A Week at Love & Hope: Creative Painting and the Basura Brothers

Dr. David Eastman of Ohio Weslyan University (OWU) continues his reflection about OWU’s recent trip to Love & Hope Children’s Home. (The first installment can be found here.)


In addition to helping with the children at the home, our group was also scheduled to do some painting in the emergency room at a hospital just down the road. We were going to be painting Monday through Wednesday, but at night from 7 to midnight, when the ER was expected to be less busy. One of our student leaders, Katie Jacob, and I went with Rachel and Mandy from Love and Hope to meet Dr. Santana, the head of ER, before going to get paint and supplies. What a difference from a hospital here in the States! We walked into the ER directly from outside through an open entryway about 15 feet wide. There was no door, only an iron gate that was always left open. One entire wall was covered with windows, and they were all wide open. This was no sterilized American hospital with no fresh air. This was basically open air medicine. We returned on Monday night with our team of 10 OWU painters and Mandy. Try as we did, there was no way to prepare ourselves for working in a fully-operational ER. The patients were equally unprepared for watching 11 crazy Americanos moving furniture, climbing on ladders, and painting. I spent most of my time on the 10-foot ladder doing trim along the ceiling, and never did I look down and fail to find at least one person staring up at me in bewilderment and/or bemusement. I actually hate painting – I do. I would rather watch reruns of C-SPAN or a marathon of Barney the purple dinosaur. But knowing that we were serving the community was great motivation, and I was happy to provide entertainment for those awaiting treatment. The doctors and patients moved around us seamlessly, not bothered or complaining about our presence. In fact at one point I was painting near the trauma corner (a corner of the ER surrounded by a curtain where they put the most critical patients), and the doctor asked me to hand him some medical supplies. On another occasion I had my ladder set up to paint above the entryway that led outside to the bathroom. (Yes, patients had to go outside to the bathroom, and it was, frankly, disgusting.) Did my ladder bother anyone? No, they all just ducked underneath it and went on their way. All the doctors were thankful we were there and helped us move tables, beds, and even people so that we could paint. Even the patients happily got up and moved their chairs when they saw that we needed to get to a certain part of the room. We did a lot of laughing about that.


But it wasn’t all fun and games. This was a working ER, so we saw everything that came through the front door – uncensored. There was blood, urine, vomit, women going into labor, loud moaning, a guy rolled out of a police truck in handcuffs, and just plain misery. This was probably the hardest part for members of our team. As much as we found levity in some things we saw, the reality was that everyone who came in was there because they or a loved one were in pain. One man brought in his young grandson and sat with him in his arms for hours, waiting for treatment. A middle-aged woman sat in the trauma corner next to her aged mother, who had the pallid look on her face that does not suggest recovery. The concern and fear I saw in their eyes was every bit as real as what I’ve had in my eyes when one of my family members has been ill. This was as real as it gets. By the time Wednesday rolled around, some team members were really struggling with going back one more time. I understood. We rallied around the theme of simply serving others, even if we may not see some dramatic and immediate impact. That night we finished the walls in the main waiting room and 4 side treatment rooms – everything we had hoped to get done, in fact. The team left Wednesday night exhausted but with a sense of accomplishment. On Thursday Mandy and I went back and did the lettering identifying the various treatment rooms, and the job was done, at least for now. Many times on Wednesday night and Thursday, I gazed back into the observation rooms, which we did not get to but the doctors had hoped we might. They looked even more run down than the rooms we had painted, and I found myself wishing I had more time . . . more time. On Friday our team stopped by the hospital and had the chance to see the final product and meet Dr. Santana, who was very grateful. “It’s like heaven,” he told Mandy at one point. The meeting and picture-taking with Dr. Santana made no more sense to the curious ER patients than the painting had, but it was a nice time for closure for the group and, I hope, some happy images to balance other things we had witnessed in that place.

I also took on some projects at Love and Hope itself, and one of these was cleaning and organizing the garage. Okay, so true confessions. The garage at our house needs cleaning, but I have a hard time getting motivated to do it. Somehow cleaning someone else’s garage was much easier. Isn’t that always the way it is? And this was something Mandy was really hoping would get done. So I took it on and chipped away at it over the course of the week. I found all kinds of little “treasures” along the way. Now, I’m a person who likes to throw things away as a I clean, but Mandy warned me that Salvadorans are very creative re-users, and that the guards may take things out of the garbage that I would try to throw away. She was not kidding. After all, who was I to say that a broken coffee maker didn’t have a higher purpose? One of the guards was different, though: Daniel. Daniel seemed happy to see me cleaning the garage. He mainly kept his distance at first, but he also didn’t stop me from throwing useless and broken things away. He said only a few words to me, but Mandy commented to Rachel a few days into my time there that she thought Daniel must like me, because he usually doesn’t talk that much to anyone. Finally Friday came, my last chance to finish the garage. I was fully locked and loaded into “finish the project” mode, because a partially-cleaned garage is still a dirty garage. I knew the word “basura” (trash), and I managed to enter that mystical place called the “basura zone” – whether I was in the body or not I cannot say (shout out to the apostle Paul). Daniel watched me for a while and then finally came up to me and started talking. I can understand some Spanish, and body language told me all the rest. He was happy that I was cleaning, because sometimes people would just throw things into the garage and not pay attention to keeping it clean. After that I noticed Daniel beginning to pick up some things and throw them away himself. I had found an ally. Before long I would pull out some broken old auto part and look at Daniel. He would scowl and point his thumb toward the garbage cans: “Basura.” You’re speakin’ my language, brother. I was nearing the end of the project as Daniel was about to go off duty. I wouldn’t see him again. I didn’t catch most of what he said to me next, except that he said he was glad to meet me. Then he came up and gave me a big hug. I’ve never been hugged for cleaning a garage before. It was a beautiful moment shared by two men and their beloved garbage cans.


But have no fear, good reader, for the fate of those discarded items. The garbage men sort through the trash when they pick it up, looking for things to save, so I’m sure that junk has found a home in someone else’s garage.


Now I can’t wait for Mandy to come back to Ohio for a visit, so that she can come and clean our garage.


Our garage certainly looks better! We were so impressed by David’s dedication to the job. David will share with us once more about OWU’s time at Love & Hope. Stop back later this week!