I’m writing this final post regarding my trip to Honduras about two weeks after my return to the States. Our final full day in Honduras was on a Monday, and unfortunately I didn’t have the time or the energy to journal that day. I’ll do my best to recall what was actually going on in my head and try to offer some insight into my thoughts and feelings as well as some details of the day‘s events. I believe it’s sometimes good to wait a week or so before writing about your experiences. It gives you some time to reflect and to sort out the things that are most meaningful to you. Granted, when you are able to record your thoughts while they are fresh in your mind, you are less likely to forget details, and are still able to sort out the boring or bland ideas later in the editing process.
I would like to describe to you my experience in visiting the city dump in Tegucigalpa during my first trip to Honduras in December, 2008. Our team consisted of 30 or more individuals, mostly college students and a few missionaries, with a couple Hondurans sprinkled into the mix. Before we left the house in the morning, we prepared a multitude of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we intended to pass out to the people living and working at the dump. Yes, I said LIVING at the dump. These people are desperate for food and money and have no other opportunities to earn a living, except by scavenging through a landfill for plastic, glass, or whatever else they can find to sell. I apologize if I get too graphic, but I want to paint an accurate picture of what the living conditions for these people are like. Imagine digging through the dumpster at your local shopping plaza, searching for whatever you can find that may be of value. Now imagine that dumpster being poured onto the ground in a big heaping pile of garbage. Picture this pile multiplied by at least ten thousand times. This is the situation at the dump. Piles of trash as far as the eye can see. The smell is unlike anything I have ever smelled before.
I used to work at a park and had to empty the trash in the summer. I thought that was a bad job, emptying garbage cans full of trash left over from a family reunion or graduation party from the weekend, the sun causing the wasted food to reek to the point where I wanted to vomit. This was mild compared to the smell at the dump. The people at the dump survive by digging through trash like this. And this trash doesn’t only consist of left over food from a summer cookout. What makes matters worse is how in Honduras, the plumbing is different than the plumbing in the States. The pipes are too small to flush your toilet paper down the toilet. You have to toss it in the trash can. Needless to say, this trash also ends up at the dump. Did I mention the wild dogs and buzzards? Well, there are wild dogs, fighting over leftover animal bones, and swarms of buzzards, with their beady eyes, looking as if they’d just love for you to take a nap, so they can pick you apart and get their fill for the day. Maybe I’m exaggerating about the intentions of the buzzards, but those things are creepy.
Anyway, the first time I visited the dump was quite the experience. As our mini-bus was driving into the landfill, I had no idea what to expect. I knew things were going to be interesting when not a hundred feet past the entrance, multiple Hondurans jumped onto the back and climbed on the top of our bus. As we followed the truck with the bananas, bagged water, and the PB&Js that we made to pass out, Ashley assigned some of the guys a girl from the trip to partner with and keep an eye on to deter anyone at the dump from any funny business. We were warned about the danger of going off by ourselves, and instructed to leave our cameras on the bus so they wouldn’t get stolen. As the driver parked and we attempted to set up to distribute the food, our bus was swarmed by a mob of people. If you’ve ever seen those videos of celebrities in their limos driving through a crowd of people after an event, the scene at the dump was similar, except these people didn’t have cameras and weren’t interested in autographs. The idea is to get the people to line up so we can pass out the food in an orderly fashion. Let’s just say things didn’t go as planned. This was one of the few times I was a little scared for our safety. Especially since at one point a man reached in the truck and grabbed Sam’s camera and took off. For some reason Ethan and Steve ran after him, which was not a good idea. That could have turned into a much worse situation.
Once thing I noticed was all though we were passing out food and water to many malnourished people some of the them were more interested in the new loads of garbage that were being brought in while we were there. I guess some people don’t like peanut butter and jelly. Even though a lot of good came out of that day, it was still difficult to process. My first experience with the dump in Honduras left me feeling shocked that people could live this way.
This brings me to this trip’s experience at the dump. The setting was not unlike my first experience, and I can truthfully say that even though I had all ready been to the dump, I was still not prepared to see people living in those conditions. Unless you are actually there smelling the smells, watching the people dig through the piles of trash, it is difficult to remember just how horrible it is. But this time, something was different. We worked with a missionary, I think his name was Mark(?), who has been consistently visiting the dump and not only feeding the people but also developing relationships with them. He knows many of them by name and many of them know him. He and his team have truly helped to change the entire atmosphere at the dump. If there is a word to describe my first experience at the dump, it would probably be “crazy.” In contrast, the word to describe this experience would be “calm.” It is amazing how different the people acted towards us. It was evident that these people trust Mark and see him not as only a missionary, but also as a friend. This just reinforces the importance of building meaningful relationships with those you are ministering to.
Really, I don’t even like referring to is as “ministering.” There’s something about such terms that make it seem as if we are only developing these relationships or serving others to complete some sort of agenda or something. I know it is important to be intentional about how we serve others, but I want to show love to people because I truly love them. Another term that I don’t really like is the term “love on.” I know when people use it, they mean it in a good way, and I also know that I analyze things too deeply, but cut me some slack. This is just how my brain works. Why say something like, “One of the goals of this trip is to love on people?” Why not just say, “I want to love people.” I know that “love on” sounds more like an action, but seriously, “Love is a verb.” (Thanks dc Talk.) Anyway, I just thought I’d add that cause it bothers me. Don’t pay any attention to my craziness.
Back to the trip. I think the dump experience was more difficult for me this time around. Since the food distribution situation was under control and there wasn’t really anything for me to do, I was able to observe the people a lot more than in my first experience. I got to see them interact with each other. I watched them interact with us. I saw the smiles on their faces as we handed out to them a bowl of beans, rice, and tortillas as well as a bag of water. They were truly appreciative. It made me happy to see how they were interacting with us, even though we come from such different backgrounds. This also makes me sad. Even though we were relating with each other, at the end of the day, I was preparing to get on a plane and fly back to the comforts of my air conditioned room and soft bed. They were preparing for another day of digging through piles and piles of trash just to survive. I see a problem there, and I don’t think the answer is to introduce them to the comforts of the American lifestyle. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is…
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences in Honduras. This is going to be my final post about the trip. I hope you’ve learned something or at least thought about some things that you hadn’t previously taken the time to ponder. I know I have. No matter where you are in life, I encourage you to get involved in serving others. You don’t have to go over seas to make an impact on someone’s life. There are many ways you can serve, whether by volunteering at a local homeless shelter or donating money to an organization. If you have the desire to take a short term service trip, I encourage you to look into it. The experience will truly help shape you and mold you in ways you never thought possible. Just remember that God is good. Seek His guidance and then just go do it. Thanks for reading and I hope to read about your experiences in the future.