Sunday, December 12, 2021

Macaw Visits


Entering Honduras was somewhat strange: instead of the expected tropical heat, the colour of the sky turned from a brilliant blue into a drizzly grey as soon as we crossed the border. And then it started to rain! Quite odd for the month of December. Fortunately, it was just that one "cold" and wet day. Copán was otherwise nice and tropically hot.

And I know that heat all too well, because I have lived in this village for seventeen years! My last visit was a six years ago. Not much seemed to have changed. A few new businesses opened up, others are gone. Friends still the same, though we all have a gained few extra pounds and wrinkles. How nice to be "home" again!

But there wasn't much time for visiting friends and nostalgic musings, because there was work to be done! After all, I came here to paint a mural. This time for Casita Copán, a children's home and day-care that I have seen grow and flourish over the years. Nearly forty children live in small family units and meet at the shelter during the day for lunch, tutoring, recreational activities or any other help they may need. I have always wanted to create a mural for Casita Copán. When I heard a few months ago that their dream had come true and they had been able to buy their own building, I knew the time had come. I asked director Emily Monroe if she was interested and her response was so positive that we immediately started making plans. Thanks to the financial support of Colour4Kids, it all worked out.

Emily sent me pictures and ideas for inspiration. Children having fun, nature, Copán, being together, playing, Casita's dog Vishnu, lots of colour and joy. I got to work in Photoshop and Emily, her staff and children all approved the design at once. The wall was of unfinished concrete blocks, so it needed tobe plastered first,  a task Emily's staff would take on, with the material costs covered by Colour4Kids. A week ago it was time to get started. What a lovely long, white wall! A 13.5 meters long blank canvas. Nothing makes me happier!

With the help of  Catherine and two adolescents from Casita Copán, Estrella and Naun, we started painting the wall. It all went very well. Not a single setback and the working conditions were fine too: not too hot, shade from the trees, water and a toilet nearby. We were also offered lunch by Casita Copán every day. And very special was thescreeching of the scarlet macaws (Ara macao) that hung around in the trees around the property and regularly flew over. These birds were already flying around at the time when the ancient Mayans built their temples and palaces in the valley of Copán. The scarlet macaw represented the sun god and is considered sacred in Maya culture. Like many exotic birds, it was threatened with extinction, but thanks to the Macaw Mountain bird park in Copán Ruinas, some of their rescued birds began breeding. So many, that they could be released a few years later.

Macaw Mountain also began caring for the birds in the archaeological park. These were traditionally fed only dough, whereas the birds need lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts. It wasn't long before the skinny and bald birds (they picked their feathers out of boredom) started flying around there too. To protect the birds, the people in the valley need to be involved. So an educational program was set up, Guaras en Libertad, to teach 10,000 school children in the valley about the cultural importance of the scarlet macaw and how to protect the animal, in collaboration with a number of local organizations. I was also involved in this and it is heart-warming to see how now more than 80 macaws fly freely about the village and archaeological park. They are the pride and joy of the village. A scarlet macaw could not be missed on the wall!

Three days later, we were done. Emily came with her staff and children from the home to see the result. We received presents and said goodbye. What a pity that this project ended so soon!

Many, many thanks yet again to the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids for sponsoring this Mural. Thanks to Emily, Zoila and the rest of the staff of Casita Copán for taking such good care of us. To Naun and Estrella for helping paint. To Catherine for her help all around. To the scarlet macaws for accompanying and inspiring us. Ad to Copán for just being Copán. Always!