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On the Road to El Rodeo

December 15, 2011

Yup, still catching up from Honduras mission. Thanks for your patience. Enjoy.

Monday morning was our first chance to head out to the villages we would be working with during the week. Our team loaded up the two vehicles and drove about an hour and twenty minutes, through the dusty roads, past several farms, and finally up into the side of the mountains. Our road wound deep into the middle of nowhere, overlooking glorious valleys and streams and nestled in the greenery of the mountains. 

Welcome sign as we entered the village.

 

Immediately upon arriving we saw a handmade sign, welcoming our group from Snellville. Then we saw most of the village milling about in the road, and all of the children assembled outside the schoolroom. When I say room, I’m not exaggerating. The school for this entire village consists of one room, made of brick, bars instead of windows, and wooden benches and desks inside. What immediately surprised me was that the children were all in uniform, and there were hardly any girls. A simple white, short sleeved, button up shirt and a pair of blue pants or skirts adorned each child. I have no idea how they acquired or afforded these uniforms, but I imagine it gave the children a sense of pride to wear them. Upon closer look, the girls were all hiding in the back, peeking out of the door of the school, while the boys lined up in front and were ready for whatever presentation they were about to make.

School children ready to greet us.

Dan and Marta expressing our thanks to the village.

 

As our Snellville group lined up in front of the school, the community showered us with warm welcomes and the school children clapped and sang fast and uplifting songs. The leader, with Marta’s help for translation, gave us words of introduction and welcome. When it was our turn to reciprocate, we panicked a bit from being put on the spot. The first song we could think of that everyone knew and seemed appropriate was “Jesus Loves Me.” So we began, unsteadily, and our version turned out to be so slow it sounded a little like a funeral dirge compared to the joyous pieces the children had just lead. Nevertheless, we made it through and vowed internally to choose a livelier song the next time we were commanded to sing. Our team leader, Dan, gave his thanks and introductions, and then it was time to get to work.

On mission trips like this I have become accustomed to our group all working together, or being split into two groups max…one for teaching VBS, another for working construction. But due to the nature of our project for the week, starting and finishing eight latrines, our group was split into five groups. Cathy and the schoolteacher stayed at the school to begin teaching the children. Scott and Nerissa headed off to the first house, Dan and Dana went off to sift some sand at the next, Ira, Dave and Genesis walked up the hill to their house, and Kinsey and I stepped across the road to where we would be working. 

Setting the first row of bricks in the latrine.

Kinsey and I started getting to know our family and trying to learn how we could help. The hole for the latrine, about 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet deep, had already been dug, and was filled with water, presumably from rain. We met Roman, a tall young man about the same age as Kinsey and me, who seemed to be the leader of this crew. He actually spoke some English pretty well and we learned he had studied in the States. Roman helped Kinsey and me get started making our first batch of cement. This consisted of scooping giant shovelfuls of sifted sand until a big enough pile was formed, then breaking open a bag of concrete mix and mixing the two together by turning the pile over, back and forth. Immediately you felt the sun beating down on your back and the sweat dripping down your face. Muscles you weren’t aware of having began to scream after a few short minutes as you bent over again to turn another shovelful. After all was mixed well, you scooped out a hole in the middle of the pile and added water…making it look like a volcano. Then you grabbed your shovels and mixed again, turning the pile over and back, adding water as needed, until you had a deliciously sloppy pile of prepared cement. If you thought cement was heavy when it’s dry, just wait until you add water. This, it turns out, would be our main job for the next several days.

Roman helping make the first cement volcano of the week.

 

When it comes to a mission trip, I’m the kind of person that wants you to show me how to do something, and then step back and let me at it. I imagined that with eight latrines to build, they would show us how to lay the brick (a skill I feel I mastered building a house last year in Nicaragua), give us the supplies, and let us get to work. But little did I know, we would mostly be watching. The thing that I like about Honduras Outreach is that they insist on helping villages that are willing to help themselves. So we never saw anyone lazing about expecting the Americans to do the work for them (though we were willing). It seemed all they needed were the supplies of the bricks, cement, and a few tools, and they were ready to take action. And since the latrine was only so big, it seemed a maximum of two people could fit down inside it…one to lie bricks, the other to fill in the gaps with cement. The rest of the family and several random children from the village stood around the top of the hole watching the progress with intense curiosity.

Getting to know the family and watching the guys' progress.

Fernanda was shy at first, but soon opened up and played with us all week.

As hard as it was for Kinsey and me to mostly sit around and watch while the family got straight to work, I quickly learned that this what exactly what we needed to do.  It’s one thing to expect that we are going to another country to help a village by building things for them. It’s a different experience entirely to know you will be working with them, side by side. I think the people of the village took pride in knowing how to build and doing for themselves. They were taking ownership of their work and this was probably the best experience we could have given.

While we had some down time between moving bricks and mixing cement, Kinsey and I did our best to get to know the people around our worksite. I was impressed with Kinsey’s Spanish speaking skills and how well she was able to communicate, and I jumped in the best that I could. Throughout the day we would take short breaks to go and check on the other teams at their respective sites, and going to play with the children during their recess break at school. 

Dana and Dan working hard to sift sand.

Parachute time at recess!

By the end of the day, I finally got a chance to get in the hole and help fill some bricks with cement. It was actually a little intimidating having a large audience of faces looking down at us from above, watching our every move. I could tell some of them were laughing, and I think it was because they were surprised a woman was willing to get down in the latrine and do some dirty work. But I was happy and loved it, so didn’t seem too worried that I may have been breaking the social norms.

Filling in bricks with cement in our first latrine.

At one point Kinsey and I were standing around our latrine site enjoying the gorgeous scenery of the village, and from across the valley at another house, we heard the familiar voice of Dave ring out loud and clear, “I don’t know what you said, but I like it!” He was clearly enjoying a conversation with his family and having trouble interpreting their Spanish, but you could hear the love in his voice nonetheless. Dave’s enthusiasm was infectious and he made everyone feel welcome just by his smile and warm attitude. Kinsey and I laughed, because this had become one of Dave’s catch phrases for the week, and we seemed to realize the same thing…we may not understand everything our new friends were saying, but we were falling in love with them nonetheless, and enjoying every minute of being in their presence.

I had felt a little apprehension leading up to this trip and this particular first day in the village. I have had such incredible experiences on every mission trip previously, I was worried I might have too high of expectations for this one. Surely not every mission trip can give you that natural high; that heightened sense of simple joy and overabundant love for the people you connect with. Yet somehow, no matter where I am or whom I am with, I tend to experience it; that “mission high”. All of my worldly cares and stresses seem to melt away. My priorities seem to be realigned. Despite the heavy lifting or difficult work we may be doing, I seem to have endless energy as long as we’re at the work site. And the people that we have known only a few hours or days and have limited conversation with, suddenly become the most precious people you think you may ever meet.

It’s hard to explain. You want so badly to open up to them because they have welcomed you with such hospitality, showing off their humble homes, sharing freshly picked fruit straight from their gardens, and trusting you to hug and play with their children. Yet you know that as soon as you fully embrace them and make that personal human connection, the week will be over and you will have to say goodbye. I both feared and longed for that feeling of heartbreak I knew would come at the end of the week. Feared because of the pain it would cause, knowing we had to go home and leave this family and this simple lifestyle behind, and longed for because I knew it would mean we had made real connections, built relationships, and been truly touched by the people we worked next to each day. This was only day one amongst the people of El Rodeo, and already I could see our entire group being transformed by their love and compassion. I knew it was going to be an incredible and life changing week ahead. 

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