On Passivity

Hello, World! it’s been awhile. I last wrote from Honduras while sitting and sweating in a gray plastic chair, aged laptop burning in my lap, and semi-effectual fan quaking above. Now, after brief stops in Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and Cuba, I report from my new-old home of Portland, Oregon, USA, chilled from the AC, with a large striped orange cat snoozing in my lap and construction wailing, pounding, chopping, grinding, drilling, and clanging outside.

It’s a different world [sound cue] physically, socially, economically, emotionally. The roads are paved and I’m anonymous. The papayas are barely larger than my hand and cost twice as much. I bus or bike anywhere without consideration to the area’s safety and wince at the frivolity of my $5 almond milk decaf latte (vegan again). People’s eyes don’t meet mine as we pass, and I sometimes pass them while holding hands with my partner. New Seasons, our overpriced local grocery chain, carries several varieties of kale chips and half a wall of energy/protein bars. Hot water and drinkable water are available with only a turn of the faucet. Passivity, born in comfort and strengthened by the option of relying on another to make tedious and sometimes important decisions, because choices carry risks, big and small, slowly creeps in.

And I fear that disconnection from life more than the zombie apocalypse. Perhaps more than the thought of another Bush presidency.

Last year’s steps away from a secure job and comfortable home were not passive. As a teacher, a job that consumed my waking hours for the first several months, reliance on someone else was not an option. I made decisions all the time, sometimes bad ones. I can’t deny that there were passive aspects in my life, which lead to my not learning Spanish as well as I’d hoped, but/and/or several others have suggested that I be gentler with myself on the language matter, given how much energy I expended in trying to be an awesome teacher. Ultimately, I’ll have to decide how to frame that memory.

The few weeks of solo travel after school ended were the highlight of my year, because they weren’t passive. I knew and (usually) did exactly what I wanted, like earning my Open Water diving certificate, visiting random art galleries in Antigua, Guatemala and swimming and scrambling through the beautiful Actun Tunichil Muknal cave in San Ignacio, Belize. Not only was there no one else to make decisions for me, I didn’t want there to be. I didn’t want to compromise my limited time, and there were so many delectable options, life adventures awaiting. I had moments and days of unqualified happiness (and a few of distress). Now, I’m back to before, and while I’m not the same person, I’m similar enough that if I’m not careful, I could slip back into my previous life, especially as I face challenges, like job searching [any leads welcome] in a town that builds apartments before infrastructure.

My passivity springs from fear of the unknown, of discomfort, of displeasing others, and from assuming that everyone knows the answer better than me. It comes from unhappiness and feeling trapped. It comes from rejection and failure. Also, comfort. Too much choice (First World Problem). Obligation. Inadequacy.

I’m searching for a manifesto, akin my beginning entry on the eve of my departure. A manifesto of self-action that makes bold, confident declarations. I don’t have one, yet. I do, however, have an ongoing list I started several months ago as I looked ahead to the pitfalls of my return. A list of things I’ve wanted to do for some time but haven’t:

  • join Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers
  • archery
  • learn swing dance, among others
  • kayak
  • go beautiful places in nature
  • incorporate more music into my life
  • take writing classes (check! I start a personal essay class on August 4)

There, that’s the list. Pursue action that brings joy and fulfillment. Easy enough, right? While the sun is out, anyway.

The returned,

theresa

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gifted shirt

Final tidbits

Today I finished the science recuperation exams for those who failed the term, hugged goodbyes to the Honduran staff (teared up a bit with Miss H., a beautiful woman inside and out, quién le admiro mucho), and walked my last walk home. On the way I worked on my final list of tidbit observations I’ve wanted to share.

1. Hair gel. Boys are never too young for a stylish quaff, preferably with copious amounts of hair gel. If Costco opened down here, it would sell gel in gallon tubs, because most people of the male persuasion take that shit seriously. A tornado could whip through town and rip out my pigtails, but their hair? wouldn’t budge. One rumor is that the gel is necessary to prevent the hair from getting messed up while playing football. Personally, I prefer a more dressed down hair style, but no one asked.

2. Bellies. On a hot day you will usually find men hanging out with their t-shirts pushed up so their bellies are exposed. No doubt this DIY crop top is cooler, but to my culturally biased eyes, it’s ridiculous. But, then again, if women can wear mini tops and shorts/skirts, men should have their own way of not melting from the heat.

3. Photos. More than once a parent of a child that isn’t my student has wanted a picture with me. I’ve read this happens elsewhere.

4. Selfies. OMG, folks, kids are obsessed with selfies. It’s one thing to read about it, another to experience it. I’ve never been sitting around and thought, “Wow, I really need to record myself in this moment,” but that’s all kids are thinking when they are with photographic device. I have selfied after a new haircut, while wearing a plastic bag on my head, and to upload a photo so I could virtually fit some glasses, but that’s about it. I selfie with purpose. The kids’ selfie-ism, however, is a whole ‘nuther thing and it took up much of the final hours of school and an end of year party I went to on Saturday. I kept telling my kids they were vain. (un?)Fortunately, most of them don’t know that word. That’s it, I’m old.

5. Language. When I first heard students describing another as being “blond”, I was confused. In the States, blond hair ranges from nearly white to yellow. Here, blond means any hair that isn’t black or deep brown, what we would call medium brown.

6. Fresco. “Fresco” is short for “refresco” which is “beverage”, and the only beverage that counts here is soda. It’s sold in 3 liter bottles. A party without fresco wouldn’t be worth attending. You could forget the pizza or cake or chips, but, whoa, You forgot the fresco?! Show your face here nevermore. If I’m offered coffee, I’m surprised to not be offered a side of fresco with my coffee.

7. Adult Children. Outside of school, I rarely see anyone in professional dress, as in non-denim pants, button down shirts, or dresses that don’t say party or picnic; t-shirts or company logoed polos and jeans are the standard work wear. Considering the economy here is agricultural, retail, and production based, I would hardly expect khakis, and I’m a supporter of comfort over conformity to a bizarre dress code. (Why is a tie considered formal? Does it symbolize that we are owned by someone else, like an animal? Do our uncomfortable restrictive outfits prevent us from running away?) Anyway, jeans and t-shirts, I can’t help being reminded of overgrown children.

8. Cavities. More than once the volunteers and I looked at little kid’s teeth and commented, “I’m glad those are his/her baby teeth,” because those black things will fall out and be replaced by new, whole teeth. Blame the ubiquitous fresco, cookies, and super sweet juices, and probably inattention to and inability to afford dental care (a tortillería offers free extractions). By the way, it’s ridiculous that dental care isn’t included in basic insurance or Obamacare.

This is probably my last post from this small town. Sunday I’m off to Útila to learn how to scuba dive, which I didn’t know was a thing you had to get trained for until I came here. At this moment the skies are throwing down rain, which I’m used to from Portland but actually enjoy here. Thunder and lightning (not so very frightening) make any rain so much more exciting, so worth the wet. I will miss it.

Moving on,

theresa

PS. If you are alarmed by the recent plethora of posts, fear not, travel adventures may lead to a temporary drought.

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.

A card

I did it

I made it until Christmas break. I survived four months of being Miss Theresa, Miss T, and just plain Miss. Sharing a room with someone who daily complains about how fat and ugly she is (including to students, which really irks me), how stupid our students are, and observes that one of her best friends is gay but “you can’t tell” (whatever that means). Kids throwing paper across the room, abusing books, blatantly disrespecting and lying to me, and complaining how boring class is. Not having adequate supplies to do my job. Increasingly cold showers and going without running water for four days in a row. Music blasting at top volume and kids throwing firecrackers right outside my window. Levels of alienation and loneliness I hadn’t experienced for some time. Theft of my ATM card number.

I’ve also survived the above pictured Christmas card, enchiladas and plantains and impromptu punta lessons at the houses of my students, smiles tugged out of frustrated faces, and unexpected hugs. Students asking impossible questions, surprising questions. I’ve survived the kindness of our school administrator, Miss G, paying for the partition I requested be built in my room and was fully prepared to pay for, finding my path blocked by slow moving cows, and the sight of a horse sleeping outside a pulperia. The willing ear and confidence of our volunteer coordinator to my oft expressed classroom management difficulties. The rainbow cobbled streets of Copan and the overcast beach of Placencia. Days upon days upon days of sunshine and warmth (bye-bye Rayaud’s!). Daily waves with the secret pulperia owner’s daughter. Attempted conversations in Spanish with patient listeners. Generous care packages. Moments of friendship (and Bananagrams) with two other volunteers. Sightings of bright blue birds and birds with bright yellow breasts.

Now I have two weeks (at least half of which sans roommate) in which to rebuild my mental and emotional strength with reading, writing, Spanish studying, traveling, and teaching-strategy development. I foresee that my panic levels will increase as the break comes to its inevitable end, but let’s not think about that.

Shortly after we return to school on January 5, I will turn 35. While I’m not the type of person to complain that’s old, the size of the number does contribute yet another layer of urgent personal introspection to this experience. I am a person adrift, on a quest for meaning, purpose, and a way to support myself that I don’t detest. Am I any closer to finding this? Once I round the bend of the new year and catch sight of June, the end of the school year, first from afar but ever closer, I will inevitably dig for this answer daily.

What have I learned (or confirmed) since I arrived here on August 11th?
* I survive intense stress, but poorly. I also create stress when I don’t acknowledge that I’m up against unreasonable expectations, sometimes mine, sometimes others’.
* I cannot live with a roommate again, unless that person is a man with an absurdly large t-shirt collection.
* I do not want to teach a class of kids under age 14.
* It’s easy to get by with minimal Spanish but real conversation takes more words.
* My moods are much more manageable with near-daily infusions of sunlight.
* I can live minimally.
* People can be so kind and nice to me.
* I don’t want a job where people think it’s okay to run over me, a.k.a. I need to demand respect.
* I don’t want a job that takes up my entire life, because I need time to read.
* I love making people happy.
* Life without a clothes dryer is okay, as long as it isn’t rainy.
* Life in Portland, Oregon has influenced me more than I’d like to admit.

So I’m gonna let the post fizzle to a close with this list. I need to nap and then pack for my trip to La Ceiba, where I plan to spend some time at Pico Bonito National Park.

Ta ta,

theresa

Christmas card

Bubble thoughts

I don’t have any Important Thoughts screaming to crawl out of my fingers today. Really, what is occupying most of my thoughtmosphere is Christmas break—one week, baby! One week until I can push the planning and worrying and kids into a box and tuck that into the closet for just a little while. Between now and then I need to coordinate the 7th grade Christmas presentation, find a present for Joe, my Secret Friend, make an extra-credit-for-failing-students-because-it’s-illegal-for-students-to-fail homework packet, and avoid putting everyone in permanent time out.

Here is, in listicle fashion, what’s been knocking around in my head this week:

1. Jellyfish. I feel helpless when I suspect my students are making fun of another student in Spanish, but I’m uncertain and don’t know what to do. It turns out that after I drew a jellyfish on the board that some of the kids compared that unfavorably to another’s head.

2. Bananas. On grade day, when students are absent and parents visit teachers to pick up report cards, I commented to the school cook how much I was enjoying the quiet. This prompted a bevy of “Children are the lights of our heart”-type responses from the cook and two mothers who were helping. I left the kitchen that day embarrassed and convinced that I was now on the cook’s bad side. I’m glad to report I was wrong: she cooked me, and no one else, a sweet banana on Friday.

3. Fridays. Fridays are the worst days for the 7th graders and me. While we have only two classes together that day, I’m so burnt out and they’re so squirrelly that we almost always end the week on a bad note.

4. Dichotomy. I am unable to reconcile my frustrations with a student who disrespects me during class enough to ride the busito home with her to tutor her sister for free. While I enjoy the tutoring, it is awkward for me to have casual, occasionally confessional on on my 7th grader’s part, conversation when I was so annoyed with her only two hours earlier. But, I’m also just really tired. She’s a good student who has more life stress than a girl her age should have. I tabled the tutoring until after the break.

5. Song. How the heck do I teach a song that I can’t even sing?

6. Goof. Two of my 9th graders asked me if I am a serious or silly teacher. They said I am silly. I said I am serious with a touch of goof. This was a goofy-teacher week, no doubt fueled by break anticipation, that involved a lot of arm bending and waving (animal undulation and oscillation), hand fins on my head, sides, and butt (more oscillation), and cruising sllloooooooowwwly across the class to demonstrate that while turtles may be slow, they do locomote.

7. Oatmeal. I must not finish all the maple brown sugar oatmeal (gluten-free, care package gift) this weekend. Helloooo, sweet tooth.

8. Gifts. What do you buy a 13-year-old Honduran boy?

9. Holiday. Over break I plan to travel to La Ceiba—the party town of Honduras, but I’m going for the nature—and may be lucky enough to stay in someone’s apartment, if her current tenant is still out of town [update: the tenant is coming back into town; other plans in the works]. Also, it’s expensive traveling solo but not wanting, because I already live in a house with five other people, to stay in a dorm on my vacation, because I have to pay for two people.

10. Borax. So many cool Christmas science projects involve Borax. There is no Borax here.

11. Grrr. “It’s all in your head.”—roommate to me.

12. Water. Sometimes the morning shower is a little too cold.

13. Teaching. At about 26 classes a week, I have the heaviest teaching load. Is this a normal load? Do I do a normal amount of planning? If so, I don’t think this life is for me. Then again, the school did just give me two textbooks that appear to follow the science curriculum. If they find a biology text, I just may have cut my planning time significantly.

14. Students. I really like some of my students.

15. Bubble. I rarely peek outside the microcosm that is my teaching life in this small town. While I see the headlines and occasionally read articles, I don’t have strong emotions toward any of them, like Ferguson or face-sit ins. I get the gist and move on. On reddit I’m more likely to look at cat pics. Is this good, to so willfully disconnect from all the rest of it? I am not a good citizen of humanity.

16. Feet. After school my feet are really stinky.

Undoubtedly,

theresa

Placencia view

Placencia and Virginia Woolf

A week ago I returned from a blink of an eye trip to Placencia Village, Belize, a touristy beach peninsula with one main road. The transition back to school and its surroundings, even after such a brief excursion, was rough, but I think I’m back.

IMG_1543
Technically we are here on tourist visas, 90 day stamps issued upon entrance. We can’t tell immigration we’re volunteers. While the school’s attorney works on our residency visas, something that is years in the attempt, we have to leave the country every 90 days, linger outside the border for a few hours or days, and re-enter. Guatemala isn’t good enough because it’s in the CA-4 region. The closest qualifiable escape destination is Belize, an 11 hour, 5 bus, 1 boat journey, plus 1 more and a taxi since we went to Placencia. Add in 2 currency exchanges and 2 border crossings. All for a two day stay.
IMG_1541
And what a stay it was. NevMy roomer have I so relished having my own room (see: A Room of One’s Own), hot shower water, potable water from the faucet, the ability to flush toilet paper, a reasonably quick internet connection. Consistent power. Consistent water. Miles upon miles of town to wander without accompaniment. The locals and I spoke the same language. (English is the official language though most speak Spanish or Creole as their home language.) These are all things I’ve taken for granted during my life, except for the past three months.

Oh delicious solitude here in luxury let me compose an ode to thee…the quiet, the independence, the crickets calling in the night.

Our inn was a minute to the beach, if that. Being the offseason, a little stormy, it was mostly deserted, a little seaweedy, with trash among the weeds. Between the inn and the sand ran a skinny sidewalk—or the skinny sidewalk that the town is known for—that I ambled down to the tip of the peninsula to find breakfast at a spot known for its smoothies and stuffed fryjacks, doughy pieces of bliss filled with beans, eggs, and cheese. That first morning, after breakfast, I walked along the shore, back to the inn, sandals in hand. I waved to one or two locals, admired the vast blue-gray water spreading west, calculated how to move there. Calculated how many meals I could reasonably squeeze into my stomach in two days. I observed happiness.

The Copán trip was full of aOliverdventures; this was much quieter. I swam, exposed my thighs to sun, read in my room, on the porch, on the beach, in a cafe, avoided, mostly, the other volunteers, except for a brief bike ride north of the village center on new bikes with extremely uncomfortable saddles, and met a parrot named Oliver. I met two delightful women who run a cafe called Brewed Awakenings. The cafe served espresso, even decaf, chai lattes and kombucha (what?!), and delicious, luscious shakes with seaweed powder harvested sustainably. They stressed the coffee was roasted and the chai spices grown locally. (“Sustainable”? “Local”? Haven’t heard those emphasized in awhile.) The women, who spoke different Creole dialects, I was informed, admired my hair on the first visit, greeted me familiarly the second, and gave me a departing hug the third and final time. I wish I could have tucked them into my pocket and carried them back. Surely the locals need to experience the joys that are chai and kombucha and sustainably grown seaweed?

Delightful sums up those 2 days. I don’t like thinking too much about the trip, actually, because the transition back to life here, reality some would say, was painful, literally. Respites are necessary but the cost of re-entry may be too high at the moment. I fantasize about the solitude. The reading a book on the porch with frequent breaks to watch the cat descend the stairs into the rain at the house across the way. Walking along a deserted sidewalk to breakfast. Swimming alone in the ocean, chasing the waves. No one needing anything from me. And not worrying about anything. I could have done that for a very

long

time.

Sign: Judge a person by the contents of his character not the color of his skin.IMG_1551
As I wandered, I wondered, of course. How can I have these moments of happiness more often, not just while I’m in Honduras, but ever? Or not happiness, but satisfaction and contentment, with bliss highlights. Over the past few years I’ve read so many blogs that say you get those by Doing What You Want Or Are Good At. Often this means the blogger is on a beach making money writing a blog about giving out advice on happiness. It’s circular, isn’t it? The people who are happy are writing blogs about how to be happy. So to be happy I should just write a blog about how to be happy, but anecdotal evidence and cherry-picking pop psychology aren’t my style, neither is cleverness, obviously. All this aside, how do I get here, to this beach, to what it represents? I want to believe that it can happen for me, but I don’t. I think it requires a sparkle of magic dust or a massively huge sense of self-worth that isn’t growing in this little garden.

I met a man from Vancouver B.C. who moved his family here a few months ago. They’ve rented a house for a year. Yep, the dream is real. I didn’t inquire after his secret, but our conversation lead me to suspect money.

Well, those last bits are little downers, aren’t they?

Other interesting trip moments: Puerto Barrios, Guatemala—Look at all these women driving and riding on motorcycles and mopeds!

Rapidito to Frontera (border), Honduras—A 60+ year old Guatemalan man and I have a very rough conversation. Honduras is dangerous, Guatemala is beautiful, he has a friend in New York, or maybe it was Florida. I enjoy the conversation but wonder if I should be worried that he will get off at our stop and then want something. This is actually something I fear in any stranger-meeting conversation, no matter where I am. Sigh. Introversion + anxiety = distrust of anyone.

Placencia grocery store—Should I buy this dark chocolate Milky Way bar for the shear reason I haven’t even had the option in months?

I suppose I will end this post dangling and unresolved. I want to keep Placencia in a little bag like some precious object. Once I was happy here.

Permanently,

theresa

Me with a bike, looking bad ass.

I attempt to look bad ass with my purple bike.

Macaws!

Copán: Ruins! Parades! Hot Springs! Hammock!

It’s been a long two weeks since lovely Copán, since reading in a hammock while the rain thunders on the tin roof, since eating a slice of flan de cafe – que rico!, since the significant decrease in my stress levels.

GargoyleThis will sound strange, but my favorite part of the Ruins is the macaws. Near Copán is a macaw rehabilitation center. Once the birds are healthy enough to start being reintegrated into the wild, they are brought to the Ruins and supplied with food, sheltered perches, and freedom to explore the park. The birds’ plumage is early Technicolor, like Wizard of Oz or Oklahoma! The reds and yellows and greens pop like freshly applied paint in an Andy Warhol painting. The birds swoop and soar between the trees. They screech loudly and repeatedly. At one point we are in the middle of a group chatting from the depths of the tall trees. Two birds on a branch are fighting or flirting. There are no cages, no signs, only trees, noise, and these birds. They are fantastic, vibrant, and this is definitely one of those Mr. Macaw, I’m not in Kansas anymore moments.

The ideal way of experiencing the Ruins must be with a guide, because while there are signs explaining the ages of the statuary and pyramids (600 A.D. onward), their context is a cipher. That’s not to say I am not awed by the structures, only that I don’t have enough context to fully appreciate them. I have to admit I have a difficult time in museums. I often need a story, not just the facts, to fully appreciate the artistry. I’m a little embarrassed of this failing as a semi-educated person. I will return to Copán in the spring and will definitely hire a guide to explain just what that tortoise means and the pyramids and the symbols on the altars.

Monday starts with chasing the Independence Day parade(s), because I love marching bands. The sound and feeling of thundering drums combined with thick brass—forget the winds—gives me chills and teary eyes. In 2000 (according to IMDb), a small movie called Our Song, about three Brooklyn girls in a high school marching band, came out. It opened with the band playing and I immediately teared up. Between the drums and bittersweet story of friendship, my eyes were not often dry. There’s a band called The Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers in Portland that I fantasize about joining.

Lovely ladyWe stand in the town square crowded with food vendors, kids in school and band uniforms, occasional tourists, and a young woman with a golden fan headdress topped with dried grasses and long woven skirt of the same dried grasses, surrounded by people with cameraphones. It’s unclear if we’ve missed everything. Then the drums and glockenspiels start at the opposite end of the square. The sidewalks fill with onlookers. I stand on a wall, unable to see anything (the visual element seems important for the chills), but ten minutes in, drums start on another side of the square. I dash over and have a front row view of the drummers, glockenspiels, and kids with pom-pons and banners expressing peace, god, love, and history. My nose tingles and weeping beckons, but I hold it in. Once that section of the parade moves on, another band starts at a third side of the square. I never do figure out if the parade has any official beginning, because as soon as one section of it ends, another section starts elsewhere, this time a block in the opposite direction. The parade is modest, with the occasional vaquero or traditional dress outfit, but mostly school uniforms and banners. So many schools for such a small town, at least 15, and the bilingual school is so much larger than CBS…and the female volunteers teachers are mostly tall, strong, and blond—is this a requirement? There is a float of Noah’s Ark and a crowd of kids with Halloween masks. Many of the kids wear sunglasses, lending a secret agent or too cool for school feeling to the whole event. I lose my fellow volunteers early on. A whisper wonders if they might worry and try to call my phone, left behind in the room, but I just don’t care. This is for me.

The final adventure of our trip takes us to the Luna Jaguar Hot Springs, a mostly beautiful and bumpy hour ride away on a rain-soaked mattress in the back of a truck, where Eza and I attract quite a bit of attention and whistles. I mentioned earlier not really fitting in with my co-volunteers. One-on-one, conversations about topics other than drinking or mocking classmates from high school can take place.

hot springsI’ve always wanted to go to a hot spring. There are several near Portland, but…it’s just never happened. For some reason the adventures close to home rarely are explored. I can’t imagine any spring would ever compare to this, however, and, again, my descriptive abilities are challenged. It is raining hard. We are lead over a swiftly moving river across an occasionally slippery rope and plank bridge into dense forest. We pass through a narrow tunnel and to the right is a cascade of small pools. The path winds around and there are yet more pools alongside a stream. The pools are cloudy and surrounded with flat rocks. After a brief tour and explanation of the pools’ temperatures, we strip down into bathing suits—I am the only one without a bikini—and venture back down the stony path to the first spring, and then the second, and third, and beneath a warm waterfall, only to climb higher until we’re level with the top of a steaming waterfall. The rain has cooled the air so sitting in warm-to-hot pools of water in a humid environment is thoroughly pleasant, romantic, and I’m ready to move in. And it is so quiet aside from the rushing water; Honduras is not a quiet country. Until the very end, we are the only visitors. After at least an hour we conclude at that cascade of small pools. Each is warmer than the next until we reach the final, largest, and hottest pool of them all, too hot for everyone but me. I relish hot baths, especially in the winter when my fingers and toes are often numb and swollen, and if I miss any luxury on my adventure down here, it’s reading in a hot bath with a book. I soak and float, and by this time my feet, all of our feet, are cleaner than they have been in a month. Actually, the final pool is a cold water pool, and I do dare to slide my full body in , and it feels as if fine bristled brushes are pressed against my skin and my body were poured lead. I laugh.

The other delights of Copán are small. I taste genuine pupusas, a type of cornflour pancake filled with cheese, beans, and/or meat, a foodstuff previously eaten only at home through the efforts of my unskilled hands; drink a decaffeinated (bad tummy) espresso; and spend several hours with a book (Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, and you should read it right now) in a rooftop hammock. I meet an Australian traveler who asks me questions, rather than the interest being on only my side (see co-volunteers). Also, speaking of whiteness, since the residents are used to tourists, there is much less gawking and catcalling. I see white tourists and Asian tourists. And we walk anywhere comfortably, without warnings of danger. The views from the hills of the city are spectacular.

For these days I’ve done my best to bury school in a dusty corner of my mind, yet it unearths, of course. We leave Tuesday morning, with minimal transportation drama. Then it is back to lesson planning and stressing over teaching the formation of the universe.

As I write this entry, the pleasures of Copán are difficult to comprehend, buried as I am in the dramas of school. I look forward to the next break, at the end of October.

Endeavoring,

theresa

P.S. I love you, Erpie!

Relaxing