It has been hard to spend any time here in Tegucigalpa without seeing or experiencing something noteworthy. Just the 45 minute drive from the Mattson’s safe, gated condo, through town and up the rugged mountainside into the poverty stricken community where we are working, is a bombardment of my North American senses.
As the gate closes behind us we are reminded to keep the heavily tinted windows up especially when stopped at an intersection where we could be robbed at gunpoint. I notice that many vehicles have tinted windows for security. It is especially wise to not put the gringos on display as we drive.
Garbage is collected at the street a couple times a week. They just put it out in garbage bags or whatever. Before it is picked up, others will come along and scavenge through it for anything of value. Which can’t be much considering who is throwing the garbage away. Where we are working there is a large area along side the road where garbage is just dumped and occasionally burned. The smell of burning garbage is commonplace. Dogs and vultures love this arrangement.
During the first part of our drive there are some reminders of home along the way; a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a Starbucks knockoff called Café Americano. There is even a BMW dealership. Of course you wonder what’s up when each of these locations is sporting a uniformed man with a shotgun out front or a guard tower in the parking lot.
The driving route we take leads to a stadium where the two lanes of traffic circle tightly around the local soccer stadium and then down a hill over a bridge and into a less developed area of town. Sidewalk vendors of all types are everywhere. There is food being cooked on wood burning contraptions, vendors are even standing on the yellow lines between lanes as cars, busses and taxis are whizzing by.
You must drive aggressively here or you won't get anywhere. The cars, the buses, the motorcycles are all competing for the same piece of roadway. And pedestrians have absolutely no right-of-way. Mateo seems to thrive in this competitive driving environment. It is incredible that there are not more collisions or pedestrians hit. According to a Honduran I spoke with, forget about calling the police if you get in a wreck. They will just manipulate the situation to put money in their pockets. No one trusts the police here.
Many of the buses here are old yellow school buses from the States that have been cleaned up, decorated with chrome wheel covers and other accessories and put into service as mass transit. There is no municipal bus service, each bus is a privately owned enterprise with its own stops and clientele.
The decorations on busses, cars and trucks often include large text across the top of the windshield saying “God is the answer” or “God is my partner”, etc. To some degree, the people here seem to have a better understanding than Americans where real help and hope comes from.
We waited at McDonalds yesterday morning to meet Pastor Marco and while we waited, I noticed that a small group of women were in the kids play area, without kids. They were praying for a member of their group as they stood in a circle, in plain sight, in the middle of the play area. The economic and government situation here is a mess, but clearly we have met many who know a better place to put their hope.
Contrary, is the sight of men who have lost hope and vision. A man in the street with a stagger and vacant eyes, another with a discarded pop bottle held to his nose so he can inhale the fumes of the glue that has been poured inside. There was a disheveled man at the side of an intersection last night. I almost did not see him when we stopped because he was sitting. His legs were literally withered and angled oddly off to the side of his rotund sunbaked upper body. Apparently this is his spot. Where he is brought each day to beg. He has a stick to reach out and tap the driver’s window of a stopped vehicle. He spends his day unprotected from the sun and literally on the edge of traffic. His reward is whatever change or food is tossed his way. The reasons for despair and defeat are many in this place.
There is a point in our travel to the church construction project where literally, the pavement ends. The chaotic maze of tiny block and tin houses continues up the hillsides with the dusty dirt “road” jammed between them. It’s barely a car and a half wide and “graded” according to nature. It climbs and drops steeply with the terrain, even where it’s level the local rock laden soil makes it rougher than anything we would even call a logging road.
This is where the cemetery is. A sad array of crosses, above ground sepulchers and simple stone markers spread across it’s unkempt hillside location. Vultures can be seen collected along the top of the hill. Across the road is a garbage dump.
As we finally lurch up to the church gate, eyes of the neighborhood are on us. There are mangy dogs hanging around. Some scruffy kids come out of the shacks to see who we are and what we might have for them. One of them, probably three years old, is running barefoot with only a long t-shirt on.
Entry into the church property is through a locked gate in the razor wire topped perimeter wall. We are greeted warmly by the hard-working men of this church each morning and it feels as if we have entered a sanctuary of hope.
Why are we here? To build a church building, sure. But more importantly, to encourage the continued building of the Christian Church in Honduras. The Church that Christ has established in the hearts of many here. It is their only hope.
Thank-you for your prayers,