Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reflections on the first week.

I survived the first week!

It’s been quite a long week, too. Truthfully, it feels as though we’ve been here for at least a month. There has been so much to take in, to process, and to reflect on that time seems to pass pretty slowly.

A large part of my time here is focused on simple living. As it turns out, however, simple living isn’t so simple at all. At my home in RI, I have a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, a car, a grocery store to go to, disposable napkins, clean water, electricity and so much more that I have always taken for granted. I’m sure most of you reading this take it for granted too. A couple weeks ago, you could probably find me in my room, on my computer scanning facebook, playing minesweeper, or watching a movie. I loved nighttime because I had at least one TV show to watch every night, and after my parents went to bed, I had our big TV and our huge family room all to myself so I could be a lazy couch potato. But for all those hours I spent focused on television, I can’t even remember what I watched.

From only one week of being here, however, I remember…

… the couple hours I spent with Norlan - our neighbor - his wife, his two daughters, and his two nieces the other night when we had them over for dinner. I remember Nayid, his 5 year old daughter, giggling as she sat on my lap as I played Mancala with Alexandra, Daniella, and Nicole.

… struggling to speak Spanish to the sisters, and I remember how happy I was when I understood them speak Spanish to me over lunch on Friday.

… being baffled over the fact that I have to turn on the water pump every time I want to use the water.

… turning on the gas every time I want to light the oven or stove (with matches),

… spending an hour washing my clothes by hand on the stone basin outside, and hanging them out to dry.

… cutting Alex’s hair (which was my first time cutting anyone’s hair).

… digging up our yard to plant a garden.

… spending a few hours at the farm helping put a roof on the greenhouse. (Though I admittedly did little more than stand there and occasionally pass a tool to the actual workers.)

… filling up our water cooler so we can have clean water for the week.

… playing uno with Matt and Alex.

… throwing my toilet paper in the trash because it can’t be flushed down the toilet.

… Fr Craig making Alex, Matt and I stand up during mass on Sunday so he could introduce us to the community.

… the first time I paid with a lempira.

… thinking about killing the rooster across the street.

… having to go to a few small stores to find the groceries we need.

And truthfully, there are so many more memories that I don’t have enough time to write. It’s been quite an eventful week, and I’ve rarely wished I was sitting down on my computer, or watching TV. Though I must admit, I’m a bit on the edge of my seat right now not having a TV because the Patriots and Ravens are playing for a spot in the Superbowl and the last time I pressed refresh on my computer the Pats were losing 16-17. Speaking of which, here’s a fun fact of the day: I’m living with a Jets fan and a Giants fan. I know, I know, it’s a pretty big sacrifice I’m making for the year.

So no, this simple living isn’t so simple (though I am kidding about the football sacrifice), but it’s the most memorable, and the most fun I’ve had in a long time. It’s tough work do basic things I can easily do back home, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even learning Spanish – despite my constant struggles and making a fool out of myself – is pretty fun and fulfilling. This week has opened my eyes to so many new realizations, and it’s made me so much more aware of my surroundings. All of these things I’m doing that are tough for me are things that the people of Guaimaca have been doing for their whole lives. This is their life, and for most, it always will be. I’ve heard it said that the United States is such a powerful country, and there are lots of accomplished and successful people, but I doubt half of US citizens could live without internet, washer, dryers, clean water, etc. I doubt they could live the way the people of Guaimaca, and the surrounding aldeas live every day.

Ha! He missed the field goal! Patriots are going to the Superbowl!!! You know, I’m even looking at the Patriots game in a new light from being here for a week. As excited as I am to see all my future husbands head to Indianapolis, I feel really bad for the Ravens kicker. The poor guy won’t ever be the same. Now THAT is something that must be hard to live with.

Ok, I’m getting back on track now. Basically, I’m loving life. I know it’s not always going to be easy, and I know it’s not always going to be fun, but it’s something that will be a part of me for the rest of my life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Our first few days in Guaimaca.

10 months ago I signed up for the International Extension program that Stonehill offers to graduating seniors. I spent my spring break volunteering in Guaimaca, Honduras, and I simply fell in love with the town. From the first day of my spring break I debated whether or not I should apply for the program, and spent the rest of the week talking to the sisters and other long-term volunteers about my decision. When I returned to Stonehill, I quickly applied, knowing that if I waited any longer I would change my mind.

After I was accepted, I played the waiting game for 10 months. I spent that time working at an amazing biotech company, hanging out with family/friends, trying to learn Spanish, and shadowing my aunt’s 8th grade classes. And then, finally, January 9th came along. It was a day I had waited so long for, it was hard to believe it was finally here. So I packed my bags (very last minute), tearfully said bye to my parents, and moved into Stonehill for a week long orientation with the other two volunteers, Matt and Alex. We shared the orientation with the 5 volunteers traveling to India for a year of service. After an incredible week together, it was finally time to leave every ounce of comfort we had (at least for me) and move to a new country.

Stepping off the plane into Honduras was absolutely incredible. It was warm, sunny, and I just felt so happy. We met up with Sister Marta, had some lunch, drove out of Tegucigalpa, and finally arrived in Guaimaca. But as the day went on, I felt less and less happy to be there. Reality gave me hard slap in the face when I had my first conversation in Spanish and realized how little I knew. I panicked for the rest of night, and debated whether or not I could do this for a year.

As it turns out, 48 hours with very little sleep kinda makes you a bit stressed, and once I collapsed into bed for a solid 10 hours of rest, I felt 100% better. Saturday and Sunday were days we spent getting acquainted with the town, and with our neighbors. This is Matt’s second year in Guaimaca, so he has been an incredible help in settling into our new lives. As far as my Spanish goes, Alex and Matt have been pushing me to try speaking Spanish as much as I can (they are both fluent). Today, we met some parents and some girls of the Marie Poussepin Center (the school we will be teaching at). Of course I was super shy, but Matt told me just go up to someone and introduce myself. I said I would in a little bit, but he decided to help me out and introduce me to one of the girls. I thought I understood what he was saying to her, but suddenly he looked at me and said, “Ok, so I told her you’re going to follow her around and practice your Spanish on her and her friends.” I couldn’t think of a fast enough way to back out of it, so I followed her and asked the only 2 questions I was comfortable with, “Como se llama?” and “Cuantos anos tienen?” Fortunately, Diana, Julissa, Roxanna and Jessica (the girls I met as a result of Matt’s help) were perfectly fine with those 2 questions, and we had a small conversation.

Matt and Alex both say that I can ask them for help with Spanish, but Alex does this thing where I’ll ask him if I said something right, and he says no, only to repeat the exact same thing I just said. For example, this was a conversation we had today,

Me: Does “Quien es el?” mean, “Who is he?”

Alex: No, it’s “Quien es?”

Me: Ok, so “Quien es?”

Alex: No, you need "el" at the end so it’s “Quien es el?”

I have Matt there as proof, because Alex denies this conversation. In all seriousness though, they have both been completely committed to helping me learn Spanish, and I’ve already learned so much from them. We had a long conversation today with one of the sisters about our future work and they both sat down with me later to make sure I understood everything that she said. They noticed what parts I was confused on, and made sure they explained them.

All in all, living in Guaimaca has been an incredible experience, and I’ve only been here for 3 days! Alex and Matt are wonderful to live with, the town is beautiful, and our neighbors have been really friendly. The first day I met the little girls who live next door, I received 2 bracelets from them as a "welcome" present, despite how little they have. Isn't it amazing how I have to travel thousands of miles to learn what solidarity means when these little girls are already living it?