Saturday, August 23, 2008

Honduras – Sights, Smells and Sounds July 2008


The first view of Honduras from the air is of green fields and a brown river snaking in and around the countryside. The flat land extends until the mountains begin without foothills. Honduras is either flat or vertical. Large companies own much of the flat land, growing bananas or cattle for export; the native Indians live mainly farther up in the mountains on the poor soil.

Driving into the city from the airport it's hard not to notice the industrial buildings, many with American names (the "sweat shops"), the numerous billboards advertising everything from cars to food to bottled water. In addition it seems as if every flat surface (walls, fences, etc) has some company's name painted on it. The city itself is crowded with people and shops and overhead cris-crossing electric lines looking like a badly woven spider web. Other sights include American restaurants interspersed among the Honduran ones, and guards at nearly every store, not just banks, but even McDonalds has a guard.

When driving away from the city heading toward the mountain villages, the road goes through small towns and then heads uphill where the scenery is beautiful – mountains in the distance and often steep drop-offs at the side of the road which is cut into the side of the hill. Some fields on the sides of mountains are so steep one wonders how they get planted or harvested.


The city of San Pedro Sula smells like any city in some ways. Cars, trucks and buses produce exhaust smells. When it rains the streets and sidewalks have that "fresh washed" smell. When the streets are crowded and the weather is hot and humid there are smells of human sweat. In addition there are the smells coming from some sidewalk vendors stalls of whatever it is they are cooking to sell to passers by.

In the mountains there is the smell of the roads – sometimes mud or else dust, depending on the weather. Beyond that, on the walking trails, and even sometimes when in a truck, there is the somewhat faint but definite smell of herbs, perhaps oregano or cilantro, or some of the wild flowers that are disturbed as one walks by. It makes for a pleasant walk. In La Laguna there is the smell of the vegetation around the clinic, the animals that wander onto the clinic grounds (dogs, cows, horses, pigs), the smells in the pharmacy associated with some of the liquid medicines dispensed, and the wonderful smells that come from the kitchen as the cooks prepare meals for the volunteers.


In San Pedro Sula there are the usual sounds of any large city – traffic, car horns (only here the horn is used in short, quick bursts more to say "I am here" rather than most American cities where the horn is used to say "hurry up" or "get out of my way" It really does have a different sound to it. Other sounds are vendors or money changers wanting your business. There is also music. It comes out of shops; it's on public buses; it seems it's everywhere – Latin music with a beat, mixed with some older American songs as well at times.

Up in the mountains the sounds are different, of course. Children playing in and around the clinic is a joyful sound, the cooks talking and joking with each other as they prepare meals, the various animals chiming in now and then. Of course there are the ever-present (and seemingly never sleeping) roosters. Contrary to popular belief, the rooster does not wait until dawn to crow, rather crows at any and every time of day or night, depending perhaps on how he feels about it. There are other bird sounds too, some seem familiar, others distinctly different, but pleasant. Whenever the sound of a truck coming up the hill is heard, it brings people out to greet it. There is virtually no traffic in the village.

Sights, smells, and sounds all come together to paint a picture of Honduras in my mind.

Ginger Comstock, July 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NY/HELP Honduras
July 2008 Mission Trip to Honduras

NY/HELP is a Project of the New York Conference, United Church of Christ

NY/HELP's July 2008 mission trip to Honduras was a great success: again, we were able to show our faith by our acts! Eight NY/HELPers participated, from churches in Honeoye, Livonia, West Seneca, and Arcade: Javi Makepeace and his college friend Jonah Brill (both fluent in Spanish) and Amanda McCormick (whose Spanish improved rapidly!) helped with communications, pre-med student Kelly Beers assisted in the clinic, Allyson Brown reminded us daily to think of what we were thankful for, and math teacher Doug Young applied the Pythagorean theorem to building houses. Dr Gordon Comstock worked in the clinics, as usual, helped immensely by his wife Ginger.

Our mission group worked on several projects. The new Centro Basico (middle school) we are helping the community construct in near-by Mataderos is progressing nicely. The 9th grade classroom (begun by the February 2008 mission group) was painted by our group and is almost ready for use. Work on a library room has begun. (We also bought a set of encyclopedias for the library!) A fifth work-room for teachers is planned. The people of the community have been working on the school, and are determined to complete this project. New roofs were provided for eight of the poorest people's houses (these new roofs not only make the house much more weatherproof, but reduce the incidence of Chagas disease, spread by insects that live in the old thatch roofs). Six new, fuel-efficient "Lorena" stoves (with chimneys to take the smoke outside) were constructed. And almost 200 patients were seen in the clinic in La Laguna and in "mobile clinics" in the much more remote towns of Agua Blanca and Mezcales, where we went for a couple days to work on projects there, staying in the Agua Blanca school or in homes in Mezcales. As part of the clinic mission, funds were provided for some of the poorest people to go to specialists for needed surgery.

These projects were not completed in a vacuum: Much planning and organization for the projects was done by Yovany Munguía, Honduras director of Sustainable Harvest International, who really made it possible to accomplish all that we did. Much assistance was given by La Laguna residents Elio, who supervised the roof projects, and Rigoberto, who worked on the stoves. SHI's Jacobo Suarez provided transportation with a pickup truck, getting us and supplies around, while Selvin made sure that we got back to San Pedro Sula safely. The clinic could not have functioned without the skilled assistance of our NY/HELP nurse there, Mirtila Garcia, who also came along on the "mobile clinics". Many people from the various communities worked on each project, alongside the NY/HELPers.

One tragedy occurred: a firearm accident took the eye of one of our vigilantes (guards) in Agua Blanca. We gave emergency care that night, then took him to the local hospital in Yoro, where he was referred to the eye specialists in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. He lost the eye, but had no other injuries, fortunately. NY/HELP provided money for him to go to the eye specialists. As an extra burden, he has a son with cerebral palsy who also needs specialist care.

We had fun, too: there was the traditional NY/HELP soccer tournament in Mataderos, where Javi and Jonah played on the La Laguna team, and we attended the Lempira Day school fiesta (Lempira Day honors Lempira, an Indian chief who stood up to the Spanish conquistadors in 1536.) And on Thursday July 24, the boys headed for the beach, the girls went with Selvin to the famous Mayan ruins at Copán, and Gordon and Ginger went with Yovany to meet with the people of two small communities near Sulaco (about 1.5 hours away on a dirt road). There Gordon had a chance reunion with Victor Castro, the Honduran dentist who had worked with NY/HELP in La Laguna 15 years ago! He also was asked some hard questions, such as "what are NY/HELP's criteria for working with other villages" (a new topic for us!).

We give thanks to God for all the good people of New York who have helped sustain this project over the past 19 years. This has made this project special to all who have worked with NY/HELP.
Gordon F. Comstock, MD Medical Advisor, NY/HELP Honduras