Friday, February 25, 2011

We've Got Company

Yesterday, our friends, Rick and Luz Maria, arrived for a 10 day visit. They'll be staying with us part of this visit. We're delighted to return the hospitality they showed us last September when we visited them in San Antonio. We've been having a great time catching up and practicing our Spanish with Luz, who is a native speaker. They also got to chat with Enrique, who's been here all week, taming our jungle after our 14 inches of rain last week. He attends our church and was pleased to see Rick and Luz again. They usually come and spend about 3 months here on the island, do a lot of work with our church, so they know each other. Rick and Luz are also sponsoring one of the girls from the colonia, just as we are. They were anxious to hear all the details of how the girls are doing with their new school. (Leydi is picking up English quickly and loves to talk to Don after church on Sunday.)

Shortly after they arrived, I had to go to my weekly island ladies' Bible study. Luz was happy to come along, and we left the guys happily sitting on the deck. Luz was glad she came; it was a wonderful Bible study (Beth Moore's Believing God) and she got to meet some new people. I was so encouraged by the participation of the ladies in this study. It's pretty intense, and I wasn't sure how they would receive it, but they're loving it!

Today we all drove up to church to visit our pastor, Chuck and his wife, Tia. Our friend, Larry was there doing some repairs on the building and his wife, Susan soon arrived to teach Chuck and Tia's kids. And then another friend, Lynn, arrived. We had quite the reunion going. We all made plans to meet for dinner tonight at Blue Bahia. While there, Don was able to correctly diagnose a problem another pastor was having with his well pump up in the colonia. Yay, Don! Problem solved, water flowing.

We had a few errands to run in Coxen Hole, including buying some fresh fish from the Flying Fisherman. Rick will make his yummy blackened grouper for us tomorrow night. We bought some fresh fruit in the market, so we have the makings for a fruit salsa to serve with the fish. Rick was getting hungry, so we grabbed some fish tacos at Cannibal's (not Don, he's strictly a beef man), and came home for a little siesta. It's about time for a snorkel, too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inside the House

Let's take a little tour of the home of Tanya and her siblings. It looks larger on the outside than it really is.  This kitchen/bedroom combo is really the only room downstairs. That white tank is a water purification tank that was given to them, so at least they can have safe water to drink.

This is another view of the kitchen/bedroom. They do have a stove, but it doesn't work. They have no refrigerator, although they do have electricity to light the one light bulb. The ladder on the left goes up to the loft. Note the dirt floor.

The loft, used for sleeping and storage. There are a couple more mattresses up here. Three small mattresses, nine people. Don't know how they handle that. Did not see evidence of hammocks. Notice all the "windows" letting in light... and anything else that decides to come in. Part of that wall on the right appears to be plastic...tarps, maybe?

This is their outdoor kitchen, laundry, dishwashing station. They get water pumped into that barrel and any other containers they have available every 8 days. The water must last 8 days for 9 people. Susan told me that she had bought 3 additional jugs of drinking water for the kids because the workers are drinking it up rather quickly.

I just learned from Susan that the kids' mother IS on the island. Whether she left the island and came back, we do not know. Susan was up in the colonia taking some photos recently when she encountered the little guy, Roberto, on the path with a woman whom he introduced as his mother. Susan was stunned. She took the photo of them together and then showed it to the kids' neighbor who attends our church. She said, in Spanish, that the woman didn't live with the kids. Susan later showed the photo to the older girls. They identified her as their mother but said that she does not live with them.

This new development bestows added wisdom on the decision made by Pastor Chuck and Larry to not try to repair the current house, but to build a new house on the land. The new house will be in the kids' names ONLY, so if the parents return and try to take the house, they cannot. There is enough available land right there to do this. They had also thought that perhaps the kids could rent out the old house for some additional income.

Susan also told me that Tanya and the younger boys are going to the school on the beach, how regularly she doesn't know. Someone provided them with uniforms and backpacks. It's not a good school, but it is better than nothing.

Construction on the new house has begun.

More to come on this topic....
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tanya and Sibs

I mentioned Tanya a few weeks ago and promised that I would tell her story. It is the story of 6 children who were abandoned by their parents.

Let me introduce you to an amazing family.   On the left, Tanya, 13; Sandra, 18, and her little boy, Steven; Flor, 21, and her son, Anthony.

About 3 years ago, both the father and the mother ran off, not together, but with different partners, and moved to the mainland of Honduras. They left behind 6 children and a ratty, falling-down house. You'll meet the three boys in the following photos. The youngest boy was only 3 years old when the parents left them. How on earth have they survived? Mostly through the kindness of the community and the grace of God. Their only income comes through the oldest boy, Enrique, and Sandra's husband. When they are able to find work, menial labor, they make about $10/day. Work has been more scarce in the last couple of years, due to the down turn in the economy which affects tourism and building here, so they don't have regular paychecks by any means. 
The house they live in is in sad shape. Part of the roof is missing, covered only by a tarp. The large gaps in the walls let in light and breezes, but also rain and unwelcomed pests. In my next blog, I'll post more photos of the house and tell about the efforts to build them a decent home.
                                                   This is Roberto who is now 6 years old.
Meet Enrique, 15 years old. No chance for him to go to school; he has to help support this family.

And last, but not least, this is Eguardo, age 11.
The younger children deserve a chance to go to school, but it won't be easy. They would need their birth certificates and records of any previous schooling, something the parents may have had. They also need money to buy the uniforms, shoes and school supplies, even to attend public school, and unless they attend the beach school, transportation fees. The school in the colonia was apparently condemned and closed. They have so many strikes against them that it is just heartbreaking.
Remember them in your prayers.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Coral Trees in Bloom

We have these magnificent trees growing on our property here on Roatan. Until recently, I never knew their name: Coral Tree. When we bought this land several years ago, we had very small trees growing along the road beside our house - they were more like shrubs, and that's what I thought they were. They continued to grow, quickly, and are now 20+ feet tall. Kinda tall for a shrub and yet they don't grow up from just one trunk, which sounds more like a shrub. We now have these trees surrounding our half-acre, just like the banana trees do.
I love these gorgeous flowers. The Coral Trees start blooming in late January or early February and continue until sometime in March. I like that they don't all bloom at once, nor does one tree show all its blooms at once. They drag it out, so we get to enjoy the blooms much longer. I love the leaves, too.
The blooms last quite awhile, except when discovered by the leaf-cutter ants. They have really eaten their way through the trees along the road and most of the flowers fell off before they were completely opened.  Thankfully, we have more than they can eat!
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Up In The Colonia

We're having quite the rain storm here on the island. This is day two of some torrential rainfall. I've been concerned about our friends who live up in the colonia on very steep hillsides (yes, even steeper than ours) ever since hearing about some homes that were washed down the hill during heavy rains. Don tells me that in most places there is bedrock 12-18 inches down, so California style mud-slides are unlikely. But, plenty of things can be washed down the hill and many of these houses are not well constructed.

To give you an idea of how steep, click on each of these photos to enlarge them and take a good look. In the first photo, our pastor's wife, Tia, and son, Carlton, are following two children up the hill to their home. This section of road doesn't look too bad, but it gets worse.
Click to enlarge.
Now it's just a dirt path going higher. Tia is that tiny red speck way up the path. The house on the left is wrapped in blue tarps.
The house on the right is Tanya's. You'll hear much more about her family.

This is Carlton, sitting on the very steep path up to Tanya's house. Imagine a heavy rain washing down that path, turning it into a waterfall.

This is the front of Tanya's house. Notice the left side of the roof...that's a tarp. Not much protection in heavy wind and rain. The walls are a hodge-podge construction of boards, plastic, and tin, with plenty of gaps to allow air, light and, oh yeah, rain to enter. From this angle, the house may look large, but it is not. I'll post pictures of the interior tomorrow and tell you the story of Tanya.

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Test Drive and Repairs

Saturday we dropped our car off at Fredi's shop to have the new front tire put on and get an oil change. Bob, Debi and their son, David, followed us there and then gave us a ride over to the Kia dealer.  The saleswoman, Annabelle, wasn't there yet and wasn't expected for about an hour, so we left a phone number for her to call when she arrived and we took off for the market.
I needed to pick up Leydi's skirt from the tailor shop, Debi needed to buy school supplies for a few more kids, Bob and Don needed to go to the bank, so we went our separate ways.  I bought a very small gift for Leydi - an eraser/brush/pencil sharpener for about 30 cents and tucked  it into my purse. That's when I noticed that I still had the Reco bill that Don had gone to the bank to pay. Seconds later, I saw Don walking toward me, coming to get the bill.
As Debi, David and I made our way down Market Street, we saw some lovely plants at one vendor's stall and stopped to buy some. I also picked up a large canteloupe. We love the market! Leydi's skirt was ready and the guys were waiting for us at the bank.
Still no phone call and we were hot and thirsty, so we stopped for some cold drinks. David was hungry and was working his way through a big plate of food when Annabelle called to say that she was now ready.

We were hoping to all be able to go for the test drive, but Annabelle went with us, leaving room only for Bob, Don and I. We were favorably impressed with how the car drives. I like that it makes tight turns, making U-turns easier. Our Rav4 has a large turn radius. The inside is comfortable and roomy. There were a few things that seemed a bit on the cheap side in this model, and we learned that there is only the one model available here on the island. So we'll look around a bit more.

Back to pick up our car. Fredi is showing Don some things under the Rav4 that need attention soon. Don had asked him to try to find the source of a noise he keeps hearing. Nothing serious, thankfully.

Debi called an island friend who is bilingual and who has bought cars on the mainland. She told us that Kia's don't resell well on the island. Most people just don't like them. She is willing to take us over to the mainland to car shop, so we may take her up on the offer. Definitely need to think this over. It's good that we started looking now. We don't want to buy the car until October, so we have time.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The School Report

We talked to Leydi today before church. Don had practiced his Spanish so he could ask her how school was going, did she like it, was it hard, etc. She replied, with a big smile, "good, yes, yes!" It has been a bit rough for the girls because they are pretty well immersed in English all morning and had their first English spelling test on Friday. She told Don that she needed an English dictionary and he told her he would get her one. Don't know how well (or poorly) they did on their first test, but our friend Susan gave the girls a little pep talk about not getting discouraged if they don't do well at first. She's also going to tutor them on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Susan has been concerned about areas where they are lacking, like math. The beach school did not do a good job with math; they know very little.

We were encouraged that all four of the girls seem very happy with this school. Some of the girls were "ecstatic" according to Susan, but Leydi is always more reserved. She did have a very large smile though. Susan was able to get the little first grade boy switched from the first school to this one, so now all five kids can go together. The father of some of the girls was able to recruit a taxi driver to pick the girls and one boy up at their homes high up in the colonia each morning and drive them home for the same price that we would have paid a bus, 50 lempiras/day (about $2.50 US). Susan and Larry have been trying to negotiate with the taxi driver to become their permanent driver. His wife was interested because they would love to send their son to that school and this would provide the money plus extra.

I learned (with the help of a translator, our friend Brandi) a bit more about why Leydi is living with her grandmother. She has had Leydi since she was 1 day old. She was born to Concepcion's daughter who apparently did not want her. So Concepcion took her home and has raised her. She said Leydi calls her "mamma" and that she is mamma, grandma and grandpa all rolled into one. She is doing a fine job. Leydi's birth mom lives nearby and has another child who is 2 years younger than Leydi. I have such admiration for Concepcion. She has a very hard life but has done a fine job with Leydi and is a dear Christian sister.

An encouraging week. Hoping and praying that more follow.
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

After The Rain

There's nothing like a nice rain to freshen everything up and provide some welcomed coolness. The sea is always so beautiful the next day. I had mixed feelings about the rain yesterday though. I was doing laundry and hanging clothes to dry under the covered deck when a worker lit a fire up the hill to burn trash (mostly leaves and cuttings), and of course, the smoke blew right down the hill and into our windows. I was sure I would have smoky smelling laundry, but before it got too bad, a nice little rain blew in, putting an end to the fire. And then it rained all afternoon. I was glad the deck was covered, but I did have to throw some things into the clothes dryer to speed the drying time. Don had just finished varnishing the window frames in the master quarters and couldn't close the windows all the way, but I don't think it damaged the varnish.

Today was errand day. We're in the market for a new car, so first we visited the Kia dealer (the only new car dealership on the island) and talked with the saleswoman about getting a Kia Soul. They only had 3 cars on the showroom floor (a tiny showroom) and only one car was new. Our car will have to be ordered from the mainland of Honduras and will take 2-3 days to arrive. They will take care of all the paperwork, getting license plates, registering, right there! Very convenient. We'll go back for a test drive Saturday morning.

Next stop, the tailor shop to pick up Leydi's skirt. Promised for today but not ready yet. We'll try again Saturday.
While in the market, we picked up a yummy pineapple and fresh veggies: 6 tomatoes, 2 avocados, a small red onion, a cucumber and the pineapple cost less than $5.00 US.
On to see our favorite mechanic, Freddie, about replacing the front tires (they won't make it until October when we get the new car). Those will run about $300. for the pair.
A stop at the international pharmacy to see if they had any generic Protonix. They did. $75. for 4 week supply (that's cheaper than in the US when you don't have prescription drug coverage but not as cheap as I got it on the mainland - $35. in La Ceiba).
Last stop of the day, the electrical supply shop where Don priced wiring for a house up in the colonia.

Home to rest a bit, have an earlier dinner and then off to Bob and Debi's for home group. And it looks like rain again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Matriculation - Part II

We were up and at 'em early today in our second attempt to get the four girls registered for school. You may remember that the principal told us to arrive early, by at least 6:30 a.m. when people start lining up. The doors would open at 7 a.m. We left home around 5:30 and drove up into the colonia to wait for Leydi and Concepcion. By 5:50 they still had not shown, so we drove down to the church in case they had somehow caught a ride. Nope, not there. Larry and Susan were also up in the colonia waiting for their crew and finally called to report sighting of Leydi and Concepcion. We loaded up and were on our way.

We were the first and second vehicles to arrive, but not the first people. I got in one line, the one for people who have already paid the registration fee, and Don and Susan got in the still-need-to-pay line. And we waited. The teachers arrived around 6:45 and milled around talking to people. The principal didn't arrive until after 7 a.m. and then milled around talking for awhile. When they finally opened the doors and began setting up, we were the second person in line. We quickly found out that grades 3, 4 and 6 were full! No more students being accepted. I found the principal (who was still milling around) and asked for a refund. She directed me to her office where other were also waiting. And waiting. And waiting. It is sometimes very hard for this city girl to adjust to the Honduran ways. Waiting is par for the course here. Finally, I could take it no longer and told Don that I was ready to mark off that fee (only $10.) as a donation and get going.

It was now 8 a.m. and none of us had had breakfast. The school has a small store attached to it where the children can buy food and water. We ordered baleadas (thick tortillas spread with refried beans and a sprinkle of shredded cheese) and water. The water came in those little plastic bags that you rip one corner open and suck out the water.

Larry and Susan had already left and called to say that they were at another school and already in the process of filling out the paperwork to register the girls! We quickly drove over there and joined them. This school is a private school, so we'll have to pay tuition. And they have different uniforms than the ones we bought last week and require another uniform for PE class. And we have to buy the textbooks.
And the registration fee was over $100! While waiting on Larry to return from dropping off 3 of the girls, we walked around, looked in the classrooms and talked to one of the teachers. It is a bilingual school with heavy emphasis on English. Only two classes are taught in Spanish. The classes are small, the classrooms large and light filled and the teachers seem in very good control. Leydi's 4th grade teacher will be a man. There appeared to be only 12-15 students in his class. The registration was taking place in the large main office and seemed more orderly and efficient. We were pleased so far and Leydi seemed delighted.

The school requires two small photographs for a student I.D. card, so while we were waiting on the guys to return from the bank (also never a quick trip), we girls drove into the market of Coxen Hole, parking on Back Street in front of the photography "studio". We got Leydi's photo taken in a flash, printed out and paid for ($5.).  We walked down on Market Street to the shop the school recommended for uniforms. We soon learned that they MAKE uniforms; they do not have any ready-made ones. Hmm. Guess we misunderstood (not everyone in the office spoke good English). As we were stuck in a long line of taxis on Back Street, Larry called to see if we could meet. We suggested that we just meet back at the school. Turns out that Larry was on his way to drop Don at our bank and had spent all that time just getting his money.

Back at school, waiting on the guys and money, Susan noticed the credit card logos on the office door. What!? They accept credit cards?? Susan grabbed her card and ran right in there. Meanwhile, Larry returned without Don, so I had to go pick him up (Larry was getting anxious about returning to the colonia to oversee preparations for a house build). When we returned, Susan was still in there, still waiting to see if her credit card purchase would go through. It did, but only after Larry gave them a different card and only after a looooong wait for approval. By this time, I have filled out my payment book, writing Leydi's full name on every page, even though we are paying the full year's tuition up front. Writer's cramp. Then Don handed over a big wad of lempiras to pay for everything.

Now we learned that actually, we can buy all of the uniform right there at the school, except they don't have Leydi's size and will have to order it but it will be there by Friday. And they don't sell the skirts. That's why we were directed to the fabric shop! The skirts are made to order! We gathered up her new stack of books (felt like about 10 pounds), the receipts and headed back to the fabric shop.
In the top photo, Leydi is standing in front of the fabric shop.
                                                 This man is a tailor.
He works in the back of the fabric shop. We simply told the girl at the counter what school Leydi was attending and she ushered us to the back where this man quickly took measurements and told us he would have it ready by Wednesday. There are men in rooms just across the hall who are sewing furiously. Lots of private school uniforms being made this week.
                              Don is being silly, teasing Leydi about how short he is.
We were finally finished around 11 a.m. and absolutely famished! Don suggested that we go grab some lunch before dropping them off. Leydi ate every bit of her BIG plate of food - fried chicken, rice & beans, potato salad and fried plantains!! I don't know where she put it.

We dropped them off in the colonia around 12:30 and gave Leydi money for cab fare in the morning. She was dismayed to learn that she is in the morning session, 7 a.m. - noon. Larry and Susan are still working on transportation for all the girls and hopefully will have something arranged in a day or two.

Don just added up today's receipts, about $828. We'll still need to provide about $60/month for transportation, but otherwise, Leydi is all set (we hope!).

Now we need to find another small girl in need of a uniform so we can unload the one we bought last week. The need here is huge, so I'm sure that won't take long.

Susan and I felt like God was really directing us today when the first school was ruled out. Even with all the running around and waiting, we got everything done at the second school in about 2 1/2 hours. Pretty impressive for Roatan. Susan will have to bring the other girls back to get photographs and skirts, but they can wear regular clothes all this week.

Below is a view of the center courtyard of her school. Her classroom is just to the left of the large palm.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Whew! What a morning. We met at church at 9 this morning and once again loaded Concepcion, Leidy (Lady), Gracie, and her little brother into our car. The rest of the crew climbed into Larry's truck. The top middle photo in the collage shows Susan, Enriquito and Hilda sitting in the back of the truck waving. The top left photo show everyone crowded into the office to register. I showed them Leidy's papers and the principal wrote out a receipt for L200 ($10. US) and took my money. She then pointed me out the door and to the right. I really had no idea where to go, but Concepcion figured out which room and which person to see to register for the 4th grade. We waited in line awhile only to learn that today was registration for returning students. New students and transfer students had to come back and register next Monday. We went back to the office where we found Susan already in line. She had a bilingual woman in line ahead of her and had explained our situation. That woman interceded for us with the principal, but to no avail. We'll have to come back. "Come early," she said. Registration begins at 7 a.m. and they'll be lined up at 6:30! It's is first-come, first-served until they are full. Just because I've already paid for Leidy is no guarantee that she'll get in, and just because Susan was unable to pay for the others is no guarantee that they won't get in. Yikes! Don wants to be there at 6 or shortly after to ensure that the kids do get in to this school. Susan was worried about that because we will have missed registration for other schools by then. We'll be praying hard that they all get in. Please pray for us.

The middle photo is Don talking to our cab driver friend, George, who was registering his children. It was good to see George again and to learn that he only has one more year of his own schooling.

I did learn something else interesting while looking at Leidy's birth certificate. First, that her name is spelled Leidy and pronounced Lady (Leidy Leony Hernandez). Second that she has the same birthday as our daughter, February 28th. Third, that she will be 11 in a few weeks. I just can't believe that she's that old because she is so tiny.

To be continued....
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Outfitting Lady

This is Lady. She's 10 years old and lives up in one of the colonias near our church. You may remember a previous blog where I wrote about Don helping build a house up in the colonia for Concepcion, Lady's grandmother. They are among the poorest of the poor. Concepcion's only income is from collecting and recycling aluminum cans. She also participates in the Spanish ladies' Bible class at church and does some work there in exchange for bags of rice and beans.

You may also recall that Don is just crazy about this little girl. I think she reminds him of our daughter in some ways. Don decided last year that he wanted to sponsor Lady's education. She's been attending the beach school which is among the worst schools on the island. Don thinks she's smart enough to be challenged at a better school, so we are sending her to a public bilingual school between Coxen Hole and Flowers Bay, near the cruise ship dock.

Even though the school is public, it is not free to attend. All students are required to wear uniforms and black shoes. They must pay a registration fee and buy all their own supplies except textbooks. In addition to this, there will be the cost of transportation. The poor have a difficult time coming up with the money, especially if they have several children, so often they just don't go to school or don't go many years. It is typical of many to have only completed 3rd grade. If their parents have steady work, they might finish 6th grade.

We have two other gringo couples at our church who are also sponsoring children so there will be four little girls going to the same school. We still have to arrange their transportation before next week. This may seem like an odd time to be starting school, but the new school year on the island starts in February. They get some time off during the summer, not sure how much, and all of December and January off.
Today starts matriculation (registration) but every school has different dates. We weren't sure which days her new school would accept registration, and we were unable to find out so we decided to chance that it was today. It wasn't. But I think Lady and Concepcion very much enjoyed their ride in our air-conditioned car and getting to see more of the island. They were pretty impressed with the Norwegian cruise ship in port. We had a little caravan with Larry and Susan taking the other students and their father. There was someone at the school and we were able to learn that registration is all day tomorrow, so we'll be coming back.

Lady and Concepcion outside the clothes shop.
We decided to take Lady shopping for her uniform, shoes and supplies. Susan suggested that we buy everything from one of the little shops up in the colonia and wrote a list of what she would need. So, armed with the list, we drove as far up into the colonia as we dared (the roads are unbelievably steep and deeply rutted and our tires are not great). Fortunately, there were several shops at that point and they had what we needed. In the top photo, Lady is trying on the navy pleated skirt. They also wear a white blouse with little tucks over an undershirt, white knee socks and black shoes. She is very small for her age and tried everything on to ensure a good fit. She's was thrilled to be able to pick out any black shoe that she wanted. She also choose the Hannah Montana book bag (can't escape her even on Roatan!). Then we went to another store to buy her notebooks and other supplies. She wanted a few little things that weren't on the list, like glue and red glitter! We said ok. Not much to ask and it certainly made her happy. She said "thank you, Mr. Don" in good English!

After all that shopping, Don treated them to a refresca, a cold drink. We agreed to meet at church tomorrow morning to try the registration again. Stay tuned!