Those Who Carry Nothing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The purpose of the mission was to “connect.” I had come to Atima, an impoverished mountain village in Honduras, to provide basic medical care and humanitarian aid on a mission sponsored by a local church. I was told to look beyond the cultural and language barriers and appreciate the people.

Unfortunately, most of what I brought just increased my difficulty in finding common ground with the Hondurans. In the morning, I carried my Lucky Charms and Starbucks coffee to the priest’s home, where I ignorantly devoured my sugary cereal, casting ­dubious glances at the proudly prepared meal of rancheros, huevos, y leche. While I translated for the doctors, I carried a lanyard of hand sanitizer to remove any lingering evidence of patient contact. Helping the doctors, I carried hydrocortisone, Lice-Be-Gone, and Benadryl, which the villagers skeptically accepted as American cures to chronic Honduran ailments. At night, I carried Catch-Phrase, Twister, and Hershey bars and indulged in these American mainstays until exhaustion consumed me. Finally, I carried my air mattress and mosquito net to a corner of the dilapidated schoolhouse, where I drifted to sleep. Even then, I slept with the security that I would always have these things to carry.

When I recall the Honduran landscape, it is impossible to separate the images of the rocky land from the pungent aroma of chlorine. Due to the bacteria and parasites, I had to sterilize my water bottle every time I filled it from the well. The chemical residue burned my nostrils and stung my throat, as the oppressive heat forced me to choke down the foul mixture. The Honduran children giggled at my look of disgust every time I drank their water. Not­withstanding the self-chlorination, I was advised not to drink too much of their water, so I also carried bottled water from America, which was a source of amusement for the locals. It seemed ridiculous to them that Americans would pay for something as abundant as water. Moreover, they were puzzled that I could not drink from their well fed by the frequent rainstorms and mountain streams. Water is a universal human need, and the fact that Americans and Hondurans could not share this became, at least for them, the most prominent difference between our cultures.

I did not carry America just in my water. American culture existed subconsciously in my every thought, word, and action. I carried strip malls, SUVs, and reality television in my very identity. My voice carried the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. I even carried America in my walk, as I strode hurriedly past the meandering Hondurans, who had been taught by decades of boredom and disappointment that there was no place to rush to and nothing worth hurrying for. I carried the assurance that medicine cured and doctors saved, and I was confused by the Hondurans’ distrust of it. To Hondurans, America is the land of opportunity, and in this country of false hope and crushed expectations, I carried the American dream.

Like me, the Hondurans carried their country in every part of them. The dust was a permanent drape, a second layer of skin. The incessant screams of ­babies, the ubiquitous packs of dogs, and interminable boredom resonated in their voices. Their leathery skin, bloated stomachs, and matted hair ­reflected a life of hard labor under an unforgiving sun. Nevertheless, the Hondurans persevered and carried a unity in the desperation of their lives. They carried faith in God because that was all they had.

America had provided me with an education, but it did not necessarily ­include enlightenment. I was taught to analyze and categorize, and as a consequence, I carried an endless stream of snap judgments that served to exacerbate our differences. As a result, it was difficult for me to ­accept God’s presence as unquestionably as the Hondurans did. It was even harder to appreciate that a common belief in God was sufficient to bridge the many differences between our cultures. Once I realized this connection, I learned a great deal about myself, but more importantly, I learned about faith and its ability to unite people regardless of their material differences.

I carried junk food, bottled water, modern medicine, education, and opportunity. I carried every imaginable physical comfort an American life can provide, but only by interacting with those who carried so much less did I come to appreciate the power of carrying nothing.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Runsalot said...
Sept. 20, 2008 at 11:53 pm
This was a thoughtful and well written piece. I was both moved and appreciative of this author's understanding of herself and those who she served. Well done!!
 
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