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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This morning we had a teacher vs. student volleyball game, which the teachers lost despite my incredibly awesome volleyball skills. (In case you were wondering, that's called "sarcasm.") Some of the girls really enjoyed it, and I thought it would be fun to come play with them after school when we have time. The only problem is that the net and ball belong to the school, and my budget doesn't really allow room for those kinds of purchases.

So.... if there's anybody who feels like donating money to go towards a net and a few volleyballs as a donation to the girls' home, send me an email and we can work out the details. Next time we play at school, those students won't know what hit 'em.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lamb of God

Yesterday I spoke with my mom on the phone and she opened the mail I had at home. Almost all of it was junk mail, but she said there was something from Commonweal, a small religious/political magazine that I know of.

When I got back from my Ghana trip in 2006, I had written a poem for the friends who went on the trip with me. I submitted it to Commonweal, and then forgot about it. Well, they decided to publish it in their Feb. 13 issue. The timing is interesting. It was on that trip that I knew for sure that I would volunteer abroad some day, and seeing it again now reminds me why I came.

Lamb of God

For Jan, Aly, Ashley, Jennifer, Teddy, Teri, and Paul

The building of an African water system is simple.
You just haul great big bags of cash from Seattle to Savelugu,
then show up on a dusty Wednesday morning to see what you have done.

Memories of those two hours are blurry, inchoate:
prayers for traveling mercies,
their thank you gift, the lamb, inspecting us,
one who stands out from the colorful blur of the others singing, and
though I do not know the words I understand.

You have given us life, they say.

There is nothing for us to say, at all.
So we ride away, helplessly muted,

except for the lamb that is,
who bleats occasionally from the back of the bus,
plaintively asking us not to forget her.

Futilely, as it turns out.
Comforts of home drowning me,
even, or perhaps especially, in church.

And then we pray to the Lamb of God.
Each time I am thrown to the ground,
blinded with the vision of that other lamb.
I gasp for the air of Savelugu,
desperately breathing the only prayer I can,
over and over,
have mercy,
have mercy,
my God, have mercy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taxi Rides

Taxi rides here tend to follow a script, especially if it's just me up front with the driver. If he's feeling chatty, he starts by asking me where I'm from, how long I've been here, and how long I'm staying. Then he lies and says my Spanish is good. Are you married? Kids? What are you doing here? Do you like Honduras?

More times than I can count, I'm told, "You know, I lived in the United States for a few years. I really liked your country." We talk of the work they did and the money they were able to earn for their family. And then often this question: Why do people in your country not want us to come?

I never quite know how to respond. I say the economy is difficult and people worry about jobs. People worry that immigrants will be a drain on our country's resources. I say that many people, including myself, are not opposed to immigration and even welcome it. I try to explain that for the people in the States it's not personal, but of course to the person sitting next to me it is.

I'm now at the point where I hope the driver is feeling chatty. The conversations are necessarily limited by language barriers, but the removal of other barriers more than makes up for it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That's Lava Behind Me. (Look closely.)

Despite the definitively more laid back approach to schedule here, we don't have any holidays from January until April. The rest I felt from my Christmas vacation was quickly used up, and I also had a friend visiting Guatemala for a month. My good friend Katie is a pediatrics resident in Philadelphia and is working and studying Spanish in western Guatemala, so we decided to meet up halfway in Antigua for a long weekend.

We climbed Mt. Pacaya on Saturday morning. I had actually gone up last June when I visited my friend Paul, and it was great. They bus you pretty close to the top and then you hike for an hour and a half to the lava flow. The lava flow this time wasn't quite as visible, though we were able to get much closer. I'm not sure if that's a good thing. However, it's a pretty amazing thing to get so close to flowing lava: one of the guys with us was able to roast some marshmallows on it. The lava is slow, but when it changed direction and the guide looked at us seriously and told us to head down, I didn't hesitate.

We also visited a really interesting monastery that's been restored and turned into a cultural museum with both ancient artifacts and modern art. They found a few crypts below that you could go down and see also. Now, while everybody knows that I'm an excellent photographer, my camera just wasn't taking good pictures those days, so the photos I have are pretty random. Kind of like this blog. And my life.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I’ve passed the halfway point in my teaching year here. Though they didn’t have an exam week to close first quarter, the school decided to reinstate it for second quarter. Just when I thought I was getting to used how things work here. We were told to keep a regular schedule but soon I found I was practically the only secondary teacher doing so.

I still have so many moments where I just shake my head, not knowing what’s going on. My ninth graders asked if they could watch a movie when they had some free time. When I saw it was an R-rated horror movie, I of course said no, only to later find them watching it on the large Smart Board in the computer lab, a row of preschool kids with their noses pressed to the classroom window watching a woman in a bathtub spewing blood.

When I was giving one exam to the 8th grade, I saw a group of 5th graders outside my window fighting with big sticks. I scolded them to put them down and be quiet and I thought they were gone, but as my class settled back into quiet, the whole lot of them ran by, sticks in hand, screaming, “To Fight!” The whole week felt crazy, and I’m glad it’s over and we’re back to the “normal” routine. There is an order to how things work here. It's just that usually, I have no idea what it is.

Overall, lots of things combined to make January an incredibly difficult teaching month and there were moments when I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish out my year here. But somehow a corner has turned (lots of corners this year. I’m not exactly sure what shape this life is.) I’m happy to be here. When I’m asked if students can go play soccer for an impromptu game, I readily cancel classes and go sit in the sun and cheer them on. When the ninth graders sullenly refuse to play a review game I have planned, saying they would rather write sentences, I just say ok, and try again the next day. One of my students casually mentioned to another volunteer that I’d changed since the beginning of the year, and it’s about the best compliment I could imagine.