Honduras Blog #3: At A Glance


Life in the Mission House

Staying at the mission house at Mision Caribe in Tegucigalpa, HN is a far cry from what I’m used to back in Waukesha, WI. There I have a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment all to myself (the ferrets don’t count). Here I live with a big ol’ group of folks, only one of whom I’m related to, where everyone shares a room with at least one other person and a bathroom with at least two. (This is when there isn’t a regular team here. When that’s the case you’re living 6+ to a room/bathroom.)

The People Who Live Here

Krystelle, me, Mariela, Mimi. Taken as Mimi and I prepped for the pharmacy in town to buy more med's for the afternoon's clinic. Just realized I'm the "tall one"...

First there’s the college intern, Krystelle, who I like more and more every time I talk to her. One o’ them smart-and-sweet-and-awesome types. She’s here for a 42 day stint. I’ll be sad to see her go. (Does she look a little like Rachael J. in this photo?)

Then there’s Michael, an early 20-something fella here for about 2 months to conduct surveys on “health behavior” under a university grant. Cool guy. Bakes his own bread.

Then there’s Melissa, who started out as an intern here three years ago and who still lives here at the house, assisting the folks who actually run the place.

Then we’ve got Mark, a guy who’s been here about 6 years helping with anything and everything that comes up.

The People Who’re Staying Here

Mim and I have a room to ourselves, which is awesome and kind of a luxury. There’s a bunk bed in the room which we use to hold our stuff while we sort medicine on the bed we sleep in. Our shared bed is king sized, but it feels like what we’re using are actually two, 3″ deep twin mattresses held together by a king sheet on a metal, king frame.

Melissa, Alan, Phil, and Beth on "the climbing hill" in La Victoria

Then there’s a group of three 1-week visitors from the church sponsoring Melissa; Phil, Alan, and Beth. They got here on Sunday and they’re here to… um… observe stuff. I think. Not really sure so I’ll just leave it at: They’re here to see what the mission does and what it needs.

Finally we have Awesome Donna Pharmacy Queen and her son Stephen. She’s been here several times before for and thought it’d be great for her and her son to spend a month working here at the mission while she’s on summer break from Bible school. Sounds like a good plan to me!

Next up: a friend of Mimi’s named Brenda who will be coming in on Saturday. She and her husband lived here for years and years, and her’s and Mimi’s friendship goes way back to some of Mim’s earliest days here back in the late 90s.

Security

The men loading the supply truck for our trip to La Victoria. You can kind of see the barbed wire on the wall on the right.

The compound (for lack of a less cult-ish sounding word) is surrounded by 7′ high cement walls, topped with three lines of barbed wire, with a security guard manning the office by the front gate during the night. We’re not supposed to leave the compound (there’s that word again…) without a Honduran escort, preferably male.

Apparently there’s a decent chance of getting accosted, mugged, whatever; gringo or not. I imagine it’s a money thing? Honduras is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. I guess I don’t really need to tempt that reality with afternoon strolls all by my lonesome. Still and all, though: It’d be nice to get out of here just Mimi and me for a change. She said we might be able to go out on our own in a week or two if we take a taxi…

Bathrooms
Honduras is one of those “don’t flush your toilet paper” countries. But don’t worry! There’s a trash can right next to the toilet where you can toss it when you’re done! Kindly wrap it in more t.p. first though, please… We can’t drink the water here (it’s not a weenie American thing; the water has parasites in it and the most common thing we treat are the resultant stomach worms) so every bathroom has a covered water pitcher next to the sink for us to use when we brush our teeth.

We have city water twice a week here, and for the rest of the days we have a water tank we use for showers and cleaning and things. Melissa said she’s not sure how much water is in the tank, but that it’s fairly large and costs about 600 Lps ($31.71) to fill. To conserve the tank water the pump is turned off for a large portion of the day, so before using the toilet you always want to check the tap first to make sure the water’s on so you’ll know if you’ll be following up with a flush or not. And there’s no widow-maker in our particular shower, thank goodness. Though with the constant heat and humidity the idea of a cold shower is rarely an unwelcome one.

Food

There are a couple of ladies who work here at the mission when there are teams staying here and they are all amazing cooks.

Evening meal in La Victoria

Marina fields most of the meals here at the house. Mimi told me before we got here she hoped we’d get to enjoy Marina’s arroz y pollo and there it was our 2nd night in. This is a meal Mimi’s remembered and wanted for the past 5 years and now I know why. Delicious.

Another one of the women, Oneyda, was in charge of cooking the meals while we worked at the clinic out of town. That girl performs miracles. The picture above is of dinner she prepared in La Victoria with Melissa and the lady of the house. (Oneyda’s the one in the blue shirt.) Carne asada cooked on a metal grate over coals on the ground, a pot of refried beans, and juice I didn’t want to drink.

Not because it wasn’t good, or refreshing, or oh so welcome, but because an outhouse in the pitch blackness of Hondurans mountains at night is not a fun place to be any more than absolutely necessary…

Transportation

Traffic leaving Tegucigalpa, HN

So far every time we’ve gone somewhere down here it’s been in the mission’s big white van. One o’ them 15 passenger types. The traffic here is incredible, not because of the density so much as the insanity. Traffic related deaths are sky high, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to get drivers to stay on their own side of the road, use turn signals, or wait until after blind curves (of which there are many as there are mountains EVERYWHERE) to pass another vehicle on the road. Security comes into play here, too, as we are under no circumstances permitted to ride the city buses without a guide– period!

This section wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the airport, which is about 3/4 of a mile from the mission house. You’d think this’d interrupt things more than it does, but with only a few planes landing per day during times we’re actually around (and none at night that I’ve ever heard), it’s really not bad. Still– it’s a little weird opening the front gate and watching planes taxi down the runway…

Church

So far we’ve only been here for one Sunday morning church service, but every day starts with devotions, with a different person sharing something each time.

Playing after service. Abigail, Aileen, Angela, me, David.

I’m dreading my turn. I have zero idea what to talk about. Lots of ideas, sure, but among the many reasons I got out of secondary education in college was that I’m a bit of a dud at preparing stuff like this to share and then, y’know, sharing it. We’ll see how it goes…

Regular church was pretty cool. Lots of songs I recognized so I could hum along until they sang them through enough times for me to pick up the words. One of the guys at the church is retired army so he got up and spoke for a little bit in full military dress. Neat to see the different patches and pins and things. The person who was going to preach that morning was unable to attend so they asked Mim to preach. She was awesome.

After service I was putting away chairs and had my camera with me. I took it out to take a picture of two little girls who’d been sitting with me during service, when one of them asked if she could take my picture with it. Why not? It’s only a digital camera… my baby… eep!

So for the next half hour this 7 year old cutie pie named Rocio ran around the church snapping pics of everything and everyone that caught her eye, including me and the other girl who sat with us, 6 year old Aileen.

Shopping

Frogs for sale in Valle de Angeles

No trips to the grocery store or anything like that for me just yet. Soon hopefully, though. We did get to spend a few hours in Valle de Angeles on Sunday 8/1, however, which was pretty cool. Mimi and I only went into a couple of stores; not really anything different from one to the next and it all costs about the same from one vendor to the next. Lots of cute things, but the kind of stuff that does two things for the person you buy it for back home:

1) It shows them you were thinking of them (which can also be accomplished by emailing them while you’re away), and

2) It takes up storage space in that unused shelf in the hall closet. Not that one; the one you can’t get to because the vacuum’s always in the way and it’s down that hallway nobody ever walks down.

Plaza at Valle de Angeles

Mostly we just strolled about enjoying the sunshine and the fact that we could walk without an escort because of the greater police presence there versus where the mission house is located. Sweet sweet freedom!

We went to a nice little coffee place called Espresso Americano and Mim bought us each a granita de cafe con crema (frozen coffee drinks with whipped cream; only $1.74 a piece!) which we drank while enjoying the breeze and people watching. And boy were there some people to watch… People and dogs.

Across the street from us during our coffee break was a photo op grizzled old man in a cowboy hat, faded pants, and a vest covered in pins, seated at a wooden table nursing a handful of beers. Mimi asked him if she could take his picture and gave him 50 Lps. He said “Of course!” and handed back the money. She took the pic, gave the money back to him, and returned to me.

The Aviator, Valle de Angeles

A moment later he walked over, gave the money back, and told us about himself. Said he used to be a pilot and that now he’s a “newspaper man” living a short way up the street. As he turned to leave I saw one of his tinier pins bore a swastika. Hrm?

Three minutes later he was back again to give Mimi a shot glass with flashing lights in the bottom that turn on when you press against them underneath. You know: For all those shots my grandmother drinks. *hee hee* Maybe she can use it to hold toothpicks…

By far the coolest thing that happened in Valle de Angeles for me, though, was when Mimi and I stepped into Galería Sixtina and found ourselves surrounded by, wow, just the most luscious, extravagantly sensual paintings I’ve ever seen, all by an artist I’d never heard of, Julio Visquerra. I was struck stupid at the sight. I said to Mim it was a shame there weren’t any postcards or something you could buy with any of the paintings on them because they were so lovely and taking photos in the gallery wasn’t allowed.

As we took in the largest of the paintings I noticed a man standing next to me, sort of overseeing the room. I asked if it was his gallery.

Me with Julio Visquerra at Galeria Sixtina

“Yes,” he said. “But just this room. The paintings in the other room are by another artist.”

“Wait– you painted these? These are your paintings?!”

“Yes, yes. All of these here,” he said quietly, motioning toward the beautiful brightness on the walls all around us. The man was Visquerra. I cried!

I hugged this strange, mustachioed man in the middle of an art gallery in Honduras and cried. Not the *big weepy mess* kind of cry, mind you, but definitely the *red cheeked, watery eyed, sniffly* kind of cry. He responded by hugging me back and laughing.

“Do you have anything I can buy? A print? A book? Anything??”

He walked me over to a table with a book on it containing prints of all of his work. I opened the wrapper on the spot and said I was buying it (I had no idea how much it would be) and asked if he’d sign it for me, which he did. Mim even got a picture of us together in front of one of the paintings. He was just so lovely. (You’d love his work, Old Dave. You’d just love it.)

Cheap coffee, amazing art, *leather* frogs… I’d go back to Valle de Angeles. :)

Medical Brigades (aka Clinics) and Visiting Churches

A painting hanging on the wall at the pharmacy. I don't know who it's by but I just loved it. Please leave a comment if you know what this is!

We had our first clinic on Monday afternoon in the village of La Victoria. I believe it’s only about 60 miles outside the city, but it’s up in the mountains on roads that actually merit Hummer ownership, so it took about three and a half hours to get there. But first things first.

For our initial clinic we hit up the pharmacy first to stock up on children’s vitamins (2,000), worm medicine (2,000), and antibiotics (200) for a grand total of 2520 Lps. That’s right, folks. All that medicine for only $133.21. Just incredible.

By the time we got back from the pharmacy everybody was pretty much ready to make the drive out to La Victoria, a mountain village where Mision Caribe established a church. We were told the village (dirt roads connecting one room houses sprinkled across a mountain with no electricity) is only about 60 miles away from the mission house, but the roads we take to get there track back and forth across and around mountains almost the entire distance, and aside from the first 20 miles or so it’s all unpaved and deeply ridged by mudslides, so it took us about three and a half hours to get there.

Mimi and I working at the "clinic" at the church in La Victoria, HN.

Five minutes after we pulled up at the church and unloaded our mattresses and the generator: the sky opened. Great timing! We took advantage of the rain time to get our gear stowed in a corner in the one room church building (cement walls and floor, windows covered by shutters, tin and tile roof) and to begin setting up the clinic. This involved organizing the medicine (all either donated or paid for with donations) on wooden benches, bagging and labeling the de-worming medicine we’d picked up that morning, and arranging chairs and tables for the different stations. (ie. Blood pressure station, Mimi’s visitation table, etc.) And as soon as we opened the doors when the rain stopped: There was our day, waiting for us in a line 200+ people long. Some of them had walked for hours to get there. Lots of mothers with children. All told we saw about 150 people before we ran out of medicine and daylight. (The generator operated lightbulb hanging from the ceiling just wasn’t cutting it.)

Bedding down for the night. L to R: Mimi, Oneyda, Donna, Melissa, Stephen

We closed up shop and walked in complete darkness at 6:30 pm through mud and horse… piles… to a nearby house for dinner (see pic above in the “Food” section), stretched it out as long as we could, and finally made the dark, muddy walk back to the church to get ready for bed. We laid our mattresses out on the floor, covered them in bath towels and throw blankets for warmth, and tried to find ways to keep ourselves occupied until it was late enough to go to sleep.

Around 7:45 the Coleman lantern started to dim, so that put an end to playing cards. The last time I looked at my watch it was 8:22 pm. I think I fell asleep out of sheer boredom and an intense desire to will myself into the next day. I had to go to the bathroom sooooo badly, but nothing could induce me to leave my chilly mattress and brave the muddy path to the pitch black outhouse with it’s seat-less toilet, 1″ of standing water on the floor, and unsee-able mosquitoes in a country plagued with dengue fever.

We were up the next morning at 6 or so, breakfasted around 6:30 next door, hiked up a nearby hill (I didn’t die, but I did need a hand a couple times), had our morning devotions around 7:30, said goodbye to the folks who’d gathered to watch the goings on, and hit the road for San Lorenzo.

Jose Cecilia del Valle in San Lorenzo, HN

We didn’t stay in San Lorenzo very long, maybe 3 or 4 hours. We stopped at the school, Jose Cecilia del Valle, to give the kids some school supplies donated by one of the other missionary’s church. They sang some songs with us (yes there were motions and yes I totally learned the words and sang along and did all the motions!) and the teacher, Olinda, told us a little about herself and the school. She’s got 35 years of teaching under her belt (33 of them at this mountain village school) and is retiring next month.

We were walking out the door to do some home visits of church members when I asked if it was okay if I stayed behind to sit in for the rest of the school day. It’s a one room school house catering to 1st – 6th grades in a mountain village in southern Honduras. How many chances to you get to do something like that, you know?

The 4th and 6th grade boys playing soccer at recess

I think Olinda thought I was a teacher sent to observe how she managed the classroom because whenever a child acted out or answered a question incorrectly her face pleaded with me to understand.

She’d explain “I have so many classes in one room and they are all learning something different at the same time…” Of one first grade girl she said: “This one’s mother had a thyroid problem when she was pregnant with her so I think it’s made her a little, you know *touches her head and frowns* so that’s why she gets so many things wrong.” She said this to me out loud in front of the entire school (17 students) but no one seemed to think anything of it. As for the little girl: Expect her to get some things wrong. It happens when you’re six. No worries! :)

Olinda was great, though; truly. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate themselves to 35 years of service in a country classroom when the money is almost exclusively in the city.

We had lunch (hot dogs with refried beans) at the church around 12:30 and then hit the ol’ road. But not before I got some fun footage of the church there. Maybe I’ll insert that video into this post once I’m back in the States. (The connection here’s a bit slow so upload times aren’t too video friendly.)

Sightseeing

Jesus statue at El Picacho

I don’t know that there are too many things we’ll do with the mission that are exclusively “sightseeing” related activities, though spending a month in a foreign country means everything is sightseeing in one way or another. We did spend a couple hours this afternoon taking a break at Picacho Hill (aka El Picacho), though, and that was pretty cool. El Picacho is home to the zoo (which I’ve been told is a horribly depressing place and by all rights should be closed immediately), a beautiful state park, and an enormous statue of Jesus. The hill overlooks the entire city of Tegucigalpa, so it made for some pretty neat photo opportunities as well. If we’re friends on Facebook you can find a few such pics in my “Honduras 2010” album.

America

You can’t get away from it, even in Honduras. Since arriving we’ve seen the following businesses: True Value Hardware, Sherwin Williams, Midas, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, Wendy’s, Quizno’s, Subway, Applebees, KFC, Popeye’s, Baskin-Robbins, Church’s Chicken, TCBY, Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, and TGI Friday’s.

*****

It has taken me four days to write this post. A mission house is a busy, busy place sometimes! I realize I’ve probably made this thing a nightmare in terms of loading times what with all these photos. Sorry ’bout that. :S Hopefully the next one won’t share the same burden of having to cram four days’ worth of activities into a single post!

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6 comments

  1. Wonderfully interesting and insightful! The 3rd picture shows the mission mural where Bekah painted a few years ago with a friend from All Nations Community Church. Is it the same one or did they paint over it?

    Sounds like you and Mimi are having a successful trip and blessing many people. Awesome!!

  2. What a great read Ruth. Sounds like life is full of peace, rest, new experiences and many opportunities to help. That’s the best kind I think. My fave part of this post is the thought of Mimi with her new light-up shot glass. I guess if you’re ever out traipsing in the middle of the night in search of the loo you could use it as a flashlight! lol.

  3. A great overview of your visit. You should write a travel brochure for Honduras, at least for Tegucigalpa. I enjoyed seeing my city through your eyes. Laurie

    PS I have been to Mision Caribe. I know where to find you!

    1. I’ll have to come back some time, treat you to a few days of “vacation” in Teguc and we can write exclusively about all the places that make us go “Yummmmmmmmmm…”

      You know Mision Caribe? Neat! I wanted to wait ’til our first week was over since it was the busiest and then see if there was a time we could meet for lunch or something. I’d love to see what you’re doing on here if you have the time. :D And naturally I’d have to treat you to coffee. I think it’s in your contract as a missionary that every American that visits is required to do that. I forget what page it’s on…

  4. I just googled to show someone the size of the frogs in Honduras, and found your blog. I JUST got back (last Tuesday) from my 3rd trip to/with Mision Caribe. I’m going to have to read all your posts.

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