Monday, June 25, 2007

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.

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