Tela-Made Reflections, Part 7
Beauty, Pain, and Man’s Best Friend
Today brings to a close this series of articles about July’s medical mission trip to Tela, Honduras. It’s impossible to wrap up this travelog without focusing on the first two items in that headline. Beauty and pain. They are everywhere in Honduras, just as they are in Montgomery and, indeed, all over the world. Beauty may come in different colors and pain in different forms, but the human condition is forever destined to reflect the beauty of its creator and the agony of its fall.
The beauty was easy to spot. Lush forests, exotic flowers, gorgeous mountains, spectacular beach. You are never more than few yards from the reminder that you are in a Caribbean nation. One horizon I will carry with me all my days is the one I experienced in the tiny remote village of Citronella. (It sounds aromatic, but the swarms of flies stop you from getting seduced by its name.)
Citronella is poor in many ways. It lacks clean water, adequate housing, healthy diets, secondary education, healthcare; I could go on. But the mountains that gently hold the town in its embrace give it a visual wealth beyond measure. The school we are visiting this day is dotted about with ramshackle homes, most of them hidden by the jungle. The school is less well-funded than those in the other locations we have visited. Windows are broken. Animals are wandering around the school grounds – a strutting chicken, a thirsty horse, two pigs who are rooting through some decaying windfall fruit, and the usual homeless dogs who are sniffing around the trash at the edges of the playing field. One dog has just visited a classroom, completely ignored by both teacher and students.
And yet there’s that mountain. Actually, it is more of a hill than a mountain. It dominates the school from its 100-foot position of emerald superiority. It is clothed with palm trees, which are twinkling after last night’s rainstorm. It reminds me a little of Christmas. I wonder just how loud that storm was when the rain lashed the school’s tin roofs.
Beauty and pain. Of all the works of gorgeous art designed and delivered by God, human beings are the best. There’s Juanita, a three-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. She cannot swallow solid food and is badly malnourished. It’s not clear how much Juanita can see. When Dr Javier Tapia speaks to her, she doesn’t make eye contact. But she does respond to touch. If Juanita were in the US, she would have a feeding tube to receive nutrition, and she’d be receiving physical therapy to build her muscles and resilience. With that treatment, in time, she might be able to walk with crutches. But she is not in the US. Her harsh reality is that she will never walk, will never have a feeding tube, and, as Kat Daily explains to me, she will probably have a short life.
Then there’s Martel, a man of about 50 years, who is badly disabled and unable to work. He sits with Dr. Jon Daily talks about his pain and thanks the team for their care in previous mission trips. I regret that Martel’s story is not one any of us can take pride in. Several years ago he was working in Indiana on a construction site. One day he was intentionally hit by a car, which was occupied by some cheering local men who shouted insults at him as they drove away, including the word ‘Mexican’. When he was fit enough to leave the hospital, Martel was deported, and here he now sits in the Honduran jungle, a living testimony to the fact that Lady Liberty proclaimed her welcome to the world’s poor in very a different age.
I want my final words about the mission trip to be positive. When it comes to beauty, the Honduran mountains cannot compete with Donna Maria. Donna Maria is 94 years old. She has been a parishioner at Espiritu Santo for as long as the parish has existed. The day we meet her she is sitting outside her house. We give her some medicines and food, and spend some time with her, just chatting and listening. Before she became too old and disabled to walk that far, Donna Maria used to travel on foot to Espiritu Santu – a distance of 3 miles each way. Her final words to us are a blessing for our wellbeing.
Now about those stray dogs. No American can visit Honduras without being moved by the sight of them. And there are very many in the town of Tela. As I watched the dogs from my hotel window and in the villages we visited, I think I arrived at a peaceful place about them. I went back in my mind to a time before dogs were domesticated pets. I imagined the brave, inquisitive wolf – the one who was first to lurk outside human settlements, watching the fire and smelling the food being cooked on it. I imagined that wolf getting closer and closer each night until the humans around the fire noticed it and gradually coaxed it into this circle of human community.
In time, that wolf and its companions learned to hang around villages feeling increasingly secure and the great symbiotic relationship between canine and human began. Dogs became village animals, surviving in the larger community, sleeping under the stars, but growing in trust and relationship with men and women. At some point in history, we took dogs into our homes, and they became part of the nuclear family. As I pondered this, I saw that, actually, it is not a hardship for dogs to live without a family, loosely attached to a human settlement. It was once their nature, and they are OK with it.
I’m OK too – with Honduras. If you’d like to learn more about how you can help on next year’s trip, please come to a lunch after the 10:30 service on Sunday 24th September.