I asked the other boy, Juan, (in the picture) how long he has been here. He said only one year. He has no one left in his extended family except his sister who is also here. His last parent died last year. Some of his family was killed by thieves. He is one of the sweetest boys I have ever met. I almost broke into tears again! We filled his stomach too….I guess it’s the least we can do.
My teaching has been up and down. Right now I am in charge of a lab period once a week for 2nd-6th grade and I set up labs for 7th, 8th, and 9th Graders. I also tutor two and a half days a week. My first day of class with the sixth graders was a complete disaster. The science teacher did not come along, so I was completely on my own. Even though it is 6th grade, most of the kids are 13 or 14. It wasn’t long before they were giggling at my “Spanish” and then complete hell broke loose. Some of the girls were picking lice out of each others hair, some boys were throwing paper at the fan, and then this evil girl started throwing paper at my back every time I turned around. I was completely demoralized! I honestly wanted to punch her in the face, but I kept my cool. Right after the fourth graders came in for lab and they were fine. I told the science teacher that I didn’t want to see the sixth graders again unless she came along. Now she is coming along to all the classes(as she should be anyway) and it has been going fine. She fills in where I am having trouble with my Spanish and keeps the kids in line. It is exciting, since none of the kids have been having any hands on science for I don’t know how long. I have a long way to go though. Everytime I ask them “why?” something is, they say because “God made it that way.” Hmmmm……that’s a much easier answer. I guess I’ll just have to skip Evolution?
Just got back from La Tigre National Park… totally amazing. It was a tropical cloud forest…just like you see in the pictures. It was a real adventure, just as it is everytime we step off the ranch. WE spent part of Saturday hiking in the forest, and we stayed way up in the mountains at a German couple’s bed and breakfast. Yesterday we hiked two hours down the mountain to get to the bus stop in time for an 11 o’clock bus. Henry had bad diarreah and had to stop on the side of the road several times. The boys were not happy campers during that hike. When we finally got to the bus stop, there was a boy with a severely broken leg and his mother waiting for the bus. Someone had to carry him there (a twenty minute walk). When the bus finally came (about an hour later), it was jam packed. There was no way the boy and his mother could get on. The next bus wasn’t for three more hours. We only had a few hundred lempira left (about 25 bucks) to get home. We were feeling horrible about leaving the boy (in severe pain) and his mother there, so we(with some pursuasion from Saint Carl) stayed, and after an hour, someone found a pick up truck for us. We spent our last bit of money hiring the truck to take us all to the city. It was kind of scarey, because we had to pay a man everything we had. We weren’t sure if we could get more money once we got to Tegucigalpa, because it was Sunday. If we couldn’t get more money, we wouldn’t be able to get home. Luckily, we all got to Tegucigalpa safely, and the boy got to the hospital. We were able to find a bank machine. Fe–ew! It again reminded us how much easier things are for us. If our child was to break his leg, no big deal..we jump in the car and head to the hospital. This woman could barely afford a bus fare . If we had left her there, she would have been looking at many more hours sitting at the bus stop. If she managed to get him on a bus, then the poor boy would have been seriously uncomfortable. Furthermore, the public hospital is apparently awful. She and the boy would spend many hours there waiting to be taken care of. I wonder how they are. It was 25 bucks well spent.
I thought I had moved beyond feeling sad for these kids. Afterall, they are doing well here compared to where they would be if they were still living in the slums of Teguc. Last night during dinnerat our hogar, however, I had a moment where thought I was going to burst into tears. Dinner was a small bowl of granola, a biscuit, and a banana. I had been telling the kids a little bit about my job in the US, so I had PEA on my mind. The boys (young adolescents) finished their meal in about five minutes having arrived famished. I asked them if they had had enough to eat. They all immediately responded “no.” Then I started to think about what we all have to eat at PEA with the unlimited quantities on the main line, plus the salad bar, and pasta bar, and sandwich bar, and the drink choices, etc. etc. etc. I looked at the boys’ rather sad, tired faces, and and that point almost broke into tears. I had to start thinking about something else before the “gringa” was a blubbering mess at the table. We decided that each week we will invite two boys at a time to dinner at our house. They are SO excited. I guess it won’t make much of a difference, but maybe they will be full occasionally.
Working with Gerson, Angel, and Donovan
Henry and Lucas have some good days where they really seem to be making progress, and other days there is an incredible amount of whining. I would say that over all though, they are doing much better. Take, for example, today. Every other Saturday morning we join our hogar for Saturday morning work detail. It lasts for three hours. This morning we went up onto the hills to chop down dead trees for wood for the giant stove. There are no saws or axes, so we use our machetes. The kids chop down some big trees and they were all coming out of the woods with logs on their shoulders looking like leaf cutter ants! Henry and Lucas worked for two hours with some minor complaints, and then they started to fall apart. They are clearly spoiled American children in comparison to these kids; not unlike most American children. It reminds me of the film “Captain’s Courageous” where the rich kid from
England falls off a fancy ocean liner and gets picked up by a fishing schooner. The boy, like ours, carries on, complains, and refuses to work. Eventually, little by little, he learns what hard work is. Henry and Lucas now wash their own laundry and have more chores around the house, but it is still a bit of a battle. They do so little work in comparison to these kids, that it’s embarrassing. Anytime they start to complain, we say, “We could make you do what the orphans do!”
Another cultural adjustment that has been difficult is the way the boys play with each other here. There is constant harassing of each other. Most of it is all in fun, but some seems to be hazing. I feel badly for the weaker kids who seem to get a lot of this harassing. I have jumped in on a number of occasions. Of course our boys think that all of it is harassing, when a lot of it is just attention seeking. For the most part the other kids really seem to like Henry and Lucas and just want them to play. We are trying to teach the boys to set limits if they start to feel like its too much, or walk away. Carl talked to one boy who was bullying Henry and Lucas. The bully choked Henry at one point and wouldn’t let him go.
A third problem for the boys is the enormous amount of time they spend having to sit still. Children are expected to do that much more here. Mass can sometimes go on forever and Lucas is about to jump out of his pants. Henry seems to be handling it okay, but Lucas cannot deal.
Some of the attention our kids get is really nice. Wherever we go, people call out “Henrique!, Lucas!” All the kids, young and old, like to rub their fingers through the boys hair. The girls follow Lucas around all the time, even the older ones. Yesterday, he got a love note from a nine year old girl in his class. I think he got a kick out of that. He wasn’t quite sure which one she was though, even though she signed her name!
I’ve been suggesting potential blog entries to Betsy for weeks so I suppose its about time I finally put one together. You can blame the work schedule for the delay. I’m busier here than I was as a Peace Corps volunteer…I’m busier here than I was at home. The “mantenimiento” group consists of just two paid employees, two teenage “orphans” completing a year of service (they do one year after finishing junior high school and two more after they finish high school), and me. Compare that to the dozens of tradespeople who keep
Academy up and running. Granted, we do have the 500 machete/shovel/pick wielding kids to keep the grass “mowed” and to help out with labor intensive jobs. But the day-to-day repairs on 19 dormitories, two medical clinics, a surgical center, a dozen or so office buildings, a 10 room guest house/”hotel”, an elementary school and junior high school, two water systems (potable water and filtered water used for toilets and showers), a kitchen that serves food to 600 three times a day, housing for the 70-80 on-site workers, and the 1000 chicken-80 dairy cow farm are handled by the five of us in “mantenimiento.” We are never going to get caught up with all that needs to be done. In fact, when I think about it I find it hard to believe this place continues to function at all. A combination of hard work, good luck, and the Honduran/Latin ability to put up with conditions most Americans would find unacceptable keeps it all together. Sometimes the disrepair is just offensive or inconvenient…like a plugged toilet that sits for days or burnt out lightbulbs that you need a ladder to change. In other cases the damage can be severe. Just before we arrived two cows were electrocuted in the milking machine when a wire shorted out. No one had installed a circuit breaker on the equipment.
It looks like my work is going to be pretty straightforward stuff. The
Day School folks will be happy to hear that all of that toilet repair experience I have will be put to good use here on the dozens of leaking and damaged toilets. I’ve spent a significant amount of time fitting the new “hotel” with PVC water and waste lines. We start the electrical work tomorrow. And there is regular maintenance on the two water systems. I would, however, like to spend more time working on the dormitories themselves. The buildings seem a bit run down and I think the kids would be eager to help repair, patch, and paint their homes.
I realize that the work I’ll be doing is going to benefit the people who live here, but it isn’t terribly “exciting” stuff. I’m envious of Betsy’s opportunity to really impact how the kids think about school and their environment. Even her classroom menagerie – which now consists of a baby Boa constrictor, a scorpion, two turtles, and an enormous toad – will give the kids a chance to watch a few living creatures that are usually killed as soon as they appear.
One fun part of this experience is that I’ve returned to
Latin America as an “ingeniero.” It seems Latin American’s, in general, respect education – I suppose that’s because not many of them have the opportunity to continue much past elementary school. In the Peace Corps I was a “Licenciado” – someone with a college degree – which was O.K., but engineers are the top of the heap. Most of the folks on the Ranch call me “Ingeniero” rather than Carlos…maybe they just can’t remember my name. This has turned into a household joke, but I still get a kick out of the attention.
Carl is very important here! When we arrived, the head of maintenance said “God has brought us an engineer!” The man always talks to Carl in the formal. Just because he has that title, “ingenero,” whatever Carl says goes. The previous man in maintenance from Maine was an extremely talented builder, yet they never listened to him, because he was not an “ingeniero”. Today someone chaufered Carl into the city so he could look at one of the highschool student houses that needs some work. Then they brought him to the grocery store to pick up groceries. All of this is going to Carlos’ head!
This past weekend the entire ranch particpated in an Olympics. It began with Opening Ceremony Friday night followed by games all day Saturday and even a special dinner Saturday night. We actually were full after dinner. It was a lot of planning, but very enjoyable for the children and us too!
Carlos and un chico
Betsy in the rope pull