Monday, May 31, 2010

Journal of My Trip to Honduras

May 22, 2010

(My wife, Deborah Drew, and I were Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras from 2005-2007. We went back in November of 2008 and again last week. This post is based on journal entries I made during the latest trip.)

I am sitting on the second floor balcony of the Hotel Guadeloupe II, the hotel where I always stay in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It is not really a balcony. The hallways are open and there is a low wall and railing that looks out over the street. The doors and windows of the rooms open onto this open hallway.

(How many journal entries have I started with “I am sitting on the balcony of the Hotel Guadeloupe II”?)

There is thunder and lightening. The power is going off and on.

Why am I back in Honduras? Is this the last time or the continuation of an ongoing commitment? Is this the trip where I say good-bye and let Honduras become part of my past or is this the trip where I get clear that international work is a permanent part of what I want my life to be about?

We are in Tegucigalpa to see Hector, a young man from Sonaguera who is in the capital studying medicine. I have my old Honduran cell phone with me. I have at least three numbers for Hector none of which are working. He knows we are here and I feel confident that he will contact us, but what a drag if he doesn’t.

Wait a minute. This is Honduras. Of course things go wrong. Of course the numbers I have for Hector don’t work. Of course the lights are going to go off and on.

May 23, 2010

We spend the day with Hector doing ordinary things that feel extraordinary.

He talks with passion about his studies. Many students have to repeat courses they haven’t been successful in, but he is moving steadily ahead. His only complaint is that he has to share a cadaver with 35 other students and it is in bad condition. It is hard to see the structures they are supposed to be learning about.

We go to the Gourmet Grill for breakfast, walk on Boulevard Morazon looking without success for internet and a new chip for my cell phone, take a taxi to Mall Mega Plaza and see Robin Hood. Then its back to the Guadeloupe for a game of Oh Hell and out to dinner at El Patio.

We say good-bye to Hector.

Deb and I watch the finale of Lost with rolling horizontal stripes on a channel whose signal clicks off periodically.

In other words nothing exceptional happens, so why does every minute feel so resonant? It is not like I don’t have great, full days in my life in Rhode Island. I certainly do, many of them. And yet I can’t deny the power of Honduras for me. I also don’t understand it fully.

May 24, 2010

Eight hours on the bus from Tegucigalpa to Sonaguera. I look out the window the whole time. Taking in the combination of gorgeous scenery and poverty. Memories come to me with every mile. When Deb isn’t reading or knitting, we hold hands and talk. The greenness fills me with emotion. There is no way of holding this greenness in memory. If you are not looking at it, it is gone.

We get off the bus in the afternoon in Planes in a deluge of rain, thunder and lightening. We wait under a shelter where uniformed workers stop cars to check for fruit. We are still a half-mile to the turnoff to Sonaguera, but this is the only shelter. There is a bus coming behind us that will take the turn and go into town. When it arrives 40 minutes later, the rain is still coming down. We know the ayudante on this bus, a heavyset guy who has always been friendly to us. He is glad to see us and surprised that we have returned. We explain, for the first of many times, that we are not staying another two years. We are only visiting.

May 25, 2010

In the afternoon, I sit on the porch of Ligia and David’s house writing. Everyday it is in the 90’s. Every afternoon there are thunderstorms.

The sky turns to slate. All the colors are muted, shifted toward gray.

Yeah! Here comes the rain, just as Legia pulls up on her motorcycle. The dogs are happy to see her. Davissa comes out to unlock the gate. Both Davissa and her mother get speckled with the rain, but it is not until they have the bike under the roof of the porch that the deluge really starts.

I sit and watch the street through their gate. This is the parade that passes:

A boy in a red shirt carrying a large stem of bananas over his shoulder. The bananas must weigh half as much as he does.

A three-wheeled moto-taxi with a sheet of plastic stretched across the door to protect the passengers in the back seat.

A green pick-up truck with steamy windows and a red pick-up with a plastic, five-gallon water jug rolling around in the bed.

A boy on a motorcycle going too fast to catch any details. After he passes, it registers; he was wearing a helmet!

A girl on a bike carrying a huge black umbrella and wearing the universal public school uniform: white blouse, blue skirt. The basket of her bike is full. She stops at the gate and calls out to Davissa. She is delivering tortillas on her way to night classes. Davissa sends her around to the other side of the house where the gate is unlocked.

Two girls on bikes pass going in opposite directions. One has a purple umbrella and wears a green skirt. The other has no umbrella and is wearing a black tank top. They sing out to each other, “Adios,” “Que le via bien.”

The same moto-taxi comes back again.

A few more nondescript pick-ups.

A full sized, bright yellow school bus with lettering that reads Walker-Hackensack Valley, Minnesota Regional School Department.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving through the puddles in the yard. It is a frog about the size of a grapefruit. It hops to the gate and squeezes through the bars. Why did the frog want to leave the yard? Why did the frog cross the road?

It is too dark to write. Mosquitoes I can’t see are probably biting me. Earlier in the day, I saw a map of Sonaguera at the Centro de Salud. It was stuck with two hundred pins clustered in groups around villages. Every pin indicated a case of malaria. I could become a pin in a map.

May 26, 2010

One reason for coming back to Honduras at this time is that William Alvarenga died in a motorcycle accident six weeks ago. We want to see his family, especially his brother Melvin, with whom we are very close. We want them to know that in some small way we share their grief.

The accident happened right in front of the house. Melvin saw it happen. William pulled out of the gas station across the street and rode his motorcycle into the path of an oncoming truck.

We go to the cemetery with the family. I ride in the back of the pick-up with the two youngest kids, Jairo and Jessica. We cross the highway from the house and go into the gas station.

Jairo says, “That’s where my brother was killed.”

I say. “I know. Do you miss him?”

He nods his head and starts to cry.

I say, “I miss him, too,” and start to cry.

William’s grave looks very fresh. It is a mound of loose dry soil covered in plastic flowers, some already fading in the sun. We add our bunch of white plastic lilies. There are no words to say.

May 27, 2010

(In November of 2008, Deb and I went to Honduras with a group of students from The East Bay Met School where I work part time. My good friend and co-worker Mary Vieira went, too. This past February, Mary and her husband, Glenn Spear, had their first child, a little boy they named Rio Hunter. For her baby shower, Mary asked that in lieu of gifts donations be made to help children in developing countries. She designated half of what was raised, $500, to the Clinica Maternal y Infantil in Sonaguera.)

Deb and I talk to several people about Rio’s money. We want Silvia Bardales, a businesswoman and teacher of business at the high school, to manage it and account for how it is spent. We also talk to Nelly, the head of nursing for the town, and to Rosa, the new director of the clinica. They are in agreement with setting up an account with Silvia that they can draw on. Nelly says there is no oxygen in the health center. If babies are born who could use a little oxygen there is no way to give it to them. Maybe they will use the money for a tank and a regulator. It could be used with asthmatics, too. She also mentions that there are a couple of HIV positive mothers in town who can’t breast feed their babies, the money could be used to make sure the babies get formula. Deb reminds her that emergency transportations is often needed. The only ambulance in town is a private one and prohibitively expensive. Rio’s money could fund gas to get to the hospital in LaCeiba.

We plan to find ways to replenish this fund.

Everyone we visit gives us coke. If they know we are coming they feed us soup or fried chicken. I estimate this is a six hen visit. At least six hens give up their lives to make us feel welcome.

May 28, 2010

We leave Sonaguera and go to Tela, my favorite beach town in Honduras. We have a long lazy day at the Hotel Sherwood, looking out at Tela Bay. Tomorrow morning we will go to the airport in San Pedro Sula and fly home by way of Miami and Charlotte.

Here is what I realized on this trip: it is very important to me to go south. Not south to Key West or New Orleans or San Diego, but south to Havana or Managua or Bogotá. It is especially important to me to go south to Sonaguera in Honduras. It is important to me to know the world beyond the boundaries of my own country, to smell other odors, hear other languages, taste sweeter fruit, listen to opinions informed by other experiences, sway to unfamiliar rhythms, learn the names of birds that never fly north of the Rio Grande, feel heat that is only approximated in Miami in August, stand out for the whiteness of my skin, share the street with roosters, cows, horses, pigs, dogs that haven’t been neutered, in addition to bicycles, motorcycles, pick-up trucks and recycled school buses from the US, feel deeply connected to people who are different than me in all particulars, and recognize that they are no different than me.

About the Drawing: The drawing was done by one of the young men in my old neighborhood of Barrio Abajo. His name is Cesar.


  1. Lovely writing. I feel that I am right there with you.

  2. John, I really enjoyed reading about your recent trip to Honduras. I'm also curious to hear more about the Centro de Salud fund Silvia will be managing. Do you have time for a phone call soon?

  3. Thanks for sharing this, John. I have many of the same feelings and experiences from Honduras/Sonaguera and you are able to explain them so much better than I ever could. I teared up reading about the greenness. Such a strange thing to miss, but sometimes I feel empty without it.