…of the series “For me, Christmas Came in April This Year

by Jeanne Jacoby Smith, McPherson, KS

Day 3: Catacamas

As we left Choluteca, we circumambulated the Sierras de Agalta.  There we were greeted with views indescribable, beauty ineffable, like nothing we had witnessed before.  Invigorated but tired, we had spent a long day distributing Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs for PET-Kansas. As our caravan wove gingerly down and around the series of mountains called caderillas by the locals, our vehicles transported ten travelers from South Central Kansas with a load of Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs (PETs) for the indigent in Honduras. We weren’t there for vacation or for personal gain. Rather, ours was a mission of mercy, distributing PETs to those who came forth with a bona fide need.

Catacamas was a community with many poor campesinos living in the foothills and mountains. A blanket of darkness lay over the valley by the time we arrived at La Iglesia de Cristo. Tiki lights, tasty food, and friendly church members made for good company after hours of driving. We assembled several dozen PET wheelchairs for morning distribution and retired for the night on a concrete slab in the church’s outdoor pavilion.

As we fell asleep, I heard someone say that an unseasonal snowstorm was brewing back in Kansas. Though Easter had passed just a few days before, memories of Christmas and snow, and a warm cozy bed seemed very far away to me.

Early the next morning, persons identified for PETs in the community began arriving. Our first recipients were three little boys – “wise men” in miniature — delightful and innocent. Seven-year old Josué, ten year-old Carlos, and spritely William, likely about five.  None could utter a sound. All three seemed spastic to me, but their eyes danced with enthusiasm. Before the little fellows drove away in their PETs, a woman entered the center with her elderly father, Luis Baharona, who wore a huge white sombrero.  Neighbors carried him into the church in a wrought iron chair. Luis had lost a leg to diabetes.

Minutes later, Anul Jose Ruiz arrived at the center. His self-prescribed mobility aid appeared ingenious to me. He had modified an old bike to care for his needs.

At age 33 Yunni Waleska Zelana survived a car accident. Spinal damage rendered her body rigid, in pain. She attempted a standard PET but opted for the less strenuous Push-Pull PET, instead.

PET-Kansas requires that persons be physically present to receive their PETs since they must be adjusted to recipients’ needs. Aware of the poverty of the local people, we sent funds ahead to assure their transportation to our distribution sites.

In the next two hours, taxis and pickups pulled into the center. Children with paralyzed arms and malformed feet, persons with muscular dystrophy, osteomelitis, and amputated limbs appeared at the door. Was this how our forebears in the United States looked before modern medicine came on the scene barely a century ago?

The unseasonable snowstorm in Kansas flitted into my mind. The scene here in Catacamas reminded me of Christmas, or Christ-mass, as I was wont to call it – a time of gift-giving, a time to worship.” My mind meandered two millennia back to Palestine where an Infant was once born in a barn. That Infant grew up, I thought to myself. He healed with his hands, their bodies and feet. Who takes His place now?

I watched Christine, Jessica, and Rosie sorting boxes of packing materials and relating to families with children. I noticed Sherylyn busy at work giving beans, rice and Biblias to PET recipients who graciously received them. I observed Ashley and Theo, Matt and Sam riveting PETs together, steady and sturdy. Kirby made fine-tuned adjustments to fit PET recipient’s special needs.

Then I looked at my hands and looked at my feet.

“Get busy, Jeanne,” I thought to myself. “It’s ‘Christ-mass’ here in Catacamas. You have a lot to do.”

These men and women are survivors, I thought, a strong people fortunate enough to get ambulatory reprieve. I asked myself, “Who in Honduras is serving their needs?” To my dismay, I later read in a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Report, “To some extent the disabled in Honduras have been discarded by society. Although not directly persecuted by the … government, they have seemingly been abandoned…. Often individuals are forced to live in squalor … as virtual prisoners in their own homes.”[1] Our experience here seemed to confirm that report.

About mid-morning an elderly woman in pink from a remote mountain village was carried in on the arms of two men. They lifted her directly into her PET.  Coccensio Garcia, in a car accident, had an amputated leg with a prosthesis. David Gomez, now 18, was born with a birth defect. José Isidoro Carranza, 46, contracted polio at the age of five. Old Amelio Sánchez at 87 delightedly gave two little boys a ride in his PET.  This was a time for celebration.

About 11:00 a commanding gentleman in a red striped shirt entered the room in a wheelchair. We quickly learned that he was Luis Ramón Quintilla, president of ALMIS, a national organization for the handicapped in Honduras. Luis had heard about the PETs and was eager to see them. PET-Kansas keeps track of such contacts for future distributions and reference.

By 11:00 the church was packed with people being fitted with PETs. Many not previously identified waited patiently until closing. Gusto Sevilla came in on a hackneyed bicycle chair, his leg completely non-functional. Like others in the lineup, he hoped a PET would materialize for him. He was not disappointed.

The patience of these mountain people amazed us. They tarried quietly and calmly as though they could take it or leave it, knowing full well that leaving it meant their door of opportunity might close forever. Very likely, they had survived disappointment before. Hope is a fragile commodity not to be counted upon in the mountains of Honduras.

An hour before we were scheduled to leave, a well-to-do woman, Antonia by name, appeared at the door. She had never been in that church before, but the people in town driving PETs around attracted her attention. She followed their lead and found us. When she saw the church packed with disabled people gliding around on their PETs, she went home and returned with a feast for our group before we took leave of Catacamas.

For me, “Christ-mass” came in April this year!

Dios le bendiga, Antonia!”

(to be continued)

[1]Honduras.” Resource Information Center.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Title: “For Me, Christmas Came in April This Year” by Jeanne Jacoby Smith, McPherson, KS.  Previously published in The McPherson Sentinel, McPherson, KS, Dec. 2009