Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A House for Nicolasa

Nicolasa and me together at the Mission House
We had only been back in La Ceiba for a few days when I heard the familiar rattle of the gate.  I peered down from the slatted window at the front of the house and immediately recognized the woman standing there.  It was Nicolasa.

We had often helped this woman when we were serving as full-time missionaries.  She wasn't from La Ceiba, she would travel in by bus from her home, wherever that might be.  It seemed uncanny that she should show up at the gate of the Mission House after all this time, these seven years later.  We were no longer living in Honduras but had taken a two-month sabbatical from our church in Alabama.  Hurricane Mitch had devastated much of the country several months earlier in October of 1998 and we had come to do what we could to help in the recovery.

We had seen many visitors at our gate during those years in Honduras.  Most I wouldn't have remembered, but this particular woman was the exception.  Though she was herself  illiterate, she had come several times to ask for help with school supplies for her children.  She would speak with pride of their accomplishments, how far they had progressed in their studies.  She was a refreshing contrast to another woman who often came to our gate needing food or money.  We knew that unlike Nicolasa's, her children were not in school;  they were in the streets begging and searching through garbage cans.  So it was never an imposition to fill a bag full of notebooks and writing utensils for this Nicolasa who,  with tears in her eyes,  would thank us profusely on behalf of her children.

And now she was back. She didn't act in the least bit surprised to see me as I approached the gate.  My Spanish wasn't the best after seven years, but I understood enough to grasp that she once again needed school supplies for her children.  How many children did she have I wanted to know.  There were four in her home, there had been six she explained.  But two had recently died.  It was in the spring, a boy and a girl.

It was probably another week and a half before she returned for the bag of supplies that we had purchased.  My Spanish was getting stronger and I asked her about the two children who had died.  They were lost in a fire she explained, a five-year-old niece and her 14-year old son.  A neighbor had been drinking heavily through the night and had set the blaze, her house just happened to be in the way.  It was Easter morning.

It would be two weeks before I'd see her again.  She was wanting to rebuild her home and asked if we might be able to help with the money to hire someone.  I told her I'd talk to Larry and asked if she could return in two or three days.  Here's what I wrote in my journal two days later:

Nicolasa came this morning   She was here two days ago asking if we could help her with the cost of getting the walls up on her house.  It turns out others have been kind to her.  Someone gave her money to buy the wood and another person bought her nails.  All she needed was money to hire the gentleman to put it together for her.  Larry asked how far it was to her home because we had discussed the possibility of doing the work for her.  It turns out that she travels an hour and fifteen minutes by bus then walks four hours into the mountains to get to her home.  I thought at first I must be misunderstanding her, but she repeated more than once that it takes four hours to walk from the bus stop to her home and that is walking rapidly.  Larry asked how she had gotten the walls to her home, and she said she used a cart to get it all up the mountain.  She told us that the man who had agreed to the work had already begun, in faith believing that she would be able to pay him.  After hearing her story, Larry told her that we would give her 300 lempiras for the labor (about $20) and another 100 to buy food for her family.  She asked if she could use 60 of those lempiras to buy some rope.

When we brought the money out to Nicolasa, she was standing with her eyes closed, hands raised, praising God.  I know that God had answered her prayers for her house to be completed and he had used us in part.  I felt humbled.  We gave her a bit more money for food and a bag of clothes for her family. 

Nicolasa thanking God for providing the means to rebuild her home

The last time I saw Nicolasa was three weeks later, just a few days before we were to fly back to the States.  The house was built, all it lacked was doors.  A friend would build them for her at no cost, but she needed the wood. Until the doors were in, she confessed, she was afraid to live in the house with her remaining children.  That day I sent her off with a bag of my clothes, some beans and rice and 200 limpiras to buy wood for the doors that would complete her little home in the mountains.  I ended my journal entry with these words:  Nicolasa does not read or write, but I can't help but admire her.  She's industrious, gets her kids to school and does what she can to survive.  
I still wonder about her sometimes.  Life in Honduras is not easy for those who are poor, so I suspect that if she is still alive, living on that mountain, the challenges have continued.  But more than anything, I hope that her children have brought her joy and not disappointment, recognizing the tremendous sacrifices she made for them. The treks up and down the trail, the long bus rides, the continual gathering of school supplies and hauling that cart full of wood for several hours up the mountain to rebuild their home, it was all for them.   All for them.

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