Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A glimpse of daily life

Today I spent all day in Plan Grande, working on various projects – and trying to get warm. But I stopped out in mid-morning to get some air and to see what was happening in the village.

I had heard a nearby mill that pressed sugar cane to extract the juice. I went to see if Isaías was processing sugar cane. He was there, working over the container that is use to boil the sugar cane juice to produce the raw sugar that he’ll sell later this week. We talked a bit and I warmed myself by the boiling cane juice.

I went back later and took this picture of the house where I live.

A few weeks ago I was in Dulce Nombre and stopped at the house of Isaías’ sister. His brother-in-law was working with some other men in his yard making horseshoes, one of Dulce Nombre’s major products.

I also see people involved in the coffee harvest. Up the road the mayor's sons are often processing the coffee beside their house. These days I’m also encountering a lot of people going or coming from the coffee harvest. Sometimes it’s a small group but at times there are a hundred or so people (including kids) crammed into a truck.

One of the joys of now living in the countryside is seeing the daily life of the people and accompanying them.

I think they also find it interesting to see this crazy gringo.

Today while making a salad a few guys who were waiting for pre-baptismal talks in the church meeting hall next door watched as I cut up the vegetables.

At times this can be challenging, especially when kids make a game of peering into windows on all sides of the house. Sunday night I was a little upset and was a little harsh with two kids, asking them not to be always peering into the house. About an hour later they arrived with eight plantains. I don’t know if it was a peace offering or what, but that’s part of living here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A death in Plan Grande

Last night I woke up at 4 am and heard some people talking nearby. I had no idea what was happening and so went back to sleep. I had planned on sleeping in.

I got up at about 6:30 am and noticed a group of men gathered at the corner near the school. I saw Juan, a neighbor who lives below my house, and asked him what had happened. He told me to come.

I went and found out that his mother had died last night and that they had an all night vigil in the main room of his house – as is the custom here.

Gloria had not seen lights on in my house and had decided not to call me, thinking I was tired. I was – but that wouldn’t have stopped me from stopping by for at least an hour. I told her to contact me whenever there is a death.

I prayed a bit at the coffin and spoke briefly with some family members.

Padre German came out for Mass about noon.

The Mass was in the old church, which is now used for meetings. The new church is being repainted (for the February 3 feast day) and so they couldn’t use it.

The church was packed.

Mass was moving. Padre German gave a very pointed homily. One point he stressed, probably noting the profound grief of some family members, was the importance of asking for help. He mentioned that Doña Victoria won’t get to the cemetery by herself; four men will carry her coffin.

There was much more that he shared, including words of hope based on our need to rely on the Lord.

But one of the most moving moments happened during the Greeting of Peace.

The widower is a bent-over man in his eighties; I don’t think he hears very well; I also thought that he was very withdrawn.

But he left his place and began to greet others. Then he stood by the casket.

Here the caskets usually have a window where one can see the face of the departed.

He stood there and gazed at his beloved.

As Padre was about to begin the rites at the coffin, he invited the widower forward and noted the beauty of the old man’s gesture.

I was near tears – such deep love.

The Mass ended and many went, walking or in pick ups to the funeral. I decided not to go – partly because I’ve got a little cold, partly because I need some personal space.

But as I walked by the new church toward my house in the rain, I noticed the small area of light in the distance.

Creation provided a sign of hope – reflecting the love of an old man for his wife.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Workshop on liturgy

Friday and Saturday the parish had a workshop on liturgy for one of the zones of the parish, a zone which includes the town of Dulce Nombre.

The turnout was disappointing. Padre German asked each village to send five persons or more. If all had sent that many, we would have had 50 participants. We had 13. But we did have a number of young people from Dulce Nombre.

The workshop was mostly an attempt to help those people in liturgical ministry in their villages to understand the Mass.

I worked with three parishioners to plan the workshop and we shared responsibilities in explaining the parts of the Mass.

But I designed the workshop in a way that there would be a lot of participation and learning by playing.

One activity I have used several times and that we used is a sort of jigsaw puzzle. I put the parts of the Mass on pieces of paper and had the participants in groups arrange them in order. It was interesting to watch them work on this.

Reflecting on this afterwards, it was noted that it was easier to put the parts of the Liturgy of the Word in order – since they are accustomed to Celebrations of the Word in their villages. Now most villages have Mass every two months but in the past Mass was sometimes celebrated only once or twice a year.

I also taught the participants the Taizé chant “Nada Te Turbe.” I thought of this Friday morning when I saw a sign outside Padre German’s office with the last words of the hymn “Solo Dios Basta” – Only God is enough. They learned it fairly easily.

One part of the workshop was preparing the Saturday morning Mass. We read the readings together and then I had them gather in groups to choose music, write prayers of the faithful, prepare commentaries, and select readers. 

We had just started when word arrived that a woman had died in Dulce Nombre and the family wanted a funeral Mass before the burial. Fortunately the time was about the time we had chosen – 7:00 AM.

So the groups started over again to choose the Funeral Mass readings and hymns.

With a little gentle persuasion from me, they decided to sing “Nada Te Tube” for Communion and we practiced it.

The next morning the Mass started an hour late and so everyone was a little hungry.

We sang “Nada Te Turbe” a capella during Communion. It was a moving experience to hear all of us singing the words of the Spanish mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila.
Nada te turbe,
nada te espante,
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta.
 Nada te turbe
nada te espante
Solo Dios basta.
Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing.
 Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you.
God alone is enough.
It was a good workshop – even if we were few.

Friday, January 23, 2015

At home

I’ve now lived in Plan Grande, Concepción, Copán, for more than a month.

It’s been a good month and I’m feeling very much at home.

I’m also feeling more a part of the community.

I’ve had kids stop by the house and peer in the kitchen window as I prepared supper. I’ve had folks stop by and drop off oranges, mandarins, eggs, and pataste. I’ve joined folks in going to the nearby village of Torrera to help the village get its pastoral work started. I’ve been asked to share reflections at the New Year’s eve vigil and a Sunday celebration. I’ve dropped by the religious education meetings and the youth group that meet in the old church which stands beside my house. I’ve stood around and just talked with people. I’ve taken a trip to Dulce Nombre to get a ladder that was needed to re-paint the church. Since the church is being re-painted I was asked to house the Eucharist in the little chapel in the house.

The house has also been a good place for me personally.

I find myself able to concentrate. I spent hours one day working on the scholarships that St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames is offering to students in an alternative education program. I also have been able to spend hours working on the liturgy workshop which a group of us are facilitating today for one of the zones of the parish.

Being here has also enabled me to be more easily involved in the parish.

I’ve accompanied Padre German several times for Masses in various places in the parish. One Saturday I was able to get to four places to check on the scholarship requests; before it would not have been possible to get around so easily.

Life has its great joys here. The view is absolutely incredible – a real gift of God. There is lots of peace and tranquility, disturbed once in a while by about 15 minutes of loud music in the morning as a young guy prepares to go to work and disturbed more often by the sound of a neighbor’s coffee de-pulping machine or another neighbor’s sugar mill. But those are the sounds of real life.

I’ve had a few visitors from outside – three Dubuque Franciscan Sisters who live in Gracias, Lempira, and an associate came one day and I prepared them lunch. Last Sunday Padre German had Mass here in Plan Grande. He came for lunch with his brother and two young women who are with a group that provides Catholic literature.

I think I’m also eating a bit better, partly because I have to plan.

It’s a blessing to be here, even if I have to figure out how to deal with the pesky little field mouse which I see running around here once in a while.

But now I’m off to the two day liturgy workshop.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A deportee

Saturday after the Parish Council meeting and a meeting to prepare a workshop on the liturgy, I decided to take a quick trip from Dulce Nombre into Santa Rosa to make a few purchases.

As I was leaving town I saw a young man I know. I offered him a ride and we had an amazing talk.

At one point he told me that he had gone to the US last year, was caught by the Migra, held two months (June and July) in prison and then deported to Honduras.

He was very open and so I proceeded to ask him a lot of questions and got his permission to share his story, anonymously on this blog.

He is in his late twenties and has a high school degree in business administration. In the past he was involved a bit in the church. He had been unemployed for about a year and decided to go to the United States to seek employment.

When he got into Mexico, he realized the difficulty of the journey. A relative in the US offered to pay for a coyote who would lead him  (with others) through Mexico. It cost three thousand dollars to get from southern Mexico to its northern border in with the US. It would have cost another two thousand to get to Houston.

He talked of sleeping with lots of people on thin mattresses on the floor and noted that he was often hungry during the trip.

But when he got over the border, he was picked up by US immigration authorities. He was first held in detention where there was little food. Then he spent two months in a prison before he was deported to Honduras.

I asked him why so many had tried to get to the US. He mentioned almost everyone had left Honduras or El Salvador because of the economic situation. There were a few who left because they had committed a crime in their home country. Only two Salvadorans said they had left to avoid the gangs.

I was surprised and pressed him. But he insisted.

He was in a detention jail with other adults. The situation with migrants who are minors may be very different.

It is, however, important to realize that poverty plays a critical role in the migrant crisis. 

The US is, according to reports I have read, planning to provide major funding to the Honduran government - partly to generate jobs, partly to help prevent migrants from leaving. This is in addition to the US funding related to the "drug war" which provides funding for the military and the police.

But I do not believe that that is where the real changes need to be made.

Until serious efforts are made to deal with the structural poverty in Honduras the US can expect the wave of migrants to continue. More on the structures of injustice here some other day.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Identifying enslavement in Honduras

This Saturday the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán had an event to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

The theme of this year’s World Day of Peace is “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters.”

For Pope Francis, “Today, as in the past, slavery is rooted in a notion of the human person which allows him or her to be treated as an object.”

Pope Francis writes about the many forms of slavery one can encounter in our current world, where “millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery.”

He includes:

the many men and women laborers, including minors, subjugated in different sectors, whether formally or informally, in domestic or agricultural workplaces, or in the manufacturing or mining industry; whether in countries where labor regulations fail to comply with international norms and minimum standards, or, equally illegally, in countries which lack legal protection for workers’ rights.

many migrants who, in their dramatic odyssey, experience hunger, are deprived of freedom, robbed of their possessions, or undergo physical and sexual abuse.

persons forced into prostitution, many of whom are minors, as well as male and female sex slaves.

all those persons, minors and adults alike, who are made objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics, or for disguised forms of cross-border adoption.

all those kidnapped and held captive by terrorist groups...  

A Spanish missionary priest from the diocese of Comayagua gave a 45 minute talk on the pope’s document. There was a short period to discuss in parish groups where we find slavery in our parishes and how we might respond. Then we marched to the cathedral for a Mass.

To be totally honest, I was not inspired by the talk or the Mass, but I found the discussion intriguing, though disturbing.

Many people identified vices, technology, and fear as types of slavery. This may be all well and good but I don’t think this is central to what Pope Francis is discussing. These, as I see them, as examples of personal enslavement, the way we let ourselves become slaves to things outside us.

The bishop himself talked about the slavery that one might find in the way a husband treats a spouse. I think this is more what I would call relational enslavement. A person exerts control (often including violence) to make the other do what he or she wants.

This is closer to what the pope is discussing, but I think it misses a central point of the pope’s concern.

I think we ought to consider what I’d call structural enslavement. In these cases, structures of society might promote or allow persons to be treated as objects in a systematic way, not totally dependent of the will of the persons involved as enslavers.

In our group, one person (who works with the Catholic radio station) identified mass media as a type of enslavement. I think he is on to something since mass media often has a monopoly on the dissemination and interpretation of events.

Padre German identified the way that political institutions here in Honduras promote a type of enslavement, by handing out goods and making people dependent on them. This, of course, is seen blatantly in corruption where people and their votes are bought, but there are more subtle manifestations. Government institutions and some non-governmental charities may work in such a way as to encourage dependence, not promoting ways for people to be self-sustaining.

The way that vengeance leads to killings might also be a manifestation of enslavement because people see no other way to deal with conflict or with unresolved crimes and killings. I need to think about this a bit and see if there are structures – as well as customs – lead enslave people to vengeance and vengeance killings.

There are other social, economic, and workplace structures that also promote what might be identified as enslavement.

But I dared to ask whether there might be some aspects of the current coffee harvest that promote a type of enslavement.

One which seems rather obvious to me is the way that the intermediary coffee buyers work. They are often the ones who provide loans (at high interest rates) and then they buy the coffee. The lack of systems that allow and encourage the direct sale of coffee to the processors and exporters leads to a monopoly held by the intermediaries (sometimes called coyotes); the small farmers have no alternative.

I would note, however, that efforts like the one I mentioned in the previous post are small attempts to break the monopoly of the intermediaries.

I didn’t mention the concentration of land in the hands of a few large coffee growers. This, I think, can contribute to types of enslavement.

But I did mention that I have serious concerns about the coffee pickers who work on the larger coffee fields. I was especially critical of the children, sometimes under 5 years of age, who are out in the fields picking coffee in the fields of the grand coffee growers. (I started to write “coffee barons” but decided to be a little less provocative.) I can understand children working on the small coffee farms of their families but I wonder about those working on others’ lands.

I stirred up a hornet’s nest. One person insisted that it’s an opportunity to gain money and that the kids enjoy it. I really can’t dispute this, partly because I’ve seen and talked to some returning from a day of coffee picking.

But I don’t think that makes it right and just. Some may consider it needed, but that doesn’t absolve the system of the charge of enslavement.

Interesting, Padre German noted that “slavery is a situation in which the possibilities are closed.”

The person insisted that the coffee harvest offered “opportunities.” I rushed into the fray in our small group and mentioned, provocatively, that prostitution also offers possibilities.

Looking back, I guess I could have mentioned working in real sweat shops are also opportunities but are, in some cases, manifestations of slavery, especially when women are forced to take contraceptives and bathroom breaks are rationed.

But I think this points to one of the major difficulties I find here.

I find people are all too willing to lay the blame on personal behavior. They are also sometimes blatantly critical of political and economic institutions. But there seems to be a lack of critical analysis, especially in terms of structural issues.

We have our work cut out for us.