Part 1) Sunday in Copan: Church and the Children of La Pintada
Before we traveled to Honduras, Kim sent some emails to work through logistics, set expectations and give advice. One of the things she recommended was to be mindful of our true purpose for going on this retreat. She believes, as do I, that we are guided in our life on our spiritual path. This trip was not just an interesting tourist experience, but those who chose to go had a deeper purpose than simple entertainment. As such, each day we should pay attention to what we really needed and wanted to do and base our decisions of how we used our time on what we really wanted to do, not just allow decisions to be made for us. I appreciated her prompt.
Upon arrival to the airport, we all set up “What’s app” with a group chat function so we could communicate as needed. It was fun to banter and share photos on this forum. Both in person and in writing Kim reminded us to be mindful of what was right for us as individuals as we considered all the options available to us. “If you are someone who normally holds back, think about stepping forward more. If you are someone that is always busy, wonder if you need to have some quiet time.” There was a sense of “be true to yourself” and no group pressure from Kim. If we felt “pressured” it was from our personal perception.
The first day I wanted to recover from the long travel day while others wanted to go explore in town. I had another motivation to enjoy the day soaking in the quiet of La Hacienda.
Nikki is the kind of friend that I could talk to for hours and never run out of things to share. We would frequently get together with our families and let our kids happily play while we enjoyed being together. Their family made the brave decision to move to Hawaii last year. With modern technology, we texted, spoke and video chatted often, but it is never the same as face-to-face contact.
Nikki and I also shared our early yoga path together practicing regularly in a studio and then meeting Kim who taught us Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. We were excited to be reunited for this yoga retreat. Seeing her at the airport in Guatemala City was so awesome! We had A LOT of catching up to do, so that was another motivation to bask in the stillness and beauty of the La Hacienda on day 1 while most others went exploring the town and some, including Eric, went on horseback for the afternoon.
Day 2 was Sunday. Nikki, Eric and I made plans to attend church and invited others in the group to join us. Instead, they did a yoga practice while we ventured into town. We found a small rented building with a familiar sign in Spanish “La Iglesia de Jesu Cristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias”. Seeing that sign, I felt like I was stepping back more than 30 years when I was a missionary in Peru, but this time I got to bring my two best friends via this time warp.
It was a little before 9 am and our driver from La Hacienda left us in the hands of a man who seemed to be there alone. He had just arrived himself and showed us into the building. Classrooms were built atrium-style around a small garden. The branch president and a counselor were just coming out of their office from a meeting. We were the first to enter the room that served as a small chapel. We had our pick of seating and wondered which row of the chairs lined up on the laminate tile floor we should choose. Maybe people have their “regular” spots and we would disturb the ecosystem.
Our host, who was a visiting high counselor from a distant town, had explained in the hallway that this was a branch of the Church with about 40-50 members. We met one brother who spoke to us in good English. He soon sat in a row in front of us with his wife and son. We saw one set of Elders and another set of Sister missionaries and about 40 members trickle in.
The meeting began by announcing the opening song and opening prayer. There was no piano. A young lady stood with her hymnal in hand before the congregation. Alone, she sang the first line of the chosen hymn then stopped and said “A la una, dos y tres” and the congregation, having listened to her introduction, sang together as her hand dropped in a downbeat.
It seemed to me that interpreting from Spanish to English for Nikki and Eric would be disruptive and, they didn’t ask, so they absorbed the service by spirit more than words. After the administration of the sacrament, speakers were called up from the congregation to share their thoughts on the benefits of attending seminary and institute classes and how doing so had blessed them. It seemed a little odd to me that someone had not been asked ahead of time to prepare a talk and I wondered if this was a usual method or if it was unique to this week when we happened to be there. Each of the 5 or 6 impromptu speakers was articulate and I was surprised how they were able to approach the pulpit with dignity and grace and speak with no preparation. At least I didn’t see anyone with notes in hand. It was a lovely meeting.
Eric had explored town the day before, so he was our guide toward the plaza area where we could find a “tuk tuk” that would taxi us back to La Hacienda. We walked the narrow, rough, cobble streets. On one steep residential street, we passed corn drying on a tarp in the street, a stripped car permanently parked as if it might be a spare bedroom and many people, including adults and children, sitting, playing and working on the sidewalk in front of their yardless homes. When we got closer to the plaza we passed people sitting with their produce to sell that sat in baskets on the side of the street and many souvenir stores and restaurants that hoped to sell to tourists. It was still early in the day and, if there were tourists there, they were not yet out and about.
We summoned one of the tuk-tuks for our return “home”. Upon arrival to the Hacienda, the driver asked if he should wait. It is common for visitors to visit Hacienda San Lucas for a meal and enjoy the beauty of the place for an hour. I remember thinking it felt like a privilege to be able to say “No, we don’t need a ride back” because this was our “home” and we were back to join our “family” there.
Our group had finished their yoga practice and were dispersing from breakfast when we arrived. The three of us sat down to enjoy brunch. Little did I know that the most sacred part of the day was yet to come.
Paola came to us as we were finishing our meal. Almost apologetically she explained that there was a young lady from a nearby village that wanted to take someone from the Hacienda to her village to see weavings that the people make and sell there. This young lady attends an English school and Paola told her she must make the invitation herself knowing that it is an opportunity for her to practice.
I could not think of anything I would rather do than see a nearby village and meet the people. “You found the right people to ask, Paola. I would love that!” The confident 16-year-old girl named Sara was allowed to come into the “tourist area” to speak to us. She delivered her “speech” that I’m sure she had repeated in her mind many times. Her English was unexpectedly fluent.
On our walk to the village–“La Pintada”—I learned that Sara’s father had been a school teacher but recently changed jobs and was working in an administrative government job. He had taught at the school where she attends which is far on the other side of town. I marveled that she must walk this dirt path every day to get to school and wondered how long it took her. Her younger brother and sister were walking with us but knew very little English.
Along the path, we came to the famous “Sapo” (frog or toad) ruins that were on the Hacienda San Lucas property. Sara explained that this Mayan ruin would have been the medical clinic of the day. Her 9-year-old sister, Genesis, laid down in a spot among the stone frogs to demonstrate as Sara explained, “Women would come to this place to deliver babies.” I teased Genesis, “Don’t move. The baby is coming!” They all laughed at my joke.
It wasn’t until we were getting back on the trail that I notice the sign that said, “Don’t climb on the rocks.” I smiled and pointed to the sign and looked at the kids. They smiled back knowing full-well what that meaningless-to-them sign said. Surely, they walked past here on a daily basis. These toads were as familiar and common to them as a school yard playground.
We continued to wind our way along admiring the tropical plants including banana trees and other fruits and flowers that were unfamiliar to me. There was a wooden bridge that skirted a small pool of water that trickled into a little stream under the bridge. This was the lowest part of the path. We climbed the last of the path and entered a fenced soccer field where more than a dozen children began to gather around us and walk with us along the town byways where Sara led us.
We passed handmade homes where chickens and skinny dogs freely roamed. A love well-up inside of me for these humble village dwellers. Most would have been corn-growers and subsistence farmers and whatever odd-jobs they could invent. Sara told me that her great-grandfather had come here with his brother and began this village in the mid 1900’s. It was called “La Pintada” (the painted) because of the Mayan estella that still had paint on it. It was a stone-carved monument that marked the edge of the Mayan boundaries of Copan Ruinas. As she told me that, I envisioned the estella somewhere in the village area. I asked her where it was. She said she’d show it to me when we got there. A few minutes later we stopped on the road and she pointed to a mountainside in the distance, “There is the estella.” She had to describe a place where the vegetation was lighter in color. I detected a small grey spot that must have been what she was pointing at. It would take some good bushwhacking to get to it. I asked her if she had been to the estella. Of course, she had. It took about an hour to walk to it. One day I would like to adventure to that estella.
A few more paces and we arrived at our destination where Sara’s mother and grandmother were shyly waiting. The throng of children waving corn-husk dolls at us for us to buy (including ones that Genesis had carried all the way) waited outside the small building as we stepped inside. There was a huge makeshift display of woven scarves for sell that divided the “show” room from the workspace of the looms. Sara invited us to step behind the scarf wall and approach one of the two looms where she sat down and demonstrated by moving the shuttle back and forth a few passes.
There was a large sign on the wall that explained that this was a humanitarian project. Someone from another country had seen a need and helped willing villagers to create this weaving co-op. Sara’s mother and grandmother were one of perhaps 10 weavers that bore responsibility for this business. They obviously needed a better marketing plan than Sara finding 3 gringos to walk here. It was a rare privilege that I treasure to be invited into this place of hope. My gratitude went to whoever the good people were that cared enough to help start this small business in this small village.
We studied the scarves and bracelets trying to pick out the “right” ones to take to our children back home. Sara’s mother pointed out which section contained her work, and which was her mother-in-law’s. The options were vast and we were happy to limit our selection to their personal handiwork. It felt like a sacred act to carry a part of them with us. Giving them “limperas” (Honduran money) felt like the most appropriate Sabbath activity I could imagine knowing that the money would help sustain them another week or month.
Stepping out of the co-op, the group of children that had silently been waiting for us, took up the chorus again, “Buy from me! Buy from me!” There was no way I could single out one or two of these children and I did not have anything that I could give to all of them except my love. In Spanish I gave a “speech” like I would to my own children about how I could not possibly choose among their dolls, which one to take. They offered to sing the Honduras National Anthem for us. They sang with rote gusto.
Although I could not give each of them money, I explained that I would like to take a part of them with me via a photograph and I would leave a part of my heart there with them.
Most of the children were elementary school age, but one girl stood out to me. She was too old to be in this group. Her body was too developed and her blouse too lowcut. She was not impressed with my mother-speech and was visibly angry that I was not going to dole out any money to her.
There seemed to be unspoken rules about where these children could and could not sell. By the time we got back to the soccer field, they had dispersed and we were back to our small guide group of Sara and two younger siblings. But we had picked up one more. Yuli (Julie). Her English was limited, so she became my Spanish-speaking conversation partner on the walk while Sara spoke with Nikki and Eric.
Yuli was also 16-years-old and is Sara’s aunt. Yuli is the youngest of ten children; Sara’s father is Yuli’s older brother: the school teacher recently turned government administrator. Yuli did not have the opportunity to go to the English school like Sara, but she had classes on the weekend. I asked her what she did during the week. She helped cook meals and other housework and she studied. I smiled as I thought “she is homeschooled like my children”.
We stopped at the bridge to take a photo. We wound our way up and down paths, passing the “sapo” ruins, and slowly walking and talking for the 30-minute return journey. I felt like Yuli was my good friend by the time we arrive back to the Hacienda. We all lingered not really wanting to say goodbye.
Eric had been doing the math in his head, converting limperas to dollars. “Sara, your mom didn’t charge me enough. I owe her this much more” he said, handing her the money. Then he added, “This is for you for being our guide” handing her another amount then gave a little to the younger children to buy from them a corn husk flower and dolls they had carried all the way with them. His kindness and generosity touched me. Later that day, Eric said to me, “I wanted to have $100 bills to pass out to all the people.”
Their circumstances where humble, but what I saw and felt were happy, hard-working people. They had more to teach me than I them! I kept thinking I wanted these children to be playmates to my two younger ones back home. I longed to come back with my kids. It would change their perspective in a way I have no power to do where we live. These young Honduran children would teach my children that happiness does not come from entertainment on a screen.
I felt Paola’s desire to help the children of La Pintada be more than they thought they could be. I had a conversation with Norma later in the week and she mentioned La Pintada with love. In a beautiful shop called “The Place of Tea and Chocolate”, Carolina showed us a stack of woven scarves from La Pintada that they kept there to sell and, again, I sensed a sweet concern for their “neighbors”. There is an interconnection and desire to lift each other that I have never felt before. I was beginning to see glimpses of the spirit that I felt when I watched the sun rise the first morning and the “no happier people” scripture came to my mind.