With our final breakfast at the hotel we gathered our things and met in the lobby. Our bags were much lighter now because all of us had brought clothes with to leave for Habitat to distribute as they saw need. This was another tough part of the journey. Throughout the week, in broken English, one of the workers at the job sight would ask us if we were going to leave our boots, gloves, or hats with them. We were encouraged not to give the workers any material items because Habitat didn't want to create a culture of begging every time a group came to help. We had to trust that Habitat knew the culture much better than we did. As hard as it was to resist giving items directly to some of the workers we knew that if only a few got something it would create jealousy in others.
We said more goodbyes to our translators and those who had been our guides all week. Without them we would have had a VERY different experience not knowing the language of the people we were working alongside. The other work crew was headed to a coffee plantation and we were headed to a resort by the beach. We knew we would see the other work crew at the airport since they were flying back to Peoria and the Quad cities so we saved our goodbyes. But this would possibly be the last time we would see our guides who kept us from embarrassing ourselves too much in front of the locals. They really did take such great care of us. Some of us took in the view from the roof one last time, others said goodbye to the parrot who greeted us outside the hotel each morning, and others shared last minute email addresses and phone numbers.
The ride to the resort was full of mixed emotions. Excitement for the chance to play on the beach and relax, but also time as a group to process all the memories of amazing people we had met. As we drove back towards the capitol thoughts of our first day in El Salvador flooded back. Thoughts of that first lunch with the other work crew; Eric, Andrea, Dave, Kelsey, Wayne, Deb, Drew, and Steve. Memories of Katy debriefing all of us about the history and culture of El Salvador.
As we drove we passed more shacks and run down housing. We passed more fruit stands, some occupied, others abandoned. We passed a clothing factory that we were told provides hundreds of jobs but has very little space for all the workers. The razor wire still adorning multiple businesses and houses made sure that the history of El Salvadors bloody civil war was not forgotten. And yet below those signs of a brutal past were some of the most beautiful hand painted murals and advertisements I had ever seen.
Once we arrived at the resort we were greated by a gentleman who offered to let us release turtles into the ocean for $3 a piece. Laurie, Al, and Harrison all decided to drop off their luggage and come back to release turtles. The money raised went towards conservation efforts because apparently these turtles eggs are a delicacy in El Salvador and fetch a high price. It was fun watching these cute little turtles waddle instictively towards the crashing waves. Watching these tiny creatures get sloshed by huge waves back up onto shore and then getting washed back into the ocean over and over made me wonder if these little guys even stood a chance. And that is where hope comes in.
Once we got checked in we wandered around the resort and noticed lots of hammocks, at least 3 different pools, and random animals around every turn. We went to look at the monkey cage and one of them grab a students cell phone before we noticed the sign that said; "Naughty monkeys will grab, steal, and scratch so beware." There were parrots, peacocks, guinea hens, chickens, turtles, alligators, horses, ducks, and even cows! Half of us grabbed our swim suits and ran to the beach to remember our baptisms and get clobbered by the powerful waves. Between playing in the ocean and eating lunch a few from our group got massages that were quite relaxing. A few of us tried some new seafood while others yearned for more United States type fair like hamburgers. After dinner we were anxious to play on the beach some more and headed out while resort staff set up chairs for what looked to be a beach side wedding.
That evening we had dinner and then met up for devotions. We talked about how we knew each other fairly well but through this trip we really bonded as a team. Gods presence as part of our team was found each day in the ways that we were cared for and kept safe. Whether it was a near miss car accident, a falling cinder block, a pick ax that was swung a little too close, or water that was not safe we knew God was with us. Each of us shared about our own definition of "hope" and where we experienced it throughout the week. Some of us saw hope in the nuns who cared for so many girls at the orphanage, others saw hope in Miriam who would sing while cleaning up at the job site, some saw hope in the Habitat staff and the work they were doing, and others saw hope in the church being built and how it will be a beacon of love and transformation in that community. Our devotionals reminded us that we are all agents of hope whether we are students in high school, middle aged parents, or retired handymen. There are people we all know whose lives can be made better because of the love God has placed in our hearts. Hope is not knowing exactly what will happen but trusting that God's presence in you will make things better for someone else.