still, I feel the stir of time and the certain original disconnect in the dusty air of the church. I sit in the grooves where indigenous Lenca sat and learned about a foreign God. I wonder how they felt as I recite the Padre Nuestro with them 500 years later. Catholicism is novel and strange to me, yet to the indigenous whose squat papagayo temples were replaced with vaulted European architecture? Change. What was it like? Now, though, what was unfamiliar has lost its sharp corners. The people go to mass, say the prayers, make the known familiar signs with the deft easy gestures of a woman flipping tortillas in a dark room. It is comfortable to them, yet a pinch of unease keeps my mind from slipping into the motion of mass.

I visited the aldeas with Mami Catuna (Leyla´s mother) and her two grandkids. We went on the 6 month anniversary of her father´s death for a type of memorial service. Her sister has an old Toyota diesel 4-wheel drive but can´t really drive. So we loaded in 10 passengers and I drove. It was about an hour each way to visit some more relatives, and the roads were pretty bad and steep. They told me that I will never forget the drive, and I´m pretty sure I never will. The kids were having a grand time bopping up and down from the bumps/more-like-trenches in the road, but I was clutching the wheel with white fear in my knuckles as I pounded the horn around every treacherous bend. It was raining and the windshield wipers didn´t work. I put the car in 1st gear most of the way, and somehow the car grappled its way there and back safely, depositing its relieved cargo ¨sana y salva¨as they say here. Safe and sound. What an adventure.

*Mami Catuna looking out over the city on the right.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Listen to the walls

"Los ideales son visiones que se anticipan al perfeccionamiento de la realidad." Ideals are visions that anticipate the perfection of reality.
"La rebaja fue paja", "Abajo el imperialismo" The reduction was rubbish, down with imperialism

"La religion es el opio de los pueblos - Monseñor" *Marx* Religion is the opiate of the people

I began to take pictures of the grafitti here when I realized I could listen with my eyes. Political thought, quotes, and hopes are scrawled on Tegucigalpa's walls. I'm learning to listen with my eyes because the spray paint speaks the mind of the city, or at least the minds of those who are rebel or radical enough to paint their ideas for the public.

More samples of grafitti and my thoughts:

¨Presiona tu sucio gobierno¨ Pressure your dirty government

This is one of a few scrawlings that point to a general sense of mistrust in the Honduran government. I asked a Honduran about this quote, and she said that this refers to the advisors of the president, Mel Zelaya. They are apparently involved in corruption, which the people readily admit exists in their government. The president, though, is not thought to be corrupt. He is sort of a lame duck. It´s not that he´s about to leave office, though. He just doesn´t do much for the people. He was reported to have flown from La Ceiba to the Capital in a fighter jet just for the heck of it (I refer to that in my Palmerola poem). Even doing nothing, he may be better than the line of past presidents who took over through military coups (golpe del estado) or carried out atrocities on their own people during the disappearances of the 80´s, the time that the people refer to as the ´Tiempo Oscuro´, or ´Dark Time´.

I saw at least three of ¨La rebaja fue pura paja¨ The reduction project was pure rubbish

This also refers to a failure of the local government. There is a road construction project, La Rebaja, in Tegucigalpa by the soccer stadium that, according to the taxi drivers I´ve spoken with, is a big waste of time and precious money. It does not serve the people, but is an expensive overpass that does not take traffic where traffic needs to go. In short, a costly road to nowhere. I sense the contempt.

¨Nuestro norte es su sur¨ Our north is your south

Not sure, but I think this refers to the global north. The north of Honduras is still the global south, geographically and politically under the United States. Another thought: We, citizens of the United States, refer to ourselves as Americans. I wonder if this is a little ethnocentric? I was helping unload a cargo of schoolbook donations from the U.S. at a Catholic distribution center here. The social science textbooks, all English, were grandly titled ¨The History of America.¨ I looked inside, hoping to find at least a few chapters dedicated to South America and Latin America, but no. It started with George Washington and continued to tell the proud history of the one and only America, of course, the United States of America. I wish we would realize we are not the only Americans in the world, that people here consider themselves Americans.

¨No a la pribatizacion de la UNAH¨ No to the privitization of UNAH

This quote has an interesting history. I searched online (thank you World Socialist Website), and this is what I learned...
UNAH stands for the Autonomous National University of Honduras. It serves tens of thousands of students in six cities. In 1999 students and professors protested privatization of the University favored by the World Bank. The legislation to privitize the university would have taken away the right of the people to have free university education, and also the hard-fought control students had over the university.

¨No dejes que la hecha de la revolucion de Copan Calel caiga al suelo¨ Don´t you forget that Copan Calel´s act of revolution fell to the ground.

This scribbling also has an interesting history. Who was Copan Calel? Thank you, he was a native chief in Western Honduras who resisted the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. So this quote, I think, reflects a tinge of Honduras´ hopelessness at the hands of greater powers. Or perhaps I am overshadowing the true meaning with the interpretation of my worldview. A great Mayan chief couldn´t resist the Goliath of the time. Neither can Honduras now.

4th letter: Mennonite. Not Protestant, not quite Catholic. Good place to be here.

It is winter here, though you wouldn´t know it. I think that when they say it´s winter, they just mean that it´s rainy season. Several times a week it rains hard, fat drops pounding the warm dusty air into muddy rivers and flushing loose stones and trash down the steep streets. I´m a little sick right now. At night I sleep with a cloth over my mouth to keep out the dust. It´s all this pollution (polvo) in the air between the bouts of rain that makes it hard to breathe for me sometimes. In Honduras, there don´t seem to be any driving regulations, much less smog-control laws. I´m glad I brought my asthma meds just in case.
The survey work is well over. After a few days of making up tasks for myself (everything from coloring copies of kids´ workbooks to interviewing the priest over my questions about Catholicism), it was decided that I should help with the parish´s after-school tutoring program, ´reforzamiento´. So far it´s been good. I´ve always clicked well with kids. I´m working with this little ants-in-the-pants Jose, a third-grader. He can´t sit still to practise the times-tables, so I take him outside. We throw rocks in a hole to memorize the tables. It´s a game I made up. I call it ´rocks-in-a-hole.´ Then the other volunteer, Xiomare, and I play soccer with the other seven or eight kids on the rough little dirt field by the church where tutoring takes place.
My church experience has been a major part of life here. I want to get a tast of the wide range of cultural perceptions of God in Honduras, and how people respond to God in different settings. So I´ve been going to three different churches. Before this summer, I had never participated in a Catholic mass. Now I go nearly every day. First, I went because it was the one dependable thing in my day; its constancy kept me sane. Also, I attended to get to know the lay people, to form relationships and ¨build rapport¨ (thank you Dr. Arnold and Biculturalism 251!). Yet I found myself growing attached not just to the people but to the style of worship as well. There is a profundity in the liturgy and a mysterious rhythm to the service, in the rising and kneeling, then sitting again. I love the moment when Padre Peppe lifts the communion wafer and sings in his rich baritone voice, ¨Este es el sacramento de nuestro fe.¨ (This is the sacrament of our faith). The words are all the same note - I think an E on the piano - except for the last two syllables, which descend to D-sharp and D.
As a not-catholic, I cannot take communion. The prohibition has created a strange bond of friendship with a girl named Johanna, who got pregnant just before her confirmation into the church at age 17. Unmarried pregant women cannot take communion (though I imagine the impregnators taste the wafer, no problem). Despite the communion exclusion, I am nourished by the corporate prayer and scripture readings from Old and New Testaments. The beauty of the Catholic Church is its unity as a body. As one, the church worldwide moves through the seasons, following Christ´s life, death, and resurrection. My eyes are trained from myself and my individual worship experience to the crucified figure of Christ at the front, the collective experience of Christ´s body on earth. The priest speaks, based on the readings, of justice for the poor. I pass the peace of Christ with a kiss on the cheek to Johanna, then to the old fruit vendor with broad, spread barefeet. Her gnarled fingers grip my arm tightly and she smiles toothlessly. I am glad to call her ¨hermana,¨ ¨sister.¨

On Sundays I take a shared collective taxi to an evangelical Mennonite church in Teguc. It is quite a different experience, with drums, an electric guitar, sermons that crescendo at the end, and songs like ¨This is the Air I Breathe¨ translated into Spanish. On Tuesdays there is no mass, so I have been going to an Evangelical Pentecostal church. If my talking with people there develops into interviews, I may have a potential research project on my hands!
I realize I haven´t explained much about relations between Catholics and Evangelicals here. I already wrote a ton, so basically: I was told by a Catholic that it is better to not go to church than to be an Evangelical. I have heard of Evangelicals calling Catholics ¨modanos,¨a deragatory term for a non-believer. Weekly, both point out the flaws of the other from the pulpit. I´m trying to understand the points of inflammation and am curious why so many Catholics are leaving for the Evangelical church.
If you pray, pray for the peace of Christ to be a salve between these two churches so that they may work together for good. Pray that they would focus on building bridges rather than on their differences. Also, pray for the women here, some of whom I know, who are beaten by their husbands. Sometimes I don´t know how to pray tfor them, machismo is so basic to the cultural system. In my relationship with Johanna, you could pray that I would be able to communicate that nothing can separate her from the love of Christ.
Dios esta siempre con ustedes.
(God is always with you).

p.s. I decided not to be the godmother of Arianna. It was a choice that resulted from discussions with my parents and my MCC advisors. Basically, one of the priests said that no, I couldn´t be the godmother, but the other gave permission to Leyla without the knowledge of the other. I didn´t want to subvert the first priests´authority and thus potentially damage further relations between evangelicals, or MCC, and catholics.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

MCC retreat: Immigration, its effects, and the globalization lie

Every year and a half MCC has a big ol' regional retreat. All of the MCC development workers in Central America and Mexico meet for a few days of relaxation and workshops focused on a specific theme. This year, Abby and I (lucky ducks) were able to go to the retreat expense-free. We bused up to La Ceiba, a town on the North Coast of Honduras. It was an amazing experience. Every day for three days we participated in workshops on immigration, the theme of this year's retreat. A Honduran expert spoke. There's some funny stories about him as a speaker and the audience reaction. Let's just say the speaker and the audience did not share the same expectations for the workshops. The last workshop I call "The Mutiny."
I feel like I learned a lot of general information about immigration. The topic was too broad to really go in depth over such a short period, though some days we sat through 6 hours of lecture. phew. It was really mentally exhausting; my mind was a swamp of Spanish verbage.
Coming in, I had so many questions about immigration. On the surveys I have been doing, it seemed that nearly half of the children had a family member in the United States. Yet many of them said that they do not receive any financial assistance at all. Is it true then, that remittances from immigrant family members help the local economy? Also, what are the effects of immigration on women, both those who go (since immigration is increasingly a female phenomenon), and those who are left behind? Is emigration empowering as they leave what are often oppressive home situations, or is it just a transfer to another position of oppression? Over the course of the retreat, I came to realize that most of my questions were centered around the need to define immigration as all good or all bad. The complexity of the phenomenon became apparent as we learned that it has both very positive and very negative effects.
On the one hand, in most cases remittances really do contribute to the development of communities. My friend James made a documentary called 'Fuerza' (I'm going to buy a copy if you want to see it) about a flourishing town in Mexico and a town in Indiana, Goshen, which has experienced a large influx of illegal immigrants from this town in Mexico. They say that the town in Mexico would be a ghost town had it not been for the remittances from Goshen. Also, I remember reading in the newspaper here that remittances make up a whopping 27% of the economy of Honduras! So immigration does help to boost the way of life, at least economically, in Latin America.
Yet on the other hand, the pain and separation families go through is a testimony to the negative effects of immigration. Many plan to just leave their home for a year or two, make enough money to send their kids to school with full bellies, and return home. Yet they find that life in the new place is not the dream it was made out to be. They end up staying for ten, twelve years, as was the case of Enrique's mom in the book Enrique's Journey. Abandoned kids as young as 7 ride freight trains up north on a quest to see if their immigrant parents still love them. The journey north is terribly dangerous, especially for Central Americans, who must cross multiple borders. They say here that the Mexican border is even more treacherous to cross than the U.S. one. Then there are the coyotes who abandon their clients in the desert to die. Death claims immigrants around every bend. Kids get their limbs sawed off by getting sucked under a speeding train they're trying to hop. Gangs murder immigrants for their clothes and a few bucks. I can't even think about the nightmare that women have to go through to immigrate. A rape is pretty much guaranteed along the way. If not by gang members, then by immigration officers.
So, yes, the trials are tremendous in the quest for a better life and employment. What I am interested in researching right now are the causes of immigration. As I talked to MCC workers and listened to their opinions, I came to the conclusion that migration is caused by both a push and a pull factor. High rates of unemployment, poverty, and spousal abuse are some of the forces that compel a person to go. What I am interested in is the increasing pull to places like the U.S. and Costa Rica. I believe the pull factor is due to globalization.
From where I live in Comayaguela, nightly I see the busy strip of Americanization, a line of lit signs for McDonld, Pizza Hut, Church's Chicken, and more. When we go out for a special treat, or when the coworkers order out, they order KFC without fail. They get MTV and violent American movies; the family thought that Hollywood is a state. I feel uncomfortable when Leyla asks me if my house looks like that (when a big house appears on the screen). This invisible power of the idealized American life draws people to leave their home culture and families.
Though many would not agree, I believe that globalization is a negative force that bulldozes local cultural beauty and integrity. As a dynamic speaker at Wheaton, Melba Padilla Maggay, said, cultural diversity was the Lord's intent as evidenced in the scattering of the people of Babel, the tongues at Pentecost, and the time when Christ will return to draw the culturally distinct tribes and nations to the godself. Globalization, though unifying and capable of great change in economy, destroys the uniqueness of the local, the idiosyncracies and ties that bind cultural communities together.
I want to look more into the perceptions of the West caused by globalization that lead people here to emigrate. I want to live, especially with the rural poor, in a way that challenges the forces of globalization and maybe the compulsion to leave. Local culture is so rich! The pride Hondurans have in their country is something I wish I could have in my own. Leyla points out the best referee in the Copa Americana who is Honduran, that Honduran soccer player on the Italy team, this top Honduran journalist in the States, and a famous statesman or lawyer, all natives of Honduras. I want to eat at street vendors, to praise the deliciousness of the baleada and the pupusa rather than the bland grease of KFC. I want to perfect my tortilla making skills, to dance punta like Kenia at work - her hips shaking faster than any polaroid picture-, to continue to be amazed at the danza folklorica (see picture above), and maybe get up the guts to eat sopa de mondonga (soup made of cow intestines). Because as I'm doing these things I believe that I help in some small way to give back some of the integrity that globalization has stolen from Honduran culture. I hope to counter the lie that U.S. culture and all its products that are smeared over this country are better than Honduran culture and products. And maybe when this lie is proven false, and as multi-dimensional development (not just economic) occurs, Hondurans will choose to stay in this place.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Arianna y yo

Happenings, third letter

There is so much I want to tell you about. It's getting harder to pick through everything that has happened in the last few weeks and choose what to say. The last time I wrote, I don't think we had started the survey work yet for the scholarship program that the parish has for school kids. I'll describe it in detail in this letter. Honduras has a 'free' public school system, but many families cannot afford the costs of uniforms, backpacks, notebooks, pencils, etc. So, among other social projects, the Salesians of Don Juan Bosco provide small scholarships for those who are most needy and who have good enough grades. There are about 300 scholarship recipients, scattered throughout the parrish in about 10 colonias within what I would guess to be a 10 mile radius from the center offices where the five priests also live. It is a tough task to gauge the neediness of a child. When Milton (he signs his name "1,000-ton" because 'mil' is 1,000 in Spanish :) and I interview people for the socio-economic survey, we walk to each child's house to see what it is like. "Walk" might be putting it lightly. In some colonias, like Campo Cielo, climb, crawl, and slide are more like it. In most zones we have a contact to show us around (and, we hope, to feed us lunch!). In Campo Cielo, three nuns live together in a calm little oasis of a house. One, whose nun-name is "Maria de Jesus de la Sangrada Corazon," was our contact in Campo Cielo. Everyone just calls her the Padrina. She is quite the babe, if you're allowed to say that about a nun. Padrina, thought probably in her late 50s, has the fitness and shape of a 25 year old woman. They say that she bathes in just her underwear in a cascade nearby and it is quite the scandal. I enjoyed spending two days hiking Campo Cielo with her. She organizes women's groups, visits families, helps with Canadian short-term groups at the clinic, and gives talks on health and nutrition, as many children are malnourished here. Padrina is from a poor family and only was educated up until 4th grade. She shared with us how important the scholarship program is to her. We have visited at least 150 houses so far for the survey. One of the questions is about their monthly salary. Most in Comayaguela make minimum wage or less, that is, about $125- $135 U.S. dollars a month. Many survive on about a dollar a day. Typical jobs for women include making and vending tortillas in their home or selling diced green mangos or papaya. Men are less likely to be living with their child. Some are brick layers or vendors in the bustling market by the Choluteca River. I came up with a crude scale to help our judgements of neediness. 1 and 10 are actual examples of houses we visited, and the discrepancy is jolting. Especially when they live as neighbors. 1: The child lives with her old grandmother. Her mother emigrated, or died trying, and the dad is as good as dead. The grandma makes tortillas over an open fire to sell. House of pieces of wood, tin, no running water or electricity, dirt floor, one room dimensions 13x5 (who knows how or where they sleep?).
Pause: I just thought of an example most of you may have seen. Remember little Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? The one room house where he lived with both sets of grandparents crammed in one bed is the closest image I can provide of what most houses are like in Comayaguela.
Back to the scale. 10: Mom is a school teacher, they live with her husband and in-laws. House of painted concrete, at least 3 rooms, fridge, TV, DVDs, microwave, toys, and a fat dog. Perro gordo = mucho pisto $. 10s don't get the scholarship. I think I am a 10+. We actually have 2 fat dogs and a fat cat at home. We even buy food for our dogs. Because of this, among other things, my family would be rich here.
Last week we finished the scholarship surveys. I have pretty much no idea what's coming next. I might sit in the office and chat with coworkers for a month. There is talk of having me help with tattoo removal on Saturdays, which would be interesting. Ex-gang members get their tattoos seared off with some kind of infra-red ray at a clinic run by the parrish. They also visit prisons to do tattoo removal there. Pray for contentment and a servant's attitude in whatever I end up doing.
Another prayer request: Leyla asked me if I would like to be the god-mother of Arryana at her baptism (would I like it?!) I love this little girl, and want very much to be her godmother, formally connected to the family and responsible for supporting her as she grows up in Christ. Problem is, godparents must be Catholics. Leyla has asked Padre Peppe for special permission and he is considering it right now. It's doubtful, but please pray that he makes an exception in this case! I thank God for all of you and am praying for you, let me know how you're doing and the Happenings in your life.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Boy from Palmerola

The Boy from Palmerola

He hates Honduras.
dripping like boredom
from his neck.
hand on his chin.
on his lap.
pumped with
steel and men.
Always these dragons of ideologies
Always those contra liberal democracies…

Oh, the would-be corruption of
Catracho communism!
Thank Ron!
Thank him for
freely elected presidents who
make a point to
never fulfil false
promises. Who
only use the

(The poor, crawling from shacks
away maquila clouds,
oppression from their eyes and
their leader hurtling by
a spoiled
on a pony from the King.)

Thank Ron, but by George!
The boy from Palmerola
helps the local economy every
-come morn he gets
again for home-
And by George!
what blue eyes
these cipotes have!
The boy from Palmerola
thinks of leaving
bad beer, short stocky girls,
mosquitoes, sweat,
dark mountains and dirt,
He thinks of leaving.
-It´s been 30 odd years-
But there are dragons to slay.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A glimpse of Comayaguela

This is from the Parrish computer. The big center building is Casa Corral, where the Parrish is based and where the priests live. You can't really see most of Comayaguela and the mountains in this picture, but it is a glimpse.

Second letter: Translations from Comayaguela

And here is the second letter. It's weird how blogs go from most recent to least recent. Errg, that's not the way I think!

Hello dear family and friends,
Prepare yourself for a long intense one, or save it for later!
I have been in Comayaguela for about two weeks now, and the time arises to translate some of my experiences into words. If you did not receive my previous email, I am in Honduras for the summer volunteering at a Catholic organization (though I am actually with Mennonite Central Committee). I and another worker will be administering a socio-economic survey to families living in the various zones here. The survey, which we are going to start tomorrow, hopes to gauge the economic need of primary school students who have applied for a scholarship from the Catholic organization.
I am living with the family of my director at work, Leyla. She has two kiddos, a two year old who is named after his father Leonardo (but we call him Leonardito) and a 10 month old, Arryana. I am enjoying getting to know them and learning Spanish with Leonardito!
Last Sunday, baby Arryana had a high fever. Leyla sent for Dona Tina, an old wise woman who some call a witch because of her knowledge of herbal cures and natural remedies. I watched as Dona Tina chewed up a plant called rruda, which is apparently good for drawing out a fever. Taking the baby in her arms, she spit the reddish grounds all over her feverish little body. Thinking that she'd probably want to rinse her mouth after all that chewing, I approached Dona Tina and offered her some of the blackberry juice that Leyla had made for lunch. The problem is, instead of asking if she would like berry juice - "Quiere usted jugo de MORA?", I asked "Quiere usted jugo de MARA?" which means, "Would you like gang juice (or juice made of gang members)?" Everyone, myself included after realizing what I had said, burst into laughter!
So, yes, I am learning. I ask a lot of questions and am quickly wearing out my dictionary. And I am growing fond of the zone where I live, Tres de Mayo, with all its mangy dogs (and the occasional pigs), trash, and crazy taxi drivers!
Comayaguela is a sister city to the capital of Tegucigalpa. The Choluteca River divides the two cities, where the sewage of both flows freely. Comayaguela is known as the poorer side of the river, where more violence occurs. However, most of the violence (to the concerned) is between gangs (maras :) and is not random or directed at gringas like me.

Comayaguela at a distance is beautiful. It is a city pressed into the side of a series of steep hills, possibly better called mountains. Bright blue, green, orange, teal painted houses and shacks lean against the slopes, one seemingly atop the other, stacked wide and high. The neighborhoods stretch up and become less dense with houses and more so with trees as they near Campo Cielo at the peak of the mountain. Campo Cielo, literally translated Sky Country or Heaven Country, is the zone of this city with which I am most fascinated. Two of my new friends, Carlos and Freddy, are young men studying to be priests. They accompanied me and provided commentary during a hike to Campo Cielo so I could see it up close.
Campo Cielo would venture over the other side of the mountain if it could, but for an impossibly high stone wall halting further tresspass. This wall, protruding from the mixture of thick green tropical trees and shacks, was erected by the higher class land owners on the other side who wanted to contain, to separate, and perhaps to hide that which would rather not be seen. Walls can distance problems more effectively than miles. And with such an obsession with symbols as I have, I could not help but think of other walls that attempt to seal off poverty... The times when I have avoided eye contact with the homeless in Chicago. Or in our communities, the walls of busyness that fend off our own spiritual poverty or the neediness of others among us. Nationally, a quite literal wall on our southwest border. On a global scale, the wall of aid we pour into debt-stricken countries instead of searching for the place where the roots of poverty lie. Yet maybe we are afraid to find our own fingerprints in that place.
I pray that God would crumble walls, for the day when Campo Cielo, where the poorest of the poor live, will fully realize its name - Heaven Country!
I think God is teaching me some things about hope. First came the realization that the Spanish word for hope, esperanza, comes from the word esperar, meaning to wait or to expect. Then a verse from the chapter in Isaiah that I was reading struck me. ¨Woe to those who say, ¨Let God hurry, let Him hasten His work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.¨¨ Isaiah 5:19 God is teaching me the importance of waiting in Hope despite clear evidence of God´s work.
The other thing I have come to realize is that my 3 months here are really too insufficient to understand much of great theoretical importance. Discussing the causes of poverty and immigration just doesn't seem as important now as it was in the classroom. I'm just trying to live life with people who have been affected by these things. Maybe when I am in higher level classes it will all nicely sift into a bigger theoretical framework. For now, I am learning to point with my lips (as if you were blowing a kiss and with a flick of the chin). I am becoming friends with the other women I work with, talking with them about marriage and their children and cooking. I am learning to make pupusas (a thick corn flour sort of quesadilla). I listen to Carlos talk about the rosary and the Roman mass. I question Leyla about the Virgin Mary and listen to her opinions of the Pentecostals. At night I take bucket showers and indulge in my English books before falling asleep. I love getting your notes when I´m around a computer. I miss you all and think of you often. Let me know how I can be praying for you if you´d like! Thank God for your prayer.

Hola, first letter

I'm going to be posting the email updates I've sent out so far on the blog so other friends who I forgot to add to the list can read them.
Hi family and friends,
My friend Abby and I got into San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Saturday. I'm working with Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC (CCM here) until August. MCC is "loaning" me out starting tomorrow to the Salesian Catholic mission in Comayaguela, the poorer sister city to the capital of Tegucigalpa. I'm sort of the ecumenical guinea pig, so to speak, since they haven't had much past contact with the Salesians. So far, I know that I'll be living with a host family and helping the Salesians do interviews around the city. U.S. companies and organizations donate all sorts of things to the mission, which then distributes them. The surveys will provide demographic and other general information about the people to whom the donations are going. Abby is in a more rural area doing sustainable agriculture work. I got to meet her host abuelita (little grandmother) today when we dropped her off. The inside of the house was like nothing I've seen before – hanging on the walls like portraits were folded-up Fisher-Price style doll houses. I think they were decorations or something! The plants growing in her garden were amazing. Birds of paradise, coconut trees, aguacate (avocado), and delicate white and pink orchids twining up the palms.
San Pedro Sula, where I am now, feels like Memphis climate-wise. I have been having a lot of Indonesia sensory memories since I've been here. The rising squalor of birds and insects at dawn, mixed smells of fried bananas, car exhaust, and street gutters, and the traffic-weaving breathing-room-only buses all pull up memories from when I was little.
San Pedro is a sprawling industrial city, growing with each new maquila bringing in another wave of internal-migrants. Maquilas are factories under foreign contract, often in free zones where they aren't required to pay taxes. Cheap labor assembles imported semi-raw materials into finished products that are then re-exported and sold at high prices in countries like the U.S. So far I've recognized Fruit of the Loom and Wrangler, though I hear Walmart, JC Penney's, and Sears are also here among thousands of others. An article in the Honduran weekly goes into more detail about the effect of the maquilas here if you're interested:
My stay here has been rejuvenating and fun so far. Yesterday I went to the evangelical Mennonite church here, where El Dia de los Madres (Mother's Day) was a really big deal – flowers, cards, dramatizations, Proverbs 31, gifts, and lots of hugs. Besides moms, soccer is the next biggest thing. The same night was a huge championship game for the country between Marathon and Real España, two San Pedro teams. There wasn't person out on the streets for the whole game, everyone and their mom tuned in. Abby and Jeff (another MCC worker) and I watched from a coffee shop TV. Marathon won, which apparently entitled all the young male fans to ride up and down "La Primera Calle" (Main Street) in the back of pickups (pee-kap) trucks until midnight chanting "Mar-a-ton! Mar-a-ton!" Awesome.
We had dinner with 2 of Wheaton's HNGR program alums from 2002 and 2003 - Josh and Maria Eley-McClain. They have a telapia fish farm development project started in Western Honduras through MCC. I really want to visit them before summer's up. We had baleadas, the traditional dish, for the first time. It's a tortilla with a black bean spread and cheese. mmm
My Spanish is going to need some work. Pray for humility. Jeff asked me if I understood everything people were saying to me, because apparently I was acting like I did. Of course, only about half made it to my brain and I was just pretending mostly. I need to be able to admit that I can't understand people sometimes so that there aren't huge future problems with miscommunication. My pride should take a few hits there. For the Mariposans on this list, something rather funny came up today. Marcos, a Honduran MCC staff person here, asked where I was from and I said, "Soy del pueblo de Mariposa." (I'm from the town of Mariposa). I thought people were chuckling to themselves when I said that because the name means butterfly in Spanish. Well, I was told later that "Mariposa" or "Mariposita" is also slang around here for homosexual. Marcos kind of fluttered his arms by his sides, cocked his head, and smiled when I told him the name of my town.
Well, I need to go to bed. Tomorrow I'm catching the bus to Tegucigalpa. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Dios te bendiga.
God bless you, Katerina

Saturday, June 23, 2007

My first poem in spanish

This poem was written following a hard lesson I learned about the plantain. One afternoon in Honduras, I was feeling very hungry. I spied a big banana on the table and decided to eat it. It more than satisfied my appetite. Later, in the throes of stomach pain, I was told I had eaten a whole raw plantain. Plantains are not bananas. And they are only supposed to be eaten cooked...

Lección del Platano
Nadie me enseñó
el lección del platano
Pero aprendí, sí, yo

Jamás lo come crudo.
Jamás lo come todo.
¡Jamás lo come el platano!

Cuando lo comí el platano,
Crudo, todo,
Fue muy pesado
Como lodo
que coge su zapato
después de la primera lluvia.

Cerré mis ventanas
para detener la tormenta
Traté a dormir
Aunque trueno persistió
a mi puerta.
Aun la cancion en
mi mente fue,

Jamás lo come crudo,
Jamás lo come todo,
¡Jamás lo come el platano!

Finalmente, lo venió
como alabanzas
Regocijando de me voca
dentro la oreja del grán tazón.

La tormenta fue terminado,
y he aprendido el lección
del platano.

in english,

Lesson of the Plantain
No one taught me
the lesson of the plantain
But I learned, yes,
I learned.

Never eat it raw.
Never eat it all.
Never eat the plantain!

When I ate the plantain,
Raw, all,
It was quite heavy,
Like mud
that clutches your shoe
after the first rain.

I shut my windows
to keep away the storm
I tried to sleep
though thunder kept thumping
at my door.
Still the song in my head was,

Never eat it raw.
Never eat it all.
Never eat the plantain!

At last, it came
like praises
Rejoicing from my lips
into the ear of the big bowl.

The storm passed, and
I have learned the lesson
of the plantain.

Friday, June 22, 2007

In which I (re)discover technology

I have started a blog. (Isn't that the phrase every blogger must begin with?) In the past I have had trouble broadcasting myself to the world. Maybe I'll write more about my 'struggle' with Facebook later. I worry that I do not know myself and the self I am putting forward online is not true. You see, with a virtual self I can fold over any number of flat paper 'clothing', presenting my self just how I wish to be perceived. In this cyberworld we must realize that we are multi-dimensional people, and the virtual 1-D selves we place in virtual uni-dimensional communities are really quite poor reflections of the complex creation that is us.
So this blog is a test to see if I can handle online 'communities' again as I participate in real ones in the here and now. I will try my best, as in "real" life, to find myself in the context of others and in God. The thoughts I write, then, are not mine, but are intertangled in the web of your influence. Please respond. I hope my words do not fall like concrete. I hope they flow as questions do, receding like waves, and returning back again in constant flux.