Yes, We Can

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This weekend, my church, Northshore Vineyard Church, launches a shoe drive on behalf of  school children in my former ministry on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  In Honduras, one cannot attend school, even public schools, without paying for uniforms, fees, books, and even shoes. The shoes must be black or brown and closed toe. Due to the rising costs of school attendance, many parents do not send their children to school.

Shoes are a great investment in the life of a child. With a pair of sturdy shoes, they can walk into opportunities such as the classroom that are otherwise beyond their grasp.

We have selected fifty children who are in need. All of these children are from very poor homes. Most live in substandard homes. Many don’t eat but once a day. Many are supported by parents who are day-laborers existing on less than 10-15 dollars wages per week. Many are single-parent homes whose moms juggle selling food on the street with child-rearing duties.

Not everyone lives like the homes pictured below, but an alarming number of Honduran children grow up in homes such as these. In the area where we minister, none have running water or inside sanitation of any sort, and the use of electricity is usually restricted to a few lightbulbs or small appliances. A gift of shoes is a great investment for a mother who can scarcely afford to feed her children.

green houseIf you want to give towards this project, the funds will be used for purchasing shoes as well as paying for shipping. We want to ship in late December, as the new school year starts in early February in Honduras. We are asking for donations of $20 for each pair of shoes. A gift of $25 will help pay for shipping as well.

This PayPal link to my bank account is reserved for Honduras projects.

The inspiration for the title comes from a song recorded by the late Allen Toussaint, a New Orleans legend. Here’s a bit of the lyrics from Yes, We Can Can.

Yes, we can great gosh Almighty
Oh, yes, we can, I know we can, can

And we gotta take care of all the children
The little children of the world
‘Cause they’re our strongest hope for the future
The little bitty boys and girls

We got to make this land a better land
Than the world in which we live
And we gotta help each man be a better man
With the kindness that we give

As far as this small project is concerned, there’s no pressure to give. There’s a world out there waiting for you and I that needs our love and help. We can help a refugee, an orphan, a widow, a neighbor, a Muslim, a Christian, or anyone in need. That’s the sprit of Yes, We Can, Can.

 

Gumbo Ya-Ya

I am living in the New Orleans area once again. Sometimes, it feels like nothing has changed in the decade or so that I lived abroad. The Saints are losing, the weather is hot, and the last mayor is in federal prison. The murder rate is horrific, as the rate of black young males killing each other is a daily feature in the headlines.

Yet, things are different. Hurricane Katrina was not our demise, as many predicted. Many blighted areas of the city are better than before the storm. The public school system, once on par with third-world countries, is a stellar example to many poorer cities of educational reform.

Tourism is stronger than ever as the Quarter has stayed clean and vibrant, shedding some of the seedy bars and t-shirt shops that sprang up in the 70s. It’s also cleaner in terms of trash. Why, it even smells decent most days!

Another sign of the changing times is the increased racial diversity of the city. The city lost more black residents than white over the past 10 years since the Big One, Katrina. The city still retains a black majority but it’s a thin one.

Yet, it’s not only white residents moving to the Big Easy. Latinos and Asians have had the biggest impact on the cultural scene, especially in terms of food. In fact, Vietnamese cuisine is one of the hottest fads in the city today. The descendants of Vietnam War refugees have carved out a place for themselves with unique fare, often melding our storied cultural recipes with new vigor. For instance, Shrimp Creole is turning up all over the city in a new form, with lemon grass and Vietnamese spicy tomato paste combined with a white roux and Gulf shrimp. John Besh’s recipe is the most popular.

Hondurans flocked to the city after Hurricane Katrina as roofers, laborers, and yes, cooks. Their food trucks became increasingly popular after the storm, so much so that restaurateurs lobbied to shut them down. As most immigrants do, they were quick to improvise. A large community of Hondurans live near the New Orleans International Airport. Businesses operated by Hondurans are  often multi-service centers: cafes, grocery stores and places to send money home to relatives. Don’t get me started on the wonderful new world of pupusas, platanos, and tamales. They are here to stay, I think.

The city is famous for melding cultural influences into great food. Gumbo, the famous dish of our region, combines French, Spanish and African traditions.  What about jambalaya? I love jambalaya in almost any form as long as the spice doesn’t overpower the celery, green peppers, shrimp, sausage and or whatever other magic is thrown into the rice pot.

Oh, but they are the naysayers who hate to see the city or the nation embrace new immigrants. Immigrants bring crime! Immigrants won’t assimilate! Immigrants want to change the laws! (Can we hear the Trump bandwagon, with echoes of Alabama’s Wallace fear-mongering?)

Well, in New Orleans at least, it’s the people who have been here for generations who are murdering, selling drugs and committing armed robberies. Most immigrants I have encountered in this city acquire English quickly, usually the main language of the second generation. They are usually hard-working, entreprenurials and family-oriented.

Have we learned nothing from the xenophobia of previous generations?

Who built the Irish Canal in the upper Garden District? The abused, hated, and vilified Irish who moved here over 100 yearas ago rarely could find other work than ditch-digging and other menial labor. New Orleanians do not like to face the facts why the Irish left so few descendants here. They died like slaves digging canals that even free black men refused this work.

What about the  Italian Central Grocery who gave us the fabulous muffaletta? The immigrants ate those olive loaves on the wharves of the Mississippi River because carrying cargo on their backs was often the only work they were allowed to take. Little by little, Italians purchased cargo from ships and sold it on the streets of the city. Then, they opened restaurants all over the city, but it started with carting it on their backs over a century ago.

Yes, we need immigration reform. No doubt it’s needed. But let’s not kid ourselves. Our city, our nation and our world profits greatly when we accept each other, learn from one another, and yes, eat at each other’s tables.

I have no doubt that the presidential cycle will produce no end to what we call “gumbo ya-ya,” which means everyone talking at once. I hope that some of the ya-ya will be intelligent, cogent and helpful. We need to find a way to welcome immigrants and refugees as we seek a path of immigration reform.

The Noise-Maker

The Dog
The Dog

Ask anyone who has visited my home whether in the US or in Honduras about their first impression of their visit, and invariably, their first response is concerning The Dog. He’s a classic black and tan German shepherd, uncommonly large but not fat, weighing 100 pounds or over.

Not to brag, but he’s quite a stand-out. Just a few days ago, I stopped for gas with the dog in the backseat. As I parked, two ladies walking from inside the store approached, began to speak excitedly, noting what a beautiful dog he is.  A man in a pick-up paused momentarily, flashing a smile filled with gold teeth, nodding his agreement to the assessment that the ladies pronounced over my canine.

Earlier that same day, I stopped for breakfast, driving through a take-out window at a local fast-food joint. The woman at the window exclaimed at The Dog reclining on the backseat, and she held up the serving line by calling other employees to view the marvel in my car. I sometimes tire of the accolades he receives because it’s largely due to genetics and good kibble.

He’s more than big and showy.

The Dog is uncommonly loud.

When he guarded my residence in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, he barked with such a tenor that a brass fellow on a shelf inside the house regularly lost his horn due to the bark of this massive dog. Grown men, even men with guns who guarded the neighborhood, reluctantly approached my home with multiple reassurances that The Dog was out of harm’s way. When I moved to Louisiana, a woman who lived on the next street complained that his early morning reveille bounced sound waves off her house.

Once, since moving to the US, he opened the door (he can open levered doors) to the laundry room where he was being held, and he ambled into the kitchen to say hello to my sister. My nearly sixty-year-old sister leaped four feet onto a high stool in one quick move, then climbed onto the countertop, showing her prowess in yoga as well respect for The Dog. She does have osteoporosis, so I am concerned about future leaps.

Do I love The Dog? Of course, I do. Is he the best dog on the street?  No, he is not. His temperament is tricky. Although he’s never bitten anyone, he’s had scarce opportunity to do so since his bark (as well as the occasional lunge) first attracts then repels people or animals. He has to be restrained for the sake of peace when in public.

Donald Trump speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor MD on February 27, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Malet)
The Donald (Photo by Jeff Malet)

Thus said, I wouldn’t vote for The Donald.  His temperament is tricky.

If You Want To Go Far

african proverb
African Proverb

I was waiting in the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The words in the picture above were emblazoned in large script across a wall within the terminal. I was two days in a two-week journey. I would have to go much farther to reach the intended destination, with two more airplane trips before reaching our place in  Zambia.

I reached my destination. And the proverb proved true. I managed quite well because I didn’t travel alone.

Perhaps the most difficult part of doing non-profit work abroad is working with other people, whether that be with other expatriates or nationals. I think it’s harder than language acquisition, cultural understanding, or raising funds.

I never lived in Africa, but I like the quote. I did live in Honduras a number of years. Building relationship with the locals who helped me in my work was probably the most important thing I ever accomplished.

When the ladies who started off with a broom or a cleaning rag realized they were a valued part of a team, the work began to take a life of its own. It wasn’t dependent on the crazed zeal of a white woman  – me! – from the States who wanted to feed and educate their children. The staff began to see that it was their choices and work that was changing the community around them.

I know that everyone tired of hearing me preach and screech about the importance of el equipo, the team. Somehow, someway, during the years I was there, we changed the dynamic from boss and underlings to a group of ladies who had taken ownership of the ministry.

Now, I have some perspective on my time in Honduras. I can see that teamwork both between persons differing cultures as well as those within the national culture is hard but fruitful work. Even short-term trips require lots of teamwork on everyone’s part for a successful trip.

Traveling far can mean traveling home, too. That’s where I am in my personal journey. I hope I can remember that I want to travel far, not fast; with others, not alone.

This post is linked to Velvet Ashes, a website devoted to encouragement for women serving overseas.

 
Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

My $831 Eye Exam

A few weeks ago, I saw an optometrist in Covington, Louisiana, who charged $831 for an eye exam. He’s not a medical doctor, which is referred to as an ophthalmologist. It was my first visit to this eye care provider since I have lived out of country for nearly 10 years.  After fifty minutes or so, I left with a new prescription for eyeglasses, as I am now slightly more near-sighted than my current glasses were correcting. He also confirmed that my eye pressure was stable as I have had glaucoma for a number of years.

Imagine my surprise when I got a bill for $831.00 My insurance covered about half of this bill. I have $413.32 to pay out-of-pocket. Thus far, I have spoken with the clinic’s office, the insurance billing office, and the clinic billing office. All three have confirmed that the charges are correct.

I never saw a medical doctor, nor did I receive emergency or corrective services. I was not asked if I desired anything beyond a routine eye exam. In fact, I didn’t receive a complete exam, as I asked to skip the field test, as I didn’t want my eyes dilated that day as I had to drive over an hour shortly after. I can’t imagine if I had asked for a full exam.

While I lived in Honduras, I had very good medical care with doctors, clinics, and even an emergency hospital visit in first-class facilities. None of my charges there for any of these procedures came close to the amount I accrued in less than one hour with an optometrist* in the US.

As I write this post, I am waiting on the phone for a fourth consultation about the bill. I am not optimistic as thus far I have been advised to pay in full, preferably with a credit card. If not, these charges will be referred to a collection agency.

My advice? Run, don’t walk, to another country where medical care costs have not gone completely beserk. 

*The first version stated he had an associate degree. After re-reading his bio, I can infer that he has a master’s degree equivalency. His duties include low-vision help, routine exams and fitting contact lens.

Can You See Me?

Last week, I misplaced one of my hearing aids. I wanted to fix my hair, so I took them out and laid them on the bathroom counter. When I finished, I saw only one on the counter. After a few minutes, I located the second one. It had been on the counter the whole time, but I couldn’t see it because the neutral color blended into the similar color of the countertop.

I wear hearing aids due to a family-inherited trait. I am moderately deaf in both ears. I lose sight of those small devices quite often. They are meant to be not easily seen, to protect the vanity of the user who wears them behind the ear. Personally, I would prefer them to be bright yellow or orange as my hair covers them.

The phrase that comes to mind when I lose one of these tiny instruments for a moment is “hiding in plain sight.” If you think about it, lots of things as well as people are hiding in plain sight. They are there all the while, but we don’t seem them. Our mind fools us, and we can’t see what is in front of our eyes.

I think that the poor often hide in plain sight. We don’t see them. Our own concerns and issues form such a tight context around our lives that we can’t see the sometimes urgent problems in the lives of others.

I am no longer working in Honduras, but I am still concerned with the overlooked and unseen poor children there. I have many young friends who are not enrolled in the new school term that began in February due to lack of funds for things like shoes or school supplies. Later this week, I am shipping a small shipment of shoes and school supplies, although I didn’t have enough funds to buy shoes for all of the children.

If you are not involved in helping someone in your own community or abroad, please consider being generous with the poor. They can’t repay you, but God makes a promise to do just that. Proverbs 19:17 states that whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. Even if you can’t quite imagine a literal recompense from God, perhaps you can agree that helping poor children ultimately benefits everyone, as well-nourished and educated children will make the world a better place, not just for them, but all of us.

Here are a few pictures of the children in Honduras. Donors are always welcome. Information concerning giving is available at His Eyes Ministry site or their Facebook site.

 

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Some of our kids only eat once a day, or eat only beans and tortillas daily. A daily meal makes a great deal of difference in the lives of these children. The cook is trained to use nutritious ingredients in the meat spaghetti sauce that children may normally not eat, such as texturized soy, carrots, and other shredded veggies.

 

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The center provides tutoring in skills such as math, English, and computers. The public schools are subpar in this community.
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Mariela is always hungry. Her mom supports the family by making and selling corn tortillas. Unfortunately, she seldom earns enough to feed her family well.
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Nicolle is a typical child in the project on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

A note about photos: I have been questioned why our children appear healthy and well-dressed. I do not like to manipulate emotions of readers by posting children who appear sick, dirty, or with torn clothing. Also, our children are aware they are being photographed, so they chose their best clothing for photographs. The ministry also provides clothing at little cost to parents. In some cases, clothing is free, but we feel it lends dignity to charge a small fee. In addition, the men and women who sort and sell clothing receive a small recompense as their salary.

Church and Chicken

20839495I can see my English students are drifting. They look confused, intimidated, or just plain bored. So, I throw out English words that most Hondurans know already, even if out of context. I challenge them to give the Spanish equivalent for English words.

“Church,” I say.

“Ah, pollo!”

The class nods in appreciation. Everyone in Honduras knows church means chicken. In Honduras, Church’s Chicken is a popular franchise.

“Wrong!” I shout exuberantly.  

The gringa is confused,” they murmur.

Even if they don’t truly believe me, I have their attention. We can all agree that taco means taco, and pizza is pizza, no matter where you are. But church? What’s up with that?

I grew up attending church every Sunday morning in Louisiana. My mama often served fried chicken after church. Grandpa said grace, and we passed the chicken, white gravy and farm-raised vegetables.

Church and chicken. Made sense to me. Today, fried chicken is not a Sunday rite. Neither is going to church for most of us.

I rarely eat fried chicken today. I like it, but I had my fill before I reached puberty. Not long ago, I had my fill of church, too. 

Living in a foreign country, I found the meetings didn’t always seem relevant to my needs. I was often the only white person in the crowd, and one of the few to drive a car. I tired of flatterers who favored la gringa for reasons more related to funds than friendship.

I quit the church, just like I dropped fried chicken years ago.

Now, I am living in the US again. I attend services most every week. I realize now that the power of gathering in Christ’s name has power. I feel it when I join my voice in prayer or praise with the congregation. I sense the Spirit in the words spoken in wisdom and comfort.

I am linking this post to Velvet Ashes, where the site’s moderators are posting about the topic, community. Is community only achieved in church?

No. Of course not.

Yet, it’s one of the best places to experience community. Jesus said, where two or three are gathered, there I am.  It’s powerful. It’s real.