Be It Ever So Humble…..

 

We returned to Santa Rosita on Thursday and it was like returning home. The long ride in the back of a truck.;the early morning mist still obscuring the steepest hillsides; the distinctive scent of ripe fruit, dew-drenched vegetation and rotting leaves; the cool draughts under the pine trees: all of these brought back very distinctive and very pleasant memories. The first school in Santa Rosita that we saw five years ago was a mud and wattle structure covered in mold and smelling of mildew. There were twenty ramshackle desks for the 50 students and 2 teachers. I’ll show you what we saw this time below:

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The transformation was stunning. What was most changed were the students themselves. Instead of the shy, reluctant and hesitant participants of the past, these students were bright-eyed, confident and openly curious. They took to the tablets immediately. More later.

Mark

 

 

 

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Andy Warhol Was Right

Somewhere Andy Warhol wrote that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. If he is correct then the eight of us are finished with our moment of fame. Last night after a glass of wine at the home of Dr. Oscar Gross, we were invited to be interviewed at a local television station. We imagined a hand- held microphone and a portable camera. Instead we went on live television on a set reminiscent of Good Morning America.

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Sally and I had to sit on high  barstools, making us feel like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.at a night club. The moderator was a long-legged young lady in short shorts who spoke faster that I ever thought humanly possible. Linda acted as translator and Oscar Ochoa introduced us and gave a summary of the project so far. What was most off-putting was that we could see ourselves on several monitors. Sally got the giggles and soon we were all trying not to laugh aloud. Many of the questions were about our emotions, and how we remembered Owen as we visited the schools. Thank goodness we were so disconcerted and full of hilarity because I might have cried on live television. Instead it was a surreal experience worthy of Warhol.

Mark

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El Dorado

 

Spanish conquistadors sought a fabled city of gold. They may even have been in Honduras in the central mountains where we were today. They were unsuccessful because they were looking for a treasure contained in rocks. We have been looking for a treasure found only  in faces and smiles.

Here’s what we found in El Dorado:

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The picture in the center of the collage shows what awaited us as we walked into the school. What it cannot show was the air of hushed anticipation, of welcome and excitement. There is a part of the Episcopal service that reads ” Let us join our voices with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who forever sing this hymn of praise and thanksgiving..” I now know what the company of heaven means after being greeted in this way. It was as if we were all part of something transcendental,  full of mystery and meaning; of some endeavor that called us to be our better selves. It was so innocent and pure. I felt weightless and free. Natalia, Casey and Mimi were equally caught up in some mystery they could not explain.  We all visited El Dorado today.

Mark

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Whereof One Cannot Speak, Thereof One Must Remain Silent

The title of this post comes from Wittgenstein’s work the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It appears at the very end when Wittgenstein says that there is much about life that is beyond the power of language to convey. I was reminded of this when we went to our first school in Siguatepeque. It seems that Honduras and Texas are experiencing heavy rains and flooding. We couldn’t get to our school in the mountains near Tegucigalpa because of washed out roads so we set up shop at the Zari Hotel in Siguatepeque and visited a special needs school nearby. Most of the students there were deaf ,which was initially a bit disconcerting. We were already laboring under language difficulties because of our basic Spanish. This seemed to complicate matters even more. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The teachers at the school translated our lessons into sign language, moving around the classroom facilitating interactions with the children in an unobtrusive and effortless manner. Sign language is full of passion and beauty. Being an Italian, I talk with my hands, but their communication was of a higher order. The yearning to make contact with another human being radiated from their fingers. The register of emotions on their faces,  the light in their eyes, the intensity of their gazes were more expressive and full of intent that any words might have conveyed. I suddenly realized that Wittgenstein may have been wrong about silence. Here silence was full of wonder and love. I can’t quite explain it but we all felt bathed in love. It seemed as if the students were surprised and gratified that we had come, that we had thought of them. When we started to move among them, to direct them to interesting applications, they reached out to touch us. Their touch was electric, totally vulnerable and trusting. Their enjoyment of the games and music on the XOs was just as innocent and heartfelt as everything else they did. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said that only those who can become as children can enter the kingdom of God. Once again we came to teach, but it is we who are taught. I’m sure that I was not the only one moved by this special atmosphere. At first Casey and Mimi were a bit reserved, looking on and themselves the center of much interest. Yet very soon they too threw themselves into the experience, laughing and sharing; their eyes just as bright as those of the students. What a beginning!!!

Mark

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There Was a Time When Meadow, Grove and Stream……

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While Boston and the Northeast dig out from under another blanket of snow, here in Texas Spring has sprung. There has  been a generous amount of rainfall, so  Seguin occupies a happy Texas medium, in between drought and flooding. There are meadows filled with wildflowers and the leaves of the pecans and live oaks are fresh, abundant and vividly green. A landscape worthy of Wordsworth. This will be our 5th trip to Honduras. We will land in Tegucigalpa on June 15th and stay with our Honduran director, Oscar Ochoa. On the 16th we will travel into the mountains near his birthplace of Oropoli. Unfortunately, the 175 XO3 tablets that we ordered months ago will most likely not be in country when we are there. We will use already-deployed XO3s to train the teachers and introduce the available programs to the students. We will have to assure them that they will be receiving their own tablets soon. In years past I would have been nervous about this delay, with a head full of negative speculations. Now I feel strangely calm and unworried. Mission work creates reserves of trust and patience; as does teaching! On the 17th we will travel to Siguatepeque to visit 4 other schools, including a special needs school in Siguatepeque itself. The other schools will be in the surrounding mountains. This year we will be joined by two high school students: Casey Smithey and Thuy Nguyen. Linda, Richard and Natalia Grey are coming again, as is Meredith Cockerell. With Sally and I this makes us a party of 8. Good things come in small packages, I’ve heard. There are some rumors that the government will provide WiFi to the 15 schools we’ve been to over the years, which will enable rural students to continue their education after the 7th grade without boarding at a school in some near bye town. The expense makes this prohibitive and most students go to the coffee fields. Access to the internet will fulfill the mission of One Laptop per Child by truly opening up the world to   their curiosity and exploration. Honduran educational practices are still largely hierarchical and based on rote memorization. Access to all the resources of the internet may make rural education in Honduras more discovery-oriented and driven by problem-solving and critical thinking modalities. We can only pray. I’ll write again from Tegucigalpa.

With anticipation,

Mark

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The Tao of Honduras

There is a line in the Tao te Ching where Lao Tzu writes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single first step. Now that I am back in Texas teaching, I’ve been thinking about the journey home, about the last step, the end of the journey. I wonder if the best kind of journey is the one that feels at its end as if you had never left at all. Might this mean that your experiences have changed you profoundly, that you are bringing back more than memories and photos? Could it mean that you can hold both places in your head and heart simultaneously? Can you be in two places at one time? Here I am stumbling around with words again. I found this in T.S. Eliot’s ” Little Gidding”:    We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.        Much better! My year teaching went so well that the days passed as if I were a Buddhist pilgrim circumambulating around the same temple so often that I lost a sense of the motion. Perhaps I’ve caught a glimpse of that most rare of experiences: contentment. I’ll not tempt fate by resting assured that my current frame of mind will continue.

School ends this week and we leave for Tegucigalpa on the 15th, of June, returning on the 25th. More later.

With thanks for your attention,

Mark

 

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The Magic Mountain

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Many new books have been written and old classics from that time, like Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, have been reissued. I read The Magic Mountain in college and loved the contrast between the magnificent Swiss mountain scenery and the rather twisted characters of the patients in the sanitarium where the novel takes place. We left today for an extended trip higher into the mountains west of Siguatepeque than we had ever been before. We left in two trucks early in the morning and, because of the almost nightly rain showers, our path took us into a thick carpet of mist cloaking the mountain tops and  half way into the valleys. I thought of Mann’s book and felt a child’s sense of adventure and expectation. In Honduras, unlike in  Mann’s fictional Switzerland, the magnificent mountain scenery is reflected in magnificent smiles on bright faces, faces full of innocent wonder and trust. There is a biblical theme that warns against the moral corruption of cities and praises the salutary effect of living in isolated, small groups, immersed in nature, constantly in the presence of eternity. This was reflected in the children, teachers and parents we met in the first school of the day. Set in a pine forest, this humble school building seemed to recognize the majesty of its surroundings, making no attempt to assert a human presence, nestled into a bed of pine needles, tranquil and resonant. In the pictures below I will try to convey how this tranquility is reflected in the children’s faces as they listened to our initial introductions and instructions. Such beautiful faces full of innocence and absolute trust. They made me want to be a better, more loving man. 

The second school was even higher up in the mountains, at the very edge of the coffee fields, just where the original cloud forest takes over on the steepest slopes. This shift from geometric regularity to chaotic, riotous growth is quite striking. Sally’s grandmother was a quilter and we have one of her pieces. We use it under our Christmas tree, where its many folds and different patterns reminded me of the Honduran countryside on our travels. At this school the children had gathered pine boughs and spread them all over the classroom floor and in the area outside the porch where they greeted us with a performance of folk dancing and song. The resinous scent of the fresh pine permeated the performance and our time teaching. Somehow everything – the dancing and singing, the parent’s faces full of pride and our own enthusiasm and commitment- seemed fresh and pure. The thick carpet of  needles in the surrounding grove of pines gave the school a mysterious, hushed atmosphere, as if a secret were being whispered, and if one were quiet enough, one could sense the presence of God.

 

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With care,

Mark

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