Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Honduras Revisited

A couple of years ago Jayson and I went on a mission trip to Honduras to drill water wells in communities without access to clean drinking water.  The trip included the two of us, Chad and Jamie Thibodeaux, Ralph Picou, Vance Henry, and Brian Wright from our church.  It also included Todd Elder (the Living Water team leader) and George Armisted from Houston as well as Bob and Carolyn Easley from some Kentucky-ish state, I can't remember exactly.  Last week Vance Henry passed away so I've been thinking about this trip a lot since that's where we really got to know him.  It's amazing how chronic vomiting and diarrhea can cause a group of people to bond.

George, Shannon, Jayson, Brian, Vance, Chad, Ralph, Bob, Carolyn, Jamie
Since Vance and this trip have been on my mind for the past several days, I thought I'd write about it.  Again.  Yes, I did start a blog shortly after our trip so I could share all our fun experiences.  And in true Shannon fashion, I posted 3 or 4 times then got bored and abandoned it.  I think my mistake was trying to write a separate post for each day of the trip.  I probably got overwhelmed and shut down.  To prevent that from happening again, I'm going to summarize the whole week-long trip in one extremely long, wordy and probably coma-inducing post.  Problem solved!

This was my first mission trip, Jayson's 3rd.  He and Chad had been on several other drilling trips to other Central American countries but this time they both brought their wives along.  It worked out great since the 4 of us get along really well and Chad and Jayson tend to get into trouble when left unsupervised. 

Keep in mind that this was 2 years ago and although I did keep a journal during the trip, my journals really aren't good for much of anything.  I write down bits and pieces of stuff that makes perfect sense at the time but when I go back and read it later I have no idea what I was talking about.  You would think that knowing this might prompt me to change the way I journal.  Yeah, not so much.

The flight from Houston to San Pedro Sula, Honduras was just under 3 hours long which is not bad at all.  I sat between Jayson and some guy who didn't speak English and looked like a Mexican Gida.  You would have to know my Gida (Lebanese for grandfather) to understand this and then you would be amused.  I thought maybe Mexican Gida was from Honduras and was on his way back home, but after a lot of sign language, my really bad Spanish and his really bad English, I discovered that he was from Jersey City and was going on vacation to Honduras.  Okay.  It was an honest mistake.  After all, I'm sure people from New Jersey get mistaken for Honduran nationals all the time. 

I wasn't exactly buying Mexican Gida's vacation story but he was a funny little man and was sticking with his story so I let it go.  We were served a little breakfast on the flight and when Mexican Gida saw that I wasn't eating anymore he asked, in broken English mixed with a lot of gesturing, if I was going to eat my cardboard muffin.  I said no and offered it to him and he eagerly accepted.  I couldn't imagine how hungry I would have to be to eat food off a stranger's tray on an airplane.  Jersey City my eye.

Before we landed, I decided to leave a little guerrilla art on the plane.  I doodled all over an airsick bag wrote "Have a First Class Hurl - Compliments of Continental Airlines" on it.  I put it back in the little seat pocket hoping it would put a smile on the face of the next person who puked in it.

Honduran child and baby
There were several times during our trip when we found ourselves doing a lot of waiting, whether it was in line at customs, at a drill site waiting for parts, or just that general standing around and waiting for the mood to strike you to move as is popular in Central America.  We came up with creative ways to pass the time while waiting.  While in line at the airport waiting to go through customs, Jayson and I tried to guess which page of our passport the agent would stamp.  He guessed page 8 for his and they stamped page 8.  I was indecisive and guessed either  page 8 or 9 for mine.  They stamped page 8 and stapled my customs form to page 9.  Then we discussed whether or not  our supply container made it in one piece and if it did would the lid still be attached.  We guessed that the container probably made it just fine and the lid would still be attached but a few of the zip ties would probably be missing.  Sure enough, the container made it and the lid was still on it but 2 zip ties were gone.  Uncanny.

Vance brushing at the drilling site.
We made it through customs with no problems at all but Chad and Jamie got stopped for a random bag search.  The young agent had the misfortune to choose to search the bag where Jamie had packed all her girlie supplies.  In the interest of limited space, she took her supplies out of their box and sort of stuffed them in pockets and around the other clothes.  It's just what we do sometimes.  The agent, who wasn't exactly fluent in English, picked up a tampon, looked at Jamie and said, "candy??"  Jamie said, "no...not candy...that's for *me*", while pointing to herself to gesture that it was something personal.  The agent said, "candy??"  Again, Jamie tried to delicately explain that it was a personal item for her.  The agent just wasn't getting it and kept insisting that it was candy.  Finally, another agent who was very entertained by this whole exchange, did a little translating for the young agent who tossed the tampon back into the suitcase, turned bright red and waved them through.  I am SO sorry I didn't get to witness that personally.

Loading the party bus!
Our in-country representatives picked us up at the airport in a very new, very nice and very air conditioned little bus.  We were on a mission trip in Central America, we were totally aware of the kind of transportation and accommodations we could expect.  We were prepared to make the 4 hour trip from the airport to the hotel in the back of a pickup with a dozen chickens.  Instead we got a limo bus.  Things were looking really good for us!  We decided that if the hotel was really bad, we would be more than comfortable spending the whole week in the bus.

The Widowmaker
In Central America, "hotel" covers a lot of territory, you just never know, so our hotel in Saba was another pleasant surprise.  It was actually fairly decent and hotel-ish.  Our room had a little air conditioning unit that had its own remote control, it was practically a Four Seasons Resort dream.  The next morning I was hit with a little reality as I stood in the shower stall staring up at the shower head, which is also affectionately called a "widowmaker".  The shower head is wired for electricity and is plugged into an outlet (that's maybe 8 inches away) so that the water is heated just before it comes out of the shower head.  There is a switch on the widowmaker you have to flip in order to turn it on.  Are you seeing the potential for disaster (and death) here?  I am already afraid of electricity but when you add a little water to it I get particularly twitchy.  So there I stood in the shower, staring up at the widowmaker, wondering how long I could go without showering before someone noticed.  There was no way in hell, heaven or earth I was going to touch that thing so I had a quick conversation with God.  I told Him that I was about to turn on the water and I would shower in whatever came out of that thing, hot or cold, but obviously I preferred hot if He was feeling generous.  Evidently He was because the water was warm enough to be comfortable...even though if I accidentally got some in my mouth I could potentially die.  I tried not to focus on that too much.  By the way, brushing your teeth with bottled water is more challenging than you might think.

A man on his porch in Sonaguera
During breakfast (beans and tortillas) Vance stood up to tell us a story and he blew out his back in a big way.  It was wrenched so bad he was bent in half and couldn't straighten up.  There was a pharmacy across the street so he went over there and the "doctor" gave him a "recipe".  It was probably some kind of funky Honduran Lortab but it eased the pain so that he was feeling much better in a couple of days.

Sonaguera school room
Jamie and I really wanted to help the drilling teams, but we'd decided that if we were fortunate enough to drill somewhere near some kids, we'd probably rather spend time with them so we brought some little crafty supplies and toys just in case.  Our first drill site was at a small school in Sonaguera (which means war zone) in a very poor community.  We would be around kids all day every day, this was good!  The school was very modest and the kids were all very obviously impoverished.  Despite all that, they were very happy, friendly children and we immediately fell in love with all of them.  The bathrooms at the school looked like some kind of solitary confinement chamber in a Chinese prison which was going to be interesting since Jamie and I both had "candy".  Jamie, Carolyn and I taught the kids how to make simple bracelets out of yarn and ended up giving our leftover supplies to a single mom with 6 children.  Her husband had cheated on her and when her brothers found out they killed him.  She bakes bread and sells it and now hopes to sell the bracelets we taught her to make so that she can support her children.  That kind of thing will give you a little bit different perspective on your own life, let me tell ya.
Our  in-country team drove us to a park in Tocoa where I had the best strawberry cheesecake ice cream I've ever had in my life.  We couldn't decide what made it so good, maybe a lack of preservatives or maybe they used goat's milk or cat's milk or something.  It was amazingly rich and creamy. 

The in-country folks were a lot of fun and very helpful.  Emilio, who led the drilling teams, was very charismatic and outgoing.  I thought he was Garifuna but when I asked he said his family is from the Cayman Islands and he is not black.  He started babbling on about Columbus and slaves and about how if he went to Africa he would be eaten.  Yadira, who led the hygiene training, just rolled her eyes at Emilio and said he's crazy cuz he's just as black as the Africans are.  The whole thing was really pretty hilarious.  Nugget was sort of the helper/errand boy and apparently was named for his love of chicken nuggets.  He also has 80 brothers and sisters (not an exaggeration, his dad was very...busy) so he's probably just glad his parents remembered to name him at all.

We spent another day drilling at the little school, playing with kids, blowing bubbles, doing crafts, hygiene training and just loving that little community.  Over the next few days, 8 out of our 11 team members started taking turns being sick with some pretty serious tummy issues.  We're not sure exactly where it came from...maybe the hotel was washing our dishes in their water or maybe it was in the lunches at the drill sit that were made by some women in the Sonaguera.  We were all very diligent with the hand sanitizer and a couple of us brought Cipro along so no one stayed down for longer than 24 hours.
Juan Carlos

The drilling team hit water but also hit solid rock at 30' deep.  The recovery rate was not enough to make a viable well so we were forced to pull casing and call it done.  It was heartbreaking for the whole team, we so desperately wanted this little school to have fresh water.  It was extremely difficult to leave those children no better off than when we got there.  I was especially fond of a little boy named Juan Carlos who brought me oranges one day.  He was such a cutie and already a schmoozer.

Emilio arranged for us to drill at another school not far from the last one.  This school was in a much more affluent area of Sonaguera and had 500 kids!  We so did NOT have enough yarn for 500 kids so we'd have to figure something else out.  Drilling was slow getting started because of some minor problems with the rig that had to be repaired.  This school was much more structured than the last one so we didn't get to spend a lot of time with the kids.  Apparently at this school they had to actually attend class.  Jamie, Carolyn and I passed the time by seeing who could smack their gum the loudest.

Jamie and I learned the hard way that when someone is speaking to you in a language you don't understand, it's not always a good idea to just smile and nod since you never know what you're agreeing to.  Apparently we accidentally agreed to teach English classes to 4th, 5th and 6th graders.  We couldn't have been more surprised when the English teacher handed us his notebook and a couple of dry erase markers and led us into a classroom full of children looking to us for cultural enrichment.  We were both so totally out of our element and had no clue what to do, but we made it up as we went along and I guess it went okay.  The kids seemed to enjoy it and the teacher didn't yell at us.

It took us a couple of days but we were able to complete a successful well at this school.  During our time there, we enjoyed lunches of beans and rice and boiled green bananas which tasted oddly like a potato if you closed your eyes, held your nose and had an actual potato hidden in your pocket.  One boiled banana is enough to last anyone a lifetime but they kept showing up meal after meal.  Eventually we began to refer to them as albino turds. 

During our down times, we played with the kids at recess and Juan Carlos even showed up one day on his bicycle.  Chad and Jayson found various ways to keep themselves entertained and the kids in trouble.  Chad ran around the schoolyard trying to slap a random pig that was rooting through the trash.  Then Chad and Jayson saw some kids swinging from palm fronds and they thought that looked like a good idea so they joined them.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Jayson ended up with a torn rotator cuff a few months later.   La Professora (the principal) yelled at some kids who climbed up on the roof to get a frisbee because Jayson told them to.  Oops.

The little blue church where we peed.
Although this school was much nicer than the first one, the bathrooms were worse and often padlocked.  In case you're wondering, I don't have some kind of morbid fascination with bathrooms, I have IBS so this is an important subject to me.  Here's how the bathrooms work.  The whole town of Sonaguera gets running water for one hour each day 4-5 p.m.  During that time, everyone fills up whatever containers they have with this water which is not suitable for drinking.  The school had a large concrete vat next to their row of "teacher" bathrooms (which were like porta potties, yes they're outside) that would fill up during that hour when the water was on.  Remember, these were the staff bathrooms...the nice ones.  Each bathroom stall had an empty paint bucket in it that you would fill with water from the vat and carry into your stall to flush.  Apparently...flushing is optional which forced us to seek refuge at the bathrooms of a neighborhood church once or twice.  They were the same type of facility, just less frequently visited if you know what I mean.  That arrangement was working well until Chad decided to take care of some serious business in the church bathroom.  We never went back again, we figured we would NOT be welcome.

Our last work day was the well dedication and also happened to be Jamie's birthday.  The teachers made a birthday cake for her and fed us what they called "tacos".  They were deep fried tortillas filled with chicken and covered with a red sauce and parmesan, which they called white cheese.  I'm not sure if they were really as good as I remember, or if anything would have been good after a week of albino turds.  The teachers served us in a classroom and covered the serving table with what was probably their best paper had holly and Christmas candles all over it.  How sweet is that? 

I really wanted to know how to make their tacos so Yadira translated while one of the teachers gave me the recipe.  I was furiously writing down everything Yadira translated for me when I finally realized that she was giving me instructions on how to make tortillas.  She went on and on and on about the tortilla making process and I just didn't have the heart to tell her that we can buy those already made.  What I really wanted to know was what was in the sauce.  It's something called adobo sauce, which apparently they can buy like ketchup and they were completely surprised that I had no idea what they were talking about.  Yadira said the sauce is tomatoes, onions, water and cumin.  I have a feeling there's more to it than that but I think Yadira was feeling sorry for me because I couldn't buy it already made like they can...sorta like how I was feeling about the tortillas.  That's okay, it's not like I'm ever going to actually try to make them.  I just wanna know how.

Jamie on the virtual zip line
The final day of our trip was supposed to be for some relaxation time at a hotel on the beach.  Because of the problems with our first well, we ended working a day longer than we were scheduled to so we lost our relaxation day.  We were a little bummed about missing out on the zip line, but we had an enjoyable evening anyway.  Jamie did get to enjoy a virtual zip line thanks to an advertisement poster in the hotel. 

Two peas in a pod with no common sense
The Hotel Canadian in Sambo Creek just outside La Cieba is right on the beach and quite a bit more upscale than the one in Saba.  There was actually a sign next to the potty in our room instructing us to flush the toilet paper and NOT put it in the wastebasket...which is totally opposite from the Honduran norm.  It was raining like crazy when we got there but that didn't stop Chad and Jayson from taking a dip in both the ocean and the hotel's pool.  We were served a delicious shrimp dinner by the hotel's owner, who if I remember correctly was French Canadian.  She had a fascinating story about how she ended up owning a hotel in Honduras but I can't for the life of me remember it.  Dang my journaling skills.

We had an early flight out the next day and an uneventful trip back to civilization.  At the Houston airport we said our goodbyes to the Houston team then grabbed a bite to eat.  I actually enjoyed all the beans and rice we were served during the week so I wasn't really craving anything except non-toxic ice and a slightly less deadly showering experience.

It was a great trip and I'm especially glad we got to know and spend some time with Vance.  What were the big things I learned on this trip?  1. Never complain about any aspect of my life because I am blessed well beyond what I deserve.  2. Treasure every moment spent with a friend.  3. Never let my candy run loose in the suitcase when traveling overseas.   


Out Of My Head said...

i happened to get up early as usual and got my coffee and had coffee with this writing, I really wish i had read it before bed rather than with coffee as i have a weak stomach actually just kidding, mu stomach is as strong as superman i am so happy you are now officially in my life along with your sister

anno said...

I'm just commenting so you're encouraged to keep blogging because you are definitely providing a service here.. entertaining me quite thoroughly (although perhaps a smidge too infrenquently.. not complainin', just sayin'.. :) )

Mayn said...

I enjoyed this recap of your mission trip! I always get tickled at the "widowmaker" story!!

bceasley76 said...

Hi Shannon, this is Bob and Carolyn - we were on the trip with you and just read your blog. It brought back wonderful memories. FYI, we were from Kansas. We are saddened to hear about Vance. We are now doing M work and teaching at a University in China, though we are home for a little R & R until late February. Blessings to you and Jayson, Chad, Jamie, Ralph and Brian.

Shannon Green said...

Kansas! That's it! I'm impressed that I even got the 'K' right :)

I just saw your comment today, which is an extremely bizarre coincidence. We've lived in Houston for the past couple of years and right now Chad and Jamie are in town visiting for the weekend!

I've thought about y'all often and how much we enjoyed that trip. Where in China are you? Jayson and I went there years ago and absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. I'd love to hear more about your ministry.

It was so great to hear from y'all! Stay in touch if you can and enjoy the rest of your break!