Saturday, June 5, 2010

A little finality

Hello any friends out there still checking our blog! So sorry to leave you hanging...
Our lives have changed quite a bit since our last post in February. We left Honduras March 15h and spent the next month visiting friends and family in Indiana and PA as well as checking in with the MCC headquarters. We loaded up a moving truck mid-April and headed to Albuquerque, where we are now staying with my dad and step-mom Brenda. Besides moving back to the states and to New Mexico, we've had some other major changes as well... our baby bean was born last Tuesday, May 25th! Samuel Lamar Lind Clouse is beautiful and we are having so much fun getting to know him.

Our plan all along was to stay with my dad and Brenda until mid-summer and then find a place of our own... that is working out well, and felt very timely indeed as my dad had an emergency quadruple bipass heart surgery a few weeks ago. The surgery went well and we are now both recovering at home together.

It feels strange to no longer be in Honduras... we miss our MCC friends and Honduran friends very much... it's amazing how quickly life changes and life in the states, which once seemed so far away, becomes all encompassing. Things have moved so quickly for us since our return that it seems hard to process our time in San Pedro and Tegucigalpa.

So now Andrew is settling into his roll as half-time Associate Pastor for Youth at Albuquerque Mennonite Church and I'm enjoying being a mom and thinking about work or school options for the fall. We're not sure where the next few years will take us here in Albuquerque and so far we can take it only one day at a time.

For now, here are some good pictures of little Samuel.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just a few more days in the flower

"Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin... into the future..."

Our friend Adam Lawrence, ex-SALTer extraordinaire, visited us last weekend which turned out to be a major blessing for various reasons. He helped us around the house a lot; carrying buckets of water for me and helping me speed clean the house when at one point we thought we might unknowingly be hosting a surprise baby shower, AND he served as our unofficial photographer for the weekend; taking photos of various neighbors, the market where we always go but have never managed to get any pictures of, and most importantly the not-so-surprise baby shower which turned out to be at somebody else’s house after all, Gracias a Dios. Plus it was just great to see him again and share some good conversation.

With just a few days left of work and our house in packing/sorting shambles, it’s really starting to feel real that we will be leaving Tegucigalpa next Monday. It’s been so nice to spend some time with people at various “going-away” type events; first the baby shower on Friday and then a grill-out with Andrew’s co-workers on Sunday. The baby shower was a total riot and unlike any I’ve ever been to in the states: it included group games that involved a lot of screaming and jumping, good food and cake, and (the best of all) some really great guitar playing and singing by a father-son duo from our church. What it did not include was a lot of presents, which made my comfort level go way up. Juanito, my boss Juan’s son who is our age, was visiting from D.C. where he lives with his wife and paints and makes music, and the two of them performed a lot of beautiful, old campesino songs, most of which I’d never heard before. Sometimes everyone else joined in and sometimes just the two of them sang, their voices harmonizing over their two guitars while the rest of us sat transfixed. They sang and sang, and to my surprise it was soon long past our normal 9-ish bedtime and I was left wondering, “Why couldn’t we have had these kinds of gatherings all year???”
Sometimes it isn’t until the very end when we can begin to fully appreciate what we are leaving behind.

You can click HERE to view some of Adam’s photos from the weekend. Below are a few highlights.

Adam Lawrence is in the middle. Our last official guest in Honduras!!

Church friends at the baby shower. Lourdes, on the left, was our host.

Juan Hernandez and his son Juan Ernesto, taking a breather during the singing. As the president of the library board of directors, Don Juan is my boss... I've known him all year and had no idea he could play the guitar and sing so well.

Andrew's co-workers on A pretty fun group of folks - after spending just one afternoon with them I could see how Andrew gets to learn so much more "caliche", or slang, than I do. Claudia, on the left, hosted lunch for everyone.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rooting out government corruption

A couple of months ago I took an early morning bus to San Pedro Sula, this time as an undercover reporter in search of corruption. I was armed with a report put out by the organization Democracy Without Borders that listed every single check written by the Honduran government in the last six months from the community development fund. In theory, this fund is for members of Congress to use to build schools, pave roads, plant trees, house orphans, and fund all sorts of do-gooder projects. The reality is that it is essentially a government slush fund with few controls and almost no accounting that Congresspeople can use to buy favors, votes, or for to line their own pockets. What I found was shocking. In some cases the money arrived as it was supposed to, resulting in a few computers for a school, or a new roof on a community center. In many cases, a project began but was never finished, or the finished product was so insignificant I wondered how the project was ever approved. And in the most shocking cases, the money never even arrived, and no one seems to know where it is.

The result of the investigation has been published, along with the investigations of my colleagues who found equally disturbing stories all over the country. The link to my article can be found here (Google translator version in Google English found here.) The rest of the articles can be found on the right-hand side of

Here are a couple of the sad stories I happened across:

Colinas de Suiza

This photo is of an empty water tank in the community Colinas de Suiza (Hills of Switzerland) in Villanueva, Cortés. This community, perched on the very top of a deforested mountain with an amazing 360 degree view, has no water system. They rely on what falls from the sky. About five years ago, the community made contact with a professor from the Colorado School of Mines, who brought engineering students down to Honduras to carry out a study, and, ultimately, to build a water storage tank for the community that would provide everyone with running water.  

Many years and thousands of dollars later (including a mere $5,000 from the Honduran Congress) the big, steel tank is finished, sitting right beside the public school. Unfortunately, it is not hooked up to anything and is completely empty. 

According to the pastor from the local evangelical church (pictured...I can't find his name!), the community was in search for the rest of the money to hook up the pipes to a well at the bottom of the mountain when the city government decided to expropriate the tank using the eminent domain law. Since it was a public service, they argued, the government has the right and responsibility to run it. The city government promptly forgot about these responsibilities, however, and have made no indication that they will remember them any time soon.

For now, the community continues to suffer and fume that the work they did was for nothing.

Villa Florencia

This community in San Pedro Sula is 25 years old, and since it was built the city has done nothing to improve the dirt side roads and potholed main streets. According to the report by Democracy Without Borders, the Honduran Congress approved two separate checks for $25,000 each in 2006 to pave roads in this neighborhood. The neighborhood association, however, says that they have not been able to trace the whereabouts of the money. Furthermore, they only knew of one of the $25,000 checks. The second was news to them. The neighborhood association treasurer said they have gone back and forth between the Congresswoman who promised the money and the city government who was supposed to carry out the project to try and find the whereabouts of the money. Each "kicks the ball to the other," as he so eloquently stated. This is possible because the Congress makes no effort to check up on whether the projects were finished, or whether the money ever got to the community. In fact, the Congressperson can request that the check be written in his or her name so he or she can hand the money out personally.

San Manuel

The road leading out to the village of Santiago in the municipality of San Manuel is 4 kilometers of mostly muddy potholes (combined with beautiful views of a river and lots of parrots), except for the first 200 meters. The Honduran Congress approved $50,000 to pave this small, insignificant stretch of road, and it appears that the money arrived and was honestly spent (an engineer sent a breakdown of what he figured the costs were, and it was more than $50,000). But why, when there are urgent projects like the water tank in Colinas de Suiza left undone, would the Congress spend these precious, limited funds on 200 meters of a highway that few people use? The problem with this slush fund is that the Congresspeople can go around from town to town and hand out token amounts of money in exchange for their votes. There is no planning involved. It's all politics. It is an example of how the system is broken, and how the government sees the poor as pawns to be manipulated for their own power. This, to me, is the saddest part: an account called the community development fund continues to be used to steal what dignity the poor have left--with their own tax money.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

February already??

I realize way too much time has passed since our last update. After such tragedy in Haiti and us being really preoccupied with that, it just felt trivial to write about our daily comings and goings here in La Flor… but some of our plans for the next couple of months have changed and we thought that you, our devoted family and friends and random strangers, should know about them.

First of all, rather than returning to the states in June as originally planned, we’ve decided to head back in March. This came about for a number of reasons, the biggest of which being our Bean is due in May and we’d like to be home with family for his big arrival.

So! All of a sudden we have just three weeks left of our work here in Tegucigalpa, after which we’ll pack up and head to San Pedro and spend two weeks there winding up our work with MCC. We plan to fly out of San Pedro on March 15th, and then spend the next several weeks visiting Andrew’s family in Goshen and PA, spending time with friends, going to a few weddings, hoping to get to Albuquerque where we plan to live with my dad for a few months before eventually getting our own place. Bean will be born, we will be parents, life will be oh-so-very-different than it is now.

How are we feeling? So many things – excited, overwhelmed, pre-maturely nostalgic – mostly excited though. The past two and a half years have been an amazing experience that I’m sure we’ll be processing for awhile. Words fail me. But it definitely feels like time to get back home to family and friends. Some goals for the next weeks: finish up our work well, soak in the sights and sounds and people of La Flor del Campo, take all the pictures we’ve been meaning to take all year, eat more pineapple while we can, try to convince our young neighbor to stop playing on his roof (he already feel twice), preach one more time at church (Andrew), and learn a few more Honduran slang words (Amanda). Here are a few pictures we selected from the last couple of months to give an idea of what we've been up to. Like I said, we’ve been slacking in the picture department, but plan on making up for it shortly.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dependency on the United States

I was looking around at some data on DataGov and came across some statistics that astounded me, so I decided to share. The chart below shows remittances by country as a percentage of that country's GDP. In other words, What percentage of Honduras's GDP  is money that was sent home by immigrants working abroad? Take a look at the charts below.

Remittances as percent of GDP

In 1979 the percent of GDP that remittances represented was .05%. In 2008, it's 20%. The data is similar for El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Nicaragua. As a whole, 6.53% of Latin America's GDP was generated by workers outside of their home countries.

This suggests to me that the last 30 years of neoliberal economic policy, structural adjustments, and free trade agreements have had the dual effect of a.) encouraging Latinos to emigrate to the United States, and b.) increasing Latin American dependency on the US to very unhealthy levels. It is true that during this same time these economies did improve. But what does it mean when a large chunk of that growth is due to economic activity that is physically risky, destroys the social fabric of home communites, and breaks the receiving country's laws?

But I'm no economist. Other thoughts on how to interpret this data?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Article on the MCC webiste

This article was posted on the MCC news page about Haiti on Tuesday:
I found it to be a welcome change from the news coming from the international media, which seems to mainly be focusing on violence and looting.

Our good friends and fellow Honduras MCC team members Kathy and Virgil Troyer arrived in Haiti last Saturday. They're working as the regional disaster response coordinators for Latin America. Yesterday we were forwarded an email from them reporting that they are doing okay; busy with daily struggles to help support the MCC team there (practical things like getting food together, filtering water for many people, trying to change U.S. currency in order to buy gas and other supplies, etc). I am really in awe of the work they and other Haitian and international MCC workers are doing... here, we just keep praying for the people in Haiti. What else can you do?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti

I can't help but imagine myself in the same situation as my MCC counterparts in Haiti. The thought that grips me is that the earthquake the struck Honduras last year was the same magnitude, yet Honduras was essentially left unharmed. Seeing the pictures of Port-au-Prince reminds me of Tegucigalpa: shacks perched precariously on hillsides, shoddy construction, flimsy infrastructure. This could have been Teguc.

Imagine. The earthquake rocked Haiti before 5 p.m. I would have still been at work on the other side of the city. Streets are blocked, traffic stopped. Night falls soon after. I can imagine myself sprinting through the dark to Flor del Campo, my mouth dry, eyes filled with concrete dust, unable to make phone contact with my pregnant wife. Four hours by bus from the MCC office. Hungry, thirsty, frightened. It's too much for my small brain to comprehend.

Yet this is the apocalyptic reality for the Haitian people living in Port-au-Prince. Women are giving birth on the streets. Children are weeping, homeless and hungry. People are contracting tropical diseases and have no comfortable place to lay down.

I have inserted links to the blogs of MCCers in Haiti on the right-hand side. Not all are updated, but I'm sure they will be soon. Consider donating to MCC's relief efforts. I can vouch for the organization: