I’m back, back, back again! It’s been a long time since I’ve stretched these particular muscles but I have to say I have missed annoying everyone with complaints and dreary day to day movements… ahem I mean cultural insights and inner observations. But anyway, I’m back for one more blog post and one more only!
As some of you will already be aware I recently returned to Honduras for a whistle stop visit. I was in New York with my family and in my head New York is pretty close to Honduras (news flash: it’s not, it’s still six hours and several flights away) so I thought I had better seize this opportunity lest I have to wait until after university as I had previously thought I would. I was prepared for going back to be an emotional experience in all kinds of ways and it was – it was a very reflective week and gave me a lot to think about which is why I’m back!
One of the things I was most excited about was being back with my host family. In the past two years the girls, my host sisters, have grown up a lot, especially Antonella who has gone from a few-month-old baby to a walking, (almost) talking toddler! She obviously had no idea who I was but by the end of my first day back she was already calling me tía, which means aunt in Spanish, which I’ll happily take! Jamie and Daniela had also grown up lots in the few years I’d been away. Jamie was my little shadow while I was there, never letting me go anywhere without her. She is a very nurturing girl and really loves looking after her little sister. Daniela, as ever, is the more independent of the two and this quality has really come out in the past two years.
As great as it was to be back with family, there was a more mournful side to things. Less than two months before I visited, my host dad Jaime passed away after an extended illness. It has obviously been a very difficult time for everyone, especially my host mum Saida. She has had great support from her family and friends in Candelaria and elsewhere in Honduras, now and throughout his illness but it had been frustrating for me being so far away. There was obviously very little I could do other than tell her I love her and give her my support, but even that felt insufficient as I tried to convey it adequately in Spanish. At the end of the day being back, however briefly, was a little more poignant for me and for Saida after this hard time. Just being able to give her a hug meant so much.
During my visit, however short, I was once again surprised by the generosity around me. This was not something new to me seeing as when I first arrived in Honduras and throughout the whole year everywhere I turned I was met with tremendous generosity and such a warm welcome. Now, back again, I couldn’t walk down the street without meeting a friend that wanted me to come round for coffee or go and get something to eat. An especially heartfelt thank you goes out to Saida, who fed me, put me up in my old room and wouldn’t accept anything from me all week.
I also spent a lot of time with my friend Karen Yanina, who came running with me and Amy a few times back in the day. Her son Alejandro is also in Jamie’s class at school and good friends with the girls. She has just had a baby as well as having recently opened a clothes tienda and started taking beauty classes in El Salvador. She was kind enough to give me a tshirt so I could rep Honduras once I got home, do my nails for me and come over to Saida’s and make baleadas – my favourite!
Of course I also spent some time with my other family in Candelaria, Lety and Victor’s family, who in my year were the organisers of the project. From the year after me, they have also been the host family for the next generations of Project Trust volunteers. Unfortunately this year’s volunteer was on a visa run while I was visiting so I didn’t get to meet her. One of the first nights I was in Candelaria, the evangelical church that Lety and Victor belong to was having a special service in the town square with some guest speakers and musician. While I’m not religious, I went along with Karen who is also a member, as church was always a good way to practice my Spanish and I especially enjoy the enthusiasm and music that accompanies any service in the evangelical church. I also obviously couldn’t leave Candelaria without procuring, as per my dad’s request, some specialty Honduran coffee from Victor’s dad’s coffee finca.
Unfortunately I arrived on the last day of school before the Easter holidays and after the end of the school day so I wasn’t able to go into the primary school and see all of my students again but I ran into many of them all across town, at church or while out playing with the girls. Even though I was occasionally faced with a kid who couldn’t remember exactly which gringa I was, most of them immediately knew who I was followed by a chorus of voices asking where Amy was! I assured them she’d be back as soon as possible, we’ve even talked about coming back together once we both graduate from university in another two years.
It amazed me how quickly I fell back into old habits once I arrived in Honduras. From the second I landed everything felt familiar, from the oppressive heat and humidity, to being surrounded by Spanish, to the smell of frijoles wafting through the air. Some things came back to me almost immediately – my Spanish for one. This is unsurprising seeing as it had gotten to a high enough level during the year I spent speaking it every day that I can call it back very easily, even if I haven’t spoken it in a while. What did surprise me though was how quickly I fell back into the Honduran way of speaking, not just slang but also the way sentences are phrased and the gestures and body language that accompanied speaking. Eating using my hands and tortilla more than the actual utensils was also an easy enough habit to reclaim, though I have to say, getting used to putting toilet paper in the bin instead of flushing it took a little longer to get used to again!
In the time since I have left Honduras I have often been quite hard on myself, quite critical of my time there. I felt like I could have done more, had more of an impact, made more of the time I had. This visit was able to assuage a lot of those feelings. While I knew I had come away from Honduras with a new family or two, I sometimes questioned if I’d actually made any lasting friends. I said before that every time I was out of the house I would bump into someone I knew and have a chat if not a cup of cafe, proving these worries wrong. I visited my friend Enedina, who lives on the edge of town and who Amy and I made soup with in the early days of our year. I caught up with Eric, the boyfriend of a volunteer from the year before me over a cool bottle of Fresca. I got my hair cut (quite drastically!) by Edwin, the only fluent English speaker in the village, for the bargain price of 50 lempira (less than £2). I bumped into a number of teachers from the kinder, escuela, or colegio on the streets and chatted with friends in comedores, on the football pitch or even the town radio and had others messaging me, even if I wasn’t able to see them. It was incredibly heart-warming to return to a place I consider home with such a welcome.
Another thing I questioned was whether I had actually made a difference. I want to be careful here not to stray into any sense of saviourism, expecting to change and improve an entire town or culture in one year at 18 years old. That is never what I wanted or expected to do. But as a teacher I at the very least wanted to be able to pass on some new skills and knowledge to my students. There were definitely days while I was still in Honduras that it all felt futile – second grade just wouldn’t sit still, fifth grade wouldn’t stop talking, sixth grade were out of class for the second time that week and no one could remember the same thing we’d been learning for the past month! But there were not as many of these bad days as there were good ones. It was encouraging, two years down the line, to see the kids more confident when I asked them about what they had been learning or quizzed them on some things that I had taught them. Language learning is, after all, an ongoing process and while they may not remember every word I taught them while I was their English teacher, I might just have laid the foundation for lifelong learning, just as I’d hoped.
In this same vein, it is so great to see the project in Candelaria transforming into something hopefully more long term, as it welcomes its fifth year of Project Trust volunteers after the summer. Amy and I were only the second year of volunteers and thus felt the burden and responsibility, mostly self-imposed, of ensuring the PT volunteers had a good reputation and presence so that this could become something sustainable as we so desperately hoped. At times this felt limiting as we were more reserved, less political, less involved at times than we might otherwise have been. However on returning and seeing the project still running, and hearing about the positive place volunteers now have in the community and how involved and assimilated they have become, I feel like it might just have been worth it.
While some worries of mine have been put to rest after returning to Honduras and Candelaria, I have come to accept others. Sometimes I felt like I should have done more with my time in my town, gone out more, gotten more involved, and so on but after returning I found I had forgotten one very important thing – its bloody hot! I was drinking litres and litres of water every day and was still exhausted just from wandering around town. The sun beats down from about 8 in the morning until at least 3 or 4 in the afternoon, depending if it’s the wet or dry season. And I wasn’t just teaching in that heat during my year, I was doing it in jeans! I understand how most days I wanted to spend my afternoons having a nap until it was a little cooler or sheltering from the high temperatures by sitting in front of the fan. I would never use the word regret when talking about any aspect of my year in Honduras, apart from the fact that it couldn’t have been longer, and I think I need to go a bit easier on myself with a lot of these things.
There is a difference, however, in giving myself a break and looking back with rose tinted glasses. As much as I loved my time in Honduras and wouldn’t change it, I have always made sure to remember the bad with the good, not that there was much, just to make sure I am remembering things realistically. Being back did sharply remind me that I didn’t enjoy every single moment of the year. There were times when I was ill, times when I was homesick (usually the same time), times when me and Amy argued (we lived together for a year though, can you blame us?), times when I felt frustrated with the work we were doing and times when it all just felt a bit too overwhelming. However, you have to take the bad with the good and without it I wouldn’t have had the same experience, taken away the same things or appreciated the good times as much.
I managed to achieve some tremendous things in the year I spent there. Not only did I gain a home and a family on the other side of the world, I made lifelong friends in the form of the other volunteers, some of whom are still my best friends. I lived away from home for a year, without seeing my family for most of that time, showing myself I can handle things on my own. I overcame challenges such as hospital trips and rowdy children. I became fluent in a language that I still love to speak. I curated a blog which provides a powerful look back on to so many aspects of my year, for me and for others. I became a teacher and experienced everything that comes along with it. I cherish all of these things and endlessly appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to achieve them. If you are one of the many kind people who supported me in any way to get me there in the first place, thank you again. You’ve no idea what you helped me do.