Junior the cat

Almost Christmas in La Ceiba, or I’m a terrible planner

22 December 2014: Maps

The deceptive map.

The map of deception.

Maps deceive me, at least the kind found in my travel books. The cities consist of small, four-sided outlines. The parks and rivers are shaded gray. Deemed notable restaurants and places to stay are marked with black squares and triangles. The streets and avenues are clearly labeled. It’s all so contained, neat, clean, conflict and stress free. Look! The ocean is only seven blocks away! That cafeteria that sounds so tasty is on the same street as where I’m staying!  So despite my guidebook and other sources saying that La Ceiba is the largest city on the North Coast, I’m, because of all those neat, clean lines, dismayed when the bus enters…what is obviously a big city, with its powerline bundles, streets crammed with vendors, and crowded roads without stop signs or lights. The lines in my guidebook have been colored in. Crap! What was I thinking? I’m in Central America: this is what a big city looks like. Baby pout, complete with thrashing fists: But I don’t wanna be in a big city on my vacation.

Now it’s time for damage control—I don’t have to stay here, we all make mistakes, the owner of the hostel is supposed to be helpful with things like setting up tours, just taking the buses here by myself was an accomplishment-–mentally talking myself out of purchasing a ticket for the Shame Spiral Express. I keep talking and talking, through the awkward exchange with the woman at the hostel who lets me in but doesn’t understand when I try to explain that I’ve already partially paid for a room (she straightens it out with the owner); through the wandering up and down of streets in search of a non-US fast food place to eat; through observation that there are very few street signs, rendering my guidebook and the internet nearly useless unless I want to count blocks;

[Shame break: After a bit of pacing back and forth on the street in search of the ingress point, I found my way to the pier, a rather new structure and wonderfully designed so I can either lean against the railings or walk a few steps down to a walkway surrounding the pier to sit or dive off into the water. I choose sitting and am joined by a local with decent English who when I passed a few minutes earlier was insistent on learning where I was from and my name. I told him he’d have to wonder, which prompted a response of “You are a wonder woman!” He’s older, dressed in paint splattered clothes, earnest and not creepy. He speaks mostly, about his country and how he wants it to get better. He has a strong belief in the current president, who doesn’t look the other way with the drug violence. He believes that the US can and is helping Honduras and also hates the Bush family. We chat; I watch the clouds pass over Pico Bonito, the boys diving into the water. The beach here is not nearly as ugly as I was lead to believe.]

through finding myself back at the hostel rather early, wondering if I’ll be able to set up any tours tomorrow, because dammit, I really shouldn’t have started planning my vacation only two weeks ago, and I should have called some tour companies because fuck doing it all DIY but I have this thing about using the phone, especially in Spanish, and I have a well-developed ability to avoid activities that cause me extreme anxiety, like planning adventures to unknown places; through watching a movie and feeling generally like a loser;

23 December 2014: Monkeys and mangroves

through waking up and wondering if the owner will prove helpful in setting up tours today; through laying in bed and feeling like such a wimp for all of this being so emotionally difficult.

11am. The owner, Peter, has arranged a kayak tour at the Refugio de Vida Silverstre Cuero y Salado, a mangrove covered wetland home to lovely animals like jaguars and howler monkeys and manatees and birds.  I am the first to request a kayak tour at the refuge…go me! [The tour actually takes place in Laguna de Cacao, which is pretty but not what I requested and paid for.]

I ate a delicious plato típico for breakfast (eggs, frijoles licuados, two kinds of cheese, tajadas, and ham slice), discovered corn flan on the menu and promised to return tomorrow, and then wandered to the beach alongside the rather stinky El Estero, observing how nice it is to walk freely because I’m ignorant of the dangerous parts of town, though I’m still in the central part of town with all the hotels. My lip was and still is twitching…from anxiety? As I was leaving the hostel, I passed a large group of travelers eating breakfast and looking generally as if they do this all the time, and I suspect that no matter how much I travel, I will never look that cool and casual because I’m just not that kind of person, though I want to be. They were also tall—is that the key to cool person travel? Should I invest in a stretching machine or heels? Anyway, anxiety because I don’t want to have traveled six hours just to read in my room and occasionally leave to eat decent food. Granted, it is quieter here than where I currently live. There are firecrackers but not right outside my window, and I do have a fan and private bath and it is overall rather pleasant except for having to be let in and out of the hostel, which is kept locked for security. I suppose what is really bothering me is possibly being judged, by the anonymous Them always lurking in the soft, insecure corners, or in the physical form of the Other Volunteers or People in My Life, as having failed at My Vacation; and I don’t want to waste these precious days in being unhappy.

Then I suppose I just shouldn’t. I am content right now writing in this. I’m a little tired so may take a nap, get lunch, and then get ready for my kayaking adventure.

3pm+. I am picked up in a white battered truck by a young man named Daniel, who also has some English (with all these English speakers I have few opportunities to practice Spanish). I am his third tour of the day. He’s been working nonstop since about 5am and has barely eaten. None of this is said in complaint—he loves his job and spends most of the hour-long ride pointing out edible plants and telling me about the 400 snakes in Honduras, only three of which are poisonous, and how he prefers living in the jungle to his apartment in La Ceiba. As we drive, swerving around the potholes that plague the roads in Honduras, I reflect that it feels rather odd to be alone on this tour, with an unknown man in a truck, when the reputation of Honduran men isn’t that positive. (Or is it odd that I am prompted to think this way?) I am self-conscious of my skin and gender when he idles at a stop light to purchase coconut water and when we pass slowly through a village, where the residents stare at the truck (as I’ve noticed people do to all cars passing through any neighborhood). I’m not concerned, but I can hear the voices of those who worry about these things questioning, Is This Wise? Still, I push those voices aside and reflect that right here, in this truck, on my adventure, I am happy.

Later: I see a howler monkey and her baby waaaayyy up there in the tree. Daniel hoots deeply. The monkeys respond. Another monkey sits in the crook of some branches. Another is hanging by her (I’m told) tail and poking through the leaves and eating. Yep. I am seeing monkeys. They’re too far away for my camera, so believe me. They have fat bellies and their tails are so strong as they do that dangling monkey thing!

The lagoon is surrounded by mangroves, their massive roots jutting out of the water. Daniel tells me the Garifuna use the water to make wine. I haven’t kayaked before. When he paddles too, we move rapidly; otherwise, the kayak barely moves and I splash a lot of water on my shorts. The only wildlife we see is a crab that bites Daniel’s hand. I’m mildly disappointed but not much. The lagoon is so quiet and calm and the mangroves impressive with their bunches of legs. In 8th grade I read an essay about floating mangrove islands, but I’m told these don’t move. Maybe their roots are too entangled. My camera runs out of memory after five pictures (and I later discover didn’t come with a cord to transfer pictures).

Cacao pod.

This could make chocolate.

On the drive to the lagoon, we also passed many cacao trees, but none with ripe pods. Daniel’s co-guide hands me a ripe pod, creamy yellow the length of a banana but thick like a mango. The seeds are surrounded by a sweet edible flesh. Nature!

On the ride back to La Ceiba, Daniel asks if I’d like to try mango wine, or garifuni, a type of alcohol made by the Garifuna. I’m not much of a drinker but when New Experience calls, always answer. He pulls into Sambo Creek, a Garifuna village, and inquires of passersby for garifuni. We pull in front of a house and he returns with manzanitas, a Honduran apple—red skin, soft, tart—and a small bottle, two shots worth. The alcohol is raw but reminiscent of mangoes. It warms my stomach and leaves Daniel invigorated. I really want to find more of those apples.

Back in La Ceiba, hungry, I end up at Pizza Hut. Meh. I read Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.

Should I stay here for Christmas Day? There are no buses that day and everything will be closed down. I could probably use the kitchen to cook food, but how awkward, maybe too awkward. I decide to go to Pico Bonito tomorrow and then leave that afternoon. While Christmas in my new home will be dull, at least I will be able to eat.

bridge to waterfalls

Bridge over Rio Cangrejal, to the forest.

24 December 2014: Waterfalls     

Breakfast is another plato típico. Afterwards, as I repack my backpack, I question my choice to leave after only two days. It’s not as if my small town has anything better to offer and here there are more places to walk around, and while the shower isn’t hot it is lukewarm, and that’s something. Plus it’s peaceful. But damn having to ring the bell to be let out of the building is awkward and then how am I going to eat if everything is closed? No, might as well go. Why pay to sit in a room in another city for a day if I’m planning to leave the next?

Daniel and I re-meet at 830am. Today he’s tired—he got too much sleep. The road to Pico Bonito is horrible. Really, nearly all of the roads here are horrible, even the paved ones. Most of our journey is over a road that is unpaved but covered with large, smooth rocks. I suppose it must help with drainage during heavy rains but it is bumpy as hell to drive over. Two women hop a ride early on and are carried most of the way into the park. A friend/co-worker of Daniel climbs onto the back of the truck and is carried to the visitor’s center. The truck rattles, groans, and shakes, but holds together, and I admire the river, rapids, and trees. Daniel picks a purple morning glory for me.

Waterfall

The first waterfall.

I’m not an experienced hiker. I enjoy it, but the paths I’ve been on would probably be categorized as easy. This is not easy. It is up and up and up, lifting myself over tree roots that ring hollow when tapped, ducking under branches, looking for solid footing amid the rocks, and even slipping and falling on a wet patch near a waterfall. I jog occasionally but this is the most strenuous exercise I’ve had in months. The breaks are worth it though, at a small waterfall, eating melon indio, soaking my feet in the pool. Then at the biggest waterfall, approached by descending extremely steep steps where I tell myself that as long as I am careful I will not slip and die. (I didn’t.) Initially I had planned to swim in the pool of this waterfall, one that hikers have apparently scaled, but upon sight of the rocks I would have to scramble over to reach the pool, after the scare of the descent, I content myself with sitting in the mist, drinking juice, eating pineapple, and watching Daniel scramble and hearing him hoot at the numbing temperature.

That brings me to another topic, which I should research at some point. In Honduras, people throw trash on the ground while walking, biking, driving; it all goes to the ground.  Other volunteers do this, albeit with only fruit. I’ve asked them about this and their response has been, “It’s natural.” Well, yes, but doesn’t it take a while to decompose? So I am surprised when Daniel says I should toss my melon rinds aside. I do, but I’m uncomfortable, but I know he and others hike here and I don’t see fruit rinds or food all over, so…the animals must be eating it? And while I see food wrappers all over the roads, I don’t see banana or orange or lychee peels all over the place. So…the animals? I am content to not throw my stuff out the window, but I wonder who is right in this case.

The big waterfall.

The last and biggest waterfall.

The return hike is a rush because I’m close to missing the bus. Now it’s down and down and down, its own challenge. At the visitors center I spend a few delightful moments with their black and white cat, Junior. Junior is the first affectionate cat I’ve met in Honduras. Most cats are feral and kept by families as mousers. While my own three cats may drive me crazy, I love having cat affairs.

My 230pm bus is cancelled and the next isn’t until 415pm. This means: time for flan! Alas, the cafe is closed early for the holiday. I have yet another plato típico, boring, but the licuado saves the day.

The bus to San Pedro is mostly empty and I have the two seats to myself. Am I making the right decision to return early? I should have gone somewhere else, probably, like a good, spontaneous little traveler, but I don’t have any regrets until I hear the first firework. Shit. Near San Pedro we pass about 20 or 30 firework stands…in a row. My little neighborhood loves fireworks. For the past few weeks I’ve been wearing earplugs constantly. How did I forget about this? I did hear them from my hostel room, but being on the second story, I was a little removed.

The taxi driver gives me a bit of a deal on the fare because “Tengo cuidar con los maestros” which I appreciate on the pitch black road, with its blind curves and potholes. I teach him how to say “Hi,” “Hello,” and “My name is Juan Angel.”

And then I’m back. The fireworks and music are going like mad, Maxi Despensa is closed so I grab what food I can from the secret pulperia. I talk to a housemate and eat rice. I watch a movie, mope over an annoying email, and try not to be upset with myself. There were no good solutions to the Where to Stay for Christmas problem and I just didn’t plan properly for this vacation. Next time I will. It’s all about learning, isn’t it? At least the roommate isn’t home.

25 December 2014: Sigh 

Feliz Navidad and be sure to hug a unicorn!

Without fail,

theresa

Pretty river.

Rio Cangrejal.

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Stickers

Detention, stickers, and earworms

Joe, along with six other of my seventh graders, has a two-week old behavior plan. At the end of each day I complete a sheet outlining his homework, assessing his behavior on a scale of 1 to 10, and providing any explanatory notes on behavior, either positive or negative, from a stock collection of phrases translated for me. A parent is supposed to review and sign the sheet everyday. Of all my kids, Joe is the most challenging. He talks almost incessantly and flings rubber bands across the room. He and another boy make porno-quality moaning sounds when my back is turned. Joe has massive goof potential and speaks to me in a loud silly voice and echoes me when I say “thank you” to him or one of the other students. His hair is light brown and styled with gel, he has long eyelashes, and like almost all the other boys at school, he is obsessed with football. He rarely does his homework. If I chastise him about anything he claims that I’m treating him unfairly because he’s a boy. He loves girls and has a good imagination. His attention span is fleeting. I like Joe quite a lot.

Many of my kids have stories of poverty, abuse, and violence. I don’t know if there’s a story behind Joe’s behavior. He’s known as being particularly problematic for all his teachers. At the recent parent meeting, which included the parents of the other students on behavior schedules, his dad (or uncle? This was never clear.) gave a bit of a speech about how tough things were at home. His parents are divorced. Joe throws school notes away or stuffs them under the seat of his busito.

My seventh graders remain a troublesome class, but (and because) I’ve been reluctant to impose punitive measures, probably because they weren’t necessary for me. I don’t have any stories of talking back to teachers or cutting class (The one class I did skip was on my 18th birthday and approved by my teacher, so that doesn’t really count.) or sneaking a smoke or drink in the bathroom. I took notes, raised my hand, did my work. I wanted to succeed and understood that I would have to do the work for this to happen. So I keep thinking that my kids will have the same understanding and that if my lessons are creative and interesting enough, I will tap into their latent desire to speak better English or discover the origins of the universe rather than gossip with each other and style their hair. My co-volunteers, more daring and rebellious, understand the kids’ perspective much better than I. They all have encouraged me to put names on the board, give detentions, because actions have consequences and the kids have to learn that. I know this is right, but it’s just so…negative. And these kids often get a lot of that negativity at home because yelling and hitting aren’t taboo here. Some parents tell us to smack their children if they’re acting up. I like giving out stickers and saying “thank you” and making people happy. I dread conflict; it makes me nauseous. I have too much self-doubt to hand out detentions. What if I’m being too hard? What if I punish the wrong kid? And what if they get mad enough that they stop talking to me and become even more disruptive? What if I’m wrong or unfair?

What finally pushed me onto Team Detention was someone pointing out that my reluctance was an unwillingness (my word) to work within the culture. The kids are used to the negative reinforcement approach from their Honduran teachers and parents. It’s what they know and expect; it’s their school culture. One of my TEFL books noted that it would be necessary to learn how to work within my students’ culture. The example it cited was Chinese students’ discomfort with volunteering answers and calling attention to themselves. They were used to attending lectures and taking notes. The teacher in this situation compromised her cultural expectations by letting the students compare answers in groups first and then calling on a group representative to give an answer. While all the other advice I was given on the issue was wonderful, citing my cultural inflexibility helped the most.

Not that it has been easy summoning the God of Names and Tallies on the Board for assistance. Every name earns a “Whyyy, Miss?” whine and a “Why aren’t you writing her/his name down?” and, if it’s Joe, desk banging on the floor. The students continually tattle on whose name belongs on the board because of something I didn’t see. I prefer the school of self-responsibility, but they also don’t understand that and, I admit, it isn’t much supported by the school, where kids throw their food wrappers on the ground for the cleaners to sweep up, ruin school property, and are promoted, even if their grades are poor. Obviously, they aren’t ready yet. Maybe we can get there.

In the meantime, while tallies have invoked more quiet, they have also invoked glares and whines, and my poor lonely heart wavers. I love making people happy, I want my kids to have fun, and, despite my protestations of not needing to be liked, I do want to be liked. How could I not when I see the other teachers getting breakfast and stickers and candy and hugs and devoted affection from their kids, while mine are generally too cool for that sort of thing, and I have masses of second guesses and continual longing for reassurance that this is a battle that I am qualified to slog through? The logical part of my mind knows that my lessons, at least for English, are interesting, that I’m approaching everything with compassion, and that tough love really is necessary. I also know that my kids like me. I do get hugs, smiles, and “Goodbye, Miss” at the end of the day. But…. There’s always that but, that nasty little whispering earworm.

Back to Joe. Tuesday, I made tallies and Joe collected the unlucky three. Also, some girls left class without permission to get in the recreo snack line early. That earned them detention, too, and some pretty impressive yelling (thank you, vocal training), which two girls didn’t much care about. (One girl, perhaps my sweetest, Yu, left early for the snack line but without my observing; she gave herself detention. I wanted to waive it just for her honesty.) Joe fumed and yelled about unfairness. He wrote that he was in detention because I favored the girls and that he wouldn’t be doing this again. We sat through detention. Another student apologized. We parted ways. I felt exasperatedly invigorated.

Seventh grade class doesn’t much improve, but Joe and I finally connect on Thursday. That afternoon, the kids let me know they are having no more of this sitting quietly for taking notes nonsense (and in retrospect they were right to disagree) and I divvy them into groups for some World’s Longest Sentence competitions. Joe refuses to join a group and asks to sit where he is, in a little desk island in the middle of the classroom (that day’s punitive measure). I reluctantly agree, but only if he practices Subject + Verb + Object sentences. A deal is struck. I circle the room, inspecting sentence competitions. I return to Joe and his sentences. They are perfect, even complex. The best sentences I’ve seen from him, from almost anyone. He names the S, V, and O. I ask for more, circle the class, and return to more beautiful sentences. I give him stars, pats on the back, and praise. A lot of praise. I say he can write more or just sit quietly. He chooses the sitting quietly. His behavior report says 6/10 that day, his highest score yet.

Friday is a short day for us. I have seventh grade for only two periods and one of them is filled with an assembly. The class works outside in the afternoon on a mystery game. Joe is not only the first one done with the initial part of the game—drawing a picture and interviewing his classmates—but he writes up his accusation and 14 present progressive sentences regarding what the suspects were doing when Miss Theresa’s cows were stolen, and is the only one to finish. His report that day is 8/10, a Dr. Seuss sticker, and some garbled Spanish comment in praise of his participation. After school, I want to tell the world about his work, host a parade in his honor; I have to confine myself to a few fellow teachers.

My best teaching moments so far are these, when I’m able to meet with my students one-on-one and give them the attention they crave. At 14 students, my class is small, but they are all needy little buggers and the classroom is tiny and cramped and so loud because there are no full walls in this row of four classrooms. No wonder no one can focus. All of my troublesome kids love the spotlight of my attention. Unfortunately, one-on-one moments are rare unless I have an assistant or I’ve happened upon an activity that my kids will do independently for a whole minute before calling out, “Miss. Miss! MISS! MIIISSS!” They need more.

I have another story similar to Joe’s, a girl named Kim, who spent her time giggling and coloring and was too embarrassed to answer questions. Her friends would tell me she didn’t know English. But I had my doubts as to the veracity of this after our first written test when her mark was surprisingly good. It turns out, after separating her from her fellow colorer and having her mom review the behavior plans, that Kim has some of the best written work in the class; she’s started participating. She loves getting stickers and I love giving them to her.

Sometimes, no, often, what doesn’t work in class overwhelms me and I feel pretty hopeless. It’s these moments with Joe and Kim and Krissy and Fred and Antonio that keep me going. My kids drive me batshit crazy, I doubt daily that I’m going to survive the next eight months, and I wouldn’t exchange these moments of connection for anything.

theresa

7th grade classroom

Because I’m mean

Friday, 29 August 2014, 135pm CST: I’ve sent the little shits on their way and they can kiss my ass. Okay, I’ve gotten that off my chest. It’s just that when I come up with a pretty darn interesting, or at least silly, lesson plan, and the seventh graders spend it whining and pawing each other, well, a person can get pretty down, for five minutes, anyway. Then I have to move on and plan the next lesson and hope that the next one is a little better. Thus concludes my first week as a teacher.

I teach Science to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders and English to seventh graders. The consensus among the volunteers, the majority of whom are in their second year here, is that the seventh graders, around age 11, are the most unruly kids in the school. The phrase “herding cats” has come to my mind more than once, even multiple times in a period. See, you have this group of cats and a few of them will chase the toy, but the rest are climbing on the scratching post, fighting over a dust bunny, or licking their butts. And when you show the latter group the laser toy it looks up for half a second and immediately forgets and resumes the climbing/fighting/butt washing.

Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration.

No, I’d say it’s about right, which is why I don’t take the long view but do this day by day. At least no one has died or even shed blood.

No one is sure why this class is…fill in the blank with appropriate descriptor…but it sounds as if this group has always been a little rebellious. In fifth grade (9 years old), instead of teaching their teacher the word for “beer,” the students taught him the vulgar word for “butt.” This teacher found out the truth the hard way. Supposedly the kids like me, so I could comfort myself that the cats could be worse. When I deserted them outside (it’s best to try to have lessons outside in the afternoon because the classrooms are so warm) because they wouldn’t stop arguing with me, they did follow me back to the classroom. I also get hugs from even the worst behaved ones. (Then why did you steal my pen and claim I had lent it to you?!) As for the title of this post, it is what I told one of my kids when he asked why I wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom despite the class being immediately after lunch and I have a pee before class rule. And, yes, at least one student has called me “mean.”

I’m certain that the readers who are current and retired teachers are nodding their heads and chuckling. Vee, who teaches eighth and ninth grade English, after the first day said she already had more admiration for her teachers, but there’s never a time I’ve not had admiration for them, at least the good ones, the ones who make an effort to interest their students and obviously care about them. I admire these teachers so much that I am skeptical I can walk in their shoes. Who I now have more sympathy for, however, are the defeated teachers. It’s gotta be so easy to turn that way. By the end of just this week, thinly veiled sarcasm was slipping out during my more frustrated moments. Sigh.

For now, the students who keep defeat and despair from consuming me are the eighth and ninth graders. While there is still chatter and boys socking each other, there is also note taking and kids answering questions and even asking me questions, some of which I know the answer to and others I have to look up at home. (What is the difference between silicon and silicone? Does lava have metal in it?) On Wednesday, when I wrote “Science!” on the board, the eighth graders cheered. I suspect that had more to do with the subject than my uneven teaching skills, but it still was gratifying to have a semi-willing audience. I have students, specifically two boys (my “geeky boys”), who deserve a more knowledgable Science teacher. In the right hands, they could go very far, as could many of my students. I keep thinking that these kids need better teachers than us mostly untrained, though dedicated, volunteers. The list of what these kids need and deserve is very long. Here’s to hoping that my own dedication is enough to get these kids into a good high school in San Pedro Sula.

I want to be more comfortable with failure. Rather than it being a gigantic, grayish white, much too thick and long-legged, possibly poisonous spider lurking above the kitchen doorway/behind the door/on the screen door that I have absolutely no interest in seeing, thank you for the offer, I would prefer it to be a pila water bucket shower — a little unpleasant, but each time I learn how to make that water last a little longer and rinse off more of the soap. I’ve failed here and there this week. I gave a science lesson that was rather confusing. I did not teach the English vocabulary words well at all and skipped the quiz. I’ve been unable to accommodate students who finish their in-class assignments early. I haven’t enforced the class rules consistently. I’ve hit a student in the face with an inflatable globe. But that’s how it goes, and I make note and try to do better the next time. I don’t dwell; there’s no time!

These are some highlights of the week:

  • Using hard boiled eggs to demonstrate the earth’s structure (9th graders grossed out, 8th graders interested, 7th graders…I think they liked it.)
  • Geeky boy comparing his zit to a volcano and the pus to magma.
  • Student regarding the inner core: “This must be where the devil lives.”
  • 7th graders creating colorful construction paper pictures of the earth’s structure.
  • Comparing the inner core of the earth to a marshmallow. A lot of pressure on both of them makes them compact and hard.
  • Challenging a geeky boy’s theory about why the dinosaurs disappeared in such a way that I’m pretty sure he’ll come back to me next week with an improved theory. This was a success because I was able to seem like A Well-informed Science Teacher Pushing Student Toward Growth and Research.
  • Lending The Giver to one of my more ambitious (and frustrated at my lack of behavioral management skills) seventh graders.

I wouldn’t say I’m excited for next week, but I’m not dreading it. I know I’ll be excited and hopeful Sunday night as I fall asleep. In the meantime, it’s Saturday and a day filled with food buying, blog writing, lesson planning, meeting with parents and teachers at school to plan El Día del Niño, and an awkward volunteer barbecue at the Big House (see previous post re: alienation) await!

ta ta,

theresa

My first attempts to communicate

I’m starting this entry at 6:50 p.m. CST but would rather be sleeping. It’s been an exhausting day. Morning sounds included dogs barking, roosters sounding their scratchy bugle, and a bird making a sort of slide whistle call. Tonight’s sounds include dogs barking, three wheeled tuk-tuks, crickets, and children. The electricity was out at 6:30 a.m.; now it’s on. The water was on, then off, then on, now off. The internet shows a preference for certain websites one moment, for others the next. I’ve tried to download WhatsApp all day, with no success. At least the gas stove works and we have several tambos (jugs) and a pila (outdoor cement tub) full of water.

The primary barrier in my attempts to learn Spanish has been shyness (not to mention a lack of encounters with native speakers). It’s too easy to avoid the potential embarrassment of mistakes, hence, my forcibly living in a country where I have no choice but to risk looks that say, “¿WTF are you talking about, gringa?” That was later in the day when I attempted to help my roommate and fellow old lady (32 29), Vee, find plantain chips at a pulperia (small market where you order what you want through a grate). Plantains = platanos. Chips = ?, but surely if I ask for “dried plantains” the appropriate message will come across. “¿Tiene platanos secas?” Ummm, nope! Cue: mini-flood of shame. (Turns out the word we needed was tajadas.) And now I wonder if my directness was rude. Also, there was the encounter at the (semi)super mercado, where you can buy laundry soap, soy milk, and stoves, in which the clerk questioned my purchase of brown rice—did I have a medical issue? Not that I understood her question, spoken or mimed, and that’s where Vee and I make a great pair. Despite her lack of Spanish speaking skills, she understands okay; flip it for me. Thanks to Vee’s translation, I could stand my ground and declare my preference for brown rice, despite having no medical reasons for needing it, and proudly make my purchase with crumpled lempiras. I think some school boys asked if I was a dog.

But those were the only real bruises, and minor at that, as Vee and I wandered from the Small House (for the introverted volunteers. There is a Big House for the extroverts.) to el centro for flip flops, a hat, and groceries. A man behind us in line at an eatery explained Vee’s order to the clerk. The clerk at the pulperia across the road from my house patiently repeated multiple times just how the eggs were priced (5 eggs for 15 lempiras ~ US$0.75), and a produce vendor made sure I understood that the avocado (aguacate) should be eaten mañana. A smile to a passing stranger usually garners a smile in return.

Ta ta,

theresa

P.S. And…the water’s back on.

P.P.S. The internet currently works in 5 minute increments only.

Picture of llamas at sunset.

I declare my intentions

Over the past several months, I’ve begun venturing into the unknown. I quit my paralegal job of nine years and agreed to teach Honduran seventh, eighth, and ninth graders English and Science for a year. In exchange I’ll get a roof over my head and lunch five days a week. I earned a Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language certificate. I was inoculated against typhoid and tetanus. I bought a one-way ticket to Honduras, and I leave tomorrow. I have no source of income or idea of what I’ll do once the school year ends.

I am 34. Few, I think, would call me a risk taker, until now. Despite a fine arts degree in playwriting, I’ve mostly played it safe emotionally, chemically, sexually, and experientially. The rent is paid on time, and I’ve avoided getting lost in foreign countries. I re-read and re-read and re-read favorite books and trust in the loyalty of a plate of brownies. So, needless to say, I’ve lived well outside my comfort zone the past several months; I plan to continue doing so.

Sigh, that last sentence reeks of confidence, so let’s get real. While there is something to be said in praise of stability, if its root is fear, then I remain silent. I hate being afraid of failure, of not knowing, of falling on my ass, of external judgment. I hate being too afraid to discover what I love, including how to love myself. I want to change my life because I’m disgusted with the person I am. That person gets overly frustrated with origami, assumes that even her closest friends want to hurt her, and rarely commits, even to an opinion. I know the fence well.

Every now and then, perhaps on the seven year cycle, I realize it’s time to rip off the blankets. So what am I doing? I’m committing to goals that I, not anyone else, have decided are vital. I’m traveling to a country where a minority of the inhabitants speak English. I’m planning to learn as much Spanish as I can, after 20+ years of trying. I’m teaching, which was a dream in my early teens before I decided I couldn’t do it. I’m planning to write here at least once a week. I’m committing to now and not fretting about what will happen once this year is over. I’m doing my best to avoid Thoreau’s “life of quiet desperation.”

If I take too long of a look, I’m afraid about all of it, so I pick one fear: I want to be a good teacher for these kids! This journey toward selfhood is difficult and I’ve whined a lot. But, despite my fears and doubts and whining, something inside of me believes I’m up to this challenge, that even failure will be a success.

Undeniably so,

theresa

P.S. Llamas are not native to Honduras; I just like them.