15 Sep

It’s the middle of August (HA! Clearly, that is false. My blog procrastination and bit-by-bit writing method is exposed! Oops. Just go along with it, won’t you?) and we are up to our necks swimming in mangos. I really shouldn’t be so surprised since there’s a mango tree within a stone’s throw wherever you find yourself in the Finca, but I was sorely unprepared for the sheer number of mangoes that are being produced. There’s such an abundance, in fact, we can barely keep up with the supply we inherit on a weekly basis. Suffice it to say, we’ve become quite creative in our cooking this last month or two.

If you think of a mango you would find in your nearby grocery store, most likely it’s not the same as the ones we have growing here. As I understand it, our trees produce mangoes of the “Keitt” variety with their large pits and green exteriors even when ripe whereas your local grocery store is most likely selling mangoes of the “honey” variety with hardly any pit at all and becoming gold in color when ripe (yes, I’ve done my research). Our mangoes have an ovular shape to them about the size of a softball or a bit bigger, super sweet in flavor, and extremely soft in texture when mature. It’s important to keep the toothpicks handy because they’re rather stringy on the inside and do very well to find their way in between the teeth. Even though these mangoes are of a different variety, it hasn’t made me any more or less attracted to them as far as fruits go.

We’ve concocted some scrumptious dishes, I should say. Things like mango salsa, mango smoothies, candied mango and ice cream, mango chicken, mango crumble, and even by themselves, they’re not half bad. A few months ago, the trees were only just beginning to fruit, and as I mentioned earlier, they don’t change much from their green color even when mature, but we still called them green mangoes to indicate the ones that were not mature. I prefer the green ones, in fact. They’re nice and tart and remind me of Granny Smith Apples. Most citrus fruits I’m a fan of, but the thing about this one is that it doesn’t have much pizazz for me. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have on hand when wanting to add a little flavor to your daily mess of mushy oats and black tar coffee.

As the country moves to slowly open operations again, the immigration office was quick to notify us of their opening in August. So, in an effort to continue living in this country legally, three of us headed to the immigration office in La Ceiba to become legal residents of Honduras. It was quite the adventure. Remember, we have been operating in a fairly high security environment, and stepping out of the Finca gates was a big deal. For the eight hour roundtrip drive, we left at 3:00am, wore masks the entire time, brought our own food for breakfast and lunch, had almost zero contact with anyone, and used hand sanitizer an obscene number of times (the elixir of life nowadays). All that, and unfortunately, we were still asked to complete a fourteen-day quarantine upon return.

What did this entail, exactly? Though not all of us went to the immigration office, we agreed we would complete the quarantine together as a community. Our house was roped off and we did the best we could to serve the community from our house. It was extremely limited, however. I used a small whiteboard to help the kids with their homework if they were really stuck, but even that had challenges when trying to properly explain the material they were learning. We relied heavily on help from our house parents, Franciscan sisters, and direction with school work, water and food distribution, community outreach, and medical needs. I knew they would be able to do it and do it well, but I am no less grateful for their taking on more than is normal.

I know I’m currently painting this experience to be negative. It wasn’t. The idea of quarantine was terrifying and not ideal when it restricts serving the mission you’ve been devoting your life to the past year. Fourteen days is a lot longer than you might think (preaching to the choir maybe?), but I made good use of the time…more or less.

Here were the “pros” of quarantine. I read, a lot. I can’t remember the last time I was able to spend hours and hours immersed in paper pages and small print outside with a cup of coffee in hand and the ocean breeze kissing my face, filling my lungs (Good gracious, did I just write that figurative mush? I’ve read too much). I turned my 5:00am alarm off and let the body sleep and rest. I didn’t end up sleeping much later than 6:30am most days, but it was refreshing still. I also appreciated the feeling of going back to sleep if I so desired. We have our new missionaries coming very very soon (woot woot!) and I was able to devote time planning and prepping for their orientation and arrival in two days! We even managed to put together a whole house clean so they’re not greeted by too many creepy crawlies upon arrival! Surprisingly, there was a mountain of community bonding during this time as well. Let me explain that a bit more. Despite the fact that we live and work together 24/7, we don’t always have the opportunity to just “be” in each other’s presence. I think it’s fair to say that this has been the reality ever since we became a five person community in March, and so, I like to think that those two weeks were a perfect opportunity to enjoy each other’s company for what it really is: undoubtedly challenging but utterly essential. This lead to many, many board game and movie nights which just so happen to be two of my most favorite communal activities to partake in. I’m not just saying that because I almost always win or can expect to be stuffing my face with popcorn or ice cream mid-cinematic viewing... Speaking of food, quarantine provided us with more than enough time for cooking meals and allowed our true culinary talents to surface. Some featured quarantine dishes included spaghetti lasagna, onion rings, and soft pretzels. Not only were we making deliciously tasty comfort foods for ourselves, we are so loved and cared for by our kids and house parents that they frequently made food to leave outside our quarantine area. Everything from baleadas to mango jam to granitas. My stomach was very happy to be in quarantine.

Make no mistake, this experience was not without its cons. Being enclosed in our house, my morning workout routine was reduced to 150 laps around our humble house. I guess there was a little sprinkle of pro to this con. Taking a break every now and again can be good, but with a two week break you’re suddenly in danger of losing all motivation to do it after the fact. I don’t love being cooped inside anywhere, and that made staying in our house and yard for two weeks super unpleasant. Truthfully, that’s been my feeling ever since March because our life turned into this constraining of the already constrained due to almost never leaving the Finca grounds for any reason. Because we were restricted to our roped of area, this meant that any human interaction outside of our community was up to the kids and their house parents to decide and make the effort to visit us. Fortunately, we were visited often, but there’s no helping feeling a little disheartened that we can’t simply stop by a house for a chat, learn a cooking technique, pop by for a coloring spree, or start soccer juggling competition and spend some quality time with the kids. Try as we did to keep things interesting and moving, the eventual boredom reared its obnoxious face by the end of our time. That part certainly wasn’t fun, but the good news is that it only occurred towards the end of quarantine. And the final con. I lost the key that opens the gate for getting onto the beach. I cannot for the life of me remember how I could’ve done that. I’m a forgetful person, but this one is just beyond me. The good news is that I didn’t permanently deny us all easy access to the beach since apparently we have a plentiful stock of padlocks.

There’s a quick snapshot of our quarantine experience. I hope I’m not making it sound too dramatic. I recognize that though we had some difficulties and challenges, it certainly could have been worse, and maybe that has been the case for you. I hope not, but I in no way mean to make light of the situation. It is good that we take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of this disease. I just would prefer not to do anymore 14-day quarantines while serving at the Finca.

Again, it wasn’t all bad. As with everything, there was plenty to learn from this experience. It’s been a journey for everyone to navigate the intricacies of a “new normal” whilst traversing through a global pandemic. We’ve found ours, and it’s, well, getting old. Being restricted from leaving the campus has been difficult, and it makes life very same old same old. The remedy and lesson learned, however, is finding any and all reasons to celebrate where possible. August 22nd happened to bring along one of those reasons. It’s a date that my family celebrates every year, in fact. Yes, this blessed morning, my entire community surprised me with a big breakfast bash celebrating my half birthday complete with half a plate for my half pancakes, half cup of coffee, and half of a most glorious rendition of Happy Birthday (ok, so yes, Sean’s whole birthday also happens to be on this day, but of course that is secondary. Much love Sean!). I am beyond grateful for this community for teaching just how easy and joyful it is to celebrate and to love on each other at the same time.

Despite having practically all the time in the world at my fingertips with little to no responsibilities in quarantine, it baffles me how easily I can come up with a reason not to do something I otherwise would have labeled as an “if only I had time” check-list item. I mean, here I am with the time I constantly complain I don’t have, and do you think I did ticked off any of those items? Mind boggling, right? Luckily, this idea that now there are no excuses was learned rather early in the quarantine. For me, this involved organizing myself and calling/writing to friends and family I haven’t been able to connect with in some time. I wasn’t perfect. There was plenty more I could’ve (er, maybe should’ve) accomplished. The good news is that the subtext of this lesson is actually understanding how to better prioritize because it doesn’t take a quarantine period to do what I wouldn’t otherwise do. The time is there. Might just be a little hidden under, I don’t know, napping?

Here’s, perhaps, a more expected lesson learned. Our two-week hiatus gave us some very good insight on rest, intentional rest. Yes, I know I just explained a whole paragraphs worth of embracing this “no excuse” attitude, but I promise, the two can live in harmony. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Thank you, Ecclesiastes). Times of rest are important, vital even. This mentality of go, go, go is exhausting after a while and soon the tank reaches empty. Then what? I’m crippled, unable to serve adequately because my own needs haven’t been met. I think there’s a stigma that resting can be perceived as weakness or laziness, but it’s crucial not to live into that. Ask any one of us missionaries and we will all emphasize the value of intentional rest, especially when striving to serve and serve this mission well.

Before COVID-19 went terrorizing the world, I was already quite familiar with video interface over the interwebs. There’s no way around the fact that it’s a very artificial experience despite the benefits it does also provide. Quarantine heightened this idea for me. As I mentioned, seeing the kids required a more concerted effort, mostly on their end, and with nothing more than a thin green rope to separate us, demand we keep our wits about us and maintain our six feet of social distance, I couldn’t help but feel just shy of a zoo animal. I don’t know why it felt so fake because we could see each other, react, laugh, smile, communicate, and yet, something was missing. I suppose that’s where the lesson comes into play. We endeavor to create meaningful relationships because it’s there that we foster growth and mutual love and respect, but a lack of presence stifles that. It’s not necessarily the inability to physically show affection like a hug, a pat on the back, or a fist bump. Just being close to one another makes a world of difference. There’s a connection that I fear is otherwise lost as interactions with one another continue from a distance, whether that be behind a pathetic and shabby line of green tweed or a computer screen.

I must apologize at this point. It looks like I’m doing that thing again where my fun and light-hearted blog suddenly becomes a sermon to fix all the problems of the world. So, my apologies. I blame all the reflection that occurred in quarantine. You never can quite get enough time to sit and reflect on, well, everything, can you? Some might argue that statement to be terribly false—me being one of them, actually. There is a horrible danger of getting too much inside your own head and spiraling because you realize you can’t possibly have all the answers to every single one of the burning questions that litters the mind with its mosaic of indelible marks. Alright, let me try and rephrase that first point now: you never can quite get enough time to sit and prayerfully reflect. As time passes by here in my beloved corner of Honduras, the idea that I have been traveling alone in this mission, in this country, heck, in my entire life we might as well say; It’s a misnomer. I cannot help but feel accompanied in all of it. It’s a bit eerie to think about, isn’t it? That’s the type of reflection I’m after. I end up horribly lost when I’m left alone with my thoughts. The reality is I will never find satisfaction to a majority of my questions and thoughts. What I can find, and value more, is the peace present when allowing Christ to be the center of those thoughts and quandaries, almost as if it’s he and I sitting amid a sea of books in my grand home library sipping on whiskey and puffing our tobacco pipes (now wouldn’t that be something!?). Lately though, I feel less like I’m being accompanied and more that I am being led, “and that,” Mr. Frost, “has made all the difference.”

I think I’m getting a bit carried away, so this is probably a good place to end. As always, sincerest gratitude for enduring my long-winded speech. It will come as no surprise that I was consistently advised to cut the length of my papers so as to streamline the process of deciphering “what is the point.” Please keep our new missionaries, Kelsey, Emma, Alicia, Britney, and Georgi, in your prayers as they travel to Honduras and begin to explore the joys of serving as missionary at Finca del Niño. Pray for us, the not so new missionaries, too! We’ll be praying for you!

I hope you remain safe and healthy, and if you can manage, treat your taste buds to the delicacies of a mango flavored anything, or if it suits you, the fruit itself.

Nos vemos, amigos, y Feliz Día de Independencia!


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