…..but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. II Corinthians 3: 5,6
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. II Corinth. 3:3
The other night we had a guy brought in through the Emergency Room of our mission hospital looking pretty Iffy (as in,… “if-he”… makes it). So, I’ll call him Iffy. Iffy had been shot through the neck, the chest, and the abdomen, hit at least 4 times. Most of the time with a gunshot injury case, at first you never know the full story of how it happened. And you only tentatively believe the part of the cover story that fits with the injury pattern. In this case, the injury pattern told the whole story. This was no robbery gone awry. This was an ambush hit. So, after Iffy made it through the emergency surgery and began to stabilize, we took Iffy’s brother at his word when he said he knew the assailants were planning to come to the hospital to finish the job. As it seemed prudent to try to keep the risk of crossfire collateral damage in the ICU to a minimum, after our attempts to call for reinforcements went unanswered, Dave Fields, (one of our long-term missionaries at the hospital) drove down to the Posta Policial in Balfate to see if they could send someone armed to stand watch. (Our guards are unarmed).
Eventually, Dave was able to rouse the sleepy solitary officer left guarding the Posta. He comes out, dressing as he appears from the backroom to listen to Dave’s story. “Oh no,” he says. “I am so sorry, but there are simply no men to send”. “I am all alone here myself, as all of the others are assigned out to man the barricades against the virus”.
Q: “Well, can you call your supervisor in Tocoa to send some men?”
A:“Oh no señor, they too are all out at the barricades all over the departamento”.
Q: “Well, do you have any suggestions?”
A: “Perhaps the Alcalde can send some soldiers?”
So, Dave called the mayor, who had a detachment of military over Rio Coco way protecting us from the teeming hordes of COVID-Zombies trying to break through the barriers. Well, actually about 2 months ago there were 14 people who tested positive over at Santa Fe and Trujillo, on the other side of the mountains, all of whom have since recovered, and there is still no known COVID-19 in this entire sector. But you never know. There has been a military blockade there ever since. The mayor said he would send a few soldiers, who did eventually come, regretting to inform us that they were simply much too busy protecting us from the incursion of COVID-Zombies-From-The-East to spare a two-man team at the hospital just to protect unarmed patients, nurses, and doctors from armed assassins. Actually, after being offered free meals, the corporal did feel they could stay for a few hours until they had to return to the frontlines to guard against the invisible foe. Then, like everyone else, we were on our own with the actual visible foes…. like gun-toting murderers and such, but we should feel safe as long as we were all wearing masks.
At the outset of this literary peregrination, before I ever set fingers to keyboard, I was determined to write something NOT about COVID-19, the very real & potentially quite dangerous (to some) novel infectious disease OR about what I have come to call “COVID-1984”, the scientifically-challenged authoritarian response of many governments to that very real and potentially quite dangerous (to some) novel infectious disease.
As I said, I was determined NOT to write about the disease or the response because frankly, I was sick of writing about it and hearing about it and talking about it, and thinking about it. And, I figured most of you were too. But here at Loma de Luz, our lives are so dominated by the COVID-1984 side of the coin, that trying to not think about it while writing about something else proved to be like trying not to think about breathing while holding my breath. It didn’t last for more than two minutes. So I compromised and thought I should at least try to avoid the angry declarations which seem to be intrinsic to the subject on every side these days. William Hazlitt observed that “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” But I would qualify man’s unique sense of humor one step further. I contend that man is the only animal who can and should….. laugh at himself.
The Clorox Obsession
So I thought, maybe I could present the humorous side of COVID-1984. There is, after all, a goldmine of silliness in response to an invisible threat. And some of it is uniquely Honduran. For one thing, we here in Honduras have this fixation with Clorox. From the unresearched but unshakable belief of the most powerless and uneducated Grandma to the insufficiently researched but unshakable belief of presumably educated public policy-makers, from Syphilis to Tsusugamushi Fever, Clorox is bound to be the answer to anything infectious. … and certainly for SARS-CoV2.
So, let’s take a trip from Loma de Luz into La Ceiba and back and watch out for the application of Clorox:
In all previous ages, the exact location of boundaries between Departmentos ( think large counties or very small states), those boundaries were generally known only to a few government officials, (mayors, census takers, tax assessors and the like), or those few odd fellows fascinated by geographic trivia, as there certainly were no signs or markers. But in this age of COVID-1984, the border of each Departamento is marked by police barricades; the Exit-the-Departamento barricade, and the Entrance-to-the next-Departamento barricade. Think of them as state welcome stations, except instead of lawns sprinkled with larger-than-life people walking smaller-than-life dogs between picnic tables, with blocky buildings offering state maps, real-estate guides, and echogenic bathrooms on either side, these welcome stations are ropes across the road manned by little clumps of uncertain teenagers in military uniforms, sweating behind masks, with their fingers near the trigger guards of Assault rifles.
At the exit barricade, you will have to state the important reason for your travel (the commonest being that the kids can’t find any more roots and berries and you are foraging for food). You will have to present your authorized ID and your traveling papers hoping that the last number of your ID matches that day’s authorized travel number (the schedule for which is rumored to be determined by the application of a secret Ovaltine decoder ring somewhere in the capital city the previous weekend). If you happen to be pregnant or over the age of 60 you are really swimming against the tide since there are only a few specific hours you may travel on the day of your traveling number. If you are over 60 AND pregnant, well, don’t even ask. Now you will have to present yourself wearing a mask (presumably so that you don’t give yourself COVID inside the car since only you and one other person with an identical last number are allowed in the car). And then you move 100 yards up the road to the Entrance-to-the next-Departamento barricade. There you will go through the same procedure, in case your identity papers or the authorized number or the correct answers changed in the last 30 seconds, AND THERE you will certainly be sprayed down with Clorox.
Yes, in order to ensure that the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t sneak across the border on your tires from the Departamento you are just leaving, those tires must definitely be sprayed with Clorox generously applied by a hand sprayer…but wait, wait, wait, you have to pull forward 2 feet to get the part of the tire that was on the ground (I’m not kidding)…. But not so fast, you have to open your door, stick out your boots, and have them sprayed with Clorox, AND (sometimes) have the pedals of your car sprayed with Clorox. (still not kidding).
Now, you are COVID free and can enter into the departamento, to repeat this procedure several times, depending upon the whims of the mayor and city council of the next town you pass through. Out on the highway, you may be stopped one or two or three times in the 20 miles before you get to La Ceiba. And at least at the last one, at the police checkpoint in Satuye, you will have to pass through the Whole Car Sprayer (Clorox of course).
If you are on a motorcycle, that’s right… you go through the sprayer, girlfriend on the back and all… and you’d better be wearing a mask inside that helmet. Again, you don’t want to give yourself COVID inside that helmet.
Now remember, regardless of how sick you are of your own cooking, you did NOT come into town to go to the restaurant, (since they are all shuttered and locked), or to go to the bar regardless of how much you might think a good stiff drink would help (since no alcohol nor much of anything else can be sold). You came into the big city looking for groceries. So, you are not yet done with the Clorox. At the entrance to the grocery store or the gas station, you will be required to walk through Clorox, have your hands sprayed with Clorox, and of course, you should buy some Clorox for home use.
We had one sweet middle-aged lady whose Mother with a broken hip we were caring for. She assured us that she was being so careful with anti-COVID hygiene at home that she washed the soap with Clorox. She was serious.
There have been plenty of other categories of Honduran COVID-1984 restrictions which might strike you “with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” One is the Catch-22 category. Like the Pulparia regulations early on. Pulparias are little tiny grocery stores found on nearly every block of every village of any size in Honduras.
The larger and more inventive ones may trade in everything from onions to gasoline, from hair dye to cold medicine. The smallest ones at least sell the three Vitamin C’s: Coca-Cola, Churros (chips), and Chicklets (gum). But regardless of the size, pulparias are the life-blood of commerce in rural villages and urban neighborhoods. It is where the rice and beans are sold. Under the earliest COVID-1984 proclamations, Pulparias were closed.
When the authorities woke up to the fact that this meant there was no place for most Hondurans to buy or sell beans and rice, they opened the pulparias… but only on weekends. The problem was the Catch -22 rule, no one is allowed to circulate (move outside of their homes) on weekends. So, yeah, the pulparias can open, but only on the days when no one can go to them.
Since the purpose of this is not to be an encyclopedic diatribe against Honduras’s COVID-19 response, clearly over the top in severity as it may be, I will just give one more rather frighteningly insane, recently announced proclamation, then hope to finish with something more edifying that I’ve noticed, the Grace that takes a lot of the poison from “The Letter of the Law which kills”.
Risking Mission Travel: ‘COVID-19 Concentration Camps’
Recently, the government announced that any Honduran Citizen or Legal Resident returning to Honduras (which means anyone entering Honduras since no one but citizens and permanent residents can enter Honduras anyway), they will have to be quarantined for at least 14 days in Government Internment Facilities, (funding and direction provided by ACNUR, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)
These have been aptly referred to as “COVID-Concentration Camps” since by the way the virus works it would be a great place for concentrating SARS-C0V-2 and then dispersing it throughout the country if ever you release the inmates to wherever they may live. Here is what they look like (from the government website).
Not only is this a crazy plan of forced internment of entire plane loads of strangers who have committed no crime and have no symptoms of any disease to live and sleep 3 feet from each other for 2 weeks, then if still asymptomatic be dispersed into the hinterlands (or if on the other hand, they have contracted symptomatic COVID to be forced into Honduran Government “treatment facilities”), but it will completely kill aid coming back into Honduras and mission travel. News Flash to the Honduran Government: No one is going to voluntarily sign up for this forced imprisonment. I’m not making this up either. That is the letter of the law.
And, in the letter of the law, I’m sorry, but Honduras has the most stringent COVID-1984 laws in the world. This is not an exaggeration. Honduras scores a perfect 100 in stringency on the OxCGRT (Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker) and has done so far longer and in response to far fewer deaths than any other country in the world except perhaps El Salvador.
Why? I wouldn’t speculate. But this is “the letter of the law written on tablets of stone.”
The Saving Grace of Human Hearts
But the saving grace for Honduras has been when these laws are interpreted in real-life settings, real-life Hondurans have the tendency to demonstrate “the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Time and again we have seen proclamations come out from distant authorities with apparently unspoken agendas, agendas perhaps driven by interests from outside of the country. But the proclamations are interpreted with grace and common sense … by human hearts. Hondurans have a tendency to do that, to give grace, to empathize, to put themselves in the shoes of the next guy. “No”, an immigration official may say, “these internment facilities are only meant for people with COVID symptoms who have nowhere else to go.” The two flights that we know of which have come in under this new law have been interpreted this way. “ No”, a mayor may say, “ people have to be able to circulate whenever the pulparias are open…otherwise, how are the people going to buy food?” That is how our mayor interpreted these laws. So, as far as we can tell, these internment facilities are mostly empty, and people are usually being allowed to get to the pulparias to buy food (if they have any money to do so).
I think we should do the same. We should show all the grace we can with each other, particularly in these troubled times. When we disagree with another’s interpretation… ‘Whether to mask or unmask?’, we should show grace. ‘Whether to isolate or circulate?’, we should show grace… ‘Whether to be extra fearful or to be extra bold?’, we should show grace … ‘Whether to wash the soap with Clorox or?’…well, maybe not that, some things are just patently silly. But the point is, particularly in these darkened days, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
At Loma de Luz, we are about the business of walking out God’s grace.