Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shadows from the Past

Posted on behalf of David Nebel

There is nothing quite like moving between contiguous yet different worlds.

I would wake up to the incessant clucking of chickens and the occasional bark of a street dog. Morning light filtered through the holes termites had bored into the bedroom’s door over the years, signaling the end of yet another sleepless ninety-degree summer night in the Comayagua Valley, in central Honduras.

Making my way past a narrow dirt courtyard, I would push open the old wooden door that led into my grandmother’s kitchen. Immediately I began searching for breakfast: “pastelitos” (deep-fried, bite-size pastries made with corn dough and stuffed with seasoned ground beef), “enchiladas” (fried tortillas with seasoned ground beef and topped with shredded cabbage, a slice of tomato and Honduran crumbly cheese), and “yuca frita” (fried yucca) – last night’s leftovers from the evening cooking business my grandmother had begun some 60 years ago.

Ash would sting my eyes and fill the smoky stillness of the kitchen as I blew into the earthen stove in search of embers. With the help of several slivers of ocote (a resinous type of pine), there would usually be just enough left to rekindle the fire. Happily, I would then spear cold pieces of yucca and pastelitos and place them next to the crackling firewood for a quick reheating – and a quick consumption.

Soon after, my grandmother rose out of bed. As she shuffled her way from behind a plywood partition and into the kitchen, I would rush over to her, bend my head down to her level, and receive her blessing: “Que Dios me lo bendiga, hijito (God bless you, my child)”, she said, softly kissing my forehead. And with a warm smile on her face, she would hobble off into the brightness of the morning sun…

Life in Honduras placed me at the doorstep of poverty. Though not extremely poor, the maternal side of my family was not far from it. And there were plenty of families who were in worse conditions. It was, however, a normal aspect of life. To me, its normalcy made poverty acceptable.

Working with Children International has granted me the opportunity to return to my past and remind myself that there are degrees of poverty that – although commonplace – are not acceptable.

Meeting the sponsored children and their families as part of the team that visited Ecuador just this past week took me back to a previous world. These are the same people of my childhood and adolescence, with whom I lived side by side, with whom I shared food, laughs and sorrows. Yet, to my older eyes, they have changed: they are now more beautiful and important than ever.

They represent the forging elements of my being – the reason why I am able to appreciate the rare but quiet dignity of people at the edge of survival and gratefully acknowledge my own present condition. Their calloused hands, blemished skin, and the torn soles of their feet speak of countless hardships and the crude reality of life for many human beings. A decade later, they represent a reason for my existence.

Photos by David Nebel, from Children International's office in Kansas City.

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