[HONDURAS] We made it to Honduras safely…though we almost didn't make it at all. Delays at the Indianapolis airport made us late for our flight in Houston; I sprinted through the airport like a running back on Super Bowl Sunday, dragging our carry-on luggage (which I had to wait for because of course they made us stow it). Mia held the plane at the other end. The airline attendants were in a foul mood about the whole thing until they saw the sweat streaming off me.
We made it, but our checked bag did not, so we had to wait in a long line in Honduras to file a claim before we went through customs. I knew my cousin Megan would be anxious when we didn’t appear as expected, so I tried to email. Por supuesto…I had no cell service in Honduras! I should have thought through the whole connection process a little better. Mia and I craned our necks to see whether Megan was visible beyond customs from our spot in line while, at the same time, we tried to be inconspicuous. We were two foreign white girls in the murder capital of the world. No need to be any more obvious than that!
With my meager Spanish we finally extracted a form from the airline, then crossed through to meet Megan. She was accompanied by little Noe, one of the youngest and most addicted boys to come to Micah House, where Megan was a missionary and English teacher. We knew Noe’s story from videos that Micah had posted on Facebook, but the boy in front of us was shy and curious, insistent and energetic and excited to be in the city with Megan, much like any 9 year old. I would have loved to have chatted with him, but his English still was about like my Spanish.
We quickly met up with several others who had come to meet us: Jeremy, one of Megan’s fellow missionaries; Hector, a graduate of Micah House who works there now; and Alex, an intern of sorts from Kentucky. In what I’ve since learned from Facebook photos is a tradition for Micah guests upon arrival, we all headed to MetroMall in Jeremy’s car for lunch. It might as well have been a mall in suburban U.S.A, much to my surprise, right down to the play area near the food court that caught Noe’s eye instantly. I was expecting our meals to be distinctly Honduran, so it was a twist of fate that we ended up in line at Subway. The advertising agency where I worked in Fort Wayne represents a whole mess of Subway restaurants back in the States, and I am a card-carrying frequent diner. But I knew that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of vegetables in most of our traditional meals, so this salad freak was ok with Eating Fresh.
Side note: The oven-roasted chicken at Subway in Honduras? It is shaped like real chicken. In fact, it might even be real chicken.
Next we piled into Jeremy’s car and headed to El Picacho Park, another traditional part of the Micah welcome. I pummeled Megan with questions about what we were seeing as she and Mia and I swayed in the back, bouncing through the narrow, twisty, dusty streets. And I tried to take photos through the windows of what we were passing…until I realized what a stupid move that was in the murder capital of the world. Nothing screams “Dumb tourist with some cash over here! Rob her and leave her for dead!” like taking photos out of the car window while driving through drug-dealer-infested neighborhoods, where the truck delivering water and sodas to the corner market has a guard perched in back holding a semi-automatic rifle.
We wound up the hills on the outskirts of the city, then arrived at the gate to the park. More guards with military weapons. Yes, my confidence was a bit rattled by now. Even though I knew we were in great hands. I was reminded of living in Chicago; when you were in certain neighborhoods, you had to be a little smarter. A little more on. Keep your head down and your eyes and ears open.
It was cooler and quieter at the top of the hill. We wandered down a dirt path and met several of the boys as well as the founder, father-figure and leader of The Micah Project, Michael Stephen Miller. He wasn’t quite what I expected, though I don’t know what I really expected. Maybe it was the fact that he was in his early 40s, like me. Aren’t people who lead organizations and have official titles supposed to be much older than I am? Anyway, he could hardly be nicer. Like a somewhat shy teddy bear. Who knew shy teddy bears could do the incredible work of disciplining and protecting drug-addicted young men from the streets?
Under a giant stone statue of Jesus on top of the hill, Michael showed us the city. It’s an undulating squirrel’s nest of humanity, rolling hills of shanty and stone houses crammed together with hardly a square foot of bare ground—aside from the airport in the middle. If I were a nervous flier, our landing should have scared me. We had to make a 45-degree turn deep in the valley and hit the tiniest, shortest runway ever. If we didn’t stop at the end, we’d run right over a neighborhood. Go do a Google search on Toncontin International Airport. It gets names like “World’s Most Thrilling Airport” and, perhaps more realistically, “World’s Most Dangerous Airport.”
After a few photos, we wandered up over the hill. The rest of the boys were playing soccer somewhere up ahead; we were just waiting on them to finish. We stopped at a swing set and hung out with Victor and Ismael, Megan and Michael and the gang. By now my mouth was like the Sahara, so we bought bags of water. Yup, I said bags. Little square bags sealed all around. You bite off the corner with your teeth and slurp out the contents. Or, if you’re me, you futilely tear at the corner until it’s all stretched out, try to rip it with your fingernail, then squeeze out most of the contents as you try to lift it to your mouth. I suppose it’s smart—there’s a lot less waste with a little square bag of plastic vs. a bottle. I wanted to like those little bags of water so badly for that reason. But the thirsty me longed for a giant earth-polluting plastic jug of H2O. I didn’t even care if it were warm; I just wanted wet.
We wandered on to find the boys killing it on the soccer court. Yup, I said court. No field for these kids. They were diving and dashing and hurling their bodies across the concrete. I think I got a bloody knee just watching them.
Afterward we all walked together to the vans for the boys and Jeremy’s car for us, doing that smiley thing that you do when you’re with a great big group of people you just met who speak another language. I was trying to suss out whether they were like the boys back in the States, who are way too cool for school. Some teenage boys at home would rather trip you and laugh than make small talk. But the Micah guys seemed pretty genuine. Victor hopped in the car with us to ride back to the house, and he was one nonstop fountain of chatter and laughter and silly jokes with Mia, or “Meeeeee-ah,” as she became known to the guys over the week.
The Micah House is new-ish. Since the organization's inception by Michael in January 2000 it had been situated right in the heart of the city, down the street from a police station in one direction and a drug house in the other. It was barely safe; in fact, Megan’s apartment down the street had been burglarized just a few years ago. But after a massive fundraising campaign and then a massive building effort in which the boys took part, they constructed a big sturdy home up in the foothills just outside the tangle of the city, up a windy road past the dump, down a little dirt road and through a guarded gate. All the way up the highway out of Tegucigalpa, I noted the people standing here and there, the shops peddling fruit and food, armed guards standing close by, the cobbled-together cardboard-and-scraps shelters that most called home. Simple as it was, the Micah House felt palatial with its solid walls and concrete floors.
The missionaries live in new little cabins on the Micah grounds, four small bedrooms and baths with a tiny central kitchen and living room. The young men were gentlemen, carrying our bags to Megan’s cabin, which was empty but for her at the moment as they awaited the arrival of another female missionary, so Mia and I each had our own space.
We returned for dinner at the Micah House with the boys, a boisterous and quick affair at long wooden tables with long benches. The boys are awesome. Friendly, bright, kind. Very sweet. They have so much energy, just like boys anywhere, I’m sure. (Though how would I know? I have two sisters, a daughter and four nieces!)
Then we chilled in Megan’s cabin for a bit (er, sweated in her cabin—there’s no air conditioning here), and got ready to go to bed early. It gets dark here at 6:30 p.m. or so—we're so close to the Equator—and you can't be out after dark in the murder capital of the world. We didn't have to be anywhere Wednesday morning till 9:45, so I was able to get lots and lots of delicious sleep.