Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Snake Story

I promised yesterday that I would tell about the snake today. It isn't the most interesting of stories, but it has its moments.

Yesterday, Russell was working out at the property where we are building our new ministry buildings. He was working on the bodega/warehouse, when he happened to see this snake. Of course, being Russell, he had to try to catch the snake. He put his foot on the snake, near the head, to hold it down, and then he picked it up very close to the head, so the snake couldn't bite him. His friend Henrri wouldn't touch the snake, but he did get an empty Coke bottle to put him in. Russell later told me that it was hard to thread the snake into the bottle. The snake seemed to know what was going on, and would rapidly pull up into coils whenever it felt its tail going into the bottle. Eventually Russell managed to get him in, however, and brought the snake home in the bottle.

I wasn't able to get a picture of the snake, because we weren't willing to let the snake out of the bottle - we didn't know whether or not the snake was poisonous. It was a brownish-gray snake, about 2 feet long, and, at its widest point, about as thick as my little finger. The head was slightly triangular in shape.

Today, we sent the snake over to the Hayes' house, since I know their son has a great interest in snakes. I'm sure Faith appreciated my generosity. ;-D

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You never know what the day will bring

Today, for instance, brought us a duck. This morning we didn't have a duck, or any intention of acquiring a duck. But now we have one. Here is how it happened.

This morning was the day that the Special Needs families come by the house, to pick up their monthly food package. One of the ladies, while here, told Allen that she was concerned about her house, which she said was falling down.

We don't have funds to repair people's houses, but we thought we'd check it out, and see if any of our supporters would be interested in helping with this. So, Alan Hayes and my Allen headed out to Quelacasque, to see her house. They carried a good many of the ladies home in the truck, and David went along for the ride.

At the house, they found the situation was different than they'd expected. The house sits near the top of a cliff, and apparently the cliff has been eroding away. The house is still about 25' away from the edge, but a huge chunk of hillside fell away earlier this week, shaking the house significantly and thoroughly scaring the inhabitants of the house! The need is not for a repaired house, but really for a different piece of land. I don't know that we are going to be able to be of any help with this, but I suppose we'll see what we can do.

While Allen and Alan surveyed the situation regarding the sliding land, David played near the house, with the animals in the yard. Upon their return, they found that David had been given a duckling. So, they brought it home with them, and we have a duck.

At this moment, the duck is residing in a bathtub. We're going to have to figure out how to house the duck. You may recall we don't have a yard at the moment - the chickens live on the roof, and I suppose the duck will join them. We don't know if it is a boy duck or a girl duck, but its name is Squeaker.

We also acquired a snake today, but that's a different story. Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pila Etiquette

A few weeks ago, I accompanied Allen on a trip into a remote area of Lempira. While out, we were invited to have lunch with a family, after a church service. Before the meal was served, our host offered us the opportunity to wash our hands, which of course we wanted to do. So, we all headed outside, to the pila. I was glad that, over the course of my years in Honduras, I've learned correct pila etiquette.

A pila, for those who may not know, is a large outdoor sink/water storage tub/washboard. Generally these are made out of concrete. My current pila is an upscale model, covered with tile, and without the washboard. This house also has a built-in connection for hooking up cold and hot water to a washing machine, so you can see it was designed for someone who would NOT be scrubbing clothes on a washboard!

For the non-pila users amongst us, here is a pila tutorial.

First of all, the water storage part of a pila is to be kept full at all times. Every week or so, the pila has to be drained and cleaned, so that the water stays fresh. During parts of the year, when mosquitos are a big problem, the city sends around little bags of chemicals to be placed in the pilas, which kill the mosquito larva. The bags allow a very slow release of the chemicals. I never wash dishes at my pila, but I worry a bit about those who do, when the pesticides are in the water.

Living with piped in city water, it is not hard to keep a pila full. Lots of people seem to just let the water flow in at a slow rate all the time. We've never had a meter on our water in Honduras, we've always just paid a flat rate for water. Perhaps this is the reason that people here don't seem to be concerned about wasting water. Our pilas have all had drains near the top of the water storage area, so they wouldn't overflow onto the ground, if the water was just left running.

In addition to the big tub, a pila will have some sort of flat work surface. Generally, this surface serves as a partial cover over part of the water storage area, and as previously mentioned, there is often a washboard built into this flat surface. This area will have a drain, which will drain the water away from the pila, so that dirty water does not contaminate the stored water.

Sitting somewhere on a pila there will be some sort of container, a bowl or small bucket, for pulling water out of the tub, to use for washing. You would not want to put anything dirty into the pila, of course.

So, to wash your hands at a pila, you would stand in front of the flat work surface. You dip up a bowl of water, and pour some of it over your hands, while holding your hands over the flat surface, so that none of this water goes into the stored pila-water. Then, after soaping your hands, you would use the rest of that water to rinse your hands, again not draining into the tub, but onto the flat surface.

I know, for sure, that if I'd been invited to wash my hands at a pila early in my life in Honduras, I would have plunged my hands into the stored water, soaped them up over the water, and rinsed them in the water, or at least washed them at the tap of water running into the pila, thus totally contaminating the pila. And, I would have silently wondered at the Hondurans, for having such an unsanitary system.

Meanwhile, the pila owner would have likely silently marveled at the ignorance of a gringa who didn't even know how to wash her hands at a pila!

Update: My friend Faith posted pictures of her pila on her blog, and I thought it would be good for you to have pictures to go with my verbal description. Faith's pila is impressively large, a double-washboard model! She also has a hookup for a washing machine beside the pila (since she doesn't have a hot water heater, I think it's a safe bet that she doesn't have a hot water connection to her machine, though).

Faith's Pila

Faith cleaning her pila

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The First Christmas Shipment Has Arrived!

This morning, at 6am, Allen, Alan, and Russell pulled into Gracias with the contents of the container of donated items which were shipped from Florida. This included the early batch of "Gifts for Gracias" presents, which we distribute in our area, as well as our family Christmas gifts (hurrah - we've got these before Christmas this year!), and a collection of donated motorcycles.

The logistics involved in getting this container have included some of the worst problems we've experienced in any of our excursions into the world of shipping, and so we are especially glad to have this one behind us! Yesterday the men left here around 7 in the morning, driving two trucks pulling trailers (we also rented a larger truck, with a driver, to carry part of the load).

At the port, we use an agency to prepare all of the paperwork for bringing containers through customs. When the paperwork the agency had prepared was presented to the customs agent yesterday, he took the paperwork and the (rather large amount of) money, and told us that he was not satisfied with some of the information on the paperwork, but he wouldn't give back the money or explain what was unacceptable in the paperwork! Calls were made to pretty much anyone in the country we thought might have enough clout to help us through this. It was a tense time.

As the afternoon got later and later, I was certain they would be coming home empty handed. It was Friday, after all. But amazingly, at 6:45pm, the men called with word that the shipment had finally passed through customs, and they were going to be able to get it that night. They didn't know whether they would be driving home that night, or, because it was so very late, finding a secure hotel where they could spend the night and safely park the heavily-laden trucks, and driving home in the morning.

I waited up a while, to hear from them, but eventually I went to bed. I was very surprised to see them in the driveway bright and early this morning! They had had a long wait the previous night, before they could do the unloading, and they didn't get out of the port until after 1am - and then they immediately drove the 4 - 5 hours home!

After just a few hours in bed, the men were up and unloading everything at our house. I imagine they're glad to have these past two days behind them!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rainy Day in the Mountains

On a recent rainy Sunday, Allen and Alan took one of those very long, very bumpy rides, out to visit a location where a new bridge is needed. Although the purpose of the trip was very businesslike - to meet with local leaders and get some photos of the existing bridge - the weather and the jungle-like foliage and the rustic bridge all combined to create some lovely photos.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Celebration Continues!

It's been about an hour since the game concluded, and the street in front of my house currently looks like this:

I tried to take a video, but it didn't do justice to the exuberance of the situation. Imagine people yelling, horns honking, loudspeakers blaring out music, brakes screeching, motorcycle engines roaring, fireworks being set off . . . and all this within a few feet of the front of your house! We're having an exciting time, for sure!

The Big Game is TONIGHT!

No, I'm not watching. We don't have cable at our house. But two of my kids are at a church event, where the game will be shown on a big screen TV. We warned the Hayes family (who just arrived from Mexico, after all) NOT to tell people they are rooting for Mexico, even if they are. It could be dangerous.

I'll know almost immediately if Honduras wins - the screaming and fireworks will begin quickly. In fact, I'm a bit worried that the game might not be going well, as I haven't heard the town-wide cheers which generally announce each goal our team makes. If Honduras wins, there will be cars, pickup trucks and motorcycles of celebrating people passing in front of our house for several hours.

If Honduras loses, we will all be very, very sad.

Update: Happiness has commenced! I believe we will be listening to the happiness of Gracias well into the night, tonight!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sickness at our house. Sigh.

I can't even say we've been passing something around, as we seem to have several maladies going right now.

Russell lost his voice. He's mostly got it back now, though.

I've been struggling with a head cold. That wouldn't be such a big deal, but with my asthma, if cold goes to my lungs, I have a fairly good chance of developing something worse, usually bronchitis, but occasionally pneumonia. Happily, my cold is drying up some now, so I think I've about passed the danger zone for this. I'm still trying to take it a bit easy, though.

Bethany got up this morning with an unhappy stomach. She's been laying low all day until a few minutes ago. Then her tummy decided to empty itself out. With that behind her, Boo is starting to perk up a bit, finally.

Rachel has had a bit of trouble with the head cold, and with losing her voice. She was looking bad this morning, but I let her stay in bed for a long while, and when she got up she was doing much better, except still sounding hoarse.

The rest of the family is currently okay, I think. As we have the first container of Christmas gifts arriving this week (possibly tomorrow), we have a lot of busy days ahead of us. I hope, as we head into this very busy season, we will have left the illnesses behind!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Day in the Life of Russell

Now that Russell is an official missionary, well, his life is about the same as it was before, when he was only an unofficial missionary. Here is a run-down of his Thursday from this week.

He woke up in a hotel in La Entrada, a city an hour and a half from home. His soccer team had played a game there the night before, and we managed to turn that trip into part of a ministry trip. When he left the hotel, he drove an hour and a half further north, to San Pedro Sula. The Land Cruiser had battery problems there, so he worked on that for a bit. When things were running well again, he continued another hour north to Puerto Cortes.

The container shipment from Florida - containing the first batch of gifts for the "Gifts for Gracias" project - is working its way through Customs at that port. In order for the paperwork to be processed, we have to deliver the original papers to the port. Then, a few days later, we can go back to the port, and pick up the shipment. Thursday was the "drop off the paperwork" day.

After his work was completed in Puerto Cortes, Russell headed south again. But, at San Pedro Sula, he changed to the other major north-south road in Honduras, and headed to the beautiful Lake Yojoa area. A group of Mennonite missionaries there specialize in bringing Spanish literature (Bibles and other Christian materials) into the country to distribute. We purchase books from them, to sell to the pastors in Lempira. As our book supplies were low, Allen had arranged for Russell to pick up some boxes of books while he was out traveling anyway. It would really be too much of a stretch to say that this was "on his way," but he was closer to Lake Yojoa when he was in San Pedro Sula than he is when he's at home.

After picking up the books, Russell retraced his path back almost all the way to San Pedro Sula. Then he turned and headed south again, toward home. He got home around 6pm or so.

I think Russell enjoys driving. It's a good thing, too, when he has days like this!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We had our first business meeting

Now that the Hayes family has had a little time to get settled into their new house, we all agreed it was time to start introducing them to the work side of their new life in Honduras. So, this afternoon, we popped in a movie to entertain the smaller children, and Allen, Alan, Faith and I sat down to a business meeting around the kitchen table.

Mostly this was an overview of the ministries we are working on here, and a discussion of how the Hayes could fit into the picture. The ministries we discussed included the pastor training school, sales of Bibles, distribution of motorcycles to pastors, church construction projects, bridge construction and road repair activities, feeding centers, special needs program, and the ongoing construction of the ministry center where we will eventually live. I think we also may have discussed the helps we give to a few local orphanages, and that we occasionally get involved with helping people with medical problems, when the local medical care available isn't sufficient.

It was agreed that, at this time, Alan and Faith will work alongside us learning about all of these, rather than them taking over certain ones entirely. This is fine with us, as it will take a while for them to meet all the players in all of these areas, learn the histories of what has been done, what we've chosen not to do, and why, and simply get to know their way around the large geographical area in which we travel and work. Not to mention feeling their way through the cultural differences between Mexico and Honduras. I'd tell you what these cultural differences are, but since I haven't worked in Mexico, I'll have to leave that to Alan and Faith on their blog, should they choose to write about it! ;-D

Anyway, I'm happy to report that we all seem to be getting along quite well, and we're looking forward to working together. This is huge, as relationships between the workers on the field can be mighty tricky, and, if you recall, we and the Hayes had not met before they came down here.

My younger kids, by the way, are tickled pink about having some new friends to play with. Although the Hayes' oldest is a boy, he and Bethany are having a good time together. Bethany is very flexible in her interests, and can spend a morning equally enjoyably dressing up and play-acting a wedding, or hunting lizards and knocking down hornets nests.

My older kids, who are so involved in the ministry, are also excited about the arrival of the Hayes family, as they are hoping to have a bit more time for non-ministry activities - like school, for instance. Rachel has taken to saying things like, "I just hope I can finish high school before I'm 26." I am hopeful that with the help of the Hayes family, our family can have a bit more time for the rest of life, besides the work of the ministry!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The big project in my house this week has been the creation of bookshelves. We really needed all of our existing shelves for our collection of books, but in this house we had to use some of our bookshelves for clothing storage and in the kitchen and pantry. So, we're short bookshelves for books!

The Hayes family also needed some storage solutions. Since Allen had to travel to the big city of San Pedro Sula this past week, he purchased a large pile of lumber for all of the shelf making needs of our two families while he was there. In the past, he has purchased lumber locally for the same purpose, but those boards were so very rough that it took a huge amount of time to get them ready to use as furniture. The lumber yard in the city doesn't look like much - the wood is milled on site, so it isn't exactly a Home Depot kind of operation - but the lumber he brought home is very nice, and the crew of workers (Allen, Russell, Kirstin, and Alan Hayes, mostly) have already completed the construction of about half a dozen shelf units. Staining and sealing are still ongoing, but soon we will all be happier with our belongings up off the floors of our houses.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Speed Bump!

Our new house is set on a major road. This road is a fairly new bypass around the city of Gracias, called the boulevard, so there is actually a divided highway with a median in front of our house. We've never had a traffic jam (except during the celebrations following major soccer games), but there is a pretty steady flow of vehicles during most of the day. Since this road goes right through residential areas, it was determined by the government that traffic speeds needed to be controlled. So, in the last couple of weeks, speed bumps have been installed at various locations along both sides of the boulevard. One of these bumps is right in front of our house.

Here in Honduras, speed bumps can be several different things. Often, a series of stones or humps of metal will be installed across the road to slow traffic. Usually, after a while, a few of these will be strategically removed, so that if you can line your vehicle up just right, you can drive through without bumping.

The bumps on the boulevard here are the more traditional long mounds of concrete, crossing the entire road. For the past few weeks, one side or the other of the boulevard has been closed while the concrete work was completed. Our bump, which so thoroughly crosses the road that we have a huge puddle on the high side after every rain, is exceptionally high. Even in our Land Cruisers, which are used to some pretty bumpy roads, they are a challenge. Others are trying to cross this barrier in cars, motorcycles, and those little 3 wheel taxis that are called tuk tuks in other parts of western Honduras (though no one calls them that here in Gracias, that I've ever heard).

Because these bumps are so new, and there aren't any signs or warnings about them - and they are so very high - we get to be entertained in our house day and night by the loud screech of brakes as unsuspecting motorists try to avoid launching their vehicles into space. Occasionally someone doesn't notice the bump at all, flying into it at full speed, and a loud crunch announces their unfortunate landing on the other side. Once in a while, some tailgater bumps into the rapidly decelerating vehicle in front of them.

Perhaps scariest of all is the long squeal of brakes followed by the screams of passengers in the backs of pickup trucks as they are tossed into the air.

All of this has added a new excitement in our house. We cringe at the sounds, but I have to admit we have come to find it a bit humorous as well. Members of the family, hearing yet again the loud sounds of sudden braking followed by the nasty crunch are apt to blandly reply aloud, "Oh, watch that little bump, will you?"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Communion Bread

Since Rachel gave such loving attention to the baking of communion bread for the final session of the Bible Training School this week, I thought I should share a picture of her efforts.

After the celebration of communion, the visiting gringo pastors admitted they wanted to pig out on the rest of the bread!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Phew! What a week!

I know, I know, I've not been blogging as regularly as usual. But I have a boat-load of excuses, honest!

This week was the final session of the Bible Training School for 2008. For this special time, two pastors from Florida came to teach. So, there were extra logistics, including two trips to San Pedro Sula airport (3.5 - 4 hours each way), plus translators to arrange and house, and each morning breakfast included about 5 extra people.

The turnout for classes was especially large this month, which meant that we were scrambling just a bit to make sure there was enough of everything. The final day, when there was a big closing event, we were really crazy busy here!

First, there were the certificates. I had already printed these out, but three men, who are in leadership at the school, were supposed to sign each certificate. The morning of the event (with the certificates still unsigned) we learned that one of the men was out of town! Rather than distribute certificates with an unsigned space at the bottom, the morning of the ceremony I was printing out all of the certificates again, this time with only two signature spaces!

Then, there was the observance of Communion to be prepared for. Russell was arranging to borrow Communion cups from a local church, Chris was sent shopping for grape juice (which I was surprised he was able to find, but he did), and Bethany, Rachel and I were baking loaves of bread.

We try to serve cakes at the dinners for the pastors at the school. For this event, we baked cakes and purchased ice cream. Since there isn't any source of refrigeration where the school is held, we had to transport the ice cream at the very last moment.

Each pastor who received a certificate also received a credit toward a purchase of Bibles and study materials. The folks from whom we purchase these books were bringing them by this week, but unfortunately they didn't know that we had moved to a new house. They couldn't find us, and didn't know our new phone number, so they left town without delivering the books. We arranged for them to return, but the soonest they could do so was the day of the closing event. So, they delivered books to the school during the ceremonies!

In addition to all of this, the Hayes family is here, trying to get settled into their new house. They are still staying with the Ward family in Santa Rosa de Copan right now, because of an interesting circumstance. The Wards have a very nice parking pad inside their walls, so the Hayes were able to park their trailer full of household stuff off the street. This is very good for security, of course. However, the road in front of the Wards' house is being paved, and since the Hayes family arrived and put their trailer off the street on the Wards' lovely parking pad, the street has been closed, and they cannot get it back out again! It's a good thing the trucks aren't stuck in there as well!

So, we've had extra kids here some days, other days our kids were all over at the Hayes' new house playing or cleaning or painting, some days we've had extra people for lunch and dinner, other days no one was eating here - just a crazy, busy, wacky week! The kids are having a blast, of course!

Now things should settle back down for a few days . . . until the shipment arrives from Florida. That should be before the end of this next week. Then we'll really get busy!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oops! I've been a bad blogger!

Sorry I disappeared there for a while. We've been busy, and there's been lots of activity about which I might have written. I just haven't gotten to it recently. Sorry about that!

So, here's some really good news I can share with you:

The Hayes family has arrived, and we found a house for them!

They pulled into Honduras on Friday, and they are currently staying with our friends Brad and Trish Ward, in Santa Rosa de Copan. The family visited Gracias yesterday, and approved the rental house we'd found. It was probably not such a hard decision, since we'd only found one available house in all our looking! The house has been vacant, and is very dirty, so tomorrow morning we will all start in on rectifying that situation. We will be cleaning, painting, and installing some source of hot water for showers. We hope the Hayes will be able to move in very soon! I'm sure they're also ready to be settled into a house of their own, unpacked, etc. It's been a long and crazy trip for them, driving from Mexico to Honduras. You can see their updates on their blog:

This week is the final session of the Bible Training School for 2008. We have a visiting teacher from the US, and a special ceremony with certificates for those students who have passed certain requirements. It will be a busy week! The school will start again in March, after coffee harvesting season has ended.

Last Sunday, Allen had to travel out to a couple of remote villages to meet with churches about some church construction projects. I went along for the ride. I don't go out 4-wheel driving all that much, so it was an adventure for me. I'll share pictures in the next few days.

We're still unpacking and getting the house set up. Since the house has fewer cabinets and closets than our previous house, we are struggling to find places to put things. Many of our bookcases have been pressed into service in other uses than housing books, which is making it difficult for us to deal with all of the books. It's a challenge, but we're managing.

Next week, after the Pastor Training School is over, Allen will be going to pick up the container from Florida, and then - we will have more stuff in our house! We have the beginnings of a plan for sorting and distribution, and we'll have the help of the Hayes family as well as the Wards this year.

That's all for now!