08 Jul

When I was a kid (er…when I was an 8-year-old kid), our yearly summer vacation to Seaside Park, NJ always involved day spent at the water park down the street from the beach house we were renting. Like any respectable water park, this one included a lazy river nearly circumnavigating the entire park. As was the custom for Slattery younglings, it was a sprint swift speed walk to that lazy river, for no other attractions were permitted to be enjoyed until we sputtered around the watery racetrack in our neon splatter-painted tubes. Gripping the rubber tube handles (feeling more and more like Star Wars pod racers), the battle had commenced, dodging innocent river tubers, bobbing in and out of the center holes of empty tubes, and barreling our way to the finish. It was anything but lazy, and more than once we were inevitably yelled at by the lifeguards.

The thing is, as an innocent tot, I never could wrap my head around the idea of a “lazy” river. I mean, what a waste of precious slippery slide riding time. However, this childhood attraction of mine has proven an unlikely, strange, but pertinent metaphor for life, especially life “on the Farm.”

There I was tutoring two of the middle schoolers in science and studying the Theory of Plate Tectonics (lol what?) when a great fat rooster went bolting past the open office entrance door. In close pursuit was one of our spritely teenage girls, followed by a second, then a third, and trailing behind was their valiant house mother. It certainly was an intriguing site to see but things such as this cease to surprise you after a while. Of course, all hope of further study was lost as the chickens were screaming bloody murder, and rightly so since it quite literally ended up being bloody murder for them. I’d have been more upset with the interruption if I wasn’t so captivated by the art and finesse with which they went about capturing the feathery fiends. The strategy was as follows: Chase the chickens round and round and long enough for them to tire out and seek shelter or some sort of hiding place, encircle the resting spot, creep ever so slowly toward the quivering creature, and when all captors have assembled and assumed the appropriate positions, they pounced. I swear to you it felt like watching a TV episode of Sylvester and Tweety Bird the way this all played out, but when all was said and done, my tummy was later satisfied by the tastiness of a Honduran tamale.

A week or so later I found myself in yet another animal caper while attempting to assist in the education of our youths. We were dealing with square roots (way more my speed) when the great Finca feline made its grand entrance into our study space. I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned Micho to you before, but all you need to know is that this cat, I am confident, has been around the Finca for the greater part of its 24 year existence and has far surpassed the arbitrary nine lives all cats are supposedly gifted. He is the scraggliest thing traipsing about with a limp, and in this story, he quickly won the sympathy of my middle school mathematician. He rushed to the four-legged fuzz ball with great haste and swooped him into his arms. I watched as he began to coddle Micho and tickle his belly and nose, and some will be happy to know I never mentioned a word of my disdain. My student returned to the table with the cat still in his hands and insisted the beast remain in our presence for the remainder of the time. I can’t say I was particularly thrilled, but neither was Micho. His face said it all, really: “I’m one nose poke away from hocking a fur ball in his face.”

Back in my tutoring office (I really can’t be sure why all these events were occurring during study times), I had two of our middle school girls with me (you remember, the chicken hunters) studying Tourism in Honduras for Social Studies. One of their questions asked them to state some things that affect tourism both positively and negatively. They listed some of your more typical responses such as travel rates, time of year, location, etc. “Oh, right, and pandemics can affect tourism, but that’s just a conspiracy invented by the government.” My face went blank. “I’m sorry, what?” was my response to the girls. “You think coronavirus is a conspiracy?” They both nodded their heads. Dumbfounded but also intrigued, I further asked, “Why would the government want to introduce a disease that has put the whole world in turmoil?” One of the girls looked me dead in the face, raised the back of her hand in the air and rubbed her fingers together. “Dinero” [money], she answers. I proposed a follow up, “But what about the doctors?” In a most matter of fact way, they said, “The doctors are in on it, too.” This went on for a good 20 minutes. Frankly, it wouldn’t be too off brand for them to have that thought process as Honduras has endured its fair share of exploitation and corruption. I’m fairly certain much of that was said in jest, but it was weird nonetheless.

Like many businesses, organizations, schools, whatever it may be, there is typically some sort of hierarchical system of leadership. It begins at the top and trickles its way down person to person as necessary. Here’s something to record for the “flow” chart (hehe). For a solid five days or so, I found myself suddenly “the boss” of everything. With our Director away and the Franciscan Sisters in quarantine, the whole kit and caboodle was mine to control. I wasn’t really aware that this shift was even taking place until my boss wrote to all of the staff, “And so, may God assist the boss, Ryan” (cue nervous laughter). The good news is that expectations were very low, that is, I was only important should any emergency arise in the time that those above me were out of commission. Thank goodness, too, because if I had any real power, my first order of business would have been to make a personal copy of the gate key to the beach for myself. I joked with some of the kids that as boss I was removing their beach privileges so I could soak up the rays in peace and solitude. Now that I think about it, my true ambition as the “Number 1” would’ve been to construct an amphitheater and/or concert hall, but there is only so much that can be done in five days.

As a missionary working for a children’s home in Honduras, you possess the distinct pleasure of fostering the growth and development of some truly amazing kids, and unfortunately, this includes the sad change when those kids are no longer kids but 18-year-old young adults. Since they are too old to continue living in the Finca, we make every effort possible and assisting with the necessary preparations to set them up for success outside of the Finca walls. Over the years, past Finca residents have gone on to further study in university, join the military or navy, or find jobs and enter the workforce. All of this is to say that a few weeks ago we said goodbye to two of our boys, now men, who both plan to join a military program willing to pay for their continued education. They were originally planned to depart in mid-March, but with the pandemic, there was too much unknown surrounding their situation for us to feel comfortable enough sending them on their way. However, when it was determined that they could safely enter and settle into their new living arrangement, we were forced to act quickly so as to take advantage of the change. This sent a bit of a shock to the entire community who were not quite ready to say goodbye. The Sunday before their departure, we put together a community lunch to celebrate their upcoming endeavors and reminisce about all the fond memories we shared with them. I haven’t even known these two a full year, but I couldn’t help beaming with pride as I watched and listened to the ways in which they have influenced the lives of so many. I am eager to see what God has in store for their lives, particularly how they take what they’ve learned here and share it with those they encounter in the “real world.”

Every Tuesday I am responsible for divvying and distributing all the vegetables we purchase to their appropriate houses, and often times I have a few little minions eager to help me with the task. I say “minions” because for all intents and purposes, I assume the role of Gru, evil genius, and they the beloved banana blobs known as minions, though I prefer describing the event as something more analogous to Willy Wonka and the oompa loompas. In any case, I was sitting in the Church waiting as everyone began departing from morning prayer, and one of the underlings began to walk toward me. I could see he was excited for the upcoming distribution but appeared to be preoccupied by something as well. He came right up to my face and said to me with finger pointed and head slightly tilted, “Today is Tuesday.” I nodded and smiled in agreement. He continued, “I’m going to be in the house finishing my chores and homework. Wait for me, but wait for me. And if you don’t wait for me, I’m not going.” Now what are you supposed to say to that? “Uh, yes, loud and clear, Sir. You have both stated the obvious and left me quivering with your threatening speech. I’ll be sure not to forget this one.” What I really would’ve liked to do was give him a big ol’ bear hug and pat him on the head, but I didn’t dare undermine his authority.

Remember how I’ve often shared spending time covering the houses at night while the house parents spend quality time together? You can maybe guess by now it is one of my favorite activities. Well, in my most recent covering caper, I spent time in the house of our youngest boys. Per usual, everything I had planned to do with them was thrown out the window when one of them insisted we make smoothies that evening. It didn’t take much convincing; Honduras is hot, the plátanos [plantains] were starting to turn, the blender was present, I like smoothies, they like smoothies. We had no reason not to make smoothies. It was all very sensible until we started compiling the ingredients: sugar, water, powdered milk, ice, and oh! What’s this? Cornflakes? Yes, the blandest of bland breakfast cereals somehow entered the playing field for our liquid creation. I truly thought it was a joke at first, but then they began pouring it in the blender. The blending commenced, and by the end of it, the result was exactly the same as if you had decided to make a bowl of cornflakes and left it sitting for, I don’t know, 20 seconds: a mushy lump of soggy sawdust. The kids were downing their witch brew. I, on the other hand, was working very hard to stomach what felt like drinking Frosted Flakes. We saved some for Tía for her to experience upon her return, and thank goodness because it saved me from having to indulge in a second helping.

As the months continue to go by and we continue to be quarantined within the Finca walls, the monotony of it all has begun to settle in a bit. Not that we’re counting or anything (we’ve almost hit the 4-month marker), but it’s become clear that we need to put some effort into shaking up the days. This has taken a few different forms, but most notably has been celebrating “Christmas in June” on the 25th. We just couldn’t wait until July when most others tend to celebrate this sort of thing. We blasted Christmas tunes, made Christmas cookies to be distributed, dressed in our most festive garb, decorated the pick-up truck, and paraded around the Finca singing classic Spanish Christmas hymns. I suppose this custom hasn’t quite established itself in Honduras yet because it wasn’t long before someone thought it necessary to explain to us that Christmas is actually in December. You can’t win ‘em all. More recently, our house has found itself in a little competition among the five of us. We have a good number of those large blue water coolers (I’m very unsure what they’re called in English, but here they’re called tambos) which we use for keeping purified water in great quantities, and currently there are five of them on a table lined and labeled with our names. What began as a simple curiosity for how much water might be consumed from a tambo in two weeks has converted into a race to see who can empty their tambo first. I’m itching for the victory and expecting a prize of sorts when this happens, but I was informed that the only prize awaiting me would be hydration…lame. I think after the beating my bladder is experiencing, I deserve something a bit more substantial.

To conclude, what I’ve come to learn from my lazy river racing days is that many times you need a bit of laziness, that is, an appreciation for the ebb and flow of life. There have been numerous weird, wacky, head-tilting, perplexing, and bewildering moments in all the time I’ve lived here but especially in this last month. It’s never convenient. Often I want to erupt with frustration, but as I’ve come to learn, it’s much easier to accept the reality for what it is, understand the volatility of many, many things here and in the world right now, practice patience, breathe, and just flow with it. I never was a huge fan of lifeguards yelling at me and a underwater stubbed toes anyway.

That’s all for now. I pray you are well, healthy, and able to find peace amid the many stressors that would seek to disrupt that peace. As always, I am grateful for your support and persistence when trudging the labyrinth of words I leave for you in these blog posts (Seriously, I don’t know how it happens).

Con cariño


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