*muchachas – the young women who live at the Jardin
The was so much about Honduras that reminded me of Nigeria; the warmth of the people and the country, the openness to strangers, the textured walls, the craziness of the drivers, the ambition of traders in traffic, the lush vegetation, the marvellous mountains, the cool evenings, the unending roads.
Sr. Violaine and Sr. Maria-Jose and Neri came to get us from the airport. Neri lived close to the Jardin and helped the people there. He smiled much and said little, his handshake was sincere and sweaty.
Sr. Maria-Jose’s quiet smile welcomed us. There was a wise and benevolent air around her and there was almost a mischevious twinkle in her eyes when she smiled.
Sr. Violaine had a heart that ignited any room. It was a guilty pleasure to watch her shift from her first language, French, to English and then Spanish. It was obvious that the work she did meant the world to her.
When we arrived, some of the muchachas* came out to say hello. Some were reserved, some were outspoken, all were happy. The girls at the Jardin had left their homes and families for their education. Their homes were far away from school, so they lived at the Jardin, which was closer. There was something about them that struck a chord with me. Behind their shyness was a wondrous expectation. An expectation of what the next eight days would hold for them and for us.
On the way to church on Sunday, it began to rain but only lightly. We chose to forgo the vehicle and walked. Some of the roads surrounding us were untarred and hilly.
The people had a deep spirituality and an even deeper understanding of the Gospel. It was evident in the way they made room for one another. In the way, even strangers like myself were embraced. It was evident in the way the older women kissed the newborns.
After lunch and siesta, we explored downtown Santa Barbara. Every street was vibrant in its own way. The walls were low and painted in lively, sometimes clashing colours. The people did not cease to amaze me. There was kindness and a twinge of curiosity in their eyes. Every “hola!” was not left unreturned.
Our time at the park confirmed what I suspected; the people here took life easy. Their every waking moment was not filled with frantic activity. They embodied what it meant to be a human BEING. I saw people sitting; staring in the distance, enjoying the breeze. A mother grabbed her rambunctious, little son by the hair. He had tried to run onto the road.
The men were unabashed in their admiration. Simple greetings were met with exaggerated replies. They stared quite easily and sometimes, up close. Due to the language barrier, we could not understand their flirtatious mumblings.
There were houses in the glorious, cloud-covered mountains. I wondered what the break of dawn would look live for those who lived in them. I also wondered if the people were oblivious to the beauty that surrounded them or if they had simply grown accustomed to it.
The familiarity of the unfamiliar, at church, was something I was grateful for.
A bond was quickly forming between us and the muchachas*. Picture English sentences interjected with Spanish words and vice versa and many hand gestures. This was one of the rare occasions in my life when questions were answered with hugs and resounding laughter.
The next day saw us beginning the “service” portion of our trip. Once we began, it was evident that the Sisters had been so busy fulfilling their purpose so much so that aesthetics had become secondary. Although we did not complete our tasks, our hosts were satisfied.
I felt a mixture of emotions when I thought about the muchachas. I wish I had their openness to strangers, their comportment, their love for one another, their reverence for God.
By the following day, it became clear that corn tortillas were a staple.
I was aware of the way life sounded here. Everything was alive and free. The clucking and crowing of chickens, the chirping of birds, the laughter that took the place of words, the patting of ground maize for tortillas. The song of crickets was the soundtrack of the night. Above our room sat the moon; half full and surrounded by stars only on one side.
The next day, we painted the IHER, an informal school. We had youth over at the Jardin from the parish and hosted a little soiree later in the evening.
When morning came, we picked coffee beans in the mountains about 1200 feet above sea level. Most of the journey was bumpy but the sights provided adequate compensation. The work truly was a labour of love.
Another woman who made an incredible impression on us was Miriam. Her face had an ethereal glow when she smiled. She was strong and handled things; no time wasted, no questions asked. She was an integral part of life at the Jardin.
On Saturday, we did not have any work to do and so we went exploring. We visited a waterfall and swam. I swam! I had shared a pool with people prior to that and it hardly qualified as swimming. Although I had lived on an island throughout my undergraduate degree, I only walked on the seashore and sat by the bonfire when I visited the beach. My friend, Katie, who is a phenomenal swimmer was on the trip as well. Because of her presence, I gained the confidence to go into the water. She taught me how to float and how to kick my feet in the water.
Swimming that day was a lesson in trust. As she taught me, I would get afraid and become tense and begin to sink. In her usual quiet and confident manner, she said, ” Relax your body. The waves will carry you.” I listened and obeyed. I am grateful I did.
I thought that was an incredible metaphor for trusting Providence. In my life, I have found that it is only in the moments when I chose to trust God and His timing that I am the most joyful and free.
Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool of the water throughout my body as I floated was transcendent. When I opened my eyes, I saw the rich blue colour of the sky and that moment felt like a gift.
On both Friday and Saturday nights, we partied with the muchachas and some other friends. The speaker powerfully blasted music into the darkness. For the first time in years, I was unbothered about how the neighbours would feel about our music.
We began with Spanish music; swaying our hips, dancing in pairs. I was deliriously happy. The music was moving, the people were dancing. I felt sweat trickle down the small of my back and felt a small numb pain under my feet. Surprisingly, many of us were not sore the next morning.
Our flight was before noon on Sunday so we set out of Santa Barbara early in the morning. The muchachas were in their pyjamas when we began to load our luggage into the vehicle.
Goodbye was sad.
I could not believe eight days had come and gone. The hugs were deliberate and warm and tight. I would miss this land of swaying coconut trees and endless fields of corn.
As I walked to unlock the gates of the Jardin, I heard the toll of the bell, summoning the girls back to normal life.