How many of you have been called out of the classroom to fight a fire?
That’s what I thought.
It’s dry season now — summer to Hondurans. On the weekends people flock to the beach and to the rivers. When we drive up our usually quiet road there are many, many cars at the bottom stretch of the river, complete with picnics and floaties. In Minnesota people spend their time ‘up north’ or ‘at the lake.’ This is local terminology for going away to relax, spending time near one of the thousands of lakes. In Honduras it’s the river.
It’s more a river culture than what I’ve known anywhere else. The river is the place to go to when it’s hot, the place for relaxation. It’s also determines so many other parts of life here though. The river has the power to delay your travel plans, to keep you trapped in a particular village for a couple days, to flood your land, and to wash away your soil. During Hurricane Mitch the swollen rivers were used to destroy property and possessions in a way that devastated the nation.
But rising rivers is a part of the rainy season; this is the dry season. Now is the time of year when everything is dry and brittle – at least as much as it gets in the jungle here. Now is when people do most of the slash and burning on the mountainsides for later farming. One day it will be green and full of trees and the next brown and charred. When the mountains are cleared like this the soil quality rapidly decreases and the land erodes. An early settler of this river valley said that fifty years ago when they planted 20 lbs of beans, they harvested 2000 lbs. Now when they plant 100 lbs of beans they only bring in 500 lbs. This is a vivid illustration of why education is so vital to this area. With the high birth rate here this valley cannot sustain the next generation by agriculture alone. These kids need the education so they have options other than farming.
And speaking of our students again, today we had a little fire that got out of hand on the school property. Thankfully it wasn’t near any buildings. A small trash fire (there are no ‘sanitation services’ in the river valley) got caught by the wind and swept into the mountainside. I had just finished a class and suddenly heard a sound like quickly running water, having no sound file in my brain for a rapidly moving fire. I looked outside and a fire was licking up the hill – quickly. The boys ran out of class and began filling buckets with water to throw on the blaze. Some climbed above the fire to beat it out. They knew exactly what to do, since probably most have experience helping fathers burn the mountains.
It only took about ten minutes to discover the fire and have it extinguished and it only burned a 20’ x 30’ area, yet it was quite enough of an adventure for one day.