Monday, July 19, 2010

Snow in Honduras?

Last week our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, invited me to accompany him on a visit to the municipality of San Francisco de Opalaca in the department of Lempira. Willing to get to know more of the diocese, I said yes.

Saturday morning we started about 5:45 am from Santa Rosa, stopped and had coffee with the mayor of San Juan, Intibucá, picked up another mayor in Esperanza, Intibucá, and arrived in Monte Verde, in Opalaca about 11 am.

Monte Verde, the county seat of the municipality, is 90 minutes from Esperanza over wretched roads. But the minister of health, 7 mayors and hundreds of local people had arrived for the inauguration of a Maternal and Infant Health Clinic there. At I understand it, the Mancomunidad, an association of municipalities, had worked to get this project. According to a poster above the clinic door, births will be free!

We arrived to encounter a sea of people gathered before a viewing stand where the officials were seated. Monseñor dragged me (almost literally) up to the stage. The program was, well, typical.

There was a skit by some high school kids over the difference between home births with untrained midwives and births in a hospital with trained professionals. (I was a little uncomfortable with the way the master of ceremonies portrayed this – emphasizing the capacities of trained professionals over those “dumb,” unsanitary midwives. More on that some other time.)

The minister of health spoke as well as a woman representing the “Club of Pregnant Women.” After this Monseñor spoke and then went to bless the building.

Before the blessing, Monseñor spoke of the call to defend life – the lives of infants and children and the unborn, as well as the lives of people affected by rampant violence in Honduras. “Violence engenders violence,” he said. But he included a critique of the government. Where’s the government in the face of violence? He asked. We are lacking real government. Before going to bless the clinic he called on the mayors to be responsible leaders – for the good of the people.

This was my first visit to San Francisco Opalaca. The municipality is almost completely indigenous, Lenca. The people have lost their language and there are few remaining customs, except for some traditional clothing worn by women.

As I looked over the crowd in front of the stage, I saw a sea of color – many men with blue, yellow or white shirts and cowboy hats, many women with multicolored hand-woven bandanas on their heads and colorful dresses. The dresses, many of them floral prints with pleated skirts, were fuchsia, green, yellow, and an almost fluorescent blue. Others in white had borders of green or blue or other solid colors.

What a beautiful diversity. But I also know that these are some of the poorest and most marginalized people in Honduras.

After the blessing and a tour of the clinic (where Monseñor blessed the first woman who had given birth there), there was lunch for the dignitaries and others. I ate a bit and then went outside to talk with the people, mostly young people.

We talked about school, about farming, and more. More than once, people inquired about the US, especially its immigration policy. I talked about the need for the US to change its policy but also the importance to develop Honduras so that people don’t feel compelled to go elsewhere to seek to sustain their families. I noted the dangers of the journey north and the precariousness of life in the US for migrants. I mentioned, at least once, the case of a Honduran I recently met who had voluntarily returned from the US because he couldn’t find adequate employment.

After sitting out a tremendous downpour for an hour, Monseñor and I left for San Luís, in the nearby department of Santa Bárbara. We never got there Saturday because when we got to La Trinidad, Santa Bárbara, at about 5:30 pm, we encountered an incredible downpour that continued for more than five hours. At the gas station in town a group of men, including the ex-mayor, were standing around, drinking beer and talked. They invited Monseñor to have a beer and talk with them. They persuaded him to stay the night in Trinidad because travel would be dangerous. There was a danger of landslides and a bus had been robbed that day on the road. One man told me that there was also the problem of “nieve” –snow. I thought he was pulling my leg. Nieve? I asked. “You guys don’t know what nieve is and there’s no snow I know of in Honduras.” It ends us that he was talking about “neblina” – fog. I don’t know if he was just a little drunk or whether he and friends there call fog “nieve.” But I sure got a laugh out of it.

The next morning we left early and went up to the village of San Francisco in the municipality of San Luís – more than an hour on bad roads. But it was a joy to get to the community and participate at a very lively Mass. The community had arranged an exchange of land and buildings – the old church would become the community center and the old community center would be the new church. (In many ways, the church got the best of the deal because the new church is concrete block with reinforced iron rods. But Monseñor promised to help the community get funds to improve the community center.)

We left after lunch and passed by San Luis on the way to the main highway leading from Santa Barbara to La Ciebita where you find the major highway that goes between San Pedro Sula and Santa Rosa de Copán.

Coming down from San Luís, we saw trees and rocks and small landslides on the road. But the worst was yet to come. After we got on the road between Santa Barbara and La Ceibita, we noticed that the river at the side of the road had overflowed it banks and wreaked some destruction. At one point the river, a tributary of the Chamelcon River, had eaten away almost half of the highway. Monseñor noted that he had never seen destruction in this area in his twenty-six years as bishop here.

We got to Santa Rosa about 5:30 pm and I went home to eat, rest, and do some chores.

It was good, as always to visit the countryside and talk with the people there. But what was really helpful was seeing the bishop in his element – visiting with people from the minister of health to humble campesinos. His pastoral concern was, again, evident.


The photos above and others can be found on my photos pages - San Francisco de San Luís, Santa Barabara, and San Francisco Opalaca.


phoenixwoman said...

Births are always free.

It's the getting helping during them that costs.

Great post, Brother John.


RNS said...

Opalaca sounds like an interesting place and part of me is definitely jealous of all the places and people your work takes you too...But mostly I'm amazed that with the weather Honduras has been having you can still get around to some of these places!

I know the area between San Marcos and San Luis because we drove it in the dry season looking for and finding obsidian sources. Obsidian is the black volcanic glass used for cutting tools before the Spanish came, and right around San Luis we foud several places where it could be found in roadcuts and stream beds.

It's a beautiful area but I can't imagine driving those roads in the rainy season.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Actually they are now paving part of the road from San Luis, SB, down to the main road that goes to the road between Trinidad, SB, and the road between San Pedro Sula and Santa Rosa. There were a few minor land slides - but it's amazing what a four wheel drive vehicle and a good driver (not me) can do.