Wa Wa Tiko

Sally and I served in Fiji in the Peace Corps in the late 70s. It was our first taste of a slowed-down life style where waiting for something to happen, for a late bus to arrive, for an office to open, for the electricity to come back on was a part of every day. In Fijian this waiting is called ” Wa Wa Tiko “. We experienced this on Sunday and Monday. First, the access code from OLPC arrived on Sunday, but this was only good for half of the XOs. The other code did not arrive until Monday, so we couldn’t begin delivering the laptops until Tuesday. We spent more time with our two Honduran angels, Marta and Karla, and our favorite Honduran beverage, Salva Vida.

One evening at sunset while sitting in front of our room, we noticed a little girls riding her bicycle in the ZARI parking lot. Sally gave her some light sticks and as the sky darkened, we noticed that she had turned the funky parking lot into her own magic kingdom. We could hear her singing to herself, utterly oblivious to her surroundings. In a bit she came by riding a broomstick and introduced herself as a princess.I made her a paper crown and Sally gave her a pashmina for a cape. Very soon we were all singing and laughing together. She turned each of us into an animal and we made a parade. Tori even sang “Let It Be”. The young girl’s mother came by later with a plate of food, thanked us and took her daughter to bed. Perhaps waiting makes us able to see the miracles all around us.

More later,
Mark

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The Same River

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, believed that everything is in a state of flux and change, that nothing is permanent. He wrote: ” You can’t step into the same river twice.” I have to disagree with the venerable Greek and I have proof. As soon as we started on the road to Santa Rosita on Saturday morning I not only recognized fields and houses, but time itself stood still; rather, time and all the experiences once lived through came together into an eternal present, crowded together for space, overlapped and interpenetrated one another. This must be how God sees the world. While still enthralled by the cloud forest, I could somehow see my dream of what Santa Rosita might look like, a dream I had more than a year before we arrived in Honduras more than 3 years ago. Somehow layered over these two images – lacquered in coat upon coat like a Chinese bowl-were many other images seen on the trips we had made on this very road over the years. I experienced them all simultaneously. The road climbed higher and higher, as did my spirits.(There are photos coming, I assure you.)

When we finally arrived the entire village was present, standing proudly in front of the new school. We has borrowed 25 XOs from the students here to teach at the other schools so they were doubly happy to see us. Soon we were being shown everything they had learned in a year, which was quite astounding and further proof that the OLPC belief in student impowerment is well-founded. When we first came here 3 years ago the students were shy, reluctant and unassured. On this visit the transformation could not have been more complete. The children’s flying fingers were every bit as rapid, nimble and assured as an American student’s of comparable age. What I cannot describe with words were the looks of powerful curiosity and confidence in their eyes!

Thanks to Lynn Campaigne, Oscar Ochoa Mendoza and other members of Saint Andrew’s in Seguin, a new school is expanding around these students. A school that will provide a model for other rural school in the mountains of Central Honduras, a model that will include bathrooms, a kitchen, a water catchment system, gardens and a chicken coop.We are honored to play some small part.

Of course what visit would be complete without a celebratory lunch. We brought surprisingly good pizzas and in such ample supply that we could feed everyone there, including adults and younger siblings. It brought out the Italian in me seeing everyone happy and eating. It was a perfect day, a river that I have stepped in many times.

With care,
Mark

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Plus ca change,plus c’est la meme chose…

Our euphoria over receiving the XOs proved short-lived. After a celebratory dinner, Becky took one of the new laptops to explore. She returned later to report that there was a factory-installed security lock and we needed a code from OLPC to open the programs.We emailed our contact person in the US.

She finally responded Friday morning, only to tell us that another person would help us with the code. We contacted that person in the US, we think, but he didn’t send the code until Saturday night. We spent all day Friday writing names and serial numbers on a spread sheet and separating them by school. It turns out that the same thing happened last year after we returned to Texas. It took three people a week to figure out what to do, so we were ahead of the game when two angels appeared who had worked on this problem last summer. I promised to immortalize them on the web. They are : Martha Yessenia Delcid Sanchez and Karla Teresa Padilla Garcia. Both are lovely young ladies just out of High School. They worked with us all day on Friday,sending OLPC a file containing the serial numbers of all 100 computers so that a specific access code could be requested. If you are considering a deployment, then you need to be aware that you have to specify that you don’t need a security code at the time of purchase. Otherwise you will face similar delays. There are also complications that arise because different countries demand different kinds of customs paperwork. Our Honduran director, Oscar Ochoa Mendoza, informed us that a particular kind of bill of lading necessary for Honduran customs was not included this year and last, and that this delays arrival by days if not weeks.

Complications like these tend to frustrate Americans, even a relatively tranquil person like me. This was not the case with the two angels; they seemed filled with infinite patience, goodwill and humor. In fact, they effected a subtle transformation in the rest of us. Instead of feeling anxious about previously-set schedules, which made time our enemy, we adjusted to the new complication, confident that we would eventually get the XOs into the students hands. Very soon we made a game of the data collection, transcription and collection. I suspect that anyone passing by might have seen looks on our faces similar to that of our students working on their XOs. Martha and Karla worked effectively and efficiently, but underneath their activity there was a fundamental contentment, a simple enjoyment of being alive, a finding of that life something to inspire joy and wonder. Being around them was like steeping into reality. We had another celebratory dinner ( shouldn’t all dinners be feasts? ) and began waiting for the code from OLPC.

Because the code did not arrive Friday night, we decided to return to Santa Rosita on Saturday. I’ll write about this later. Thanks for your patience with the pictures. We may have 2000 by now.

With care,
Mark

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Open Sesame Redux

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I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon in the familiar comfort of the Zari lobby. We’ve been caught up in a whirl of activity since the XOs arrived on Thursday. To satisfy the historian in me I will try to approach the past few days in chronological order. I’ll return to Wednesday when we returned to an area in the mountains we visited last year. We also rode up in a truck and I was able to ride in the bed of the truck, my senses alive to the mountain scenes in a way I have come to associate with the mystery of Honduras. It’s been raining quite alot and the temperatures have been mild, even cool. This was certainly the case once we started climbing up the steep dirt roads outside of Siguatepeque. The rains shrouded the mountaintops in a thick mist that roiled and shifted as if we were riding into a storm. We recognized many of the hairpin turns and the scenic vistas. I felt as if I were floating back into a dream, a dream so mysterious and beautiful that it mocked my waking world. For some reason only the steepest mountainsides are cleared for planting. Elsewhere in Honuras everything seems ad hoc and chaotic; houses are largely unfinished, streets wind this way and that, weeds and flowers grow through cracks in the pavement. These mountain fields are geometric marvels where rows of coffee, corn and beans are planted along contour lines in strict regularity. While experiencing all this I smelled that distinctive cloud forest scent, a mixture of a sweet, citrus-like sweetness mixed with the heavier odor of rotting vegetation. It smelled like life!

In the middle of a steep ascent, we turned off onto the school drive and went down into a protected valley. Once again the happy school chaos stilled and we walked into the school to e greeted by a roomful of expectant faces. Word of our project must be getting around for the students and teachers all seemed very aware of what was going to happen and took to the introductory lesson with focus and dispatch. Very soon those serious faces were transformed by expressions of wonder and amazement, then of delight. I forgot to mention that when we entered the students and teachers all stood and clapped rhythmically. Somehow this made all of us feel even more committed to do our very best and to recognized the values that brought us here. The students opened up like flowers and so did we. I wish I could convey how clear and clean and pure this all feels- as if we were all truly alive. Selfishness, condescension, arrogance and boredom are simply unthinkable.

Pictures will capture this atmosphere, I hope. I’m still trying to attach pictures to these posts. I’ve called in all the technological support I can- even Richard in the Seguin library. Plead be patient. Between the five of us we have more than 1000 !! When we returned to the Zari our friend and past team member Becky Young had arrived with a Honduran friend named Maritza. She had recently lost a husband of 30 years to cancer and wanted to come and help. Another milagros. Dinner at Dona Mercedes was a festive affair.

Thursday we went to the 4th and last school for our trip this year. This school was located in the familiar cloud forest east and north of Siguatepeque. This school was clearly the neediest of the schools we visited this summer. Even the site of the school was neither particularly scenic, nor clean. Elementary teachers here need only graduate from High School. We have been paying special attention to training teachers since our first trip. If you are considering an XO deployment teacher commitment is crucial in our experience. Though very young, the teacher here was somewhat computer literate and excited about the XO programs. In addition to providing Internet access, the key input we need from the Siguatepeque Education Department is teacher training and support. We have a verbal commitment for both. This teacher will definitely need support. The students here reminded us of some of the students at Santa Rosita 3 years ago. That school was made of mud and wattle and some students didn’t seem to fathom what we were doing. Very soon though, with Becky’s able Spanish we had them engaged. A bit later sparkling eyes, smiles and looks of enjoyment and wonder were present. We left confident that next year the atmosphere of this school and level of student abilities would be transformed.

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Oscar Ochoa Mendoza had told us that the XOs were in San Pedro Sula, but there was some problem clearing customs. I guess I had prepared myself for leaving Honduras yet again before the XOs could be delivered. We returned to the Zari and found all 100 stacked in those distinctive OLPC boxes. We have a great picture that captures our relief and delight. All things come to he who waits- though my faith was not perfect. Once again, I felt in the presence of a miracle- happy and humbled, mostly humbled . More Later.

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With humility,
Mark

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Open Sesame

We returned Thursday afternoon to find the XOs piled in boxes in our room at the Zari!! As promised, I will include some photos now. I will create another post to describe our last two school visits.
Mark

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The Third Time’s A Charm

Thanks to our tech-savvy friends Tori and Kelsey, I will attempt another post this evening. We went much farther into the mountains on Wednesday, in the direction of the schools from last year. I’m going to post to see if all is well and then to bed. Wish me luck!

Actually I’m feeling frisky so here goes:

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I started this post last night but got caught up in the USA vs Honduras soccer match and lost everything. In fact, I am having a bit of technical trouble with his new site. Those of you who know me realize that this wouldn’t take much. On Tuesday we went back into the steep foothills to the west of Siguatepeque very near  the school we visited on Monday. Someone with an artistic sensibility must choose the rural school sites. A bit of level ground is necessary for the soccer pitch and a magnificent view seems to be a prerequisite as well. This school was set between two gentle ridges, surrounded by much steeper and more rugged mountainsides. Driving up we heard that happy, laughter-filled chaos of a school in session in Honduras. When we arrived at the front door, the students went silent and stood to greet us. The hush was full of excitement, anticipation and curiosity. Many of the younger children could not look up, but those who did had a sparkle in their eyes that never fails to capture my heart.

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I gave a prepared statement that I had had translated into Spanish by our wonderful friend Linda in California. In it I tried to convey why we were there and what we hoped to do. I also tried to express the emotions that we feel remembering our lost son. I’m afraid my fumbling Spanish did little more than confuse them. Our driver, a local teacher on loan, stepped up and proceeded to set things straight. I could tell by the looks on the Children’s faces that he was doing a fine job. This man was a relative stranger to me and yet his compassion and fellow-feeling were such that he was able to capture the stirrings in my heart and mind. He is one of the three wise men who are the inspiration for this post. His name is Jorge Luis Aguilera and I will not soon forget him. His English is as fluent as my Spanish but somehow he was able to understand and help us. Along with Oscar Ochoa Mendoza and Oscar Gross II, the other two wise men, he is the real reason that our project is a success.

I feel like a leaf that has fallen into a swiftly-flowing stream, marveling at the scenes that appear along the banks as I speed along. I grew up Catholic and was quite taken with the idea that there are saints among us. I have regained my childhood faith. In fact I have lived with one for 35 years and I am currently traveling with 3 others: Marty Keil; Tori Jimenez and Kelsey Guerrero.

Back to the school. We have a regular curriculum now and it worked flawlessly. We introduced 5 or 6 of the programs, always ending with our favorite which involves students creating stories about their families and presenting them to the class. For many this is a first attempt at individual writing. The looks of excitement, pride and merriment can only be recognized and appreciated first hand.

A final word- As soon as Tori and Kelsey can teach me, I will post pictures that convey our experiences much more effectively.

With care,
Mark

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Return to Eden

I am writing this from our room at the Zari Hotel in downtown Siguatepeque.I feel like a desert traveler stretched out in the cool water of a palm-fringed oasis.We arrived yesterday and as soon as we deplaned in the airport at San Pedro Sula the lights went off, as did the air conditioning. Four planes had arrived almost simultaneously so the lines at customs stretched so far into the distance that we couldn’t see the metal detectors for more than an hour. By the time we got through I felt as if I had been hiking in the Amazon. Of course our ride wasn’t there so we waited another hour.Once we got into the mountains our spirits lifted. A recent rain left swirls of mist moving through the tree-covered mountains and the leaves sparkled fresh and green.There is a beer in Honduras called Salva Vida,which means life saver. I can attest to the aptness of that name!

When we arrived at the Zari, XOs from Santa Rosita school were in our room ready to be used to teach new students about the laptops. I must admit that we actually do very little to ensure the success of the Owen Project.The wonderful and committed people we work with lay all the groundwork and do all the organizing. We received the exciting news that the 100 new XOs are in Honduras clearing customs. We will visit the 4 new schools this week and deliver their XOs early next week. We’ve never done this before because of delayed deliveries in years past. I can’t describe the light that shines in young children’s eyes when they realize they will have their own laptop to use at school and to take home.I can only imagine how they respond to actually holding them in their hands.

We went to one school today in the mountains to the west of Siguatepeque. The drive took about half an hour but was very steep and winding. There were magnificent views of the Siguatepeque valley seen from about 5000 feet above sea level. It rained again last night and a bank of mist covered the mountains behind the town, which seemed about to be obscured completely. Nearer to the school, the mountainsides were covered with coffee, banana and lichi fields. As we approached the school, all of the characteristic energy and craziness of a typical elementary classroom suddenly stopped and we were greeted by a room full of serious faces, desperately trying not to stare or break out in laughter. We made a presentation and as the children began to understand that they really were going to have a computer of their own they could barely contain themselves.

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I can’t explain he emotions that an experience like this evokes. There is something so simple and true, so compelling and self-effacing that you want to stay in that moment; you understand how it is to really love thy neighbor as oneself. I’ll end here knowing that I’ve not conveyed a fraction of the intensity and joy of being back in Eden.

With care,
Mark

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