Sunday, October 28, 2012

School's Out - a beach celebration

The island schools (most of them) have dismissed for the winter holiday. Our sponsored kids had their exams last week, and while I haven't seen their grade cards, they all claim to have done well. That called for a little celebration! They have all been begging to go to the beach again, so that's what we did.

We told "our" girls that we could not take all eleven kids by ourselves, so we would limit this excursion to just the three girls, but when we went to pick them up at church, Karla's little brother, Carlos, was there asking "Mr. Don, I go too?" He was just so charming that we relented and let him go. Our car holds four kids, we have four eyeballs to watch them - it was a good fit. Here are some photos:

 We had storms earlier in the week with lots of rain. The seas were still rough and full of seaweed, but the kids didn't mind that much. Julissa did get cold and finally got out, dried off and laid in the sun to warm up. The other three played until I made them get out.

                 Our little charmer, the sand-encrusted snorkeling Carlos, who had a blast.

 We met this interesting man, Captain Brooks, who runs a fishing charter. Don talked to him for a long time, leaving me to watch four kids with two eyeballs. You can see that the beach is pretty well deserted in West Bay. October is low season and the beginning of rainy season. Business is hurting here and all over the island.

 Our normally white sand beach was covered with seaweed and every roll of the tide washed in more. This man has a endless job - but job security!

Look at those happy faces! After swimming, snorkeling, and rolling in the sand for two hours, these kids were STARVING!! They are waiting for the pizza to cook. We ordered two really large pizzas, they ate all but four pieces and each kid took home one piece "for mom." Sweet.

They've also been begging to come see our house, so on the way back to drop them off, we stopped by our house. They were so excited. They ran all around, oohing and aahing, sitting in every chair, examining every photo and painting. They loved the deck and view, then ran down the stairs, under the house and along the edge of our jungle garden exclaiming over all the beautiful flowers. The house was a big hit.

After we dropped the kids off in the colonia, Don remarked "now they have to go back to their own homes and compare what they have with what they've just seen." It made him sad. Me, too.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wanted: Work and Food

Last week I was approached by Karla's mom, Suyapa, who asked if I still needed someone to clean for me. I told her that Maria and her kids had come and done our basic before-return-cleaning. She said she did not have any work and could really use some. I agreed to have her come and help me with some of the heavier jobs still waiting to be done.

Wednesday I picked her up from church and she worked all morning washing windows, dodging the rain, cleaning screens and blinds. She would likely have finished if not for the rain. She asked if she could come back and work for me again and I agreed, so Thursday I picked her up again. She finished cleaning the sliding doors and blinds and scrubbed every last speck of dirt and mold off our white concrete entry stairs...always a dirty job. I was very pleased with her work.

While she was finishing the window above the kitchen sink, I was inside making tuna salad for our lunch. She began telling me a very sad story....they had no food in their house. She had not been getting as much work. Her husband was working up at church on the new addition, which I knew because I had seen him there, but she said he would not be getting paid as he was paying back a debt he owed to Pastor Chuck. And their water had been cut off the day before because they could not afford the L200 ($10.50).

I went right outside to talk to Don. We thought it over and decided to let her work an additional two days next week and we would advance her the money plus pay her for this week's work. That would give her enough to buy food for her family of six for the week (which she had estimated ran around L800 or ~$40.) and get the water turned back on.

Friday, after our tutoring session, Julissa stopped us on our way out and asked Ms. Ida to interpret for her. She haltingly told us that there was no food in her house. No one had any work. I asked how many people were currently living there, and she said eight.  Don thought for a minute and then said he would give her money to buy food, and she began to cry. She hugged us tightly and then hugged Ms. Ida, who agreed to drive her to Coxen Hole to shop. I asked why not shop in the colonia? She said they charge more than the big grocery stores or the marketplace! Outrageous! Overcharging those who can least afford it!? Ida said "yes. Convenience stores." It is a convenience, too, otherwise they have to take a taxi or "bus"(van) to town and back. Don said we would take her as we had to go in to the pharmacy anyway. We stopped first and got her something to eat. I let her load up the cart with what her family needed: rice, beans, shortening, corn flour, wheat flour, sugar, coffee, powdered milk, eggs, chicken bouillon, 3 tomatoes, and some little packets of Tang. I asked how long that would last...a few days? She shrugged, "maybe." I guess so...eight mouths to feed.

This is a big problem here right now. One cruise ship port has been closed all summer, won't reopen for another month and as a result, many businesses and families are suffering. This problem also won't go away when the port reopens either, as not everyone is involved in that extended industry.

It breaks our hearts to see these families, especially the children, going hungry. Obviously, we cannot afford to feed them all, and we would much rather see them work in exchange for food, not grow to depend on handouts. We also cannot employ all of the hungry. What to do????? We would invite you to pray with us for a solution(s) to this ongoing problem, and if you feel led to help in some way, let us know. We will be meeting with our pastor, his wife, and another couple from church to brainstorm. I'll let you know how that turns out. In the meantime, please, please pray for these families!!

Fall Concert

Last Sunday, our first one back, the kids came running to give us hugs and little gifts. Leidy had made a green friendship bracelet for me and happily tied it on my wrist. Tightly. I told her I had bigger wrists than she did. Later, during worship, when my hand went numb, I had Julissa remove the bracelet. Julissa shyly presented us with a lovely drawing she had done of a rose with sweet sentiments and scripture bordering it. Julissa skipped her class to sit with us during worship. Karla nearly squeezed the stuffing out of us. Her mom told me later that Karla woke up very happy and excited that morning because "Mr. Don and Miss Jeanette are back!!!!!"

The kids were all talking about a concert at their school Tuesday morning. When I told Leidy that we would come, she was bouncing with excitement, and when I told her that we would bring her grandma, Concepción, too, if she wanted to come, they were both very excited. She asked if we could also bring her cousin, and we agreed.

We also lined up our English lessons/homework help sessions for Tuesday and Friday afternoons.

So, Tuesday morning we met Concepción and her niece at church and drove to the school. Concepción quietly handed me a bracelet made of tiny shells and green beads. I asked if she had made it and she said "si." I was very touched. We were quite early as Leidy had told us it started at 10:00 when actually it was 10:30. The kids were all on recess break, so they came over to sit with us on the benches outside the school office. Two more moms arrived - Carlos and Karla's mom, Suyapa, and Cruz, mother of Hilda, Greicy, Geicy. Smiley Patty, Leidy's birthmother, also appeared with Leidy's half-sister, Iris. I think we deserved the "show of support" honor for most attendees.

The school has a new music teacher, Ms. Deb, who is a retired music teacher who moved to the island several years ago. She started giving music lessons to disadvantaged boys, teaching drum lessons, and founded a steel drum band. I was very pleased to see that she is now teaching music to our kids! She started the concert right on the dot, too, not on island time. And boy! did she ever coax the music out of those kids! They all sang out, nice and loud. She said later that the trick is to get them to sing and not shout! All the songs were in English and were used as an addition to the English lessons. They loved all the motions she taught them and were very animated, especially during Crocodile Rock! Greicy and another girl are learning to play the recorder, two of the nine who had originally signed up for the class. They performed one number. I shot some video during the performances to show them later. We were very impressed with the entire concert. Afterwards, we were served cake and punch, then school was dismissed for the day. We gave rides back to church to as many as we could pack into our car.

After a quick lunch, Don and I went up to church for the tutoring session. Not all the kids came, but most did. We had a short English lesson. No one needed help with homework, so I brought out my laptop and let them watch the videos I had taken that morning. They were thrilled, laughing and pointing and singing along!! Such fun!

The kids usually play soccer in the church courtyard after lessons, but work has begun on the new church addition in the courtyard. They won't have much play area left. They wanted to play so badly, but the men were mixing (by hand) concrete and forming a foundation, so I wouldn't let them. They would have kicked a ball right into their midst for sure! Then the wanted to play on the very wide porch behind the classroom, but after they hit me the second time with the ball, I sent them home. I know, party-pooper!

Susan had left worksheets for us to use for the English lessons and also instructions on hooking a laptop up to the projector for the reading lesson. I had the laptop but no internet connection.

Friday afternoon we met again with fewer kids. I didn't realize that the kids were out of school that day. How many American kids do you think would show up for tutoring and English lessons on their day off? Exactly. We had six of the eleven kids. We were running late due to all the car and phone problems, so we had no extra time to try to set up for the reading lesson. We'll try that next week.

Welcome Home!

We're back and it's time to resume the blog about our experiences here. Today's blog is not meant to be a rant about how rough it is here nor a whining session; you all know that we love it here. There are sacrifices to be made when living in a third world country, and on an island to boot. This is intended to catch you up on what has been happening with us.

We returned to the island one week ago and, as usual, we were beset with a number of small inconveniences and annoyances including: no internet, no working phones, cooling fans in car not working, deck ceiling fans not working, certain lights not working, one toilet not refilling, the other  leaking. It was hot and very humid...that always takes a bit of getting used to after a long absence.  On the plus side, we returned to a very nicely cleaned deck and house, with all the deck furniture out, clean sheets on the bed, and the refrigerator cooling, thanks to our church friend, Maria and her children. And, our friend, Bob Cowan, met us at the airport and graciously took the time to let us grocery shop for some essentials on the way home.

Our car was parked in its usual spot and a neighbor who had the key was not home. We did find our spare key and Don was delighted when the car started right up. The young woman who has borrowed our car for the past 3 years when we've been off island, left to return to the mainland of Honduras 4-6 weeks ago, and the car has just been sitting.

Don took down the hurricane shutters from the windows that face out onto the deck, allowing us to open the windows and draw some fresh air through the house. It was very hot inside. We managed to unpack and put away in record time, shower, and head down to a favorite beach restaurant for an early dinner (we had had no lunch). We were in bed pretty early, sleeping with the a/c running (a rare event).

We had hoped that our internet provider, Hughes Net, would have restored our service, after all, I did exchange 3 emails with them during the week before our arrival. No such luck, and not at all surprising.   They had asked me to call them when we returned and they would have a "technician call back and walk us through it." Really? When I know that you can, and you have in the past, simply flipped a switch or something on your end, and "zap", it's back on? But they didn't, so we would have to call them...once we had working phones.

Here's the saga of the phones:
Monday - took our phones to the Claro store in French Harbor to "register" them, something new the country started requiring just as we were leaving in the spring. This meant we both needed to produce our ID, get new SIM cards in our phones which gave us new phone numbers, and we lost all the contacts we previously had in our phones. The Claro people were not able to remove my old SIM card and told me to either pry it out with a knife or try heating it up with a hair dryer and then prying it out! Don also got his internet modem stick recharged since we still had no Hughes Net satellite internet. At home, we found that the modem stick worked well, I was able to use a hair dryer to heat the glue holding my old SIM card, remove it and replace it with the new card. I was also able to load minutes onto my phone, but could not with Don's because the phone cards we had just bought were "invalid numbers"!! Whaaaat???!!! Well, at least we had one phone, right?

I sent Hughes Net another email, telling them that we were back on the island and would certainly appreciate it if they would reactivate our service and gave them our new phone number.  The next afternoon, when we came home after tutoring, Hughes Net was back on. Ta da!! Progress.

Friday - back to French Harbor with the "invalid" cards and our phones. Don accidently left his phone in the car that we had just dropped off to have repaired. Oops. We were told that one "invalid" card was actually still valid, and I asked them to add those minutes to my phone (just to make sure it really was valid).  The other card was not and was replaced with a new number to enter into Don's phone later. We stopped on the way home (in our rental car) and retrieved Don's phone. I was able to load his minutes. So far, so good. Later that afternoon, I pulled out my phone to make a call and the screen displayed "no service." Whaaaat?????!!!!! Good grief.

Saturday - back to French Harbor (which is about 12 miles away) with my phone still displaying "no service." I get the same employee who helped me yesterday. She checks it over, pulls out the battery and SIM, puts them back in and says that I have service and lots of minutes. Problem solved.
We went next door to check out a new department store, Lady Lee, and were pretty impressed with their selection of appliances, housewares, toys, linens and Christmas decorations.

As we got into the car to leave, I decided to check my phone one last time service!!! Back into the Claro store where I was immediately told that they could do nothing more, I would need to buy a new phone. Ok. I had exactly one phone to choose from, which simplified the process; it cost about $25. I could pull my SIM card out of my old phone and put it in the new phone, but I would invalidate the warranty, otherwise, I would lose all the minutes in my account. I wasn't too worried about losing the warranty on a $25. phone, but I didn't want to lose all those minutes.

On the way home, I pulled out the new phone. It certainly is a feature-packed, complicated little device with a QWERTY keyboard and all instructions in Spanish. I had to type the instructions into the Google translator to understand much of it. It has a camera, an FM radio, various texting options, internet capability, music, voice mail????? No, apparently not. It was also not easy to make a phone call or add a phone number. I had to play with it for quite awhile before I was able to switch from the letter keyboard to the numbers. Mercy. I just wanted a simple phone. Oh well, at least it works!

Stay tuned for adventures with the kids....