Sarah's Adventures in Honduras

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

so I've been meaning to do this for awhile...

you know, internet being free and all...

Back in the Hond I had been thinking a lot about hygiene, germs, and health and stuff. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that I must have an immune system of steel. I mean, I saw a lizard just hanging out with half of his body submerged in our water supply. And we have been meaning to get these little pouches that you toss into the water so that all of the insect larvae floats to the top and you can get it out...standing water...who knows what we're breeding--but we haven't gotten around to buying them yet. I happened to see my housemate, also, drop a glass off the side of the pila into the pila and we had to fish it out...germ central. No sickness in my life. Case and point, right?

Well, until I enter American air or something because I'm pretty sure I was slammed with a cold before I even stepped off the second airplane. No worries, friends, because I didn't even notice right away. I was too blown away by everything going right.

Making plans to come back home was weird. Something so anticipated and welcomed caught me so off guard. There I was drilling "Up on a Housetop" into the kiddos heads, making musical instruments (biggest flop of my very short teaching career by the way--beans=EVERYWHERE. I spent all of recess piecing them back together so that we would have them for the Christmas program extravaganza!), and BAM why are you not packed? Friday night I actually got a little stressed about packing (not stressed enough--I HAD to finish cheesy The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks before I even entered my room...) and then I went and sat on my bed and realized that I have barely anything so that makes packing pretty darn simple (p.s. I ended up packing WAY too much, of course, but I did pack for outdoor winter activity involving snow which there has been none of). The Wilf (Don Wilfredo) took Anna and I to the airport in the morning and there was never that "Ok, now you're doing it" feeling. But a different feeling hit me at the airport. As I sadly hugged Anna goodbye before she boarded her plane, I realized that there was a very short amount of time when I was doing this alone. This being everything--the life/the job/el resto in Honduras. I said goodbye and left a beautiful community of friends in Grand Rapids, got on the airplane only to enter into a team only hours later that now has become another family. But I didn't realize that right away--probably because it didn't happen right away.

Anyway, back to the airport. I checked the TV and panicked when I didn't see Atlanta on the departure list...then looking more closely I noticed that strangely "Atlanta City" was listed. I didn't stress, but Anna and I thought it reasonably possible that I could end up in New Jersey by the end of the day ;) The flight to Atlanta City ended up taking off an HOUR late. I stayed remarkably calm despite the short amount of time between my arrival and my connection. I just kept thinking--you'll get there when you get there. Now where did you put Grace's phone number? Worst case I'd just chill in Atlanta for some hours and read or something. But then the flight attendants jumped into action. I've never seen anything like it. It was like something straight out of a movie. Before everyone had boarded the plane they were already yelling at people that hadn't buckled their seatbelts. Fierce is an appropriate word in this situation to describe them. We couldn't have taken off more than 10 minutes after I boarded the plane. We ended up in Atlanta only 15 minutes late. Then...immigration. I prayed that everything would work out smoothly and quickly so that I could book it to my next gate. The lines were very long and mine got held up by someone needing a translator. But they let me through with no problems and I rushed to my gate and boarded only 5 minutes after arriving. It was like clockwork! We pulled into GR just a little after when we were due and I was so excited that when I saw my friends I started running down the little hallway. We caused a little ruckus at the airport that night :) And since then it has been a dream.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

be back in GR by bedtime.

un be liev a ble.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It´s called strapless, people

Sunday, December 10, 2006

some random pictures

The day we realized that we had all worn purple to school.
So last weekend we threw a little party. We actually thought it would be so little that we might be the only attendees. I was ok with that. More brownies and hummus for us (not eaten together of course). Then the DJ that we recruited showed up with a desktop computer full of music and a human (large human) sized speaker. It was then that we started feeling bad that we might be the only people at the party...who could we call? Ahhh! We were all dressed up, wearing the dancing shoes, but sitting around eating brownies! Once the music got going people popped out of the woodwork (concrete?) Neighbors showed up at the door. I mean, if you can´t sleep because the neighbor´s music is insanely loud, you might as well go dance! I got some good salsa, bachata, and meringue lessons from peeps with sweet moves. We ended the night with us gringas bouncing around to American pop music classics. Fun was had by all.

Ready for prom Cofradia :)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

On my mind:

It is no secret that I would love someone I care about to be able to come see my life here in Honduras—someone who knows me well to see me in this context. I have often thought that it would blow the mind of some people I know because it is seemingly a different world. I remember this so clearly my very first day in Cofradía. We walked to the pulpería around the corner—down the rocky, dirt road, dodging chickens and loose stones, the stunning view of the mountains in the distance. I could not believe how different my life could look after just a few hours. I have also told you (I think J) that as this year goes on and I’m once again faced with thoughts, ideas, and decisions for the future, it all comes back to the same thing. I don’t want this year to be a little blurp on the timeline of my life, but a paragraph in the narrative defending the thesis (eh, maybe narratives don't have thesis, but you know what I mean). Not just something cool you tell the grandkids.

I am currently engrossed in Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Paul Farmer—you may have heard of him, a doctor working with international health issues (namely TB, but I’m not done with the book yet J)—he is both inspiring and how do I put it—confronts you in love. This is an excerpt that made me think. To set it up for you, Paul Farmer and the author of the book are in the airport café in Paris.

He went right on writing his letter. I looked around. The airport, Charles de Gaulle, has an angular, steel-and-glass simplicity, which struck me just then as frighteningly complex, which made me feel projected into a future I didn’t understand. I thought of its duty-free shop, where one could buy first-class pâté, cofit d’oie, grand cru wines. “You started that letter on a hike in rural
Haiti,” I mused aloud, thinking now of those arid highlands, of medieval peasant huts, donkey ambulances. “It seems like another world.”
Farmer looked up, smiling, and in a chirpy-sounding voice he said, “But that feeling has the disadvantage of being…” He paused a beat. “Wrong.”

“Well,” I retorted, “it depends on how you look at it.”

“No it doesn’t,” he replied in a pleasant voice. “The polite thing to say would be, ‘You’re right. It’s a parallel universe. There really is no relation between the massive accumulation of wealth in one part of the world and abject misery in another.’” He looked at me.”

“…At that point I thought that what he wanted was to erase both time and geography, connecting all parts of his life and tying them instrumentally to a world in which he saw intimate, inescapable connections between the gleaming corporate offices of Paris and New York and a legless man lying on the mud floor of a hut in the remotest parts of Haiti. Of all the world’s errors, he seemed to feel, that the most fundamental was the “erasing” of people, the “hiding away” of suffering. “My big struggle is how people can not care, erase, not remember.”

Just this week I was having a conversation with one of my housemates about life. I was laying down, staring up at the ceiling, voicing my thoughts on how comfortable, routine, “normal” life seems these days. The little things that seemed so out of the ordinary in the beginning have integrated themselves into my daily activities. Filling the big green bucket in order to do my dishes. Flushing the toilet with a bucket of water. Warning the roommates of a no flush situation while jogging out of the house with a bucket to replenish the flushing power. Eyeing the cockroach or large spider in the shower while soaping up (I actually recently killed the shower cockroach. Caught him in a compromising position. Don’t tell Emily!) The person I was talking to said to me that there was no way she could ever get used to such changes in her life. What would the point be anyway? Life wasn’t like this before coming and won’t be once leaving. It is both amazing and shocking that an experience can be so different for people living and working so closely together.

My friend recently said to me, “Sarah, I talk about serving the poor. You are doing it.” I was immediately horrified and defensive all at once thinking that I somehow mistakenly portrayed myself as some kind of saint that I definitely am not. Yes, I work in an environment where poverty is prevalent. Some of my students, out of uniform and without their wet hair slicked into a perfect part, can be found playing outside barefoot and in their underwear. Or perhaps in clothes not their size, with broken zippers. Some of them play in the river, a.k.a. sewage. Their mosquito bites and cuts don’t always heal like those of the kids I know in the States. They often get infected and, because of missing nutrients, stay for the long-haul. Yes, I have been blessed to find a kindred spirit in Juan Carlos—my wonderful waist-high companion. To be continually humbled by the children that take a cookie or piece of cake, that they have received because of good behavior points (believe me, it takes a stinkin’ lot of good behavior points to warrant a cake!) home to their mom or little brother…without even taking a bite!

But it must be said that there is still a way to be here without really being here--for all of us. There is still a way to let even visible misery become part of the ordinary. To walk past naked children squatting to relieve themselves in front of their houses without blinking an eye. There is a way to lead a simple life without feeling convicted to be committed to simplicity. When it just becomes routine and is no longer intentional. It is far too easy to just live life inside the “gringa compound,” to speak the English, put granola bars on the Christmas list, and crowd around the computer to watch Desperate Housewives, totally blocking from our minds the desperation of cyclical poverty not even blocks from our house.

My colleague ended our conversation by saying, “It’s just a different world here.” But it isn’t, is it? This is the world we all share. This is a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is only growing. In fact, there are more billionaires in the world today than ever before. Paul Farmer says, “We are talking about wealth we’ve never seen before. And the only time I hear talk of shrinking resources among people like us, among academics, is when we talk about things that have to do with poor people.” Farmer commented, entering into Paris, about how much could be done for Haiti if only he could get his hands on the money that the first world spends on pet grooming. Hmm.

This is the same world. And sometimes it seems terribly disturbing. May it always.
And may action follow.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

it's been a long time coming

So Melvin broke his pen in half and painted the interior of his mouth blue…on purpose. Same day, while teaching a lesson I was simultaneously trying to release Amely from the hold of her backpack, sitting upright behind her on the chair, her hair at perfect zipper height. Sometimes these moments are the exploding laughter kind, resulting from life seeming so stinkin’ uncontrollably ridiculous that it can’t be held in. Other times it pushes me toward nervous breakdown. As Christmas vacation gets closer (while seeming so far out of reach), the latter is becoming the more probable response.

Then enter wildlife…

One day last week, right before the school day was going to start, I went to the library to get our class blanket. The kids often use it to lie on while reading and this particular morning we were going to have some reading time. I carried it all rolled up in my arms back to our classroom and started smoothing it out into the corner of the room where we usually have it. THEN, a mouse runs out and startles me!!! I scream and start doing the dance from leg to leg. Several of my students scream, more likely because I did than the fact that they actually saw the mouse. I started to giggle which broke into laughter. My students were looking at me as though I was crazy. The mouse darted into a corner where there is a giant plastic bin of art stuff. I quickly went to get Emily, the 5th grade teacher, who not only has a free period first period, but also is the most brave and animal loving of my housemates/staff. She went and got a trashcan and broom so that she could take the little mouse outside. Meanwhile I began Simon Says with the class. First, Simon Says stand on your chair (Ok, now they are all safe and out of the way). Second, Simon says put your hands on your head (Ok, now they are distracted). I hope you can picture this. So I am on a chair in front of the class and in this position I led the class in songs until the mouse was successfully removed from the classroom.

Today I sent the kids to the same reading corner to have screams erupt (this reading corner has GOT to go). Spider. Not just any spider. Tarantula. Same word in both languages. I don’t know if it was really a tarantula, but it looked close enough to both me and the kiddos to cause some action to be taken. After ordering all of the curious and hero wanna-bes to their seats with loud words accompanied by a fierce look, I went in search of a broom. Then, to the amusement of my class, I began trying to find the large scary beast hidden in my book basket, and then sweep him forcefully into the hallway. Mission accomplished. Back to math.

But there has been a ridiculous laughter moment lately…

After lunch on let’s call it Mouse Day, we were having a class meeting about what reward the students would to work toward with good behavior points. I was making a list on the board of their suggestions--class soccer game, extra recess, extra P.E: and then a kid raised his hand and said, ¨Go to Kentucky¨. Everyone else in the class broke out into an excited murmur and yelled out in agreement. After I got them calmed down I told them that it was probably not a feasible idea that we could go to Kentucky as a class, I even taught them the word passport and we talked about how you need a passport to go to the United States. I was so confused why they would choose Kentucky. I mean, come on. How could they all be this excited about such a random state? Well, then they told me that they went to Kentucky last year and started talking about conos and juegos (ice cream cones and games). It turned out that the whole time they meant Kentucky Fried Chicken! Ah!

Never a dull moment.

To give you more glimpses into our life…

Last night instead of doing any lesson planning or necessary exam preparation, we decided to watch Cinderella Story (yes, with Hilary Duff) on the back porch in the dark—movie theater style of course—while doing stretches (as to pretend to do exercises while really just watching the movie).

Last week what did I find myself doing after my bedtime? Saving all of my underwear from dying a slow moldy death at the hand (?) of the bucket. I’ll tell you one thing. Washing your underwear, by hand, on a cool, dark night to hang on the line is one of the last things you want to do after your bedtime. But sometimes it has to be done.

This morning I woke to the sound of steadily falling rain. I was so comfortable, warm and cozy that it actually didn’t instantly occur to me that the same rain would make walking the 20ish minute walk to school on dirt roads rather miserable. I pushed it from current thoughts and tried to enjoy an extra 10 minutes in bed, sacrificing a shower (who needs them anyway), and enough time to heat water for hot chocolate and then let it cool down before being able to drink it. While breakfasting, the phone rang. I joked that it was about school being canceled. We all giggled, but deep down everyone wanted that to be the case. It was almost as good. Our amigo Doctor Zelaya, father of one of my students, neighbor of the school, was calling to offer us a ride to school in his spacious SUV! We strategically positioned ourselves inside the SUV so that we could all aprovechar this wonderful situation. Marilyn squeezed in beside me and we bear hugged so that the door would shut. She held my left leg crossed over my right so that the Dr. could put it into drive mode. The stragglers crawled into the trunk and we were off, mostly dry and very thankful. The first time we have arrived to school, the whole crew together, in a long time.

I always let too much time pass and then have such a long, smattering laundry list of things to tell you about. And honestly I could tell you something from each and every day of my life here. This will have to do for now :)

Love, Sarah