My friend Amanda had surprised me wildly when she said, “I’m going to have a marimba party tomorrow night because I know you love the marimba.”
But it was ironic that the marimba band that showed up had the words “Siempre En Mi Mente,” carved onto the front of their gorgeous wooden instruments.
Translation: always on my mind.
I had last been in Honduras in 1993 to do a nutrition project, I spent a few weeks. Traveled into the mountains where we cooked and cooked before coming back and doing the same thing with folks in town.
Then life happened. I got married in 1995. I changed jobs, studied further at university, welcomed new family members, buried others, bought a house, open and folded a music business, and changed everything to be with my husband in his new job as a commercial vehicle operator…etc., etc.
Still, the town of Catacamas – it’s people, the kids playing marbles on the dirt street in front of my house, the neighbors wishing me “adios,” as I passed by their doors, the local market with the vegetable salesman who laughed at me as I bargained for the celery telling him it was wilted and looked ‘tired,’ the fauna and the flora – all of it etched itself indelibly upon my heart.
So to say this place and it’s people were always on my mind, was an incredibly apt statement.
Around 1982, six years before I joined the Peace Corps in 1988, country western artist Willie Nelson had a big hit with the song, “Always on my Mind,”written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James and Wayne Carson.
I was young, idealistic. I was working first as a newspaper reporter, then later as a community organizer.
I was determined truth could make social change and create a world of justice and equality.
I was 24 years old and had no commitments other than my work, my cat, and a little red Volkswagen Bug my late pop had helped me score.
“Tell me. Tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died,” the long-haired Nelson seemed to croon out of any and every functioning radio or store p.a.(This was before You Tube, kids.)
“Give me. Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,” he pleaded as the ballad turned from the musical bridge.
“Uh, huh,” my late mother would say. “See! That’s just the kind of line fast-talking men like that guitar-picking, self-proclaimed, pot-smoking Willie Nelson, use to capture virtuous young women who don’t know any better.”
Pop, on the other hand, liked Willie Nelson’s music.
I think he was the one who had it right. That notion – the notion of love, of grace, of forgiveness – that’s an idea that guides the lives of my friends and former colleagues in Catacamas, Departamento de Olancho, Honduras, Central America.
I tried to stay in touch with my Honduras friends. La Doctora Amanda Madrid, visited with me here in the US. She came to The States to continue her advanced academic studies.
In the subsequent years, she would go on to become the in-country director of the health ministry “Predisan,” which provided the structure and oversight for my project, el CEREPA, Centro de Rehabilitación del Paciente Alcoholico/Adicto.
The word Predisan is a descriptive term which defines the group’s mission – to preach (predicar) the love of divinity, and to heal (sanar) the sick.
I called another friend, doña Mercedis de Matamoros, on 15 de Septiembre, Independence Day in Honduras, on Mothers’ Day or just when I could. I’d call to say “Hello.” I told her when I was getting married and invited her to the wedding.
She told me when her son Benjamin had gotten married. She shared that her first grandchild brought so much “sunshine,” and joy into their lives. She shared the sad news when her beloved husband, Benjamin Sr., passed.
But everything seemed to change when we started driving the truck. Telephone calls back to Catacamas grew more and more challenging to fit into my life.
In the years we spent as company or employee drivers, it seemed we were always on the road .The 2004 cell phone was not the smart phone we know today. Making calls from the road in those days more often than not involved something attached to a wall. When we were home and by a land line, often we were exhausted, recovering from the last trip only to do the laundry, pack up and do it all over again.
Still, the flame of the love that far-away place and its wonderful people had kindled in my heart, only grew, burning more and more intensely as time moved on.
As CEREPA turned 25 years old, Amanda and I made a deal. “I can’t come now,” I told her as we spoke by email about the upcoming anniversary.
“But, I will be there for number 30,” I promised.
I kept my word. But more importantly, the people there kept their compassion and forgiveness alive for me. And, they welcomed Mr. Yogi, my husband Seth, with open arms.
The folks at CEREPA presented me with a second plaque for having helped to establish this wonderful institution. I met smart, young doctors, administrators and young professional community members at Amanda’s marimba party.
At the Friday evening anniversary dinner, I posed for pictures
not only with the lovely and talented Dra.Madirid, but also with former health care worker Martha Nuñez. Back in the day, doña Martha not only passed out meds, took blood pressures and temps, calmed patient nerves at CEREPA, but also successfully raised six children as a single mom. All six went to university and became professionals.
Doña Martha, Amanda and I also took our picture with don Lorenzo Carcamo who, as a community member, was with us every step of the way 30 years ago. He helped us to convince the city of Catacamas to donate land on which CEREPA could expand and better meet the needs of its clients. Today, he spends three evenings a week at the center, conducting AA meetings with the patients. They call him el padrino – The Godfather.
I took a picture with don Emilio, whose last name I do not know, but who after four attempts at in patient treatment – including a couple stints during my tenure – now is 20 years sober. And there was also doña Carmen, a nurse and popular midwife who had worked with Predisan for many, many years.
On Monday, after the Predisan weekend, Mr.Yogi and I moved from Amanda’s house to that of doña Mercedis, my friend and former landlady from Peace Corps days. A fun,yet incredibly sharp and capable business woman, she wisely developed all of her real estate assets into a comfy and spacious family compound with three rooms for rent to local young people.
We spent the rest of the week visiting with her, her granddaughter Ayma, grandson Claudio, her two daughters Yanori and Xiomarra as well as her 93-year-old mother doña Esperanza.
We went to the park, ate ice cream, and met up with son Benjamin and his oldest daughter.
Yanori took us to the nearby Talgua Caves where archaeologists have discovered human remains which have been carbon dated back to 3000 years B.C.E. making them 5000 years old. This means the people inhabiting that area predated both the Inca and the Maya! Afterward, we sat in the inviting cool of a wonderful thatched cabaña, eating tomalitos de elote’ (sweet corn tamales), and playing with the resident parrot, Crucita.
Mr. Yogi went with doña Mercedis to carry a 5 gallon jug of purified water back home one afternoon. We all laughed about it, saying that with the gossip that trip would stir up, her neighbors would have her married and living in the United States by Wednesday of next week.
I saw old neighbors. I visited with a young man now in his 30s with his own little girl. I used to twirl him around as a child and gave him sandwiches of peanut butter and honey.
I was forgiven for not being better at writing or calling. Folks in town, did everything in their power to let me know they loved me, hadn’t forgotten me, and that they were grateful we had had the opportunity to become friends and, that once again, I had come to be with them.
Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet wrote, “Love can not be learned or taught, love comes as grace.”
“A Course in Miracles,” says that the meaning of love is, ‘beyond what can be taught.’
That’s why I believe that Pop had it right. Maybe I didn’t love the people of Olancho “as often as I could have,” as the country western song put it, but they were “always on my mind.” Not only that, but they had grace and compassion for me, and what I didn’t do by staying in touch didn’t matter. What I did do, by coming back to them, that’s what did matter.
So sometimes Mom, life can be like a country western song and it doesn’t have to say that…
“The postman delivered a past due bill notice. The alarm clock rang two hours late.
The garbage man left all the trash on the sidewalk,
And the hinges fell off of the gate,” from the song “Last Thing I needed First Thing this Morning,” by G.P.Nunn and D.S. Farrar.
Sometimes, it’s okay to admit that we are just flawed human beings in need of a little ,or maybe even a lot, of grace.
****CEREPA, the in-patient alcohol and drug addiction treatment center in Catacamas was the first of its kind in all of Central America back in 1988. It has now served more than 6,000 people coming from as far away as Panama and the United States. It has been internationally accredited by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Matrix addiction treatment protocol and boasts an 85 percent sobriety success rate among its discharged patients.
****The Predisan health mission now has at least 23 sites all over Olancho. The Honduran Ministry of Health has officially partnered with the project to run public health clinics in the Olanchana state. Some of the clinics have capability for on-site sonograms, radiology, blood and urine analysis. They have dentists and orthodontists.The professionals providing this care are Honduran nationals, not North Americans scrambling to learn culturally sensitive methods for delivering appropriate care.
Mr. Yogi and I had only been home a few days when our dear and long-standing friend Jay Buckingham called and said he’d like to drop over for a bit.
As we sat in the back yard of our Oregon Wine Country home, skipping the tables and chairs on the back porch in favor of the cool, soft grass of the lawn, the power and beauty of synchronicity took hold on all three of us as Jay caught us up on the latest happenings in his life.
He was headed off to Scotland in the next few days. As a young man, he had been a graduate student there. He would be seeing his friends from decades long past, people who had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
After Jay left, we walked downtown for dinner on the rooftop at Hotel Oregon, located on Historic Third Street in our hometown of McMinnville. Still high on the exhilaration from this monumental trip, we both sat dreamy eyed reflecting on the incredibly deep gratitude we each felt for the opportunity to travel to Catacamas and to connect with Jay on the eve of his own powerful adventure. It seemed as though we had floated up the various flights of steps to the rooftop perch.
We could gaze out at the summer sun, starting it’s slow, colorful descent over Oregon’s Costal Mountain Range knowing that thousands of miles away friends were welcoming the sundown’s cool below the canopy of tropical hardwoods on the Mountains of the Sierra de Agalta.
Buenas tarde’ mis amigos. The cool of la noche is on its way. Sueño con los angelitos. (Dream with angels).
(While you view our photo gallery, click on the arrow above to hear Willie Nelson sing his version of the beautiful, “Always on my Mind.” This song is so versatile that it has been recorded by a variety of artists including, Elvis Presley, soul diva Gwen McCrae, The Pet Shop Boys and jazz pianists/singer/arranger Michael Buble. Also, be aware that you can stop the photo crawl in each category by hovering your mouse over the picture. Further, you can manually advance the photos by hovering your mouse on the pictures and clicking the arrows on either side.)
Images of Catacamas and Honduras