So I left off this story in San Francisco, the small village of about fifty families who I got to entertain for five days with my North American incompetence. That part of the trip was probably the most meaningful, if only for the reason that we were there the longest. But, as all things must, our time there came to an end. Unfortunately, it was much more abrupt than I would have liked.
Each night we would end with devotions. We would have a prayer, read something from the Bible in both English and Spanish, discuss and reflect on the Bible verses, and close with the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. Also, there was some pretty awesome music sprinkled in, usually something a couple of the guys from the village would come up with. So each night we would encourage our hosts to reflect on the Bible passage–nothing big, just a little insight they might have on it to give us a fresh perspective or something. We had managed to get about two people to reflect on the passage in the four days we had been there. Then, on the last night of devotions, we got two people to talk. The passage was the Beatitudes in Matthew.
And then, as soon as the second guy finished talking, we heard what sounded like fireworks in the distance. A few minutes later, Gloria came out to tell us that was gunfire, and she would feel safer if we were tucked away in the school. There would be a watch posted around the building for us, but we had to cut our devotions short that night. So there were goodbyes, and I must have been thanked in elaborate ways by many people I had not even gotten to meet that week before heading up to the school to get ready for bed. Then, just as we were all settling down to climb into our sleeping bags to go to sleep, Gloria came into the school.
“I talked with the mayor in Copan, and he would feel safer if we were in our hotel.”
So we had to pack. It took us less than fifteen minutes to get everything loaded up. We got help from adults and kids in the village to pack up our stuff onto the bus, and before I knew it we were headed back down the mountain toward Copan, and away from San Francisco. By that time I had grown rather attached to the village, and wanted very much to at least wake up once more in it, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. I don’t think anyone was very happy about fleeing like refugees in the night.
But we had a little adventure getting to the hotel.
First, the bus transmission broke in the middle of the one-lane dirt road that led up to San Francisco. Lucky for us, the government truck that was escorting us was in front of the bus, and not behind it. So we had to unload our bags from the bus to the truck, and about half the people had to pile into the truck. It would take two trips to get everyone, and I just happened to be in the first group.
So a word about security in Honduras: the police carry not handguns, but machine guns and shotguns. They also wear intimidating body armor. And we had two of them standing in the bed of the truck. Which is all kinds of comforting when you start thinking about the fact that there was gunfire not far from where we were staying.
Now, you can imagine my state of mind while we are driving down the mountain in this truck. We had to flee because we heard gunfire, and the bus broke down on the way down the mountain. Now we were riding in a truck with two heavily armed guards standing in the truck bed for protection. While driving along, we encountered a man laying on the side of the road, which the guards went to check out. Meanwhile, one of the girls sitting near me kept asking “where is his head?” His feet were facing us, you see, and his head was out of view. Clearly, people who had just fled a village for fear of guns do not need to be induced into thinking there’s a beheaded man on the side of the road. And then the guards made it worse by saying “es muerto” to the driver.
This may be offensive, I’m not sure, but Latin Americans have a weird sense of humor.
As it turns out the guy was just passed-out drunk. Which, given the circumstances, was a huge relief. We could continue on the bumpy road down to Copan and to our hotel. Which, by the way, was like a mansion fit for royalty compared to the accommodations in San Francisco. Still, I felt slightly guilty (as I always do) when we got there. We had running hot and cold water, mattresses, air conditioning, and even a pool. It was a really nice hotel. As the first group, we stayed up to wait for the rest of our team to arrive and recounted our harrowing adventure. I remember writing in the journal that I kept that I hoped the trip to the two villages we had planned for the next day would remind me of why we were in Honduras, since the whole “flee like refugees and don’t have a proper goodbye” issue had me a little upset.
As it turns out, the two villages we visited absolutely had that effect.
The two villages we visited were Estanzuela and Chonco. They are both poorer, I believe, than San Francisco, and that was quite visibly displayed to me. The team set up half-day clinics in each, and I mainly helped entertain children by providing coloring books and my strange North American-ness. But honestly, the conditions in Chonco and Estanzuela were a sudden and shocking reminder that we were really in a developing country. Chonco, for example, runs out of food on a regular basis, three months out of the year. From one look at the land they cultivate, I can see why. There were rocks everywhere in it. When discussing how their food issue could be helped, we pulled out of Gloria that it would cost about $3000 to provide beans for everyone in Chonco for three months.
Estanzuela had a different difficulty. They live on the plain, but unfortunately on the wrong side of the road.
Literally. The wrong side of the road.
On the one side, there is the land of the rich people, with fertile fields and well-fed cows. Then you literally cross the road into Estanzuela and the land is suddenly rocky and poor. The men in Estanzuela mostly work in the fields across the street, but unfortunately their bosses can’t be bothered to wait for them to leave before they spray pesticides. As a result, the men are slowly going blind. This hit me like a wave while I was helping in the clinic and I had to step outside to compose myself. This was definitely not the United States.
After our clinic days in Chonco and Estanzuela, we had a day in the Mayan ruins of Copan, which was pretty cool, and some free time to explore the city. We had some fun taking in the sights and sounds and smells of Copan before leaving for San Pedro Sula to catch a plane back to the United States.
And that was the trip. Yes, that “but that’s not much of a conclusion” feeling you’re getting is something like how I felt coming back. I’m not naive enough to think the trip there somehow fundamentally changed me, but it would be within the mark to say I will not soon forget about it. It took me four weeks to finally get my bearings (which was wonderful since classes started back up the day I got back), so whatever happened there did emotionally knock me around. And now I know that, at some point in my ministry, I have to work in international missions.