It’s time to go home. We say our farewells to Enrique, Henry and Francis outside the airport where we first arrived with clean clothes and balanced intestines. We board our plane and settle in seats. Bailey and I are together, but Mike is seated in another row, too far forward to see. Bailey and I talk about what we’re looking forward to once we get off the plane. We’re excited about flushing toilet paper in the robust sewer systems of the States. We can’t wait to drink water out of the tap. We’re hopeful our digestive systems will calm down once we’re home. And we can’t wait to get back to Claire, Will and Ellie. We’ve missed them. It’s hard to be away for a week without talking with them. I wonder how they are, how tired Grandma and Grandpa might be after caring for them all week.
I reflect on my children and my careful parenting: the things I do and don’t let my kids do. I try to process the images of the children of Roatan, roaming freely and independently with little parental interference. My children are ridiculously overprotected compared to these. I still have trouble managing the sight of four-year-olds caring for younger siblings while a parent works. I am still processing the image of barefoot children walking on dirt roads alongside huge propane trucks and motorbikes.
A Northern Arizona team of engineers was in the Colonia recently, conducting soil and water tests. The team had hoped to design a series of improvements, including a sanitation system that would help the community. They were so appalled and overwhelmed by the fecal matter and bacteria they found in the water and soil, they’d given up plans. Just dealing with the water alone would be a staggering accomplishment.
Even so the kids we played with climbed down a rusted beam into a swill pit of water to retrieve a ball many times over. Each trip down that beam has coalesced into one image in a picture book of many: little bare feet walking atop a nasty concoction of bacteria, a baby in a diaper standing at the edge of a 30-foot ravine, skeletal and mangy dogs, the little girl who sat in my lap yesterday and coughed and coughed, a playful boy named Alex with legs covered in open sores. These scenes make up my mind’s memory book. They comingle with the overly happy sound of music, the smell of diesel, wood smoke and garbage, and the sound of horns bleating.
But there are happy pictures too: the man slight-of-build who stops on his way home from work to help shovel gravel, the gleeful Rixy who is so eager to help and translate our stories, the kids’ hand prints on that wall, Enrique teaching his fellow Hondurans about Jesus, Henry and Francis giving up an easy retirement to serve God on Roatan, the beautiful Caribbean shoreline, the barrier reef. It is as Bailey says, a mixture of beauty and poverty.
As the plane ascends, I write and try to find a place to put this picture book of my mind, try to find a way to reconcile it with life back home. I’ll go home a little less protective. I will be encouraged by the resilience of people amidst hardship. I will marvel at how different life is here yet how alike we are, the kids here and my own kids back home. And I’ll save this journal. It will remind me, lest I forget what I saw here, lest seeing my own image in the mirror, I walk away and forget what I look like.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James the Apostle)