Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DEATH AND RESURRECTION IN OCOTEPEQUE







Recently I spent a week with the Catholic organization Unbound on a media awareness trip in the Honduran town of Ocotepeque.

So many reflections and sensations crowded in that unpacking them will take months. But perhaps the main thing takeaway was this: There is death and there is resurrection; and then another death, and always, another resurrection.

We drive the urban streets and mountain roads. There are half-finished buildings, potholed streets, piles of trash. There is also always an hibiscus bush, a bouquet of purple bougainvillea, a chipped aquamarine wall with a jaunty parrot painted on it.

Beautiful young girls lounge suggestively in doorways and the cycle of continuing poverty unfolds almost before your eyes: another handsome young man whispering promises he won’t keep; another child born to a 15-year-old mother.

One afternoon we visit the community of San Marcos and meet a 35-year-old woman named Reyna Isabel de Jesus.

Reyna has two children—Yuri, 14, and Lilian, 10--at Casa Hogar, the home Unbound runs for kids age 5 to 18 who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned. She also has two at home, Javier, 5, and Nazareth Milagros, 2. Another child lives with the mother of its father. A sixth lives with a relative.

Reyna cleans house from 7 to 5 six days a week, with a half-day on Sunday. She walks an hour and a half each way. During the November through February coffee season, she picks, as she has since the age of 5. She brings the children with her. Javier picks now, too.

She makes about fifty dollars a month.

The room she rents—in a building at which 56 people share one bathroom—costs fifty dollars a month.

That means she has to move frequently.

“Do you have any dreams for yourself?” another journalist asks.

I train my eyes on the windowsill: a stick of deodorant, a plastic bottle of shampoo, an eighth of a bottle of dime-store perfume.

Reyna sits silent.

“It would be nice to have a dream,” she says finally.

But later in the conversation she also says “The children keep me going.” She also says, “The children give me faith.”

The children bring suffering and they bring joy. The children weigh down and the children keep the mothers, the world, all of us, going. To unravel the threads of poverty is impossible. Culture winds itself around politics, biology tangles with economics, and in the middle, as always, is the yearning human heart.

Christ summed it up best: “The poor you will always have with you.”

One thing is for certain: the incredible work of Unbound. The sponsored children with—at last--school supplies and shoes and a dollar for the cybercafé where they may walk 45 minutes each way to do their homework. The elderly with—at last—basic medicines, a cane, a wheelchair. The seeds for a garden, the patched-up wall, the running water, the mothers’ groups that shore each other up and teach each other to make pottery from local clay and take up collections when one of the kids is sick.

Everywhere we go people smile, wave, yell, affectionately rap on the window of the Unbound pickup truck: “Hola!” “Que tal!” “A Dios”…

Later that week I see Yuri, Reyna’s 14-year-old son, at Casa Hogar. He has soulful eyes and a beautifully expressive face. “Tell him we saw his mother!” I tug at the interpreter’s sleeve, thinking to make Yuri happy; that he’ll be hungry for news.

Instead, Yuri shows no affect whatever. Instead, he turns and walks away.

I feel terrible. I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have asked how Yuri feels about his mother before blurting out that we’d seen her. .

But later we see Yuri at the gate of his school, waiting for the armed guards to let him in, a slight young man with a ramrod-straight back in his neat blue shirt, pants and tie.

The children keep me going.

Yuri wants to be a priest.


"THEY KNEW HIM IN THE BREAKING OF BREAD"...
DELICIOUS SOUP, CHICKEN AND RICE PREPARED BY LOS MADRES....


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