5/31/11   Leave a comment

I am home now..back in Bangor, Maine. I ended my blog abruptly on May 22nd for many reasons, but mostly because May 23rd was a tough day and I have not been able to put it into words. I now feel that it is important to share the events of that day.

On May 23rd my son Quinten turned 15. It was difficult to be so far away on his birthday. I know he understood but I couldn’t help but feel some guilt. I still feel some guilt. I have since found out that he made some bad decisions while I was away. Tough stuff.

I woke that morning with Quinten on my mind. Skype failed me and so I ate breakfast and got ready to head to the Kinder with a group lead by Kristen to perform a play on recycling for the children. Kristen’s project was centered around teaching children the concepts of reduce, reuse, and recycle. The play was brilliant but unfortunately the children did not sit quietly and listen. It seems that they are not ever made to sit quietly by their teachers. We had to shout our lines to the children and even then I think that only the kids in the front heard us. The saving relief to the morning for Kristen was that, as we left, we overheard a teacher reinforcing the concepts to her class. If a change is going to be made, it starts with the children. I know that Kristen’s work made a difference.

After lunch we headed to San Jose for our last day. We walked the hill with heavy hearts. I knew it would be tough… but I had no idea. When we arrived we found the children outside on the playground. They loved this area. It was a beautiful spot with green grass and fun outside equipment. It was nice to see their smiles. I found my little man and he found me. Of course he asked for my glasses. We sat and hugged and smiled.

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I tried hard to play with the others as well, trying to remember the words of the worker several days before. This was my last day there and it would be hard for both of us when I left. While pushing some children on the swings, Arias asked to be picked up. It was incredibly hot outside but I couldn’t say no. I held him and pushed the others. I eventually got him into a swing and pushed three at a time. While pushing the boys I caught a worker out of the corner of my eye hitting a child with a shoe. At first I felt that i must have been seeing things and so I continued to pay attention to this woman. My fears were correct. The child had taken his shoes off and she picked up the shoe and hit him with it. I looked around in desperation to see that the two other workers had witnessed this as well. I was the only person who was bothered by it. I stood with a huge knot in my stomach and my mind racing…did I say something or let it go. My mind brought me back to my sociology and anthropology classes where we talked about cultural norms and differences. It was likely that this, although disturbing to a Mom that has never spanked a child, was a norm here in Honduras. The woman was not beating the child, but she was hitting him. I was and still am trying to rationalize. You could see the frustration in her eyes. She was overwhelmed and overworked. Even so, I can not and will not ever understand how a person can hit a child. I kept looking around for answers but the other workers witnessed and did nothing. I spoke with other students too and none of them seemed as concerned as I was with the situation. I felt helpless and sad. I felt, and still feel angry and emotionally charged. Over the next hour I witnessed the same worker hit another child with a toy, lock a child in a closet with no windows, and pick a child up by the arm and drop him. I also witnessed her kick a child in the back of the knees for wanting to be picked up. That child was Arias. There are no words to express my feelings of guilt, sadness and anger. I sat motionless, unsuccessfully trying to fight back tears.

The nun came out to announce that outside time was over and so we headed inside. It was time to say our last goodbyes. A women entered the facility and Arias ran to her with full force. She picked him up and loved him for a minute. She tried to put him down and he refused. After a couple of minutes of struggle she handed him to a worker and ran out the door. Arias stood screaming and crying at the gated entrance for the women. I asked a worker who the woman was, thinking maybe she was his mother. She was a woman that often came to help with dinner that he had become very close with. He continued to cry and scream. I tried to calm him but he did not want my arms. Others tried as well, but he wanted nothing to do with any of us. After a couple of minutes he found his thumb and soothed himself. It was well beyond time for us to leave and so I tried to say my goodbyes. He would not hug me or kiss me or even give “fist bumps”. I felt tears swelling up in my eyes. He walked away to the bathroom to wash his hands and I stood motionless. Just before turning the corner towards the bathroom he turned his head and flashed a giant smile. That smile will be in my heart forever.

Two days later we arrive at the airport in San Pedro Sula. While waiting in line for coffee I see Susan and Sophia, the women from California that had been helping in the orphanage during our stay. Susan is smiling bigger than I have ever seen and can’t wait to share news with us. The catholic church has agreed to hire on three more full time workers to help at the orphanage. I share in her excitement and explain the frustration and violence of the worker that I had seen on my last day there. Susan is shocked and vows to make this known to Sister Maria. She promises me that Sister Maria is kind and loving and will not tolerate this kind of behavior. This eases my pain… but only a little.

A piece of my heart stayed with the children of Hogar San Jose that day, but in particular with a boy named Josue Arias. The image of him being kicked for wanting to be picked up makes me sick. I only hope that I did more for him positively than negatively.

I am thankful that I saw Susan at the airport that day and shared my concerns. I am thankful that she is in turn, sharing her concerns with Sister Maria. I am not a religious person but I do believe that things happen for a reason. Josue Arias came into my life for a reason. I met Susan and Sophia for a reason and I know for a fact that this will not be the end of this story. I look forward to seeing my little man again.

I am home now in The United States of America. I am in a clean house with clean water and electricity. I do not fear for my life from violence or disease. I do not wonder if my next meal will be nutritious or warm. I have my children and my family that love me and that I love very much. I am lucky and thankful to be an American. I hope that every person reading this takes a minute to be appreciative for what they have. Even if you have very little, there are people that have it worse than you. Don’t ever take that for granted. I know I won’t. I am forever humbled by my experience and I will always have a place in my heart for Josue Arias.

Posted May 31, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

5/22/11   Leave a comment

We had another fun filled day with an excursion out of town that went straight to the top of my list of my favorite places. We traveled just outside town to an Organic Farm unlike any I have ever seen. The grounds were beautiful and the gardens were full of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Our trip through the farm was cut short by a thunderstorm but we got to listen to owner of the land speak about the changes he has seen over the years and the issues that have come about because of the use of pesticides and growth hormones. I was only able to snap a few pictures before the rain.

I will return to this farm again. I have already promised myself this.

Monday is going to be a tough day. It is our last day in Santa Rosa de Copán. It will be sad to say goodbye to all of our our new friends at San Jose and San Antonio. It is also my son’s birthday and that is weighing heavy on my heart and mind. I am anxious to be through with Monday, off to the Ruins, and then home late on Thursday night. The children and I are going to waste a weekend snuggling on the couch and catching up on the time I have missed. That is what is going to get me through Monday.

Posted May 23, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

5/21/11   Leave a comment

Dogs barking, horns beeping, people yelling on the streets..another morning in Santa Rosa begins. We are up early for breakfast and then a trip to the San Jose Orphanage. I am pleased to hear that we are having pancakes WITH SYRUP! This reminds me of home and big breakfast Sundays. I can’t wait for this Sunday to have the biggest breakfast ever with my kids. As I eat I begin to get a knot in my stomach. I can’t even figure out why but it grows tighter by the minute. As the others gather at the gate for the walk to the orphanage, I make the last minute decision to stay behind. I can’t tell if I am getting sick or if I am feeling anxious. I say my goodbyes to my “sisters” and climb back into bed. Everyone needs to be alone sometimes and I think I needed this time to reflect. So much has happened in our time here. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp it all.

The group returns a couple hours later with smiles and stories of the morning fun. My boy Arias had a lot of fun playing in an obstacle course designed by some of my classmates. I feel sorry that I missed it, but happy that it went to well. We head to lunch at our favorite spot. We laugh and smile and life feels good again. After lunch we go in search of the market that sells baby formula. The remainder of the money I collected before the trip will be spent on this. We find the store and I am happy to discover that, like everything else, it is cheaper here in Honduras. I spend the remaining $75 on the formula requested by the nuns. There are so many babies and very little funds. We feel that the money is well spent.

The San Antonio Orphanage for girls fills our afternoon. As we arrive we find the girls sitting together in the courtyard. Several are playing guitars and they are singing with smiles. I assume this to be something that is done daily. I catch the eye of several of my buddies and they all have big smiles. It is nice to see them again. Shortly after arriving it begins to downpour. The only advantage to this is that we are forced to the outside benches where we get a really good chance to talk with the girls. Some of their stories are heartbreaking. I try to let them talk without digging for information. I do not want to overstep their comfort zone. The older girls don’t hold back. They do not like the nuns. They tell stories that are heartbreaking. It’s hard to understand why we can’t just take these girls home with us. We talk about their lives and their struggles. We laugh some and at times I am holding back tears. It is humbling. Some younger girls run through and lighten the atmosphere and change the conversation. I grab my camera to catch the smiles.

We head out as the girls get ready for dinner. I am hungry and dehydrated. We are making dinner together again tonight. It’s a concoction of fresh vegetables, garlic, and jalapeños over pasta. We name this creation “La Bomba”. The story behind this is long and hilarious. I will share in another post..maybe :) We cook together and laugh. I have made good friends here. We eat dinner “family style” and make plans to reunite this summer. It hard to believe this time has gone by so fast. We only have 3 nights until we leave for Copán Ruinas and 2 nights after that we will be home. I will be sad to leave..for so many reasons, but happy to see my family again.

Posted May 22, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

5/20/11   Leave a comment

It’s hard to sleep thinking about where we are and where we have been so far on this trip. I wake early in the morning and lay in bed, reflecting. It’s already Friday and hard to believe that we will be back home in one week. Breakfast, coffee and off to San Jose Orphanage for some snuggle love. On the way down the hill we stop to look at shoes that we would like to purchase for the battered woman’s shelter. We were told they needed all different sized kids shoes. We are looking to purchase at least 10 pair. We speak with the owner of the store about our intent and she cuts us a deal. It’s funny because the women here have been so nice. They appreciate what we are doing in the community. We have been told this repeatedly. We continue down the hill and see two interesting looking women. One is carrying a live chicken and the other is carrying a basket on her head. We stop to ask if we can take a photograph. The first time I asked someone if I could do this I was nervous. Now I know that these women are proud to be photographed. The women stop and smile.

We arrive at the orphanage to find a large group of women playing with the children. They are young and we wonder if they are the mothers or relatives. I sit down and strike up a conversation. I am becoming more and more comfortable doing that here. The women are students of the Catholic University. I tell them about our crazy walk around town trying to find their campus and our repeated attempts to get past the guard. They think I am funny. I hope it’s my personality that they find funny and not my Spanish. While we talk I am searching for my boy. He is no where to be found. I start to get that panicky feeling in my stomach. I see a women with a boy snuggled close to her chest. She is smiling and clearly has an attachment. I move closer to get a better look. She calls him by name. It’s my boy. The sting of jealousy is quickly followed by pure elation. These girls come once a week for two hours as part of a class. He is getting love for at least 2 hours each week. I can see that she clearly cares for him. My boy has another woman in his life, and I happy. He finally sees me from her arms. He smiles a big smile. I let him be and find others that need my love. There are so many. A student comes to me with a wet baby and hands her to me for a change. She must think I work there or maybe I look like a mom. I struggle with a cloth diaper, but manage though it. I hand off a clean baby and almost immediately get handed another. I end up changing a lot of babies on this trip.

The women say their goodbyes and Arias finds his way to me. As always he asks for my sunglasses. I will never say no to this. He is happy. It is nice to see him this way. He snuggles in close. I have decided that this is going to have to be okay. I am not here much longer.

I leave San Jose feeling much better about my boy Arias. He has a connection that I can see and feel. This lightens the burden I have been feeling when thinking of leaving. We make the long trip up the hill in the hot sun. It may be the hottest day so far, probably low 90′s. The smog makes the air hard to breathe and the hill is very steep. This picture doesn’t do it justice.

We spend the early afternoon shopping for toys for the battered woman’s shelter. We find a great store several blocks away and spend about $75 American dollars. We buy blocks, board games, jump ropes, card games, a basketball, some matchbox cars and other small items. We are excited to have spent so little and bought so much. We are excited to be helping out where we can.

In the afternoon we trek back to the San Jose Orphanage again. This time the facility is packed with high school volunteers. This is their first trip to San Jose. They brought soda, cheetos, and candy for the kids. The place is a mad house. I find Arias sitting with a lap full of treats. He is happy..to say the least. I get sticky hugs. I don’t mind. Another baby is crying and needs my arms. It’s Sueño from my first visit. She snuggles in and Arias stays by my side. We play a little and snuggle a lot for the rest of the afternoon.

We leave as the kids head in for dinner. It’s starting to rain as we head up the big hill. I arrive back at the posada tired and full of thoughts. Kristen and Kalie surprise me with dinner plans. They have bought fresh vegetables and pasta to cook. It’s nice to stay in and eat a quiet meal. We drink Chilean wine and laugh. I am lucky to have met so many great people on this trip. My roomies and I have become close. We are making plans to reunite this summer.

Posted May 21, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

5/19/11   Leave a comment

It’s almost routine now. Wake up to the sound of roosters, stray dogs barking through the streets, and traffic. It’s an odd combination. An early morning Skype call brightens my day. My children are happy and healthy. They are safe. I miss them terribly.

Breakfast, shower, and out the door. The San Jose Orphanage does not allow visitors on Thursdays so we decide it’s a good day to do some shopping. Before my trip I collected around $300 in donations to be spent here in the community. Spending money here is fun, especially when we are buying things that we know the people of Honduras can use. The night before we bought around 75 notebooks, over a hundred pencils, and some learning posters for the orphanages. These are things we take for granted at home. Other purchases have been thread for making friendship bracelets and spaghetti and sauce to make a dinner at the woman’s shelter. On Friday we will be searching the town to buy mass quantities of shoes for kids.

My group decides to stop off at our favorite coffee shop on our way out. Its nice to sit and talk and reflect about our experiences. There is a back patio area that makes us feel like we are out of the impoverished dirty streets. I think that its my favorite spot to escape here. We enjoy bagels, cinnamon buns, and some exotic drinks in peace.

We head over to the “laundry mat” which is really nothing more than an elderly woman’s house. We drop laundry at the door and we pick it up clean and folded. It’s incredibly cheap and a win/win. The elderly woman is making extra money off the Americans and we are giving her all of our business. It seems we have encountered a couple of businesses that are happy that we have money to spend. This is a very poor country.

With a little searching and some help from a friendly lawyer, we find our way to the post office. Kalie and I have post cards that we’d like to send home. We explain what we need and find out that it will probably take 2 weeks for our postcards to make it home. We sent them anyway. Kalie and I are proud of our adventure and success.

Kalie and I decide to go in search of the Catholic University. On our way into town we noticed it at the top of a large hill. We were told it was one of the best views of the city. It is noon-time. The sun is hot and we head out on another adventure. After a fun trek across several neighborhoods and through previously uncharted territory we find the University. Of course I am snapping photos along the way.

We were not allowed to enter into the building, despite repeated attempts with the guard at the gate. We took pictures from the cliff beside the building but we were not allowed to go in and look around. It was a beautiful view.

Thanks to Kalie’s amazing sense of direction, we found our way back to the Posada de Carlos y Blanca through the park. We stopped to take some pictures in the playground.

While posing for a picture at this park, I was propositioned by a young Honduran man. Since we have been here we have had many discussions about how women are looked down upon in this society. We have been stared at, hissed at, grabbed, and propositioned. We have never walked down the street without getting at least one..”hey bebe” or “I love you”. It is annoying but we have all done a pretty good job of ignoring it. This is the culture here..right or wrong. Women are objects. This event in the park was beyond disturbing. I was posing by the gate for a picture when a young man approached and starting asking me if I wanted his companionship. He would not stop his ridiculous remarks. At first I laughed but it became scary when he didn’t stop. You can see him in the background of my picture. We obviously got back to the Posada without issue, but it was still disturbing. Friday I am going to a shelter for battered women where I will look for information on women’s issues and how change can happen. There is so much to think about and learn.

I miss my children, my family and friends. Thank you to all those who helped me to make this trip possible. Love you!

Posted May 20, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

5/18/11   1 comment

I was up bright and early this morning to get my Skype call in with the kids. It was great to hear their voices. It energizes me and helps to remind me why I am working so hard. I don’t mean working hard here in Honduras, I mean in life in general.

We enjoyed a traditional Honduran breakfast of eggs, black beans, fried plátanos, tortillas, avocado, and honduran cheese. I am enjoying the food here, although many are not. The coffee is amazing too.

Shortly after breakfast Kalie and I headed out to San Jose orphanage. The sun was already hot but the downhill walk was relaxing. We stopped for a coffee at one of our favorite coffee spots and decided to treat ourselves to a chocolate covered cinnamon bun as well. It was delicious.

As we strolled further down the hill we saw an elderly woman sweeping the streets. As we got closer we noticed the big B on her baseball hat. We moved in closer to get a better look. Sure enough, it was a Sox hat. We approached the woman and explained the hat and asked if we could snap a photo. She was thrilled that we wanted to photograph her. We snapped several and moved on feeling happy to have seen something so trivial but so close to my heart. The funny part is, the woman had no idea what the B stood for.

We continued across the busy highway and on to the San Jose Orphanage. Upon entering we were surprised to see 3 others from our group already helping with the babies. I moved to the toddler courtyard area. Although I had reminded myself not to, I looked for Arias immediately. Out of instinct I eagerly moved to his side. He was quick to smile and extend his hands for a hug. I picked him up and gave him love. He was not going to be put back down. I didn’t mind. It feels natural to have a child in my arms and I miss my own babies, who are not even babies anymore, at home. Arias immediately asks for my sunglasses. Would I ever say no?

I glance around the room and find my friend Kalie filling the courtyard with bubbles and subsequently, smiling faces. Arias and I move to the excitement. We dance around in the bubbles with the kids. Despite their dirty faces, despite the concrete backdrop, and despite the lingering stench of urine and diarrhea, their smiling faces warm our hearts. The bubbles were a success.

With Arias still holding tight, we move to a bench filled with toddlers. A nun is swiftly approaching me with a stern look on her face. She is speaking fast and so it takes a minute for the words to process, but I get the gist of her rant. She repeats herself to make her intent clear. She says I can no longer hold Arias. He is big now. He is capable of walking and he does not need my hugs. She tells me that when I leave, no one will be able to hold him and that he will need to be on his own. I stand there dumbfounded, Arias still in my arms. I feel my face get hot and my eyes fill with tears, but I refuse to cry. I am hoping for a moment that I am misunderstanding her words but that is not the case. In my mind I know that a little piece of what the sister says is right. In my heart, I don't get it. As she stands there watching, I try to put him down. He cries and clings to me. I struggle, still holding back the tears. I manage to get him to the floor and walk away.

I watch him out of the corner of my watery eyes, so he can not see me. He is laying on the dirty concrete floor. He eventually soothes himself with his thumb. My head is in a fog, and still processing. I move to play with some other kids. The nun hands me a girl that can not walk. She is covered with scars from surgeries. I sing songs to her and dance around. For the most part she is without expression. In a faint voice she says "agua" over and over the entire time I am holding her. The nuns have already informed us that they were not allowed water as they feel water will spoil their lunch. This is hard to understand, as it is so hot.

I am still watching Arias. He is up and moving around now. He heads to Susan, who is playing with two other girls. I keep my distance, but snap a picture.

I sit on another bench with several babies and see the nun approaching. She sits by my side. I think she understands my sadness. I sit quietly because I feel that knot in my stomach and fear the emotion that will follow when I speak. She breaks the silence with another explanation. There are so many babies and so little help. Only the ones that have to be held should be held. I still understand but I don’t like it. As we are talking Arias comes to my side. He tries to get me to pick him up. As the nun continues talking, Arias lays his head across my lap. She tells me about his life. Arias has been at the orphanage since he was a small baby. His mother abused him. She intentionally broke his leg, which explains the deformity and the scar. The orphanage is all he has known. It is hard to keep my composure. It’s hard to keep my composure now.

We helped the kids wash up for lunch. I followed them into the kitchen/dining area and helped with bibs. I said my goodbyes and flashed a smile at Arias. He smiled back. He probably understands.

I found Kalie in with the babies. She has gotten close with a boy named Benedicto. We have already decided that we will be back for these boys.

The babies are getting ready to sleep. Kalie points out a one day old baby that had been dropped off the day before by a 16 year old mom. The mom brought the baby to the door and explained that her aunt thought she should kill the baby. The nuns said that this is a common solution here. At least the 16 year old knew better.

We left the orphanage with heavy hearts and the need for a lot of thinking. Reflection is a daily event, sometimes hourly. I will take more time for that today.

Posted May 19, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

5/17/11   1 comment

Today we went to Dulce Nombre. I picked a coffee bean straight off of a tree. I saw a gecko. I saw a beautiful town and talked to kind people. I took a million pictures. Here are a few…

The view looking out of a church door.

The view of the coffee plantation..it was beautiful

A black and white gecko (hard to see)

The streets of Dulce Nombre

Another view of the coffee farm. We hiked in through what we called the “Cafe Selva” or Coffee Jungle. It was a rough hike but well worth the effort. Probably my 2nd favorite day so far.

Tomorrow is our half way point. I miss my kids but I am enjoying my time. So much to do.

Posted May 18, 2011 by santarosabowen in Uncategorized

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