Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bragging Rights

I just have to share my morning with you. It was pouring down rain this morning when it was time to go to the Spanish womens' Bible study at our church. I've begun going to this because I love these women and it is good to fellowship with them. Also, since Luz and Rick returned to the island, she acts as interpreter for Tia, so I'm able to understand the lesson. I briefly considered not going due to the heavy rain but then God reminded me that the Spanish women from the colonia would all be there regardless of the rain...and they have to walk down those steep hills all the way to church. Ok, that was enough to compel me to grab my umbrella and go hop in my car for the short drive to church.

There were probably 40 women there! Clearly the rain doesn't stop them. Julisa smiled a big smile when she saw me come in and patted the chair next to her, so I went and sat between her and her step-mom. After a little while I became aware that her step-mom, Maria was very wet and very cold. She was wearing a sleeveless shirt, which was completely soaked, and a skirt. She had no jacket, no sweater and, obviously, no umbrella. She and Julisa have one of the longest walks to get to church, too. I realized just how cold she was when the young mother sitting next to her got up to go walk around with her fussy baby and Maria grabbed the baby's receiving blanket and draped it over her! I reached over to rub her back and she was soaking wet! No wonder she was so cold. She's also very, very thin.  I had brought  a number of empty gallon water jugs to church to leave for any of the women who might want them. I carried them in a kitchen sized garbage bag. When I realized how cold Maria was, I went out and got that trash bag, tore a hole in the bottom and put it over her like a rain coat. She quickly warmed up and had a big smile of gratitude. Sometimes, it's the little things.

The other very cool thing that happened was this: at the conclusion of the lesson, Tia always directs each table of women to pray for one another's needs. I'm sitting at a table of all Spanish speakers. Julisa speaks very little English and I speak very little Spanish...certainly not enough to understand requests and pray for them. We all sat there awhile. I understood that this was a table of women without a leader; no one felt comfortable stepping up...except Julisa!! After a little bit, with only a slight suggestion from me that someone needed to pray, she began asking each woman what their prayer need was and then she prayed for everyone!! Her personal prayer was thanking God for Mr. Don and I for our support of her so she can attend school! I was so proud of her!! I gave her such a big hug and told her so. All this from a recently baptized 14 year old girl. Pretty neat, huh?

Back to School Shopping

Yesterday we got Julisa registered for school. Leidy came along and gave Julisa a tour of the school while we were doing the paperwork. Julisa had a big smile on her face. Pretty sure she liked what she saw. We called her into the office to supply some contact information about her family and while she was sitting there, Don began shooting rubberbands at her. Sigh. I guess that's good preparation for returning to school though.

 We headed to the market next to pick up the uniform skirts from the tailor and to purchase the rest of their uniforms. In the photo above, they are looking over the selection of the required black school shoes.

We let them walk up and down the market street looking at the goods on display before they made their backpack selection. Julisa chose a Hannah Montana book bag and Leidy selected Cinderella. They were very pleased with their finds. They also both asked for and received Cinderella water bottles.

 The girls look on as the sales clerk calculates the cost. Doesn't Leidy have beautiful hair? We bought most of their uniform needs at this one shop: white shirts, undershirts, socks and shoes. We also bought tennis shoes for their "physical" class. They will still need green pants to wear on Friday for the "physical" class. We'll buy them through the school.

                                       Sizing up Leidy as Julisa grins in the background.

The market place is always fascinating and colorful. The girls really enjoyed the experience (they don't normally get to come here) and loved being able to pick out their own things...and new things at that!!

They wanted to buy their other school supplies, but we told them that we would wait until their teachers gave them the list for their grade level which should happen on the first day of school.

Then it was lunch time. We took them to a local favorite eating place beside our bank on the main street. We had baleadas and pastellitas and sodas for 4 for a total of $7.20. Not bad! For dessert, we bought a bag of sliced green mangoes from a street vendor. Leidy asked the vendor to add salt and a red vinegar to the bag and proceeded to enjoy. Julisa made an awful face when she tried them and wanted no more. I prefer my mangoes to be ripe, but many of the island people like them when they are still green.

We dropped the girls off in the colonia and they scampered off up the hill carrying their bags, happy and full.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kids on the Beach

Today we took 7 of the 9 sponsored school kids to the beach in West Bay. Most had never been to that beach. I was afraid they might be disappointed that they couldn't swim in the infinity pool, but once they saw the beach and the beautiful turquoise water, they were hooked.

I honestly don't know who had more fun today...us or the kids. It was such a joy watching them playing, helping them learn to swim and float on their backs, learning to use a snorkel. When we brought out the air mattresses, they couldn't blow them up fast enough. They loved floating around on them and they loved tormenting one another, although they were really very good about sharing.

 Rick demonstrating how to use a snorkel. They all had to try on his big mask and were thrilled to see the fish and breathe through the snorkel. Hasey got so excited that she tried catching the little fish in the shallower water with her hands. The fish got excited too.
 I love this photo of them paddling around on their brightly colored air mattresses in the crystal clear water. They loved it too.
 Here they are after lots of swimming, waiting on lunch. Carlos, Hilda, Julisa, Karla, Leidy, Hasey, Greicy.
They were starving! They quickly demolished two very large pizzas. Hilda decided that her pizza needed some catsup and applied it liberally. She apparently liked it because she ate several pieces that way. They also devoured most of Don's french fries! They were very quiet during lunch, focused on eating. I passed around a bag of mango candies for dessert...gotta have dessert with kids.

No one argued or fussed when it was time to go home. They were all very tired, and so were we.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Visit to The Tailor

Yesterday I met Leidy and Julisa at church. Julisa looked so cute...all dressed up in her best outfit and wearing her high heels. We were going to town and she wanted to look good, but I couldn't believe that she had walked down the steep paths from her house to church wearing heels. She was so excited now that she knows she will be going to Louisa Trundle School with the other kids from church. The girls talked all the way in to Coxen Hole.

Our first stop was at the photography studio to have Julisa's picture taken for her school ID. Her eyes were as big as saucers as she watched the guy do the digital processing and then the photos shot out of the machine. Leidy was busy watch the Smurfs on a t.v. over in the corner.

Our next stop was the tailor shop in the market to get their uniform skirts made. While the girls were writing down their names in the order book, Karla came in with her dad. Karla is being sponsored by Rachel and Lance. She gave me a really big hug and then left. She and her brother had just been measured for their uniforms.

Here's tiny waisted Julisa being measured for her skirt. It was a whole new experience for her. It was so nice to have Leidy along to explain everything to her. Julisa doesn't speak much English...yet! Leidy has learned so much English this past year that we are just blown away! It is so much easier for us to communicate with her and now for her to interpret for Julisa. I hope Julisa can pick it up as easily as the other kids have.

Leidy's turn to be measured. Although she has grown taller this past year, she is still just a tiny little thing.

All finished! The skirts cost about $15. apiece and will be ready Saturday, the tailor said. We'll go pick them up one day next week and finish shopping for the rest of their uniforms and backpacks. We're just waiting on a bit more support to come in.

On the drive back, I asked the girls if they were hungry (really a silly question...they are usually hungry!) and they both said yes! We stopped at a local eatery in Sandy Bay where they could get island type food and I let them order what they wanted. They both chose something called a tajades or tajadas. It was a BIG bowl layered with plantains, shredded cabbage, grated Honduran cheese, liberal application of hot sauce and a really big piece of meat, possibly beef, like a thin steak. The girls dove into it and then struggled with the meat. I sent them to the counter to get knives and then watched them awkwardly pulling at the meat with the knives. It was clear that they had never used a knife to cut meat. I offered my assistance and Leidy allowed me to cut hers. Julisa watched me and learned.

While we waited for the food to be prepared, we watched t.v. (neither girl has electricity, let alone a t.v.). I was glad that the very violent movie ended and the channel was switched to a children's program. They were very engrossed in watching while they ate and sipped their banana sodas. Julisa ate every bite of her meal. Leidy couldn't finish hers, so we wrapped it up to take home. They wanted to take the rest of their drinks, too. The cook didn't have any cups but gave them plastic bags to pour their drinks into. It is common for Hondurans to buy drinks in plastic bags, so they didn't think anything about it. This grand feast cost a total of $8.00 USD. It was probably the biggest meal they had had in a long time.

I dropped them off at the entrance to the colonia, happy and full. It was a fun day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

School Prep

Winter break is almost over. The new school year begins in about 3 weeks and preparations are underway. Monday we went to Louisa Trundle school with our other sponsor friends and registered 8 of the 9 children that we will be sending there this year. We were so impressed with the technological progress the administration has made since last year. We registered all 8 kids in about 30 minutes this year, compared to the incredibly long morning we spent registering 5 kids last year. They are computerizing more and more of their records, and were we glad to hear that! Part of last year's lengthy (and irritating) registration was from us having to fill out monthly payment books for each child, even though we paid for the full year's tuition up front. The kids had to present their paid receipt book every quarter when they took exams. This year there were no books!! They have all the information now on the computer so the kids no longer have to worry about producing the receipts at exam time.

The one child whom we still need to register is Julisa. After talking with her after church on Sunday, we made the decision to send her with the other kids. She is bright, curious, eager to learn and very much wants a chance to attend a bilingual private school. We are sharing sponsorship of her with our daughter and son-in-law which will cover registration and tuition for the year. We still need to provide for transportation at $32. per month for 10 months, and also books, uniforms and school supplies for another $190. or so plus some money set aside for those pesky incidentals. We have a couple of friends who have made donations (thank you!), but we would be very grateful for a little more help. You honestly could not find a better way to spend any extra money you might have.  A bilingual education gives these Spanish speaking children a real chance to have a better life and to earn a decent living. The private school provides a real education; the public schools are ill equipped and staffed with either poorly trained teachers or apathetic teachers. The children learn very little there even when the teachers show up - they often don't. The Honduran public school system is truly abysmal.

We are stepping out in faith here with Julisa, confident that God will provide the remaining support through some of you. Please prayerfully consider making a difference in the life of a young person.
If you would like to make a tax deductible charitable contribution, let me know and I will send you the paypal information.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Visitors From The Past

 We were thrilled to have Lana and Drew come to the island yesterday aboard a Carnival ship. Although we have been friends for many years, we had not seen them in 10 or 11 years. We obviously had a lot of catching up to do!

When they first saw us, they both said "we could have picked you out anywhere! You both have not changed a bit!" That is exactly what we thought about them, too.

We asked what sights they wanted to see and they both said "your house!" So we brought them here and sat out on the deck visiting and catching up. They loved our view and house and probably would have been content to sit all day, but we did want them to see a bit of the island before their ship left.

We drove them down to West End which is just a huge mess with all the construction going on. We had to park outside the entrance to the End and gingerly pick our way through the mud, potholes filled with water from yesterday's rain and from the massive trenches dug all along the road. We got as far as the Cannibal Cafe where we were considering eating lunch before deciding to give up. We could go no farther and couldn't even get into the Cannibal without jumping a trench. I don't know how the businesses are surviving.
 We drove on to West Bay, walked on the beach at high noon. They both said they think Roatan is the prettiest island they have visited in their two back-to-back cruises of the Caribbean! We agree.
West Bay is always crowded with people from the cruise ships, so we left there and took them out by the lighthouse to Smugglers. No crowds there! I don't think the cruise ships have discovered them yet and personally, I hope they don't. It's a beautiful spot to relax, have lunch and visit.

All too soon, it was time to return them to their ship. They had an early departure time so their ship could make it back to Florida by Sunday morning. I think we convinced them to come back and spend more time here. Hope so.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Visiting in the Colonia

I had been wanting to go up in the colonia to visit for quite some time now, but I had to wait for a foot injury to heal before I tackled climbing up the steep paths to reach many of the homes. When Susan asked if I wanted to go with her the other day, I decided I was ready to test the foot.

As we began our climb, we ran into Leidy and some of her family coming out of a pulperia (store). We were all excited to see her. Leidy and Concepción had gone to the mainland before Christmas, planning to stay 15 days. They were delayed in their return because Concepción did not have enough money to pay for the ferry. So we were thrilled to see that they had made it back safely. We had to climb up the steep entry to Concepción's house to welcome her home. In the photo above: Leidy, her half-sister, half-brother, Concepción and Tia. People in the colonia are always so happy to have visitors. They didn't want us to leave, but we had other places to go.

 Here's Tia and Susan climbing up one of the steep, rutted roads. Not many vehicles make it up this far.

Finally, we made it up to Julisa's house. The narrow path up here was treacherous enough, then we encountered the narrow switchback path leading up to the house. The photo doesn't really do justice to the difficulty of the climb. If you look closely, you'll see their little house peeking out from behind he banana trees on the upper left and in the upper center, Julisa and her family await us.

Part of the reason for our visit was to take a photo of the family's new water tank, seen above with Susan, Ariel, David, Charlene, Julisa and Iris. There are 11 family members living in a tiny house who until Friday had NO water. Can you imagine living in a house with no water? You may remember that water is only available every 8th day and families must fill their water tanks and any available containers with enough water to last them. The wall beside Iris is littered with empty water jugs that they had been filling somewhere and carrying up to the house. Behind Susan is the white water line that was connected the day before to the new placed water tank. Some Canadian friends of Susan's had sent money to purchase the water tank. The tank was not yet filled; they were expecting the water to be turned on later in the day.

Their tiny house is of an unusual construction for the colonia - sort of an adobe block and wire type of wall with plastic bags tucked in to help fill gaps. Their little plot of ground was quite narrow around the house with perhaps only 6-8 feet to most sides. In the photo above, they are taking up the entire width of the front "yard".  There is jungle all around them; no other houses are close by, so they have a quieter and cooler location. We did not go inside the house but wondered where they all sleep. The house didn't appear tall enough to have a loft area.

Julisa was so excited when she saw me climbing up behind Susan and Tia. She was practically jumping up and down. She gave me such a big hug and just held on for the longest time. She's such a sweet girl.  We have not yet told her that we would like to sponsor her for school. Imagine how excited she will be with that news! We will tell her as soon as we figure out where we will send her (and hopefully, the two other 7th graders who still need sponsors).

I had brought along two jars of peanut butter and left them with Julisa. With 11 mouths to feed, I'm sure they can use it.

Soon it was time to make our way down. I am not all that sure-footed, but Tia is and assisted me in the descent. And she was just wearing flip flops! She grew up backpacking in the California mountains and is as sure-footed as a mountain goat. I was so thankful for her help!

I was remembering a couple of Sundays ago when Julisa and Iris arrived at church wearing high heels! I asked if they had walked down the hill wearing them and Julisa said yes but I'm not sure she understood my question. I can't imagine that they could have worn them until they neared the bottom.

These two bikes are parked at the bottom of a very narrow, rocky path that crosses a little creek and leads up to Julisa's house. Chuck was able to drive his truck up this far and then he and Juan carried that water tank the rest of the way.
Along the way, we passed another house that was built precariously along side the creek on the steep side. It looked like one more hard rain would wash it right down the creek. The family must have thought so also for we noticed the husband and another man were clearing a spot a little higher up and farther back from the creek for another house.

Susan pointed out another steep, rocky path leading up to Norma's house, and commented on Norma climbing that path in the dark, without a flashlight or any other light source, when she comes to church on Wednesday nights. These people are hardy!

At the bottom of the hill, we found Marvin, the water man, and Susan was able to pay him to fill up the water tank. He promised to fill the tank that afternoon. I know one happy family!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

School Board Meeting

Our first school "board" meeting was held this week. In attendance, besides us, were two other couples who either fully or partially sponsor school children on the island and/ or represent off-island sponsors. Jointly, we are responsible for the education of 8 children who are doing well and desire to continue. Three more kids are being considered if we can raise enough support to cover them. These 3 have all finished 6th grade and may be able to attend the beach school in the evenings for grades 7-8. While this is not a great school, it is better than nothing and is free. They would just need registration fees, uniforms, shoes, school supplies.

This is Julisa, one of the three kids being considered. I wrote about her a couple of months ago, how she's befriended us at church, is learning English at the Mazapan school in the colonia and likes to practice what she's learned. We had been making inquiries about her, wanting to know more about her family situation and her schooling. She claims to have the necessary paperwork to register for school (birth certificate, school records). Don and I had already decided that we would sponsor her if everything checked out and if she was interested. She seems bright, curious and is very personable. She's 14, a dangerous age for girls here. If they're not engaged in school and intent on making a better life for themselves, they're vulnerable to becoming a mother way too soon.

One of the things we discussed at our school board meeting was whether to continue sending the 8 kids to Louisa Trundle School. Rick and Luz told us about a new private, Christian school associated with Pastor Tim's church in Coxen Hole. It sounds very promising, but would be more expensive, by another 50%. That's a big jump x 8. Rick was concerned about sending the kids the first year - there are sure to be problems in the first year of operation. After a lot of discussion, we finally agreed to keep the kids at Louisa Trundle for another year.

We also talked about transportation issues. We have hired our neighbor, Shaun and/or his brother, Shane, to drive the kids. Both men have big vans and transport many kids to a number of different schools. And therein lies the problem. Our kids are either dropped off way too early or are late, and they are frequently late in being picked up. We need to talk to them and try to resolve this. We're paying them $32 per child per month.

We're all excited that Rachel and Lance have agreed to sponsor Carla, another 5th grader and Leidy's classmate! If any of you readers are interested in helping out in any way - with tuition or transportation or just purchasing uniforms, shoes or school supplies, let me know. We are constantly being approached by other families at church who have unschooled children and no money to send them, and we still have the other two 7th graders who need to be sponsored. We can make a difference in these young lives!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Bread Is Back!

Today's shopping adventure was more productive than last week's. After searching in 3 stores today, we found bread! I was beginning to fear that the Bimbo bread man had disappeared again. The stores were also well stocked with produce and dairy (although not everything I needed). Poor Don has been wanting hot dogs (I don't know why...he just likes them every now and then) but the only ones he could find that were beef hot dogs were $7.00 a package. We just refused to buy them at that price. He's leery of chicken or turkey hot dogs which were more reasonably priced (at about $4-5.)

After spending a weekend, actually 3 days, with either no internet service or an extremely slow connection, we decided it was time to recharge our stick modems that we keep as backups for such times. Normally our satellite connection is very dependable, but they were certainly experiencing some problems over the weekend. At least we were able to have a nice Skype visit with little Simon before losing it. I don't know if running the Skype video constitutes "streaming video" or not, but part of our problem was that we had exceeded our download limit of 200mb per day and when Don was able to get onto the HughesNet website to check the status, he got that message: excessive streaming video usage. Sheesh! We never watch any t.v. or even much YouTube on the computers and are careful about how much we download, so we were very surprised at this development. They "punish" you by slowing down your connection speed to painful levels...just not worth it.

We also had to revisit the Claro phone store. Don has been trying to reload his Claro stick modem without luck. Today he wanted me to go in and have the English speaking employee show me exactly how to do it. It turns out that they had neglected to tell Don one critical step in the process: you must first remove the SIM card from the modem, insert it into the phone and load the minutes onto that SIM card before proceeding. He was loading the minutes onto his phone's SIM card, then switching them and sending the text message to reload the modem. So now he has more minutes on his phone than he is likely to use during our remaining time on the island, and they will expire in April.  But, we are back in business and fully connected. Yippee!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

After Christmas Shopping

The shelves have been rather bare at the grocery stores this week. The reason seems to be a combination of bad weather and the New Year holiday; the ships have not been coming in. Our shelves at home were getting pretty bare, too, after the holidays, so we trudged off to the stores. We bought just a handful of the items on our list. We ran into one of the restaurant owners who was also lamenting the bare shelves. Everything he needed was nowhere to be found. I really sympathized with him. Hard to run a restaurant that way. We can always make do. There was literally no bread on the shelves, virtually no produce, little dairy. We stopped by the new Pollo Rey chicken outlet store. They had no chicken breasts.
Both big supermarkets said they were expecting a ship to come in the next day, or possibly the next.

The next day found us in French Harbor running some errands. We stopped at the big grocery store there to find the same mostly bare shelves - bare of the items I needed anyway. No bread anywhere. They did have tomatoes, onions and green peppers. Next stop was the Bulk Gourmet. We don't buy much there because everything is imported and the prices reflect that, but we do sometimes buy Black Angus burgers. They were out of them and many other things. They are expecting a big shipment on the 15th of the month. The Pollo Rey store in Los Fuertes did have some smaller packages of chicken breasts.

At least rice and beans are plentiful.  And we have some chicken now. We certainly won't starve, but I hope that ship comes soon.