Sunday, August 31, 2014

Queens and horse-riding competitions

I am the type of person that savors solitude but also enjoys being active, especially in projects of service and in facilitation of learning. I also just enjoy being around people, especially kids.

Thus there are some experiences here in Honduras that are somewhat hard for me. They stretch me, partly because they are very closely related to parts of the culture that I don’t understand – and at times don’t appreciate.

Last Thursday was the feast of Saint Augustine and so I went to San Agustín for their Mass. The church was full and it was good to see people I know. I also found the shrine to Saint Augustine delightful - the statue was placed in front of an image of the church.

After Mass there was a special event including the crowning of the queen for the festival. There was a stage and a mesa principal ­– the table of honor. I thought I had escaped being called to sit there – but at the last minute I was called up. I was first seated right in front of the speaker, but someone noticing my distress (I had a headache already) moved me to the other side of the table. So there I was in front of the crowd.

Some children were dressed up in dresses and suits – last year’s queen and her cortege and this year’s, together with two little guys with wooden machetes who served as the guards of honor at the edge of the stage.

In the course of the events, the queen was crowned, with her attendant at her side – both little kids. I don’t quite get this.

The town’s Catholic folk dance group, El Quetzal, performed a few dances, which was a delight.

After the events, there was a lunch for me and Padre German.

But one event at Mass, though uncomfortable, was really a sign of what faith can be.

There's a mentally unstable woman in San Agustín who occasionally comes to the church and will loudly pray, very loudly - even in the midst of Mass. During Mass, Padre German spoke directly to her and even hugged here, before the congregation. He asked her to be quiet during the rest of the Mass which she was. 

She did get onto the stage during the events after Mass but was gently escorted off. 

The lack of social services for the mentally disturbed doesn't prevent them from being loved and treated with a degree of respect. 

Yesterday, the coffee cooperative in EL Zapote de Santa Rosa had a fundraising event – a Carrera de Cintas: a horse riding event in which the rider try to grab a ring with a pencil-like wooden stick.

The “rings” on the rope across the road

Inspecting the rings

Some of the riders

Each time a rider got a ring he was awarded a kerchief by one of the “queens” – who just happened to be some of the young women in the Maestro de Casa middle school on El Zapote. 

After affixing the kerchief around the neck of the winner, there would often be a kiss on the cheek.

One guy was particularly gallant – as he knelt to receive the kerchief.

A friend told me that previously the women had embroidered sashes for the winners and would place these over their shoulders.

The competition started about noon, though it was supposed to start at 10 am. Delays of people coming from San Agustín and other distant places, plus a shower, put off the starting time. It ended at about 4 pm, delayed for about 15 minutes because of a heavy downpour.

Riding to catch a ring in the rain
But they finished up in the rain and the three winners were given the prizes, which included horse vitamins.

The winner
There were a few things that were a little uncomfortable – the young women as awarding prizes together with a kiss was one. The other was seeing two of the riders with pistols – one stuck in the back of his pants.

But I felt very pleased to see that the coffee cooperative had taken the initiative to raise funds for their work, not just relying on help from outside.

Over all, I was glad to be at both events. They will recognize me and those who know me will see that I took the time to be with them. I hope I hid my discomfort or that they just thought that’s the way the crazy gringo is.

More photos of the San Agustín celebration can be found here.
More photos of the carrera de cintas can be found here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Busy weeks

Even though I haven’t written much this month about my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy.

About 108 catechists attended one of the four catechists workshops we had in the four different zones of the parish. They shared what they were doing in their villages – with limited resources and, often, with not enough catechists.

Catechists' training
I knew that there were three groups of young people meeting. There are about three others in the works – and perhaps we’ll be able to help other communities work toward more youth groups.

However, we are trying to avoid the idea of mere “youth groups.” The idea is that the young people would form their own base communities of young people, with youth leadership. I have suggested that we have a few training sessions for four young leaders from each community where there is interest and some organization. What is critical in my mind is that we have young people as the leaders. The catechists and delegates of the Word should accompany and assist the youth – but not be the ones responsibility for the group.

Padre German has asked me to see what we can do toward this – finding or preparing materials, finding people to help us with training sessions. I’ll be busy.

I’ve also attended the parish council meeting as well as the meetings of the councils in two zones.

I’ve also been monitoring the work on the house in Plan Grande. The roof should be on in a few days.

One beam for the roof in place.
 I also attended the meeting of the small coffee farmers cooperative in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. They chose a name “Cooperativa Café Hacia El Futuro” – Cooperative Coffee toward the future. They prepared a list of needs and I am assisting them in looking at places where they might find help.

Four members of the cafe producers' coop
I also had to take a trip to Tegucigalpa – about 5 hours away in car – to get a new residence card. Though I have a permit fro five years of residency (ending in 2017) I have to get a new card each year.

I dreaded the trip. I don’t like Tegucigalpa; there are often long waits in the migration office; and its two to four days away.

I decided to drive, but to cut off one hour by staying Monday night in Gracias with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters.

I arrived at the Migration Office about noon. I got my form, paid my fee (about $20), and went back to wait to be seen by a migration worker. I waited a few minutes and a very friendly woman saw me, took my fingerprints and photo. she told me that I would have the card at 1:30 pm, that day. I was amazed.

Of course, it didn’t arrive at 1:30 – but at about 1:50. That’s the shortest time I’ve ever spent there – less than two hours.

I then decided to get out of Tegucigalpa and head home – figuring I’d have to stay the night some where between Siguatepeque and Gracias.

But I got lost in Tegucigalpa – which is a confusing city. I thought I knew the way out – follow CA5 north. However, the roads are not well marked and the map I had was very poor. So I wandered, lost, in Teguz for about an hour. I asked at six gasoline stations and got directions, but I was confused.

Finally I made it out of Teguz and stayed the night in Siguatepeque. 

The trip back was rewarded by some amazing views in the Jesús de Otoro valley.

Rice field near Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá, Honduras
The next two weeks are not as busy as the previous ones, though I’ll visit a number of communities and take video’s of the cooperative’s fundraiser on August 30 – a horse race. José wants me to put the videos on the internet!

September, though, should be busy.

Padre German has asked me to work with the catechists and the liturgical ministry in each place where we will have confirmations – all seven of them.

There is also a meeting of the delegates of the word, where I’ll help in the formation.

I will also try to connect with some of the youth group leaders as well as try to find good material for youth – as well as for First Communion.

And I’ll have to monitor the building project as it winds down.

In all this, I continue to feel as if this is where God wants me to continue my ministry – and living out in the countryside will help.

Monday, August 11, 2014

More on the children and adolescent migrants in the US

Yesterday I read an interesting blog entry on the “surge” of Central American child and adolescent migrants in the US by a young man working and living in La Ceiba. Read it here

Mateo has first hand experience of the life of the poor there, especially the young, and provides an interesting perspective.

He notes that much of the commentary from the US concentrates on the high levels of violence in Honduras as the “push” for the migration. However, his experience and mine (albeit limited to a barrio in La Ceiba in his case and to a rural area in my case) is that many young men (14 and up) leave mostly seeking for a better life. They experience life here – in their barrios (urban neighborhoods) or aldeas (rural villages) – as a dead end.

Yes, there is major violence in Honduras, especially in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. This does push many to leave and seek refuge abroad. They are truly refugees from violence, compounded by poverty.

But there are other causes.

One thing Mateo noted is that there are many families with one or both parents in the United States. Is it a wonder that children seek to connect with their parents, especially as economic and social conditions deteriorate in Honduras? As the numbers of adult migrants has increased, is it not understandable that many young people seek to connect with relatives who seem to have achieved a better life in the US?

The causes are many and complicated. Mike, on Central American Politics blog, summarizes an article on the complexity which has a fascinating graphic. Read it here

Yet as I reflected this morning on the situation I wondered whether reducing the causes to violence may be a way of avoiding a careful analysis of a crisis that is rooted in injustice and oppression, in injustice in which the US is complicit.

The US has been involved in Honduras economically and militarily for many years, going back to the banana companies and US military invasions in the last century and a half. It has included the establishment of a military base here in the 1980s (which now is claimed to belong to the Hondurans, though about 500 US troops are there and other troops arrive throughout the year). It has included aid to governments with very questionable human rights records. It includes aid which militarizes the police.

I also am concerned that reduction of the causes to violence deflects any consideration of the roots of the crisis in the policies and politics in Honduras where the police and justice systems are dysfunctional, to put it mildly. Calls by the president of Honduras for more aid to Honduras may hide the need for real reform of the political and economic systems of a country with one of the greatest indices of economic inequality in Latin America.

Furthermore, the emphasis on the violence of gangs and drug traffickers obscure the violence of daily life and the lack of a functional justice system, which I addressed a few months ago in a blog entry, available here.

Yes, the immigrants are fleeing violence, but they are also fleeing poverty. They are fleeing situations of injustice, of structural injustice that can only be dealt with by real changes in US and Honduran policies, not just about migrants but also about such issues as free trade, human rights, militarization, and more.

In the meantime, young people will leave, seeking a better life.

And so I will continue to try to dissuade them and work to find ways for them to live decent and full lives here.

I want these elementary school kids in Plan Grande in the photo below to grow up to a life which is full of love, in a community in which they can develop and use their God-given gifts to serve and build up a real community of solidarity and justice.

--- Slightly edited on August 12, 2014.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Signs of hope in the youth

Sunday afternoon I went to the village of Yaruconte to meet with the young people.

I had met some of them at the meeting they had with the youth of El Limon. I told them I’d drop by. I wanted to get them to share what they’d like to discuss in their meetings

I got to the church and found a good number of them waiting. I talked to two of the leaders, Kevin and Edin, and told them what I planned to do. They also expected me to do something.

When I was in El Limon, Kevin and I had talked and one issue was the problem o relations between young men and women and early pregnancies. He wanted me to do something about the issue of relations between young woman and men.

I hadn’t planned on this and wasn’t ready. I first told him that this was a bigger issue and I’d only do something to introduce this.

Well, God inspired me. That’s the only way I can explain what we did.

I divided them into young men and young women on different sides of the church.

My first surprise was that there was almost an equal number of guys and young women – about 15 of each. So often the guys just stand at the back door of the church and listen from afar – but here there were many young guys.

I asked the women to make a list of qualities of a good young woman. I then asked the guys to make a list of the qualities they’d expect of a good young woman.

After they had done this for about 10 minutes, I asked the guys to list the qualities of a good young man; the women had to list what they expected from good young men.

The sharing went really well with a general agreement on most points. But when I opened it up people began to speak their mind – especially a few young women and men. There was disagreement and some challenging of stereotypes. It became heated but respectful.

What I found most encouraging was their openness as well as their respectfulness. They could disagree without getting all that defensive. They could challenge each other without attacking the other person.

I plan to write up the activity so that other communities of young people can use it. But I think it will only work if there is already a sense of trust in the community.

I’ll get back to Yaruconte later this year.

But our dream now is to form youth leaders from each community so that they can work with their peers.

Today left me very hopeful.