As the crow flies, Flor Azul isn’t that far from Nuevo Paraíso. I could run there if I had to. All you have to do is take the dirt road past Nueva Esperanza, through Guadalajara, and then, well, up into the mountains. Once you’re past the flat sugar cane fields and you start to go up is when you realize the drive you’ve got ahead of you. The rutted dirt road seems impossibly narrow and steep.
I think about how difficult is must be to get horses or donkeys up and down when it rains, let alone a beat up truck. That day, with the clear noonday sky overhead, our bus made it. Armando, the only person I trust to drive me on Honduras’s rough roads, handles the bucking bronco of a bus like a rodeo star. Despite the breathtaking view of the Valley of Morocelí, there were times I had my eyes closed, not because I doubted Armando, but because I wasn’t sure the crumbling cliff wouldn’t collapse beneath us. I wonder if the rosary hanging from the rear view mirror lent us any divine help.
We drive into the middle of the village, a handful of gringos and two handfuls of catrachos. We brought the teenage boys from the Santiago Apóstol house to help us carry the heavy laden bags all around the mountain. Earlier in the day, Jeanne and I had packed up food supplies – rice, beans, masa, etc. – for 44 families in Flor Azul. Now, we are meeting up with the village teacher, Cristina, and her entourage of local children, to deliver the bags house to house.
This village is typical of the region. Up in the mountains, there is no electricity. Water was only recently pumped up the mountain, enabling the families to walk only to the village center near the schoolhouse rather than all the way down to the valley. Visiting house to house gives you a good look at the village, a small snapshot of these people’s lives. Many women invite us in briefly to see their homes and meet their families. Two children, who are on their own during the week while there father is away working, invite us to see the new stove that was installed in their small home. To us Americans, it’s technology of the 19th century, but this wood burning stove with a chimney that diverts smoke out of the house is revolutionary in Flor Azul. It costs a few hundred dollars to put one in, a small cost to a group like ours, and can significantly reduce allergies and asthma, two growing problems for Honduran children. After viewing the stove, we take a look at the armadillo shells hanging from a tree outside that the children make into crafts to sell.
It’s then that I can’t hold it any longer; I have to use the bathroom. One of the young girls, probably about 8-years-old, takes me by the hand and, with her posse, we take a detour to her home. She brings me around back where her family’s outhouse is. It’s actually more comfortable than camp latrines I’ve used with Girl Scouts, with plenty of ventilation, though not built with a tall American in mind. When I’m finished, she shows me the basin where bodies, clothes, and cookware are all cleaned. She hands me a piece of soap and shows me how to scrub up and rinse in the basin. I’m slightly embarrassed that she can tell this is not how I usually wash my hands. I dry off on a towel hanging from the clothesline, and we head back to the rest of the group.
The children are inspecting the photographs that Susan brought with her. When she was here in the village a few years ago, she took pictures of these same kids. This year, she printed the pictures to hand out. When else are these kids ever going to see a photo of themselves?
Cristina informs us that rain will be arriving soon, so if we want any chance at making it all around the mountain, we need to split up. I go with the group that heads for the nearer group of houses, at the time unaware of the magnificent view I’m sacrificing by not going to the top. The Santiago boys push past one another, and me, in their hurry to get rid of their heavy bags first until Cato yells, “Dejen Laura pasar,” and I spring past them. We spend less time with these families because now everyone awaits the rain.
Once we’ve completed our deliveries, we trudge back toward the bus. I’m talking with Ever when a borracho approaches. His speech is slurred and he can’t seem to focus. He seems harmless, but my two gut feelings are wariness and sadness. I look at Ever and we climb onto the bus, closing the door behind us. I wonder who the man’s family is…
By the time we’re driving back down through the sugar cane fields, even the Santiago boys are quiet. Some of us may simply be hoping there will be beans and rice and plantains to eat when we get home. But maybe some of us are still thinking about the families we met today. Those who have little material wealth but give the enormous hospitality that is typical of Hondurans.