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.