A few weeks ago I was lying in bed, unable to fall asleep, and I was thinking about Honduras and about China and how one might apply to the other. Honduras was a learning curve in all kinds of ways and there are a few lessons I would like to share that I have found particularly useful in the past few weeks.
First of all, I can do this. I’ve covered this a little in the blogs around the time that I left for China but it was a helpful mantra to help me get over the first hurdle of this year, actually getting here. It won’t make the hard times go away but it definitely helps make them a little easier. It’s something that I know helps my family as well, or at least my mum!
I loved my time in Honduras but that’s not to say that it didn’t come with its difficulties. It could be very easy to only think back to the amazing things I did but I always remind myself that there were bad days too, days when I felt bored or homesick or frustrated. To me, that aspect of the year actually makes the whole experience more worthwhile. Taking the good with the bad, acknowledging the balance, it makes me feel like I achieved more than if the whole year had been easy. The challenges made the good times more enjoyable.
When you’re young, a year away from all your friends and everything you know can feel like the end of the world. A lot can happen in over the course of a year – birthdays, Christmas, holidays. This year alone I’m going to miss Kirsty going through her Highers, Amy finishing her last year of university and graduating, and a million shows, trips, dog walks and family dinners. All these little things add up but for all these experiences that I might be missing, I remind myself that I am making different ones here, ones that I won’t be able to recreate back at home.
For me I have never felt anything but incredibly lucky to have this kind of opportunity, both going to Honduras and also China. I always felt like it was a chance to do something amazing and exciting, and I know that everything I left behind will still be there when I get back. In the grand scheme of things a year does not take up that much of a lifetime and it’s amazing just how fast it can fly by!
Often times thinking about the bigger picture can actually be pretty overwhelming. Become fluent in Chinese, form meaningful friendships, experience all aspects of the culture. Whether these are self-imposed or unavoidable (thanks uni), it is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. There are times, especially in the beginning, when everything that is still to come is too much. In times like that it is a good idea to take joy and take pride in the little things.
Things like understanding something the first time someone says it and not having to say ‘shenme?’ (什么, what?) about three times; ordering successfully in a restaurant without just pointing at the picture in the menu; any time you’ve had a good day, whether that was because you went for a swim, made a friend or just because the weather was nice. Whatever it might be, it’s worth holding on to that feeling.
One of the biggest things I learnt in Honduras was obviously how to speak Spanish. It had been my aim going in to come home with some level of fluency and I feel like I did that. It’s definitely a great achievement but it also comes with a lot of transferable skills. When I was in Honduras, I wasn’t there with the purpose of learning Spanish, it was just a by-product of the environment I was living in. I’ve thought a lot about how I was able to improve my Spanish level and honestly it was mostly how much I was talking to people. For this reason my conversational Spanish is pretty good, if I do say so myself, but my grammar and written Spanish are not as strong.
The advantage of this year is that the whole point is to learn Chinese and all of my efforts can be devoted to that. I can take everything I did in Honduras, plus everything I should have done and combine it into the perfect recipe for fluency. Easier said than done, but I remain hopeful.
Finally, and probably most important to me, is that Honduras taught me I am more than I ever thought I could be. I am stronger and more independent than I knew. I can be both intense and chilled out. I am adventurous, spontaneous and brave. I know just how happy and confident I can be. Knowing all of this is the most valuable thing I learnt from Honduras and I will carry this knowledge with me, not only into this year in China but also into the rest of my life.
Leaving for the other side of the world seems to have become a bit of a pattern with me. It started at 17 and I went to Costa Rica for a month but that clearly wasn’t enough. Once I finished school I took it to the extreme and moved to Honduras to spend a year volunteering with the organisation Project Trust. With those experiences behind me it would be fair to assume I was pretty prepared for moving to China this year right?
Even though I have done this before, the mental preparation felt a little different this time. And to be fair, the situations are more different than they might at first appear.
The anticipation for China was very drawn out while it all happened pretty quickly with Honduras. It went from an idea – hearing about Project Trust for the first time at a school assembly – to a reality – flying away – in just over a year. Meanwhile I have always known I would have a year abroad at university. At first it was just because of the kind of person I am and then because I decided to study languages at uni. I’ve even known I would be going to China since I was 17 so I’ve been waiting to get here for 4 years.
In some ways the long run up was not actually helpful. For so long it was too far away to bother thinking about and there were much more exciting things happening – Honduras and then uni and then BAM! It was time to go! Whereas with Honduras, the year running up to departure was completely devoted to it. I went on Selection, I had to fundraise all year and then go on Training all before even getting to my project.
Expectations are also a big factor in any kind of preparation. I carefully managed my expectations for Honduras. I knew very little about it as a country, not having even heard of it before starting my Project Trust journey and while I learnt the basics during my Training, I tried to keep my mind open and stay away from stereotypes. However I had lots of information when it came to my project. I knew about my host family, the school I would be teaching in, how everything would work. Practically, I was all set but there was still a lot left for me to discover on my own.
With China, things were almost exactly the opposite. I had a lot more information when it came to the country after studying the language at university for two years. Alongside having had to take a Modern East Asian History course, almost all of my tutors were Chinese so I picked up bits and pieces about the culture and life there. In the UK, there is also generally a bit more awareness of China than Honduras as well, though I had to question how much of what I already knew was only stereotypes and preconceived ideas – dangerous things to base anything on.
However when it came to the university I would be attending, Dalian University of Technology (大连理工大学), I knew nothing beyond what the names gives away. We had been given vague information on Chinese universities in general – expect it to be intense, be ready for classes to start at 8am – but especially seeing as Dalian is not an extremely popular choice, there was not much specific information available. I did speak to a 4th year student who had spent her year abroad in Dalian but I was really more interested in what life was like there than what her classes had been like.
Another aspect was that when I went to Honduras I was travelling with a big group so we arrived and experienced the initial culture shock together. For the rest of the year I was part of a pair so everything I encountered was faced side by side with someone who is now one of my best friends. I was pretty much never alone, there was always someone to share my highs with and to support me through the lows. China is a lot more of a solo deal. I’m not the only Edinburgh student in Dalian, or China, but it’s just me in my host family and everyone is spread all over China which is a much bigger place than Honduras!
One of the hardest things I faced before leaving for China was the feeling that I was leaving everyone and everything behind, way more than when I left for Honduras. I was 18 and had just finished high school, a very pivotal time in my life, and for everyone else my age. We were all starting the next chapter of our lives so everyone was moving on at the same time. Everyone was heading off to something new and different so it wasn’t out of place that I was too – even if I had taken it to a bit of an extreme! It was always going to be a time of change which I think made it easier to adjust.
Meanwhile it felt like I was leaving so much behind me this time. My sisters are both heading into a very important year in their lives, Kirsty her Highers and Amy the final year of her university degree. Of my closest group of friends at uni, only one other is going away on a year abroad so the rest will be living their lives as normal and I am definitely going to feel like I’m missing out a bit. It feels like I’m as much in the middle of a chapter as starting a new one and those feelings are difficult to reconcile.
And finally, this just seemed bigger. My overwhelming feeling about Honduras was excitement, so much so that I was never nervous and not even sad until I said goodbye to everyone at the airport. This time I was nervous. Scared, even.
Despite this, I have one very important thing now that I didn’t when I left for Honduras – the knowledge that I can do this. I obviously hoped and believed I could when I went to Honduras but there is something different about the certainty of previous experience. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. I’ll be fine. That mantra was incredibly reassuring when it all felt a little too much. This is something I love to do, experiencing a new way of life, learning a language, and I have every faith in my ability to make it through this year.
All of these things have made leaving a very different experience, not that that’s a bad thing. Honduras was the only thing I had to compare this to but it will be a different experience entirely. And now I’m here and none of that really matters. All I know is that China has a lot to live up to!
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.
I feel like I’ve always struggled between being the person I am, the person I think I should be and the person I want to be. I was never really happy with the person I was until returning from a volunteering trip in Costa Rica when I was 17. After that I felt I wasn’t quite who I wanted to be, but as if that person was in sight, reachable. I had caught a glimpse of the kind of life that I wanted and the kind of me that I could be in that life.
On returning to school, I felt restless. All of a sudden I knew what I wanted to be doing and it wasn’t being stuck in a classroom in dreary Scotland. I struggled to keep myself settled throughout the year and keep my patience with those around me who, I felt anyway, didn’t understand what I was going through.
At this point I had already applied and been selected for a year in Honduras with Project Trust and, quite honestly, I just felt like I was wasting time until I could get away again. With the exam results I needed in my back pocket, I focused all my energy on fundraising. I jumped at the chance to go to any Project Trust event and whenever I was there, with other Project Trust people, I felt completely at ease. It was the most like myself I had felt since leaving Costa Rica.
Honduras drew closer and closer and eventually I was right on the verge of leaving. One last trip to Coll to Project Trust headquarters for our training and then I would be off. Meeting all of the volunteers for the first time felt like meeting up with a group of friends. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a phrase used so often but ‘like minded people’ really is the best way to describe the connection I felt with the rest of my group. It takes a certain calibre of person to decide to move across the world to embark on a year of teaching with very little preparation or training and at only 18 years old! It is this part of us that was attracted to the each other when we met, even if we were different in other ways. Around these people, I didn’t have to think about how I acted or care about what they thought of me. I was able to just be me.
It goes without saying that I have gained an inordinate amount from my time spent in Honduras working as an English teacher. Some things are hard to measure, like the confidence I now have in myself and my abilities and the view I have of the world, but others, like the skills I have gained from being in the classroom and my language acquisition, are very tangible.
As with any job, there are myriad skills to be gained from the experience and a year with Project Trust is no different. After a year of doing nothing else, I am obviously considerably more comfortable standing in front of a class and teaching and my ever present organisation has been put to good use but I have also developed others skills that have not been so strong in the past. Tolerance has definitely been key at various moments throughout the year, sometimes with my pupils if they won’t stay quiet or focus on the task at hand but also with myself, when the limits of my language or previous experience as a teacher restricted my ability to deliver an effective class. My people skills, while not necessarily lacking when I left for Honduras, have been enhanced by not only having to deal with people in a different language but also with different social cues and expectations.
One of the more unexpected but most significant areas I have developed has been in my adaptability. Before Honduras, I would let small issues stress me out and everything had to be on time, arranged in advance and I had to know everything that was going on. After living the chaotic lifestyle that is Honduran to the core, I have learnt to adapt a more tranquila attitude. Things happen when and how they happen and there’s not much you can do to change that so why worry about it? This has been somewhat hard to translate into life back in the UK but I’m trying.
Spanish was a crucial part of my decision to spend my gap year in Latin America. My aspirations to become near fluent had an effect on my university decision as well – I chose to study French with Chinese instead of Spanish – so it was important to me that I learnt as much as possible. Language is an integral part of any culture so not only have I improved an invaluable skill, it has also enhanced my understanding of the people and the way of thinking of a vibrant country and region of contrasts.
There is so much more than this however. The understanding of Honduras that I have achieved after living there for a year is the the kind of understanding that can only be attained with this kind of total immersion in a place. This has exposed me to the thoughts and motivations behind a clearly different style of life to my own, which is something that most people, even those who have travelled widely, may not ever get to see. Understanding a culture means understanding its language, its history, its landscape, its people and so much more.
Meeting so many people from across the globe while travelling has also shown me there are so many options in life. There is not one set path – life does not have to be school, university, then work. I have seen the many paths you can take and working in the role I have has confirmed the path that I want to take. In my head, my future has always held travel. As this thought grew to become more realistic ideas for a career path, I expanded on that to three criteria: I wanted to travel; I wanted to learn foreign languages and use them; and I wanted to do something to help other people. My trip to Costa Rica introduced me to the idea of working for overseas organisations but it was still vague at best. I now know that I do want to work in this field with charities and NGOs, specifically with education, social development and women’s empowerment.
As I have said, I have always felt caught between the different versions of me that there are and could be. If Costa Rica opened the doors for me to become the person I wanted to, Honduras had me stepping through those doors. It amazes me how much my self confidence has grown in just a year and with all the changes I have faced I feel more ‘me’ than someone else. It’s like I’ve always been this person but she just needed the right opportunity to come out. I used to feel very self conscious, something not a lot of people might have realised because I was quite good at pretending I didn’t care what anybody else thought of me. Now I actually don’t – I realise how many different types of people there are, either in appearance or personality, beliefs or ambitions, and that all of these should be celebrated.
Coming home was the hardest part of the year by far. I can see the difference in myself after this year and leaving behind the place responsible for all this positive change pulled at something inside of me. The other volunteers that I had spent the year with had become my family and have been big influences on me. Saying goodbye to my Project Trust family was hard because I was worried that I would be saying goodbye to all the ways I’ve grown this year and I don’t want to. Moving backwards makes it very hard to move forwards. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to have happened, so far anyway, and I’m hanging on tight to make sure it never does!
Being back in Dunblane has been strange. It doesn’t make sense to my mind that I’m back where I was a year ago after having everything be new and exciting. I feel like I’m 17 again and still figuring out who I am and who I want to be. Now I feel like I have that at least partly figured out, being back in Dunblane is making it very hard to reconcile the two feelings. I know I don’t want to go back to how I was before but I feel like Dunblane sits on the new parts of me, the more outgoing, relaxed, adventurous parts and says ‘Sorry, there’s no room for that here’. It’s suffocating and I have been eagerly watching the clock counting me down until I move to Edinburgh for my next adventure. Dunblane will always be my home but I’m not sure I fit here anymore, or that I necessarily ever did.
As I sit on the cusp of my next adventure, it may feel like my Project Trust adventure is over but that is definitely not true. I will not, and cannot, let go of something that has given me so much without giving at least a little in return. Project Trust has done so much for me that I will never be able to adequately put into words and I know that a large part of what is to come will be a result of the experiences I have had throughout my year in Honduras. I want to thank them in a million ways for the effect they have had on me but nothing seems enough. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for my life-long friends, thank you for giving me a family on the other side of the world, thank you for bringing me out of myself and into the world. Thank you.
Don’t worry I’m still here! I have been back in Scotland for a month now and it seems like my time has been split between wishing I was back in Honduras and pretending I am by doing a PT road trip to see Amy in Surrey, Jesse in London and Lucy in Edinburgh.
The last step of the Project Trust journey, after the inevitable, crippling reverse culture shock, is Debriefing. It’s our last chance to get up to Coll and spend a few days surrounded by the only people that are still willing to listen to gap year story after gap year story. It’s not a compulsory course like Training but out of our 20 Honduras volunteers we managed to get 16 of us there – Hannah, Eve, Alice and Norome, you were missed. We were reunited with some of the volunteers we were on Training with who went to Zambia and also had Malawi, Japan and the Domincan Republic volunteers with us. Because we have such a large group, even with our missing members, we made up more than half of the total number!
I took the train up to Oban for the first time, having had a lift and then taken the bus for my previous journeys, and it was incredibly beautiful. There was a big group of us on the train and we were reunited with everyone else in the beloved Backpackers Plus hostel.
We had two full days back in the Hebridean Centre. The first day was based primarily on looking back on the year we spent overseas. We worked in our country groups with our Overseas Coordinator to look back on our best bits and the challenges we overcame while away. We ended the day with a trip to the gorgeous beach (only gorgeous because it was so sunny!).
Day two focused more on looking forward to how we, as returned volunteers, can stay involved in the PT community. The sense that you get as part of one of Project Trust’s many groups of volunteers is very much one of family. These people that you have been sent away to the other side of the world with you quickly become your family but on coming home it’s like meeting all the extended aunts and uncles and cousins that are all there for you. Just like in Honduras, everyone is related! There are Facebook groups and reunions and local meet ups and professional opportunities all to be found among the 7,700 and something returned volunteers, dating all the way back to 1967!
It has been almost a week since the ‘official’ end of my year overseas but definitely not the end of my involvement. Project Trust are always looking for people to go into schools and talk to pupils about their experiences, inspire the next generation of teachers and social care workers and adventurers for them to send all over the world. With Global Citizenship being such a large part of going overseas with Project Trust, returned volunteers also go out to schools and run workshops on this in primary and secondary schools. With the experience I have of this from my fundraising, I think if I hadn’t signed up I would have been chased from Coll and told never to return! Finally, as part of a new scheme, you can become a mentor to a volunteer who is in the process of fundraising for their year abroad – you can share your top tips and secret strategies as well as all your best stories (probably best to keep the bad ones under wraps to begin with!).
As ever, no Project Trust course or visit to Coll would be complete without a ceilidh to finish things off in style! What with there being two Latin American countries in attendance, traditional Scottish dancing soon morphed into a reggaeton/bachata party!
Leaving Coll the next morning was a sad affair, though I hope to be back next year as summer staff. Once again, the train back down to Glasgow was filled with PT people. Amy stayed one more night at my house before flying back down to Surrey. This was our final goodbye for the summer, after having seen each other three or four times since getting home. I know it won’t be that last goodbye however, as we already have plans for a trip to Prague at Christmas with Jesse and Lucy and Amy is coming up to Edinburgh for a rugby match in February.
As for the rest of my Honduran lot, there were a few goodbyes in Oban and some more when we got off the train in Glasgow. A few people stuck around in Edinburgh for a few days and we had one last night out together before we all went our separate ways. However, apparently there’s already a reunion in the works and I’ll be at uni with Hannah and Eva in Edinburgh, with a lot of people not far away in the likes of Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Coll is such special place because of all it embodies. It is an integral part of any volunteer’s Project Trust journey. It is there for you on Selection when everything is filled with excitement and you can’t wait to get started. It is there on Training when you are are wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. It is there to welcome you home on Debriefing, showing you that it’s not all bad to be back. It encompasses the heart of Project Trust and all the people you meet along the way, from the staff to the other volunteers even to the people you meet in your project. Coll is a place I love and will always love for I will forever associate it with the best year of my life.
With our goodbyes all done, the only thing left to do was to actually leave but apparently Honduras was just as reluctant to say good bye to us as we were to it. Please fasten your seatbelts folks, we are now approaching some turbulence.
Our journey home was composed of at least two flights for everyone, from San Pedro Sula to Miami and then Miami to London Heathrow. For some of us there was one more, onwards to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and even Budapest. We arrived at the airport in SPS in plenty of time (none of us wanted a repeat of what happened at Christmas when we missed our boat to Utila – we weren’t quite that desperate to stay) but were told that our flight was delayed by 45 minutes. Not so bad but as we waited our departure time kept getting later and our wait longer. We eventually left just over two hours late but because our layover in Miami was originally three hours long, the delay meant that we had very little time to get through the monster of an airport that is Miami International.
We touched down at 8pm and our flight left at 8.40pm so as soon as we were off that plane, we were sprinting, bags flailing, flip flops flapping, cursing our lack of fitness. We managed to bag a flashy fluorescent orange pass that let us skip queues which worked until we got to security where there was a separate queue for others with the same flashy card so we couldn’t skip it. Another issue was that we came through security at gate D26 and our gate was E23. It sounds worse when I say that the D gates go up to 60. And we had 15 minutes. We were told we weren’t going to make it but we tried anyway. Amy and Sophie were sent ahead without their bags so they could sprint to the gate and maybe get them to wait for the sweaty, hopeful group of 16 other teenagers that were on their way.
It didn’t work. Amy and Sophie got there two minutes after they had closed the gates/the plane had left so by the time the rest of us got there there was nothing we could do. We had to traverse our way back across the terminals we had crossed to the rebooking desk where we waited for an hour and half, witnessed a show of crazy that you can only see from someone who has missed multiple flights and thinks the world owes her and eventually had to wake up various family members to tell them we wouldn’t actually be home in the morning.
It turned out that the next flight to London wasn’t until 5pm the next day and all the airline’s hotel spaces were full so we had to just slum it in the airport for the next 19 hours. There was another option, to find, book and pay for a hotel ourselves and get reimbursed but none of us had enough money to pay for a last minute hotel near the airport in Miami. Instead we found a nice corridor behind TGI Fridays and bedded down for the night like a row of tacos.
The next day was wasted by moving between our base camp and the charging sockets nearby, trying to stretch our fairly meagre food vouchers as far as possible and re-re-booking ourselves on the next flight because we just by chance happened to discover it hadn’t been done properly the night before. Everything went right in the end though and we were sat by gate E23 again (what a coincidence, huh?) with plenty of time before our flight left.
8 hour flights being what they are, the first four hours flew by and the next four were excruciatingly slow. Almost 24 hours later than planned we arrived at Heathrow. After all that Lucy and I still had another flight to catch so we couldn’t hang around for long. We said our goodbyes to everyone (not too painful because we’ll see most of them in a few weeks at Debriefing) and a quick hello to everyone’s families before hopping across to our terminal.
Two painless hours later, we were pulling into the gate at Edinburgh airport and not long after were faced with home for the first time in 363 days. I have to admit that it wasn’t that emotional to see my family again – for me at least. It had been a few months since I had seen my dad and Kirsty but only two weeks since my mum and Amy left Honduras. For them though, it was the opposite. It didn’t matter to them that not that much time had passed since they last saw me. I was home again and not leaving (at least not for a while). That idea was not one I wanted to dwell on at the time, what with not wanting to be home and everything, but for them it meant a lot.
And so resumes ‘normal’ life. Once again, I don’t want to overload you so if I can get my feelings about being home into any kind of order anytime soon, maybe there’ll be a blog about it (ok, there will be, I’m not quite ready to stop annoying everyone with this just yet) but for now, yes, it is nice to be home.
It’s been a week since I arrived back in sunny Scotland and it’s as if nothing has changed. If it weren’t for the residual crick in my neck and emotional scars from the journey home, I would think that maybe I’ve just been in a coma for the past year and have a very creative imagination. Before I get into what it’s like being home again after so long, let me tell you about our goodbyes and the journey back. (The journey will follow in the next post, I didn’t want to overload everyone with too much to read!)
Our first official goodbye was with our Kinder classes. We were leaving Candelaria on a Friday and the last day we see them is a Wednesday. We walked in to find all of the tables in my classroom pushed to the side and all the kids bouncing around the room. We hadn’t been expecting anything special and had just planned to mark our departure by spending the whole lesson playing games. Instead the teachers kicked things off by saying a few words, thanking us for our effort and our patience, and then invited a few of the kids up to speak too. A big part of our lessons in Kinder revolve around songs so both classes got up and sang Wind the Bobbin Up and my class also sang the Colours Song – I was so proud I thought my heart might burst out of my chest! To finish we had cake and fizzy juice, as is customary at any Honduran celebration, and were presented with a little gift each of a Candelaria t-shirt.
My Kinder kids can drive me crazy sometimes but it was hard to say goodbye to them all the same. They are so adorable and for once I didn’t mind when they mounted their daily ataque (they like to swarm me at the end of class and hug me so hard that it’s not uncommon for me to have to brace myself against the wall so I don’t fall over on top of them!). I’ll miss their little faces and smiles and the fact that they only ever sing the ‘oooooooooh’ part of the Hokey Cokey. It’s weird to think that by the time I’m back (because I will be back) they’ll be proper little people in primary school.
Our next goodbye was a dinner that evening with Lety and Victor, our second host family. They had us over and we ate cena típica (a typical dinner including beans, eggs, avocado, cheese, mantequilla and tortillas) with them. They made a big deal out of giving us a present, making us stand in the middle of the room with our eyes closed and hands out. It turns out it was a hammock! I desperately wanted to take a hammock home but had convinced myself that they were too expensive, I wouldn’t use it, where would I even put a hammock? It was perfect. This wasn’t our final goodbye with Lety and Victor and the family, because we promised to come back the next day, our last day.
And then finally, the day that had been looming over us all year was here. We knew it was coming but that didn’t make it any easier. We still had classes and our timetable on Thursdays is actually my favourite because we have 4th, 5th and 6th grade who are my favourite classes. It felt like most of my day was hugs, goodbyes, gift from kind hearted kids, telling myself not to cry and choruses of ‘no se vaya!’ (don’t go!) which broke my heart.
Somehow we made it through, with almost no tears on my part, and to our goodbye lunch with the teachers. We ate soup and chicken with tortillas and listened to the headteacher say a few words. They also presented us with these beautiful wooden plaques and mirrors, handmade in Candelaria, on behalf of the teachers, students and parents.
After that, all that was left was a few of our friends and both of our families. We did the rounds to see our friends throughout the afternoon and then had a special dinner of tamales with our host family. Later in the evening we went over to Lety and Victor’s to say goodbye to them for the last time too. Again, I managed to make it through without any tears, even when little Samuel started screaming as we left.
Part of the reason for this is that it still didn’t feel real that we were leaving. I felt like we would be back in school with the kids after the weekend or we were saying goodbye to our families for a week while we went on a visa run. Because we’d been there for so long, leaving and not coming back didn’t make sense. This was my home. Why would I be leaving?
That lasted until the morning. When it was time to say goodbye to Saida and the girls, things got very real, very quickly. We promised everyone we would come back in 4 years, once we’ve graduated from uni but who knows, it may be longer before we can see them again. Daniela and Jamie are both desperate to come to the UK though so you never know!
We drove to San Pedro in a car that Victor organised for us, swinging by Tomalá to pick up Jesse and Lucy. The whole group was back together again for our last night in Honduras, minus Norome and Eva, our 8 month volunteers, who are staying another few weeks to travel.
Leaving Honduras was not easy. Even after a year, I feel like I had just settled in properly and then it was time to go. I could easily have stayed another year which made it even more frustrating that we had to leave. I wouldn’t change a single thing about this year though. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the kids I’ve had the pleasure of teaching and the country that I’ve fallen in love with, I will be back. It may be in four years, it may be longer, but I will be back.
Welcome to Candelaria, Lempira! I’m writing this on my last day in this beautiful town and I thought it was probably about time that you got a look at the place I’ve called home for the last 12 months!
6am – My alarm goes off and I promptly silence it and roll over.
6.30am – I wake up in a panic that I’ve massively overslept! (It’s ok, I’ve still got plenty of time!)
6.35am – We didn’t get a wash done at the weekend because of a water cut which means we have to try and fit one in before school today.
6.40am – Time for a shower! (actually pretty warm for once!)
6.50am – I get dressed, today in cut-off jeans and my Project Trust polo shirt.
7.05am – Breakfast today is cabbage and tomatoes, beans, avocado, plantain, mantequilla and a tortilla.
7.35am – I brush my teeth, put makeup on, and then realise the water has gone off so our washing has stopped. We’ll have to wait until later to start it up again, the water usually comes back in the afternoon.
7.57am – Before I leave to walk the minute and a half to Kinder (by myself beacuse Amy’s not feeling well today), I fill up my water bottle. Got to keep hydrated!
8am – Kinder starts. I teach the 5 year olds. It takes me 10 minutes to get them all into a circle to start singing If You’re Happy and You Know It. They won’t settle to it because they are overflowing with energy this morning so I try and get rid of some of it by playing the Bean Game. (It doesn’t work.) I give it one more attempt to do something productive, practising numbers, before giving in and singing Wind the Bobbin Up to finish. A lot of days are something like this – it can be quite hard to keep this many small children on track!
8.30am – I leave slightly early in despair. We finish anywhere between 8.30 and 8.40.
8.40am – I start walking to the primary school.
8.45am – Exactly on time, I arrive at school and start 1st grade’s lesson. We’re working on phonics with them at the minute so we recap long and short vowel sounds. Then we learn the rule that one vowel in a word means it’s a short sound. We have a workbook that we work through with this class so we fill in the appropriate page.
9.30am – Recreo a.k.a. breaktime. I sit around talking to some kids, most of whom just keep telling me not to go! Stop, you’re breaking my heart!
9.45am – Time for 4th grade where we are learning about body parts. I draw a monster on the board that has extra arms, legs, two heads, basically a very weird looking guy and they have to write down a list of all of Mr Monster’s body parts. When they finish they get to draw their own monster. Towards the end of the class I pass around a notebook that I want them all to sign before we leave.
10.35am – I’m a little late to my 6th grade class because signing the book took longer than expected. 6th grade are also doing body parts so I do the same lesson as with 4th grade but more streamlined. I limit the amount of things they have to write about Mr Monster so they don’t get overwhelmed. I also pass the book around from the start so it isn’t a mad rush at the end.
11.15am – That’s me finished with my classes for the morning. At this time the kids get their merienda (snack, but it’s more like an actual meal).
11.20am – I go back to my 4th grade class as promised so they can decorate their names a bit more in my book.
11.28am – I leave to go home for lunch.
11.29am – I remember I have forgotten to get homework from Amy’s 4th grade so she can still mark it so I turn around.
11.40am – Second time lucky right? Homework in hand I trek up the looming hill to the house.
11.45am – Dying from the heat and the extra weight of a pile of jotters, I arrive home.
12.10pm – Lunch is rice, pasta, cheese, salad and a tortilla.
12.45pm – I have a bit of time before my class in the high school so I watch some Netflix.
1.28pm – Another minute and a half walk takes me to the colegio.
1.30pm – My only class this afternoon is 7th grade. I taught some of the students in this class when they were in 6th grade. They are practising a dance for a competition next Monday when I arrive but only take a few minutes to finish up. This class like listening to a lot of English music so one of their favourtie things to do is to translate songs. Because this is our last class, we’re doing one they’ve been asking for for a while – Closer by The Chainsmokers. At the end I have them all sign my book too.
2.25pm – I walk back the way I came to the house.
2.35pm – Even though it’s only six days until I see her again I FaceTime Amy at home and we chat for a while.
4.00pm – I read for a bit and play with our baby sister, Antonella. She’s just learned to roll over but isn’t feeling like putting on a show for me just now.
5.00pm – Amy’s feeling better so we both go to the river with our other host sisters, Daniela and Jamie. The water is freezing but some splashing gets me accustomed pretty quickly!
6.10pm – Tacos flautas for dinner! I requested this as they are one of my favourite Honduran meals and I wanted to have them at least once more before we leave.
6.30pm – Because we’ve only got a few days left I start taking down letters and drawings from kids from the walls.
7.10pm – Amy and I went to a BBQ at the weekend and had some leftover biscuits and marshmallows so Jamie and I make use of them by making smores (or as I call them in Spanish, the marshmallow sandwiches)!
7.30pm – More taking things down and actual packing! Ordered piles of clothes! Clothes in the backpack! It’s now half full but there’s still a whole lot left!
8.45pm – I sit (or rather lie) down on my bed to write my journal. I am proud to say I have written in it for every day I have been out here!
10.00pm – I relax a little bit, watch some Netflix, read a little more.
¡Viva Lempira! Second only to Independence Day in terms of celebrations, it feels like we’ve been waiting for Lempira Day since we got here! The celebrations were very similar to those of Independence Day back in September. Amy and I marched with the primary school through the town and up to the central park and then hung around watching the traditional dances, the songs, the exhibition of all the beautiful costumes until the big finale, the re-enactment of the death of Lempira! We also sampled some of the food and drink our classes in the high school had prepared and were selling from booths they had constructed around the square.
Lempira (lem-peer-ah) was the war chieftain of the Lencas in the 1530’s, at the time of the Spanish conquistadores. The Lencas, one of Honduras’ indigenous groups, inhabited the western regions of Honduras and there are still 100,000 in the Honduran departments of La Paz, Intibuca, Lempira and Ocotepeque with a further 37,000 in El Salvador. The name Lempira comes from the Lencan words ‘lempa‘ (lord), ‘i‘ (of) and ‘era‘ (hill or mountain). It was under the leadership of Lempira that the Lencan tribes united to fight the Spanish, with a reported 30,000 men from over 200 towns under his command.
The 20th of July commemorates the death of Lempira. There are two different accounts of his death, the more widely recognised account which is the one taught in Honduran schools, and another that was not discovered until the 1980s and tells a very different story. According to the popular version of events, Lempira was lured by the Spaniards to negotiate when a concealed soldier shot him. The other version contests this by claiming that Lempira died not in an ambush but in combat, by having his head cut off.
Nowadays Lempira is remembered though the celebrations on 20th July. In 1931 the Honduran currency was renamed in his honour and 1943 the Gracias Department, where Lempira was from, was renamed the Lempira department. Candelaria is in the Lempira department!
We absolutely loved being part of this day, I think it was my favourite of the many celebrations we’ve had the honour of participating in this year. The costumes were absolutley beautiful. Amy and I were just going to wear jeans a Lempira tshirt but at the last minute our host mum Saida managed to find us some traditional outfits tp borrow! Among the usual gorgeous dance dresses and traditional outfits, many of the girls had used grains of rice, pinto beans, frijoles and corn kernels to decorate their dresses in various patterns, with flowers, even with outline of Lempira, the man or department, and the word Candelaria! They were incredible! Many of the boys also dressed up as Indians, which involved covering their bodies in black paint (completley unacceptable at home but just how they do things here) and wearing a skirt made of strips of material or sometimes bin bags and a bow and arrow.