Once again, I am writing you on behalf of El Pital. This time, however, to explain how your money was spent and to express gratitude. Administering your relief aid turned out to be a very personal experience. In turn, this report about my time in Honduras from middle December to late February will take the form of a personal narrative. However, as mere middleman, I can only try to convey to you what I found upon arrival in El Pital and how and why I chose to administer your donations as I did. In expressing gratitude I must defer to the residents of El Pital, and let them thank you in their own words (below). But before getting into details a few preliminary words (and then some!) may enhance your understanding of what has been happening in El Pital since October 27th.
The Cangrehal river valley is a geographically distinct region, affectionately referred to by its parabolic shape as the Cuenca. At the river’s mouth is La Ceiba, a large city founded by the Standard Fruit Co., where you can find cable TV and Burger King. Upstream 30 km are the river’s headwaters and the town of Yaruca, a large village predating the Spanish, where you encounter the majority of inhabitants living very much as their fathers’ fathers did. The Cuenca is not unlike most of the third world; you find Toyota Land Cruisers sharing the road with horse-drawn carts. El Pital is situated half way up the Cuenca. It was born September of 1974, after hurricane Fifi washed inhabitants from the surrounding hills into a wide spot in the road they soon came to call home.
I arrived in La Ceiba late the night of December 27. Early the next morning I headed for El Pital. Aside from the banks of the Rio Cangrehal, Ceiba was virtually untouched. This whole Mitch thing — another media exaggeration for sure, I thought. As I started up the Cuenca in the back of a 4X4 the road immediately took a new route, avoiding a tributary I was unfamiliar with and crossed a sandy expanse where a large factory once punctuated a middle-class neighborhood. About 5 km up we passed into where the damage from the winds began. The winds of Mitch had passed over Ceiba crashing into the mountains above. (A friend of mine who weathered the storm in Ceiba later told me how Mitch passed over, dumping only water, but sounding a disturbing, deep grinding noise accompanied by an eerie breeze that was not even able to lift his hat.)
The 4X4 took me as far as half-way to El Pital, to the village of Las Mangas, where a huge iron bridge once crossed the Cangrehal. The second half of my trip must be on foot. Waiting in line to cross the chasm in a gondola, I met two young medical interns from San Diego who had also just arrived. I spent the next three days visiting villages in the Cuenca as their escort and translator. In some places the winds and waters had completely destroyed villages, and in others, oddly, it left no trace. Some of the international aid that was so prevalent everywhere I went in Honduras (mostly medical brigades and civil engineering corps) was already in place in the Cuenca.
My first few days in El Pital were spent just visiting with folks. Mitch was a deeply personal experience in the life of everyone I spoke to. The old woman I stay with (whose home is isolated from the village by the river) told me of the family that arrived naked in the middle of the night from their house deep in the mountains because the winds had stripped away their clothes en route. The wind came in waves you could see and hear approaching, and threw the town’s one vehicle into its owner’s living room, knocked down every mud house or thatched roof, tossed men around like rag dolls.
The river moved rocks the size of houses and shook the ground 100 meters from its banks. The entire village spent two days and one night in the just-completed concrete church. The men took shifts bracing the shutters closed with the pews as the gusts hit. Everyone was wet and no one ate or slept. Some of the men I work with later confided in me that when the winds stopped and they left the church and found every tree stripped of every leaf they had no idea what to do, where to start, felt physically dizzy, and sat together and cried.
I paused in the road to speak with Alejandro Funez as he was carrying a bundle of firewood on his shoulder. He told me he has neither seen nor heard of any storm half the size of Mitch. At 97 he is the oldest resident of El Pital.
To give you a feel of El Pital I have some pre-Mitch statistics, collected in a 1997 survey by the National Health Department. There are certainly more houses and inhabitants, but the percentages are no doubt fairly accurate.
Total houses, 43. Number of inhabitants, 346. Number of houses with more than three persons living in one room, 37. Number of houses with one room, 33. Number of houses unfit to live, 27 (unfit defined as not protected from the elements). Number of houses with dirt floor, 30. Number of houses without running water, 8. Number of houses without bathroom, 10. Number of households that at some time during the year have a shortage of food, 17 (the question was asked as “Do you at times have only tortilla and salt to eat?”). Number of illiterate adults, 39.
El Pital is behind some other villages in the Cuenca in terms of quality of life and political maturity. Why don’t people fix their houses? Build an outhouse? Learn to read? These things have nothing to do with the devastation of a hurricane. I have no quick, cogent response to offer, but I do know that El Pital has the social and political ills you might expect to find in a rural third-world village. Life on the outside strikes visitors as complacent, peaceful, and even idyllic at times. But, like a sleepy cat on a branch, it conceals a highly developed nervous system. Unfortunately, the quick, sharp actions El Pital employs to maintain equilibrium all too often inhibit its democratic and economic maturation. I also know that the psychology and ideology of these people — products of their extreme political and physical environment — make them tremendously resilient to hardship. If nothing else, these people adapt and survive. Yes they are humble, even deferential, but ought not be mistaken for weak. Like the gentle rivers and streams they bathe in, only time and tempest reveal the true strength of these people. And yes they are daunted, living an ancient pantheistic religion they worship at the feet of Christian idols, but no, they are not unempowered or even unconscious. They just pick and choose their battles carefully. For a man in water up to his lower lip, the slightest movement could be fatal. In the Cuenca one verb, luchar, signifies working, praying, and struggling. The more time I spend in El Pital, the more I find myself assuming a respectful stance in the face of this complex delicate balance — making something like allocating your donated money quite difficult.
The following is a description of the projects you contributed to, listed in order of relative importance from least to greatest, based on financial and hourly investment.
A) Village Sign: The village sign was blown over and I commissioned its replacement.
B) Reforestation: The municipal government will pay a local women’s group canned goods and clothes to erect and maintain a nursery. They will also provide seeds free of charge. Your money bought planting bags. The 12,000 saplings will be used primarily to reforest the river and stream banks to prevent further erosion.
C) Road Repair: When I arrived the road was still washed out from the bridge in Las Mangas to El Pital. The tractor clearing the road needed to pass a very difficult stretch to get to dirt to fill in the road, but could not. It just sat there for about 10 days like a dog waiting for a door to open. A group of some 30 people spent three days moving logs and rocks so the tractor could pass and access fill dirt, benefiting all the communities above El Pital in the Cuenca. The group was working for canned goods and clothes provided by the municipal government, but was initially reluctant to undertake this chore; partly because it was formidable and partly because there is such a lack of centralized direction, diffusion of responsibility, and self-serving mentality. It seemed that tacking on a bit of fund money made it worth their while.
D) Soccer Field: The Rio Cangrehal rose covering 3/4 of the soccer field the village is built around, leaving deep ruts and a very uneven surface as it receded. The president, captain, and team are going to commission a tractor to expand and flatten the field, build retaining walls on three edges, sink the goal posts in cement, and re-run a water line. At first glance repairing a soccer field may seem trivial. I cannot overstate its importance. Soccer is an integral part of village life. From Monday to Wednesday the men I work with talk about the game last Sunday, and from Thursday to Saturday they talk about the game the coming Sunday. Just consider the benefits of night-court basketball programs in the inner cities. I also cannot overstate how fired up people are.
E) Homeless Residents: Bertin Cortez and Beningno Guevera were generally acknowledged as the two villagers left the worst off by Mitch. The river ate the entire piece of land where Beningno had his house. He has no extended family locally and was living in a borrowed shack with his family of ten. Bertin’s house was the only house in the village that was left without materials with which to reconstruct because it is truly adobe, and not a style of wall using branches and rocks packed with mud. Fund money helped Beningno buy a new piece of land and helped Bertin buy wood for a new house.
F) Cementing Mud Houses: Part of the reason many houses in El Pital lost at least the north wall is because the rains come at a wind-driven angle and wash the mud from the sticks and rock. This is something that happens every heavy rain. It is a chronic problem people live with. But what a pain in the ass. When I got to El Pital most houses were already rebuilt, but many walls were again lost during a heavy February rain. Fund money is helping to coat with cement 18 mud houses in the village. This will greatly enhance the quality of life in El Pital. Houses not eligible are those already of this style or belonging to someone with lots of cattle, a grocery store, or a government post (the teacher). Fund money bought cement, trained Miguelito, a village youth, to do the work, and paid his wages. The residents haul the required sand and water, and work as assistants mixing cement, etc.
G) Gondola:Before I arrived in El Pital I received a fax from the caretaker of Finca Papagayo. He listed the local damages and asked for assistance in replacing a gondola base the river washed out. The gondola provides access to some 60 villagers who either live or farm lands on the other side of the river. I gave the OK to purchase materials. These people got together and carried three 22-foot railroad rails, fifty bags of cement, and other materials some 10km through the jungle. A woman friend of mine explained how she and her children did the work bare footed so as not to wear out their shoes. The base is now in place. It is 4×6 ft, 10 ft deep and 8 ft tall, with three railroad rails protruding from the top as an anchor for the cables. The 1-inch diameter cable spans about 275 feet. It took about 30 village men just to lift the cable from the river bed. We started tightening the cable in the morning and finished at 4:30 a.m. the next day, working within a ring of fires to provide light during the night.
H) Health Center: The bulk of fund money went toward a health center. When I arrived in El Pital and spoke privately to some of the village elders, explaining this fund money, they without exception suggested a health center for the community. It is also generally agreed upon in El Pital that during the hurricane the hand of God intervened, and spared all human life. After the hurricane, however, disease took its toll and continues to do so. Lots of sick people in hammocks and corpses being carried down the Cuenca these days. For years the residents have wanted a health center, but lacked the resources. When ill they have had to pay 1/3 of their daily wage on transport and travel to a Ceiba neighborhood some 20 km away. In order to realize a health center three conditions needed to be met.
The first condition to be met in the acquisition process was my approval of the program provided by the Honduran National Health Department. I sat in the modest office of the state-wide director as she explained the program. They provide free service, a live-in nurse, medicines, an apprentice nursing position, a bona fide M.D. visit every three weeks, as well as a lot of auxiliary benefits such as a stopping point for medical brigades (such as Doctors Without Borders), seminars for the community on natural medicines and hygiene, access to federal funds for the installation of lavatories and potable water for all inhabitants within the health center’s jurisdiction. She also discussed candidly the need for a night watchman and the problems of neglected maintenance and theft plaguing some centers. I concluded the program is extremely well run and the possibility of failure remote.
The next two conditions to be met were imposed by the Health Department itself. The first was to meet and discuss the proposed health center with representatives of all villages in the lower Cuenca falling under the jurisdiction of the health center. This took all of ten minutes. I explained the fund, proposed a health center, and they were thrilled. The only condition left to be met was the creation of a local committee to outfit and maintain the center.
Invitations to attend a meeting about the creation of a health center went out to all residents of the lower Cuenca. We met in the school of El Pital at noon Sunday. A friend ran the meeting. At this meeting I spoke on your behalf. I explained the origins of the money, saying it comes from everyday people who, for accident of birth in most cases, live in a wealthy country, and wanted to help ease the suffering caused by Mitch. I also explained my role as middleman and my responsibility to ensure the money is well spent. Quizzical looks gave way to broad grins. We in the States seldom stop to consider a country like Honduras, while the Estados Unidos is a felt presence in their daily lives. They understood your donations as an unconditional gift, a voluntary redistribution of wealth, and felt part of a ceremonial sharing. Aside from a government program offering donated canned goods and clothes in exchange for labor, yours was the only foreign aid to reach El Pital.
Folks went on to discuss an agenda provided by the health department listing some of the difficulties to overcome to start, maintain, and protect the center. It was awesome to watch this fledgling democracy in action. As odd as it may seem, expressing an idea with political import in front of the community is a milestone experience in the lives of many of these people. Despite the crying babies, people whose concentration flagged and left early, and the cow that entered the building, by the end of the day they had elected an eight-person committee overseeing the health center. The committee members all spoke impromptu at the end of the meeting, their words often touching on the will of God, the relation of word to deed, and this miraculous sharing from their brothers and sisters in the north.
The facility purchased is a recently completed block house in the center of the village. It was built by a guy in a neighboring village who later decided he liked his own village better. It is the finest house in El Pital. It has a sitting room and three bedrooms, and is perfect for a health center. Two weeks after the committee was elected three nurses came up to inoculate babies and vaccinate dogs. They said they had never seen such a high turnout.
Following are the letters from the residents of El Pital to you. I have translated the form, language, and grammar as literally as possible. These letters may be a bit difficult to get through. If more than half the adults in El Pital are literate, then barely so. The grammar is wacky, the expression colloquial, if not poetic, and the ideas at times addled. But they warrant a careful reading. They tell a lot about a people and what your aid means to them. Because Spanish speakers have a hard time pronouncing Ken, I go by my middle name Joseph in Honduras. When I could not decipher a word I marked it with XXX.
El Pital, Ceiba Atlantita
17 of February 1999
From the person of Jose Roberto Puerta it is desired that you are found well in your work and at the same time I am thankful for the aid that you all have brought to me and my family. Regarding Mr. Joseph we are infinitely thankful for taking us into account in the project of cementing our houses since we are people of few economic resources. Your friend Jose says good-bye.
El Pital 17 of February 1999
Gorjen Aguilar sends thanks thanks is sent to Mr Joseph for the good heart that he has had for the great tragedy that we have had in this place. He sends to you thanks for the good heart that you have had in this great tragedy in this hurricane mitch by sharing with us here in this place of our god jesus christ for the good heart for all of us in this hurricane mitch my house was knocked down leaving me destitute and my good-bye to you is that you go about with much health in your country.
El Pital, La Ceiba Atlantita 1999
My name is Miguel Angel Perez.
I am writing this letter because hurricane mitch passed and left a season very sad in this sector very far from the united states it was very terrible there were many loses but much assistance has come to our country thanks to those that helped and those helping all the friends of Joseph since you all have come to know this country of Honduras.
Thank you for all that you have helped us I feel so happy for all that you have done for all the Hondurans these are my words I thank you for those that are reading this dedicated letter. For all those much thanks with much affection and love. Good-bye.
El Pital 17 of February 1999
By this medium I am sending this cordial salutation to this group organized for the collaboration helping fix our houses accordingly I feel very thankful at the same time I send to you much thanks for this valuable collaboration and I hope that it will not be the first XXX and that you continue for this community GRACIAS lord pardon me the bad expression nevertheless I send to you all the thanks of new.
Mirna Lisetth Cantillano Zuniga
Joseph I feel very thankful for the good opportunity that you have given to be able to cement my house and I hope that you continue helping.
That god guards wherever you go to you and to all your family and friends that have cooperated with all of this assistance that you have given. And now I desire you a happy trip to your country and I hope that you always remember us I send you thanks once again for everything good-bye to you from Maria Suarez and more Suarezes
Thanks to the friends of Joseph for having the initiative XXX the help to construct our houses we send to you thanks also signed the ancient people of el pital.
Thanks to you for the donation to cement my house. And that god blesses you all and that god blesses upon the happy donor and increases the wealth of those that share thank you.
El Pital Atlantida Tuesday 16 of February 1999
Thanks to those that brought the help to our community much thanks is being given to you from this lady although I don’t know you thanks for these opportunities good-bye to you all.
Maria Argentina Robles thank you for your attention.
19 of February 1999
We are giving thanks to Joseph also to Anthony Pereira and to all their friends and family that collaborated with the reconstruction of our houses thanks for all you have done for us and hopefully god continues to bless you in your work and your collaborations and we want to communicate to you that we are working to plant trees to reforest the edges of the rivers and streams and in this way avoid another tragedy in our country.
The village of El Pital Atlantida Honduras C.A.
17 of February 1999
Esteemed: Friends of the country of the united states myself: Luis Rodriguez and family resident of the village of el Pital
I am sending to you a special thanks to our friends in the country to the north for your help and aid with our village with the reparation of our houses since they were destroyed by the well known phenomenon of hurricane mitch.
I am very thankful to you all for the help you sent with Mr. Joseph special thanks to him for the help from you all since if it wasn’t for you all we would not have obtained a health center that we were in need of and the reparation of our soccer field that was destroyed I am repeating to you all in the village we are very thankful and especially with Mr. Joseph thanks much thanks and greetings to all our friends in the united states for sending us the help necessary and I hope you all continue helping.
Luis Rodriguez and family village of el Pital
17 of February
Loved and esteemed brother americans I feel very thankful to you for the help that we have from you and I am thankful for Joseph that he is with us every now and again in honduras and he sees the problems of the community where we live cordial greetings from the Matute family much thanks for thinking of us in honduras.
Jose Calderon Matute
El Pital 17 of February 1999
As member of the health committee I am thankful to God in the first place, and at the same time thankful to Mr. Joseph and to his friends that formed a group to send help to our community as the most primary necessities that we have correspond to a health center we already have this by means of the donation that you were able to make from all of the directors we are very thankful and committed to fulfilling our word of assistance to this project. I am hoping that this will not be the first nor the last but that always you are thinking of us thank you.
Treasurer Jacobo Banegas
El Pital La Ceiba Atlantida Honduras
Associates, friends, and family Mr. Joseph we are greeting you with much affection and desiring that you have blessings from god, and that your lives are eternal. We are giving thanks to you all for having helped to realize our houses, for being preoccupied for us, since we were left completely homeless, and we hope that god protects your heart and you are long lived.
Antonio Cruz C.
Sunday 31 of January 1999
I hope that you are passing this day happy and that you know Mr. Joseph delivered to me the quantity of 3,000 Lemperas for the purchase of a plot for a man homeless I am thankful to god and to you and the people who paid the bill.
Thank you from Beningno Cruz Guevara and companion Maria Peres and all their 8 children
El Pital La Ceiba Atlantida Honduras
Associates friends and family of Mr. Joseph I am sending to you these few words to tell you that we are very thankful for the help that you have given us. We give thanks to god, because you all have shown interest in us by helping us, since we were left completely destroyed without a home, that god may bless you and give to you much strength to continue working.
El Pital 18/2/99 La Ceiba Atlantida
Work companions friends and family of Mr. Joseph we are sending you these few words to tell you thank you very, very much for the help that you have sent our families we desire that you are blessed and that god continues helping you in your daily work.
Thank you for the help and may god continue blessing you!
Blas Orlando Murilla
El Pital 20 of February 1/99
Mr. Joseph Hutz by means of this humble note I want to thank profoundly yourself all your friends family and work companions.
For having helped me cement my house with this bit of help I am not finished but at the least it is something I hope you continue to help me because I lost my house as you all can observe in the photograph I also lost my crops of vegetables and beans because here in this country of honduras was destruction never have I seen so much disaster as in this year XXX and always you are thinking of us a thousand thanks to you all.
“We trust in God and know that we are in his hands, we don’t want to alarm you, but neither hide from you the reality, lets remain calm because the worst is coming, Hurricane Mitch within a few hours will touch down on main land Honduras” It was 10:00 A.M. the 27th of october, the ominous words of an operator from a christian station, the only one, operating from a generator, since there had occurred four days of intense rains and winds XXX, having destroyed our economic works, houses, neighborhoods, districts, villages, and many other things ruined by the passing of this meteorological phenomenon. — The truth of the matter in the Cuenca of the Cangrehal is that we did not have death caused by disaster. There has been a type of XXX to rebirth things in reconstruction activities. — they are innumerable the countries that have given support in all its meanings. — we are blessed by God. — Also generous persons that have shared what God has given them abandoning their comfort and security to assist us. — All have suffered in one or another manner, but I give thanks to God that I am able to continue with my memories of things living and I cannot forget although I want to.
Among my blessing I counted a small house of mud and tin but the storm destroyed a wall and the subsequent earth tremors finished her off.
But God being very generous touched the heart of Joseph Hutz and other friends of his and I once again am able to smile because you helped me with money to construct my house, and not only myself, also to other people so they could buy a plot of land to construct since the river washed away the land, you donated materials to cement houses and the beneficial project of health center.
Well, now I present myself:
my name is Bertin Cortez Banegas; my wife Rosario Lobo, my children Lesly, Adonis, Bertincito, and Jenny; my very small grandchild Damicela. — I live from that which I produce from the land, in the village of El Pital, Port of La Ceiba, St. of Atlantida, 15km from the port along the Cuenca of the Rio Cangrehal.
Thanks to God for this economic aid, it was to me like a gift from God.
It is my sincere desire that God blesses you all
El Pital, La Ceiba 15 of February 1999.
El Pital 18 of January 1999
La Ceiba Honduras
Loved XXX of the united states. Receive from us a sincere salutation.
We want to thank XXX you all, for all the help that, you have sent us, through Mr. Joseph Hutz.. So that you know what passed between you all and us I am writing. That we were left homeless. by hurricane, mitch. leaving thousand dead and disappeared and a great number of families without a place to live, but God touched the Heart of you all, and of Joseph, bringing much help for us., buying plots of land, for the persons that lost their houses. and the places where they were located, since the waters of the rio Cangrehal washed them away.
also donated was cement to cover the houses. paying also the manual labor. also clearing paths. Joseph appropriated for cables and a basket.
and God caused a blessing, and you came to donate a house that now functions as a health center. For a large amount of money. Already we went and were attended by a group of people who vaccinate children and adults, benefiting the communities of el naranjo. las mangas. lucinda Oyo de agua puertu, vacio, el olvido, la muralla: only lacking is to outfit it with tables chairs writing utensils cyclone fence. which brings us other expenses. we are looking for a place to obtain these things. so that we can continue, forward, thank you hopefully you will always be living
until next time
Rosario E. Lobo G.
president of the committee of the health center.
As you can tell, I did not allocate your money as I had promised. Traveling down to Honduras I thought a lot about this and decided when possible it is better to teach a person to fish (as the expression goes), that my initial reaction was knee-jerk, and wrong. Also, there was much more money than I had anticipated, which provided different options. I wanted the fund to attain a whole greater that the sum of its parts. When I got to El Pital, and spoke to some village elders about the fund, they confirmed my feelings, saying they did not feel that handouts across the board were the best use of the money. Basically, they felt many residents needed help in helping themselves. But I wanted El Pital to do with this money what it wanted, to determine its own destiny. For this reason I encouraged decision-making by committee in lieu of autocratically when possible. Hence I cannot deliver a photograph and letter to each donor with the amount donated included. Instead I have kept receipts of expenses, and the major donors will get copies of original letters and corresponding photographs. I have all major and many minor receipts of money spent, and will be more than happy to mail out photocopies to anyone who requests it. It is only because I would like to avoid the waste and hassle of sending out many sizable stacks of receipts that I am not including them here.
A) Sign: 110L/7.97USD
I paid Mario Lobo (because he lives closest to the sign) 50L to do the job. It took one 60L bag of cement.
B) Reforestation: 1,310.56L/94.98USD
12,000 bags for reforestation, 1,200L. Plastic twine to make rows, 110.56L
C) Road Repair: 3,245L/235.14USD
A day’s wages of 35L were tacked on to the daily provisions earned by each worker. Some 30 or so workers, working over three days, totaled 91 work-days totaling 3185L. Two gallons of gas for my chainsaw, 60L.
D) Soccer Field: 4,800L/347.82USD
40 Gallons of diesel, 1000L. 60 bags of cement, 3,600L. PVC tubing 200L.
E) Homeless Residents: 5,100L/369.56USD
To Beningno I gave 3,000L. To Bertin I gave 2,100L.
F) Cementing Houses: 9,762.50L/707.42USD
95 bags of cement, 5,700L. One pair of rubber gloves, 12.50L. Miguelito makes 45L a day. Five days per house comes to 4,050L. This money includes the cement and what I paid him to practice on the back of my workshop.
G) Gondola: 12,397.65L/898.38USD
Fuel to transport rails, 25L. Hacksaw blade, rebar, and nails, 172.65. 50 bags of cement, 3,200L. Two 10-ft and three 22-ft railroad rails, 9000L.
H) Health Center: 63,250L/4,583.33USD
55,000 paid to Ernest Chavez for his house. To help them get on their feet with materials needed to complete and help secure the building, tables, chairs, office supplies, extra keys, etc., 8,000L. Lawyer fees to transfer land ownership into the possession of the health center committee, 250L. (He worked pro-bono; this is only a processing fee.)
Money left over: 9,804.29L /710.45USD
*All money exchanged at approximately 13.8 Lempiras per dollar.
*Cost of all materials include transport.
*The money left in the account will probably be given to the health center. They need it. I just want to wait and see what they come up with on their own before pitching in.
*One of the beauties of this fund is how little money went to internal expenses. I was heading down anyway, and Anthony and I picked up the paperwork and mailing costs.
Many of you have asked about my ranch, Finca Papagayo. We basically spent the time I was down there clearing fallen trees and repairing buildings. Our big loss was the second story of the partially completed main house. Because access to the land is so difficult now, we will spend the next year or two doing what little we can to dfievelop the lodge, and planting cocoa and tropical hardwoods in the back acreage.
In this same year or two we will focus on expanding Un Mundo (formerly The Finca Association) by adding new projects including a sponsored soccer league, a video education program, a sewing cooperative, a matched earnings fund (wherein a percentage of wages earned by Finca Papagayo employees are put toward community projects), and adding a full time employee (a peace-corps style position) to help implement projects. I was asked in El Pital, as some of the above letters attest, about the possibility of future aid. My initial reaction was, let’s not get greedy folks. I consider the act of donation a tricky one, and I think most do. I told the residents of El Pital I would inquire into future donations. If you are interested in continuing to help send me your ideas, preferably via email. If there is enough interest to make it worthwhile I will get back to you.
As far as present life in El Pital is concerned, dislocated is the word that fits. It is a waiting game for bridges and roads to be fixed so the economy can function normally. A very real and serious concern is health. As I was circulating asking for letters and taking photographs in the days before I left, I saw a lot of rashes on infants, conjunctivitis, and dysentery. A tremendous amount of time, money, and energy is devoted to dealing with health issues. The health center committee is working with the state-wide director to get El Pital’s health center open as soon as possible. But in any and every case, these people adapt. When Sunday comes children jump rope, women go to church, and the men go find a soccer game Even nature is rebounding rapidly.
But in important ways life is not back to normal, and never will be. Mitch not only changed the face of maps by re-routing rivers, it also changed the complex delicate social and economic balance that exists in places like El Pital. The fortunes of some men of relative wealth were washed down the river, and other men barely able to keep their lower lips above water suddenly found firm ground beneath their feet. And in still more important, yet far more subtle, ways, the delicate balance has shifted. In a sleepy village, where the nervous equilibrium is all too often maintained by quick, sharp actions — like tucking a poorly concealed .38 into one’s belt, or settling a dispute with a sharp machete — people have been forced to confront one another as they stoop to pick up and put back the pieces. The winds of Mitch have torn apart the status quo. Who would have thought that Jacobo Banegas would ever be treasurer of a health center? And voted so by his peers? No wonder when speaking upon being elected he ripped into his fellow residents for having pried loose the tin from the school roof for their own use while the winds of Mitch were dissipating, and letting the cemetery where his mother and father are buried become overgrown with bush. No, life in El Pital will never be the same after Mitch. Life seems to be imitating countless Ranchero ballads, as Mitch, with the gift of stranger in hand, helps to raise the child left on the side of the road by Fifi.
I have reserved a few words (believe it or not) for myself. Although allocating this money was challenging, and forced upon me many a difficult decision, I find myself wanting to thank you for affording me the privileged position of witness to and utensil in this ceremonial sharing. This flowering of humanity adorns my own garden. Anne Getzoff followed her generous contribution down with helping hands. Wendy Cobleigh, Lauren Lassleben, and Marta Hutz corralled the lion’s share of the account. And the generous personal donations of people like the Pereiras, Grabers, and Ritzes were overshadowed only by the remarks accompanying their checks. In the notes exchanged between these two communities a true sense of obligation and respect are evident. Paul Herzoff summed up many donor sentiments, simply by saying it was “a pleasure to be able to help in such a personal manner.” I think Bertin Cortez sums up recipient sentiments, concluding, “It is my sincere desire that God blesses you all.”
Kenneth Joseph Hutz3/16/99