Travel

New York City Reflections

Within the last year and a half, I’ve travelled to three foreign countries. Somehow New York City, on my own soil, is more foreign than anywhere I’ve been overseas.  It was an outlandish experience for me because I’m so used to greenery, fresh air, and towering mountains constantly within eye-view.  New York is engulfed by gargantuan skyscrapers in every direction, and the sun is rarely visible unless you’re on the outer edges of Manhattan island.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the sun really is because the light is being reflected off one of the massive glass buildings.  For the entire trip my sense of North and South was inverted because I could never tell where the sun was.  I had no view of the horizon and couldn’t tell where I was.  

The people are very different as well.  When our taxi drove through Manhattan for the first time, I was stunned at the pure diversity.  As I looked at the people commuting around me, every person’s skin tone was different than the next.  The New York natives had traffic and sidewalk etiquette in their blood, and I could do nothing more than follow their lead.  They move through transactions much faster than I do in Huntsville, and often times I awkwardly stood in people’s way who were trying to pay for their items and get on with their business.  Their ethics are quite different than anything I encountered on my world travels.  When I went to Asia and Central America, there was a similar sense of connection and love among the people there that felt like home.  The shocking revelation was that I felt more similarities than differences with the people who spoke foreign languages.  Here I was on my own soil with English speakers whom I felt no connection to at all.  It was common for me to spark up conversation with the people of Vietnam or Honduras. But in New Yorkit was as if everyone was socially awkward.  Conversations with strangers in simple places such as elevators or restaurants were obsolete. 

Day 1

We flew into New York through the Laguardia Airport, the discount JFK International Airport.  As we flew past Manhattan, I caught a tiny glimpse of the giants that were about to surround me, but I thought little of it; aerial shots of lower Manhattan simply don’t do the Big Apple justice.  Laguardia was possibly the shabbiest airport I’ve ever been in.  I was surprised that the third world country I visited this summer had a better airport than one in New York City. From the outside, it looked practically abandoned. 

Thus began the long taxi ride into Manhattan.  As we passed the bridge leading into Midtown, I saw buildings in all states of condition.  A recently built high-rise apartment complex could have sat right next to a border-line tenement.  It’s an old city that’s in a constant state of renovation, and it shows around every corner.  

Our hotel was right in the middle of Times Square (charming, I know).  We drove right past one block and suddenly I was surrounded by enormous LED signs the size of buildings.  It was quite the sensory overload.  When I stepped out of the taxi, my ears were filled with car honks and snippets of people’s rowdy conversations. My nostrils were filled with the aroma of smoke. 

After we checked into our hotel, we strolled to the Rockefeller Center area.  What would take about 15 minutes to navigate through downtown Huntsville took twice as long in New York.  We were constantly interrupted by crosswalks and people giving away handouts.  Eventually we made it to Rockefeller Center and saw many iconic buildings, including Radio City Music Hall and 30 Rock.  It was also a sprawling shopping district.  What stood out was the shops themselves. In most of my travels in the U.S., there is a fine line between locally owned businesses and corporate chains.  New York’s shopping options were entirely ruled by corporations and brands familiar to any eye.  As someone who takes a firm stance on supporting local businesses, New York was a total drought, at least the areas we ventured to.  I’m sure there were other areas to be seen which weren’t as commercial, but it was difficult to tell if a "local" establishment was really born and raised in New York. 

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by the Richard Rogers Theater, which currently houses the hit musical Hamilton.  As a fan, I couldn’t pass up a photo.  Of course I never actually saw the play; Lord knows that won’t happen until I’m 50.

To finish off the day, we ate dinner with some old friends of ours, and then took to the Empire State building.  While Empire State is probably the most cliched building in America, there was something truly charming about being on top of it.  It was nighttime while we were up there, so the observation deck wasn’t too crowded and we got some sweet views.  I could easily see each individual street and could even make out silhouettes of the financial district on the south end of Manhattan.  This, plus listening to Frank Sinatra atop the city made for a whimsical evening. 

Day 2

We kicked off the day with breakfast at a diner off Times Square.  It was meant to replicate a Brooklyn diner.  I guess my only problem with it was that it wasn’t actually in Brooklyn. 

From there we walked back to Rockefeller Center for a tour of NBC studios at 30 Rock.  It was amazing to see their historic facilities, having been the first major broadcasting company in the U.S.  We saw a number of studios, including Saturday Night Live.  If you’re ever in New York, this was a fun tour.  You get to see a lot, and the tour guides alone are worth the trip.

After NBC we took to biking through Central Park.  I know biking in Central Park is one of the most cliche-sounding things you can do on a visit to New York, but it was hands-down the best part of the trip.   There is something about it which brings out a new level of whim. It’s hard to describe, but you simply have to experience it for yourself.  I put my earbuds in and listened to some more Frank Sinatra, and it was unforgettable experience.  The fact that the entire park is man-made only goes to show that there are few limits to what can be accomplished in NYC.  We saw lots of public art, and even a statue of Hamilton, which I didn’t pass-up either. I’ll say that if you and your family are ever in New York, don’t hesitate to bike in Central Park.  It’s some the most fun you’ll ever have. 

After biking, we chowed on some Ray’s (original?) Pizza, and then took to our hotel for a much needed breather.  It’s amazing how quickly New York can wear you out.  I felt my skin literally getting hotter just from how tired I was and had to change into sweatpants just to let my body ventilate. 

Day 3

This was the first day we went to Lower Manhattan, which is an experience in and of itself.  It simply takes too long to get from Times Square to the financial district by cab or foot, which leaves only one option—The subway.  

The subway is scary as hell, and the fact that it’s underground doesn’t help much.  My dad led us into one of many entrances to the subway along the sidewalk.  The first thing I noticed was the smell; the air was hot and sweaty.  I held tight to my backpack as I waiting on my dad to get us "metro cards" so we could use the subway.  People came out of the underground every few minutes as a train rolled through.  Every few moments I’d hear a bellowing roar as the entire room shook and trains rushed to their destinations.  Loud intercoms gave updates of what trains were going where. People came out of the underground every few minutes when a train rolled through. They moved quickly and had no interest in talking to anyone.  Frankly, I had no interest in talking to them either.  

Once we had our cards, we walked down another set of stairs and through a turn-stall.  We were on the platform.  It was uncomfortably thin.  There was a great haze in the room from the trains’ exhaust.  The floor was black with filth, and the walls were made of tile of all things.  The tracks themselves were jet-black from decades of wear.  In addition, nothing stood between the people and their train; just a pit that you hoped you didn’t step into.

My immediate thought to all of these images was "How do you go about renovating this mess?".  I know underground trains in New York have been used for ages, but these must have dated back decades.  There appeared to be no easy way to update them to the naked eye. The problem is that New Yorkers need these trains, so it’s not like they can shut them down for a year to repair them.

Getting on the train was worse.  I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I was starving, and the inside of the train was cold, contrast to the heat outside.  I felt weak in my seat. I sat clinging my bag, though no one on the train seemed an immediate threat.  

The beast rattled and roared through the underground.  Occasionally we’d pass other trains and I could literally look other passengers in the eye en route way to their destinations.  Then they’d disappear and we’d pass blue and red lights.  Then it all came to a stop.  We repeated this about four times until my dad said we had arrived.  

When we reemerged into the light, it was another world entirely.  The buildings were somehow bigger and everything was in shadows.  We hadn’t walked but a few steps, and I could see the top of the new Freedom Tower.  We immediately scoured a place to eat.  

We ate at a variety quick-service restaurant which was a New York chain, and they had a nifty idea.  They made organic, preservative-free food at low prices.  It was good food too.  Once they changed their selection from breakfast to lunch, they gave away whatever food they had left for free to customers and the homeless.  It was one of many innovative ideas that I’m sure have sparked in large cities like New York that will someday make its way to my neck of the woods. 

We had a lot of time to kill before our first destination, so we hit a few quick stops on the way, and boy were they quick.  We looked at Trinity Church, which is a massive bit of old world architecture among big glass skyscrapers.  While we were there we looked at Hamilton’s grave and family plot. 

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Then we moved into the stock exchange.  That particular day, a worker’s march was taking place, and their shouting in unison bounced off the walls into the stock exchange.  We were surrounded by brokers and analysts in suits, a glimpse of the elite.  It was abundantly clear that this was the financial capital of the world.  I briefly got a glimpse of the stock exchange, and the place where George Washington was inaugurated.  Looking back, I didn’t have much time to appreciate these places, but I should remember this is the city that never sleeps. 

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The first major item on the agenda for that day was the 9/11 Memorial.  I won’t go into any in-depth detail about my experience with 9/11, as I was too young to remember any of it, but seeing the fountains built in place of the Twin Towers was eye-opening.  They were gigantic, and the sheer amount of space they took up shook me.  

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After this, we entered the museum, which is probably the greatest museum I’ve ever been in, and easily the most innovative place I’ve set foot.  It’s built underground around the foundation of the original towers.  Simply the thought process required to build such a thing is mind-boggling.  The space it takes up is huge, and it showcases massive artifacts from the debris of the catastrophe.  Simply writing about it gives me goosebumps.  They not only recovered so much but managed to pay great homage to the victims of the attack in all forms of service.  One would have to spend days in the place just to learn everything.  There are so many things to see and so much reading material it’s impossible to see it all at once.  It’s a collaboration of many dedicated artists, architects, historians, and average Americans coming together to remember a tragic event, and it assembles perfectly.  There’s no denying that this is a must-see for those who visit New York. 

We took an express train back to Times Square, stopping at some iconic landmarks along the way, such as the Flatiron Building and Grand Central Station.  Then we finished off the night with some Italian food.  

Day 4

For our last full day, we dove back into the horrors of the subway and trained to the financial district once more.  This was our earliest start of the week, and our visit to the Freedom Tower.  When we arrived in the area, the 9/11 Memorial was only sparsely occupied, as not many people were visiting.  It went to show that the location can be a pilgrimage of remembrance at some times, but also that this city has since moved on from the attack.  The image was very calming, in fact.

Going into the Freedom Tower, I knew that this would be the first time in my life I would be exposed to ultra-modern technologies, as this is the first "super-tower" in the western hemisphere.  Simply looking at its height made me wonder how man can build such structures.  As we entered, everything was made of glass, all polished, not a stain or scratch in sight.  Entering the queue, a series of video screens played interviews of those involved in the process of building the tower, from construction workers, to architects, to fundraisers.  The one word to describe their tone is recovery. Some of these people were involved with the construction of the original World Trade Center, and wanted to see it back up again.  It was a testament to the sense of revival that embodied that tower. 

Then we entered the elevator.  My father had told us earlier in the week that he’d been to the original World Trade Center on business before.  He said that no elevator topped its speeds, and that he could only imagine how fast this elevator would be.  The doors closed, and the we realized that the elevator wasn’t lined with glass, but TV screens.  It displayed the progression of Manhattan since the beginning of time as we ascended.  In the corner of the cab, a counter rapidly marked how high we were, indicating we were moving at speeds I thought never possible.  When the doors opened, we could see all of Manhattan, the five burrows, and beyond…with a little haze.  The observation deck was circular about the whole tower, and is entirely glass.  It even has restaurants, too. We may have spent over an hour up there, and savored every moment of it.  Satisfied with our visit, we entered the elevator, and made a fast decent to the ground.  

From the moment we entered the Freedom Tower to when we left, there was an underlying sense that the new skyscraper was the World Trade Center brought back to life.  It was a symbol that New York officially bounced back from the attack and was revived, in a sense.  I walked away from it almost wishing I had appreciated this more while I was at the top. 

We took a few blocks’ stroll to Battery Park for our next destination.  The southernmost tip of Manhattan was quiet and peaceful; a nice little park with some public art and plenty of greenery. It felt like something out of Chattanooga.  At Battery Park we boarded a boat to head out to The Statue of Liberty.  I wasn’t too excited for it at first, but once I got a look at her, it really was something to see.  That is, until we got on the island.  

My gripe about Lady Liberty isn’t as much the statue itself, but the process of getting a good look at it.  We went through three checkpoints in our time there, and to go into the pedestal, we weren’t even allowed to have any belongings.  I found it ironic that I had to be stripped of liberties just to get a good look at the The Statue of Liberty.  I’ll admit I’m glad I saw it, but next time I’d probably just take a boat ride around it without having to do all the extra stuff on the island.  I’m sure it’d be a more liberating experience. 

Once we were back on Manhattan island, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then subwayed back to our hotel.  The rest of my family was calling it a day, but I wasn’t done yet.  I don’t know why, but somehow my parents trusted me enough to go out on my own for some more biking in Central Park…close to night time, too.  It was my last chance to reflect on New York.

I walked up 8th Avenue to avoid the hustle and bustle of Times Square and made my way to a bike rental shop.  I rented a bike for one hour and walked it to the south end of the park.  I turned on some Frank Sinatra and took off.  I thought about all I’d seen, learned, experienced.   It was just like Frank said in New York, New York; "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere". Many people came here to build a life, a career, a business, and that legacy has continued to this day.  It really did feel like this was a breeding ground for success.  As I rode that back to the south end, I felt unstoppable.  I thought about what I’d do when I came back, what area of town I’d stay in, and what I’d try to do.  Given that I’m going into college in a year, that trip certainly won’t happen soon.  But even then the spirit of the city excites me for it.  It’s a spirit that tells me that though I may be on a budget, I could still make a lot out of a little, and I’m ready to find out how. 

I returned the bike and walked back to our hotel, satisfied with my trip. 

While I’d never live in New York, there’s no denying that I want to go back. The amount of things I didn’t do fills a staggering list, and I didn’t have many opportunities to connect with the locals.  But it has been good to be home these last few days, and reflecting on the trip in this manner has allowed me to appreciate it even more.  Getting to share it with you makes it all the better.   There’s not doubt in my mind that reflecting on my trips is one of my favorite things to write about.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this recollection, and I’ll see you all again soon. 

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; October 2016

Honduras Retrospective

My latest adventure brought me to the Republica de Honduras on mission work with my church.  It was an eye-opening experience, and an experience I would like to pass on to you.

Day 1

Tegucigalpa International Airport

Tegucigalpa International Airport

We departed early Saturday morning to leave for the airport around 2:00 A.M., so I didn’t bother with sleeping.  I crammed all I would need into a backpack and went on my way.  We went south of Huntsville to Birmingham to catch an early flight to Miami, Florida.  There was little time spent in Miami, as we immediately turned around for a flight across the Gulf of Mexico to Honduras.  The flight was gorgeous, and we didn’t gain much altitude so we were able to see crystal clear blue water, and the Cuban countryside.

We landed in the city of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.  The city officially holds the title of greatest airport landing in my experience.  Tegucigalpa is built upon a mountain range, and the airport lies in a valley.  The pilot had to fly in circles around the valley and then make a quick, reckless landing on a short runway.  The passengers clapped when we were grounded.  From there we had an easy walk through customs, though the entry card took forever to fill out, and we met with the missionaries who would be taking us in for the week.  

FCM Bus we used to get anywhere and everywhere

FCM Bus we used to get anywhere and everywhere

Upon leaving the airport, we bussed a short distance away to a mall for lunch.  This was my least favorite thing about the trip because the mall is a carbon-copy of any mall we have here in the U.S.  I simply didn’t like being around so much westernization when I could’ve been seeing the country.

Things began to gain momentum as we drove through the city.  Like I said, Tegucigalpa is built on mountains, so our bus had to drive up hills and around ridges.  Homes are built everywhere so there was always something new around every corner.  Any angle you look at the city you’ll see something you wouldn’t have been able to see from a different vantage point. 

I was quickly taken aback by the poverty of Honduras.  They are indeed a third world country with a government that simply doesn’t look out for the citizens.  There is no social security, no welfare program, and no healthcare services.  Patriotism is set on the back burner as citizens struggle to simply eat and get by.  It also has the highest homicide rate in the world with over 8,000 people murdered a year.  

The mission organization my church partners with in Honduras is called Forgotten Children Ministries.  FCM takes children off the streets of Tegucigalpa and places them in shelters in safer parts of the city and country.  Our first stop was to the girls shelter which is located in a gated community on the edge of the city.  The girls were overjoyed to see us.  

I played with the youngest girl at the home, Salonyi, who was quick to explore my iPhone.  She enjoyed looking at photos the most.  I would try to open game for her to play, but I was amazed at the fact that she wasn’t interested with what the phone was doing as much as simply using the touch screen.   She would reach the end of one of my photo albums and continue to slide the photo with her finger, even though it wasn’t doing anything.  It was amazing to think how any child in the U.S. can decipher their parent’s smartphone better than they can to play games and watch YouTube, yet Solanyi was grateful to simply have a touchscreen at her fingertips.

Me and Solanyi

Me and Solanyi

It was here where I began to learn the slightest bit of Spanish to allow me to make small-talk with the locals that week.  I began with simple phrases such as "What is you name?", "My name is…", and "See you tomorrow".

We wrapped things up at the girls’ shelter and began the hour-long drive to the country side, where we would be staying for the week.  After navigating many kilometers outside the city and a long gravel road, we arrived at Finca Grace, or "Grace Farm" in English.  Finca Grace is a farm owned by FCM which houses the mission teams and acts as the boys shelter for the ministry.  We were oriented with the procedures of the farm, and the rest of the day we were given the freedom to do as we pleased.

Finca Grace

Finca Grace

The boys living on the farm quickly stole my heart.  I watched the older boys play an evening game of soccer, and the younger boys began showing us around the farm.  These boys have been living on the street for a greater half of their lives, and it’s only by the grace of God that they’re given the chance to live safely, have near endless land to play on, and get fed three times a day.  There’s no question as to when the next meal will come, which is far greater than their past lives.

Honduran food was easy to adjust to as well.  Dishes range from burritos with rice and beans, to chicken tacquitos.  Honduran chicken is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, and it’s even better when combined with homemade pico.  Fruit is implemented into every Honduran meal, including dinner.  The cooks at the farm showed us a wide range of dishes, and not one disappointed.

When dinner was over, the team was tired from an excruciatingly long day, and retired to bed.  

Day 2

The Honduran country side

The Honduran country side

After a full night’s rest, I was up bright and early the next morning.  I went out on the balcony of the mission house to have a look at the country side.  It was here when I marveled at the weather of Honduras.  In one direction you could see rain in the distance, and in another you could see sun and sky. Since the country is in the mountains and there is constant cloud coverage, the temperatures never left the upper sixties.  The only days we were hot was when the clouds were sparse, but even then I never felt anywhere near as hot as Alabama does now. 

The team ate breakfast, and then attended a Sunday morning church service.  The service was loud and simple.  Since so many people in Honduras have to work, the Sunday service is pretty lackluster.  It’s the Wednesday night late service that draws the larger crowd when more people can make it.  

Noah's Ark Church

Noah's Ark Church

Me in front of Finca Grace after church

Me in front of Finca Grace after church

We walked back to Finca Grace, a scenic stroll, and spent the rest of the morning exploring the farm.  There is a vast amount of land for the boys to play on, complete with soccer fields and dozens of trees perfect for climbing.  The Honduran countryside also has an abundance of naturally growing fruit, so the boys could climb a mango or coconut tree for a snack.

That afternoon, the team went to see the girls again at a "water park" near to Finca Grace.  By water park, I mean two small pools and a slide.  We enjoyed watching the girls shove most of the adults on our team into the pools.  

"Water Park"

"Water Park"

Later we drove back to Finca Grace, and we broke out a massive game of volleyball with the boys.  Each side yelled "Point!" when they scored, and the boys, though they didn’t speak English, would yell just like we did, poking laughs at our accent.  It was pure hilarity.

Day 3

First thing Monday morning, the team boarded the bus and drove north to a small village, but not before stopping at a "pulperia" (convenience store).  There I got some bagged water for less than 10 Limperias, which is less than 50 cents in U.S. currency.

Water in a bag!

Water in a bag!

We came with buildable kite kits for the children of the village to play with.  We set up camp at a soccer field, and the village children quickly spotted the "gringos" (Spanish slang for Americans).  We constructed the kites with the children, which appeared rather flimsy, but surprisingly held up.  By this point I could speak a decent amount of Spanish, and was able to help the children construct the kites. Once the kites were in the air, everyone was having a blast.  It was fun to help the children untangle their kites, which is almost never fun.  

When that was done, we began to pass out bags of rice and masaca (corn meal) to each of the children and mothers.  Rice and masaca can last weeks for a Honduran family, and for some it can be a miracle to receive.  It was heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces, and tell the mothers "Dio te bendiga" (God bless you).  As we walked back to the bus they would shake their bags, smile and say "Masaca!". 

We boarded the bus and went back to Finca Grace for lunch.  After lunch I spent time exploring the farm.  We went up to a large concrete water tower which provided fantastic views of the country side, and took some photos.

Photo I re-created from my trip to Vietnam last year

Photo I re-created from my trip to Vietnam last year

Later in the afternoon we did VBS-style activities with the younger boys.  We taught them a Bible lesson and played games, which included a massive water balloon fight.  When the game portion was finished, me and some younger boys on our team went to pick mangos, and asked the cooks to wash and cut them for us.  We came back outside to find the boys playing with their own kites, all of which were incredibly high.  One of our translators manage to string three kite strings together, and was about to string a fourth when he let go of the kite, and it flew away.  Everyone ran the length of the property to try and catch it, which was hilarious.  We finished off the day with another game of volleyball, and me and the boys ate mangos.  You haven’t lived until you’ve tried natural-grown, ripe mangos. 

Day 4

Food Ministry

Food Ministry

Tuesday morning, the team boarded the bus once again for food ministry.  This was when we went to an impoverished village to minister to homes and gift their dwellers with food.  I set off with a team of five and we ventured down one road, requesting to enter people’s homes.   If they allowed us to, we would speak to them about why we came, asked them about their faith, and ask if their was anything we could pray for them.  All of them asked for prosperity in their homes and their health.  One home had a boy who’d been infected by a disease-carrying dog bite, and an uncle who is trying to come to the U.S.  Another was an elderly couple, the husband has heart issues, and the wife has diabetes.  It was here when a mother and daughter came down to their home, stating that they’d come a very long distance to find missionaries to pray for her own diabetes.  I was amazed at how grateful these people were for our prayers, and how far a person woudl go to someone to pray for them.  We gave each home a surplus of rice and masaca, and gave the children "confetti" (candy).  

As we went back, we stopped at a pulperia owned by one of the women we spoke to.  We bought snacks from her store, and we were astonished to hear that she didn’t want the money for them.  This is not only a country littered with poverty, but a bag of chips costs the equivalent of a nickel.  We insisted, and gave her the money anyway. 

Pulperia

Pulperia

As we drove back to Finca Grace, I reflected on what I’d seen.  It was here when a fellow team member reminded me that while it is hard, we have to understand what ministering and the simple act of rice and masaca can do for people.  He said that while one individual will never be able to make a difference for every person in the world, we must still remember that we can make a difference for individual people, and that’s what matters.  It’s part of the American in me to think that everyone deserves unalienable rights, and anything we allow for one person we do the same for everyone else.  But the reality is that in Honduras this isn’t the case.  While everyone has the right to eat, one person or even an entire mission organization can’t feed every nook and cranny of Honduras’ 8 million people.  But we can make a difference to those we can get to, and pray that others reach the rest by any means necessary.

After lunch at Finca Grace, the team went back to Tegucigalpa to the girls’ home.  There we did similar VBS style activities we’d done with the boys the day before, a fun time of goofing off.  When we finished, we drove back to Finca Grace and hit the sack.

Day 5

Things began to change up Wednesday morning.  My team and a second team at the farm boarded our buses and went back into the city to a special needs orphanage called Bencalef.  This was a very touching time in the trip.  Each of the children were mentally or physically handicapped, and had been abandoned by their parents, yet were some of the happiest children I’d ever seen.

Angi, a blind girl with a world of feelings to express

Angi, a blind girl with a world of feelings to express

There was a quiet moment with me and some of my team members with a girl named Angi.  She is blind, and had to stay inside and away from the rest of the children because of that.  She was very sweet and happy, and would react to our voices though she couldn’t see the beautiful world around her.  I had never looked on special needs children in this light before.  I could consistently see across all of them that they were expressive, but not in the way you and I would think.  Happiness for these children comes out in a different way than what most people are used to seeing. One girl enjoyed being picked up and wouldn’t let me put her down. A boy would jump up and down uncontrollably.  It was eye-opening to see that though each child was mentally handicapped, the Lord still gave them the capacity to express joy, gratefulness, and excitement.  It simply displays in a way many people aren’t used to seeing.  

We unfortunately had to leave Bencalef around midday in order to make it back to Finca Grace for lunch.  The afternoon was very lax.  We spent time playing Uno with the older boys, and climbing trees.

Dinner finished early so we could make it to the nighttime church service.  There were far more people there, and not everyone was able to sit down.  We heard an amazing testimony from a college student who had been with FCM for a very long time, and was leaving the following day because he’d gotten a job in Costa Rica.  He broke down in tears over what FCM and the Lord had done for him.  

I was inspired by how the people of Honduras would cling to their faith.  Their messages at church were simple; Hold fast to the Lord, and your will be saved, and your life will be in His hands.  They would spend hours talking about this.  It was inspiring because so many American sermons like to delve into other topics, almost like a history or philosophy class.  Here the message was pure gratefulness.

Day 6

The final day was without a doubt my favorite.  Half of my team collaborated with the second team for a large-scale food ministry.  We ventured back to the outskirts of Tegucigalpa to a dump.  We couldn’t go directly to the dump because of safety.  You see, the dump was located at the top of a mountain, and had recently been taken over by gangs.  The gangs were hiring their own workers, so the regular workers’ wages had been sliced in half because they were only allowed to work part-time.  The slums around the dump housed its workers, and these were our target areas for food ministry. 

We parked our bus in a soccer field in the middle of the slums.  We then broke out into teams to invite locals to our food ministry.  My team went to the top of the mountain, inviting people to the soccer field and passing out candy. The higher we got, the better we could see of the dump on the opposite mountainside.  It was enormous, and could be smelled from the base of the mountain, so I can only imagine how horrible it smelled at the top.  

We hiked to the base of the mountain and back to the soccer field, where a small worship service had already begun.  People from all over came to see us.  There was even a woman who was 107 years old!  During the sermon, the mission teams began setting up tables to distribute food.  The cooks at Finca Grace prepared four massive pots, 2 rice and 2 stew, for those who came to the soccer field.  We also gave them bread, candy, and a sugary sports drink.  It was clear that the people in the slum didn’t get to drink anything besides bagged water very often, and were more than happy to receive the sports drink.  

We organized the crowd into two lines, and allowed them to come through the table with a meal ticket.  We soon discovered that we wouldn’t have enough hot food to feed everyone.  It was difficult to tell those who remained that we were out.  What we did instead was give them first priority on rice and masaca, which we’d brought a surplus of as well.  This created confusion among the group which we had to resolve as best we could.

When rice and masaca had been expunged, the second team had prepared about 350 hygiene bags which consisted of a toothbrush, toothpaste, a wash cloth, and a bar of soap.  When we opened the suitcases which contained these bags, we began getting swamped from all directions.

There was higher demand for soap, than there was food.  This meant they had to spend their lives giving up cleanliness to eat.

I’d never had to think about life in such a way before this.  I’ve always had food and a shower, and cleanliness is common courtesy.  I’ve never had to choose between one or the other because money wouldn’t allow it.  

This was a moving image.  Things became very loud, and the translators were having a difficult time keeping everyone in line. It was even harder for the missionaries to distribute the bags as evenly as possible. I went to the back of the line, and children were sandwiched together trying to get to the front.  There was very little we could do beyond that.  Even when we’d passed out all the hygiene bags, people still asked us for them.  

The line for hygiene bags

The line for hygiene bags

Our resources expunged, the teams boarded the buses and drove back into the city.  We ate at a different mall this time, and I was amazed that a personal pizza, a drink, and garlic breadsticks cost the American equivalent of $6 in Honduras, whereas here it could be $13-$15.

Once we were done at the mall, our last stop was the girls shelter for one final goodbye.  The boys of the mission teams watched a soccer game, Portugal vs Poland, with the translators.  I will say Honduran/Spanish commercials are both ridiculously hilarious and sometimes scarring.  But getting to yell "GOOOOOOOAL" was a lot of fun.

Poland vs Portugal

Poland vs Portugal

It was a somber goodbye at the girls home, and I was afraid we’d never leave.  After that, it was back to Finca Grace.

Day 7

Goodbyes...

Goodbyes...

Friday was the day we departed.  It was bittersweet having to say goodbye to the boys, translators, and missionaries, but still heartwarming knowing how far the boys had come.  We loaded our bags onto the buses, and drove back into Tegucigalpa one last time.  It was right before I went through security when I found a Honduran flag in one of the airport shops.  It was a wonderful keepsake.  We got home safely, and I slept almost til noon the next day.

I’ve had a fun time writing this and reflecting on this journey.  I learned a lot about service to others, and the people of Honduras widened my view and strengthened my faith.  Though there were many dark aspects to the country such as poverty and gangs, there were re-assuring factors such as the beauty of the countryside, the culture, and the smile on a local’s face when you hand them a bag of rice, or tell them "Dio te bendiga".  All these people have less material objects than I do, yet have a far higher capacity for joy and thankfulness.  That’s helped me in the last week to be thankful for the little things often taken for granted.  It’s a journey I’ll never forget, and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about it.  Thank you for reading.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; July 2016

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Spring Break 2016: A Journey West

For Spring Break, me and my family took a "road trip" to the Southwest United States.  We’ve never been to the desert before, so I was definitely excited to see a new terrain.  

Friday afternoon we took a flight to Las Vegas, which would be our hub for our little adventure.  Upon arriving we were welcomed with some dry but warm air, and were greeted by a very polite taxi driver.  During our time in Vegas, we stayed at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino, located directly across the street from the Famous MGM Grand.  The first thing we did was ride a roller coaster that boards inside the casino, and is possibly one of the most intense coasters I’ve ridden.  You could watch an SNL sketch in the time it takes you to make the first climb.  After that we ate dinner, and browsed the MGM Grand.  Having been two hours behind our clock, we decided to retire after that.

On The Strip

On The Strip

Saturday morning I ate breakfast at a cafe, and then walked "The Strip" with my family.  I can certainly say that being in Vegas is like walking through a Vogue magazine.  Everywhere I looked, someone or something was trying to sell me crap.  The worst part of walking The Strip, is that none of the sidewalks are constructed normally.  There are staircases and escalators that take you above and across intersections or even to the other side of The Strip.  They’re hugely inconvenient and increase the amount of time it would otherwise take you to get to places.  Other than what can be seen on The Strip and in the casinos, there’s nothing but malls, all which contain most of the same stores.  I think I must have seen about five different Swatch stores.  The only breath of fresh air was getting to ride the world’s biggest "observation wheel", which provided awesome views of Vegas and the surrounding areas.  

The Sky Roller

The Sky Roller

Above Vegas

Above Vegas

After we got lost in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace (which is way too big, by the way), we taxied back to New York, New York.  After a quick rest break, we walked back to the MGM Grand to see the world famous David Copperfield.  Copperfield definitely lives up to his reputation in his show, and his comedy and zen are on full display.  I left scratching my head as to how he manages to pull off his illusions.  After this, we enjoyed a fish dinner at Emeril’s located in the MGM Grand, and called it a day.  

Sunday was the day we departed from Vegas.  All five of us hopped in a rental car and drove out toward the Hoover Dam.  The original plan was to tour the dam, but we had to get to the Grand Canyon before sundown, so we passed.  Once we were past the dam, it was nothing but desert for four hours.  It was an initial shock to us, simply because it was miles and miles of nothingness.  Being from the South, I’m used to being surrounded by trees, and mountains covered in trees, so sand and rock isn’t my natural habitat.  

Leaving Vegas

Leaving Vegas

We arrived at the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon.  Once we checked into our hotel, we drove into the park for a short hike.  I know that a family trip to the Gand Canyon sounds cliche, but it is genuinely a beautiful place.  I’ve taken the term "Grand Canyon" for granted for a long time, but I can’t stress how gorgeous a spectacle this is.  The colors of the canyon change with every angle of the sun, and once the sun was beginning to set, the sky turned pink and deep blues.  It’s an image I’ll never forget.

That night we ate at the Yippie-Ei-O Steakhouse in Tusayan, Arizona where we stayed.  If you’re ever in Tusayan, I’d recommend it; the service is fast and the people are friendly.  

Monday morning, I got up early for a five mile run.  I was unaware how cold it gets in the desert, so I ended up wearing a tank top and short shorts in twenty-seven degrees.  I couldn’t move my forearms by the end of it.  That morning, we went back into the park for another hike.  We hiked the rim to a trail that went one-and-a-half miles into the canyon.  It was windy and dusty, but we saw lots of wildlife and mules.  I also made a mini rock altar.  We then hiked out of the canyon, bussed back to the visitor’s center, and took off again later in the afternoon.  After driving through some more desert, we stopped at the Cameron Trading Post, which had a very South-Western-esc restaurant.  The place is literally in the middle of nowhere, and has a variety of American, Mexican, and Navajo.  I fancied some Navajo fry-bread which is essentially the original funnel cake. The "trading post" had thousands of different Navajo decor, clothing, and souvenirs.  The best part about the Southwest is that most of the souvenirs are authentic, and hand-made by the Navajo or local craftsman.  Of course there were plenty of items that were fake, but it was nice to have a a plethora of authentic goods to choose form.  To finish off the night we drove to Page, Arizona, and crashed for the night.

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

Rock Altar

Rock Altar

Navjo Fry Bread

Navjo Fry Bread

Tuesday we took a Navajo-led tour of Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon formed by water.  It’s a very small, narrow canyon, but the angles of the sunlight appear beautifully here because of how narrow it is.  Our tour guide, a Navajo native named Patrick, new a lot about photography and showed us the best angles to take photos from, and what settings to set our cameras to.  He also took this photo for me:

Artsy?

Artsy?

When we finished at Antelope, we headed west into a very windy afternoon.  On the way we had authentic Mexican in Kanab, Utah.  From Kanab, we drove an hour into Zion National Park.  Zion Canyon may have been my favorite of the three canyons, simply from the odd shapes of the rocks and mountains, and the diversity in geologic features.  We drove through the park to the east side, to Springdale, Utah, which is now one of my favorite American towns.  We stayed at a very nice hotel there, and everything was mostly within walking distance. I took it upon myself to take a four mile run to get acquainted with everything.  There was even a convenient shuttle bus system that ran throughout the town, so you could get just about anywhere in minutes.  The night following our arrival, me and my brother ate at the Springdale Pizza and Noodle Co.  They’ve got some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, so if you’re ever in town you should check them out.

Springdale Pizza and Noodle Co.

Springdale Pizza and Noodle Co.

Springdale Morning 

Springdale Morning 

Wednesday was the highlight hike of our trip, Angel’s Landing.  We started with the five of us, but the youngest of my brothers got sick on the way up, and had to go back to the room with my mom.  Me and my middle brother chose to go on ahead.  The hike was uphill most of the way, leveling out for about half a mile close to the climb.  Me, my dad, and my middle brother started the climb up the landing.  The hike to the landing is basically a big rock climb, with nothing to hold onto but what’s on the ground and an occasional chain that’s cemented into the rock.  We hadn’t gotten far when my middle brother chose to stay behind because of the heights (a reported six people have died there in the last decade).  Me and my dad were the only ones to continue through the top.  It was amazing to watch the angle of the mountains change the further and further we went up.  When we got to the top, it was a rewarding view.  There were a lot of people who had peaked by the time we got there, many of which were daring the cliff’s edges.  I took the time to have a snack, and I even had cell service, which is mostly absent from the park.  

Angel's Landing Peak

Angel's Landing Peak

The Hike Up...

The Hike Up...

After that, me, my dad, and my brother hiked down the mountain, which is actually more painful than going up.  Since most of it is downhill and concrete, my toes were beating into the front of my boots.  Once we reached the trailhead, we bussed back to our hotel.  Having been exhausted from the hike, and some of our family getting sick, our afternoon plans were cancelled.  That meant I had to whole rest of the day to do whatever I wanted in Springdale.  Once I was showered and changed, I shuttle hopped to the north end of the town.  I tried stepping into a Thai restaurant, but they didn’t open for another hour.  To kill time, I took a short walk to the library and read about thirty pages of a Stephen King novelette.  I then walked back to the Thai place, and enjoyed some delicious Vietnamese pho and green tea. Having travelled to Vietnam, it tasted quite accurate, and was very filling.  If you’re ever in Springdale, check out Thai Sapa.  

Pho from Thai Sapa

Pho from Thai Sapa

For the remainder of the afternoon, I walked my way back to our hotel and stopped at all the various shops in the town.  There was a place selling rock art and Navajo jewelry, art galleries, souvenir stores, and other restaurants. It was fun talking to the locals who owned the shops.  Most of them have lived in Springdale their whole life and see a lot of people passing through thanks to business from the park. I treated myself to a very hefty helping of strawberry ice cream, which only cost $4.  Once I had seen all that could be seen, I strolled back to our hotel, and later had southwestern food with my parents.  

Thursday we went back to Vegas, and was the most bittersweet day for me at least. After getting some souvenir shirts we piled into the SUV, and took off west.  A few hours later we were in Vegas, and were ready to do nothing at all; we were pooped.  We had a decent sized room at a hotel located off the strip which was perfect for crashing.  I got some website work done while my parents went out to eat, and my youngest brother continued his recovery from getting sick on Wednesday.  Toward the late afternoon, me and my middle brother went down to a poolside bar and grille on the rooftop.  After that we changed, came back to the pool, and I stayed for awhile sitting in the hot tub.  

Friday was uneventful.  I got up to run three miles on a treadmill, and soon after that we went to eat at an Italian place at Caesar’s which took forever to find (again, Caesar’s is too damn big).  After that we got to visit the world famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop from Pawn Stars.  Surprisingly enough there wasn’t a very long line, though I’m sure that’s because the show has declined in popularity recently.  The visit was fun for the novelty of it, but there were some items I would’ve wished to see that they bought on the show.  Still, a lot of the stuff was interesting to see like some Picassos and commemorative sports rings.  To finish off the day, I spent another hour at the hot tub.  Saturday we flew home to Huntsville, but none of us were feeling very good from the dry air.  We were ready to be home.  Soon after was when I started feeling sick, and was admitted to the ER.  

This was a very eye-opening trip.  I enjoyed a lot of time with my family, saw some awesome landscapes, and met some great people.  I have a few new favorite places, many of which I’d like to revisit.  I also understand the full scope of geographic diversity in this country, making me appreciate it’s beauty even further.  The Southwest will hold a special place for me, and I’m eager to see what else is there.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; April 2016