Monday, April 19, 2010

Optimism

Yesterday I read an article that said according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Honduras was one of five Latin American countries lacking human rights last year. Honduras was the only one of the five countries (also including Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti) that wasn’t on the list the previous year. The cause of the increase in problems was blamed on the coup of last June.

While some people here who support the coup would deny an increase in human rights violations, most international organizations disagree. The most recent news has centered on how Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. So far this year, 6 have been murdered. I’m also reading Working Hard, Drinking Hard, an anthropologist’s take on why Honduras has the problems it has. It’s both fascinating and depressing to learn more about what I see all around me, and it makes clear that human rights violations have been around a lot longer than since June, 2009.

While my life right now is personally sheltered from most of the problems here, of course it isn’t totally. It would be hard for me to find a Honduran I know who hasn’t been affected by violence. I know people out of work and struggling financially, I see children and old women on street corners asking for money and violent deaths on the front page of the newspapers nearly every day. Closer to home, a student at our high school has been kidnapped for ransom money and hasn’t yet been returned.

It is hard to be hopeful when surrounded by such desperate poverty, violence and corruption. Also, my sense is that most people here have accepted the way things are and don’t really see a way out of Honduras’s problems, or at least don’t see a way to the radical changes that are necessary if Honduras is really going to be a peaceful country.

I recently read an interview with environmentalist Alex Steffen, and there’s a bit I really liked about optimism. Though he’s talking about the environmental movement, I think it has a broader implication, and it is the type of thinking that keeps me hopeful.

Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience. What’s really radical is being willing to look right at the problems we face and still insist that we can solve them. A stubborn commitment to solving problems and a faith in our ability to do so doesn’t need to be na├»ve.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is anybody still there?

Is it too late? Is anybody still reading this? I wouldn't be surprised if not; I've been awfully slack in the postings lately. Mostly that's because my life is pretty calm which doesn't really make good blog writing fodder. The thing is though, I'm totally happy and this year, especially after last year, feels like a much-needed (and much-deserved, if I do say so myself) rest.

I started to write this blog entry a few weeks ago when we didn’t have classes. Due to severe winds that came through our part of the city two Wednesday nights ago, the electricity at school was out and they needed to clean up trees and repair damages. Though the people here said the winds were similar to hurricane winds, there was no hurricane or even rain. It seems a meeting of cold and hot fronts caused the winds, and with it extensive, but not terribly severe, damage. Here’s a picture of the road leading to the pre-school at my school.



This week is turning out to be a light work week also. Last night our principals told us that we’d have the next 4 days without students due to an H1N1 case in the elementary school, though we still have to be at school each day from 8-12. Another class has several students already out from other types of flu, there are some other cases of H1N1 in the city, one other bilingual school has closed and the others are supposed to close later this week: they’re trying to prevent the spread of the flu before it gets worse. While I know H1N1 is a concern everywhere, I also think prevention is more important here where good health care isn’t as easy to come by.

I definitely enjoy the time off of work. We’ve had an extremely busy few months at school, so we all needed and appreciated the breaks. Despite it all, I can’t complain. Because it’s my first year at this school, it’s a lot of work planning, but I love it. The students and staff are great, and I have all the resources that I could ask for.

It does feel strange to me though. These students are basically the children of the richest families in the country. It’s not uncommon for a driver to bring forgotten homework to school or for families to take weekend trips to Miami. In so many ways, their lives are almost the exact opposites of the students I’m used to and love teaching, the students where I volunteered last year and at San Miguel in Minneapolis. I miss them, especially the San Miguel students. I miss the feeling of knowing that the people I was teaching were the people who needed good teaching the most. I miss the feeling of knowing that I was truly working to create justice. I’m not so sure of that anymore.

However, the good thing about teaching is that it is always good, no matter who the students are, because children are children and they need good teachers. I’m trying to figure out the core of teaching the rich instead of the poor, and what that means. Literally, they are the future leaders of this country. Their families are the ones that rule here. If I can teach them something about justice and fairness, then maybe I can have an impact in a different way. It is a switch from who I’ve always thought myself to be, and I don’t really have an answer when people ask me why I’m here, but I do know that it is the right place for me to be right now, and I trust in that.

It helps, just a little, that today is a beautifully sunny day when my friends at home are dealing with snow and I’m headed to the pool with some friends. I don’t take many photos, but here’s one of me and Carlos from a few weeks ago when we went to the beach for the day with his friends.






Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rain day, earthquake day, and now this

The good news is that I have time today to write a new blog entry. The bad news is why I have that time. I've had days off here for rain and for earthquakes, but both actually seemed better than this.

Mel Zelaya, Honduras’s deposed president, sneaked back into the country yesterday and is in the Brazilian embassy in the capital. Once his presence was confirmed, the interim government immediately imposed a curfew. It started at 4:00 yesterday afternoon and has so far been extended twice, currently ending at 6:00 am tomorrow. This means nobody is supposed to be out of their homes except for emergencies. There are few cars and some people are out in their neighborhoods to get food or other small things, but for the most part, the streets are deserted. In the capital this morning, protests outside of the embassy were dispersed by the police with tear gas, and there have also been some reports of limited gatherings in the center in San Pedro Sula.

I still believe the situation is more complicated than most people make it out to be. From what I’ve read, the former president was most likely corrupt and his close alliance with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela scared people. Though the interim government claims his removal was legal and necessary, the international community is in agreement that it wasn’t. They’ve made little effort to compromise, and yet Zelaya’s move to return seems reckless and harmful. Part of the difficulty in knowing the full truth is that the local press is completely different than the international press.

My reaction today is mostly sad. It saddens me that politics here are so corrupt that most people have given up on honest politicians. It saddens me that I live in a country where I’m not allowed to leave my house for 36 hours. School has been canceled again for tomorrow, and it’s hard to see how this will end, though I know it must at some point. I am hopeful for the best; I always believe in hope, but some days that’s harder than others.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Room with a View

I had recess duty the other day, and one of my students asked me how I was liking the school. I told her I loved it; the students and teachers are great, I have a perfect teaching schedule, it’s well-organized and well-run. She just nodded and looked at me seriously. “It’s a really good school.”

She’s right. Right now, I really couldn’t ask for a better place to be. I just finished my fourth week of teaching and each day I feel a little bit more settled. It helps a lot that I lived in the city last year. I was worried that after the great time I had at home this summer, I wouldn’t want to return. But what I’ve realized is that for now, I have two homes. Though it's always hard to leave one, the arrival feels like a homecoming too.

Another perk is the view from my new classroom. There are some days when I catch a glimpse of the mountains, and I just stop and smile. That happens a lot these days, whether it’s the view or one of the many other abundant blessings in my life. I am so grateful.





Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm as happy as a worm

I’m back in Honduras and estoy feliz como un lombriz. (I’m happy like a worm. I guess it’s cuter in Spanish.) I moved back on July 31 and have been busy getting settled in my new apartment here and getting ready for classes to start on the 17th.

A Cliff Notes version of the last few months: I finished up at the other school; my sister Rebecca came to visit for my last two weeks here, and we traveled and had an amazing time here and in Guatemala; we flew home together on June 28, the day of the coup; I spent 5 weeks at home getting caught up with people and shopping and packing; I moved back to the same city, San Pedro Sula, but into a new apartment and job. I’m working at an extremely well-run, well-organized international school, and the position is not volunteer. Volunteering abroad was a life-long dream and I’m glad I did it, but as they say here when you finish something – cheque. I can check that off of my list and move on to something else.

A lot of people have been asking about the coup or the “political situation” as many call it here. It’s hard to know what to say because I hear and read so many contradictory things. Most people I talk to were frustrated with the former president and are glad he’s gone. Others support him, are calling it a military coup, and want him back. You can find political rallies (mostly peaceful) for both sides, and also news reports supporting both sides, accusing the other of manipulations and violence. From what I read, protests, violence, and censorship are escalating. Even so, most people just seem to be waiting for things to blow over and go back to normal, though that wasn’t all that great either.

I can tell you it feels calm where I live and work, and if I didn’t read the papers or talk with people, I would have no idea anything was happening. Also, the school is taking every precaution possible to help us and keep us safe. So I’ll say, though I know my mom won’t listen, there really is no need to worry about me, but Honduras itself needs all the help and prayers it can get.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Lady of the Stickers

Not too long ago, one of the pre-school kids asked one of my 7th grade students if she would help her get something from "The Lady of the Stickers" [me]. The junior high has their classes in the same part of the building as the pre-school. One of the little girls from the home is in the pre-school class, and she used to wander into my room occasionally after school. I have a bunch of stickers in my desk and would always give her one when she came.

This got a little bigger than I had intended. Pretty soon I had mobs of four-year-olds knocking on my door to ask for stickers while I was giving classes. I've taught them to wait until they see my door open, though that doesn't stop them from constantly peeking into my room on tip-toe to see what's going on.

I'm not sure why, but they always put them on their foreheads. Some days they forget, but most days during recess I get a small group of them, larger if they decide to announce it. The other day I just closing the door when from the top of the play slide, Angela glimpsed my open classroom door, pointed her arm like she was charging into battle, and yelled, "STICKERS!!!" That day took awhile.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Break

Now that spring break has been over for two weeks, it's time to pull out the pictures so I can remind myself of how good I have it here. I really do. I split my time between Copan Ruinas and Omoa, both small towns not too far from here.
Our first stop in Copan Ruinas was Macaw Mountain, a nature preserve/sanctuary for local birds



"Kiss me" (I didn't name him) decided to eat my shirt when I was taking our picture.


Then we went Copan Ruinas, the best preserved Mayan ruins in the area and for which the town is world famous. Our guide Tony spoke English (one of many languages he spoke) and was able to explain the history of the Maya there. He also loved adding in jokes, but would have to say "Here's a joke" first so we knew to laugh afterwards. Reminds me of my nephew Carson who used to have to say "That's funny" after his jokes, but then he was only three years old.


Official Name: Head of old man.


Ashley and I were only in Copan Ruinas for two days but then went to the beach for four. Not much to do there but sit around, swim a little, eat seafood, drink beer, and enjoy the scenery and the company, but it would take more than four days for me to get tired of that. Here's Ashley with some of the people we were with.