As I sit amidst a 3 hour layover in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, excitement at finally being so close to home and stories and feelings from the past 6 months are filling my mind. I don't think I can summarize in a blog post what this trip and my work in Guatemala and Honduras meant to me. At least not yet, as I am still figuring that out.
I know I met some wonderful people, both through my volunteering with GVI and meeting travelers from all over while in each country from Mexico to Costa Rica. Traveling seems to bring together diverse people who would not otherwise make time for each other. The collective open-mindedness (mostly) and the need/desire to meet new people while traveling alone enables long or short-term friendships with people with whom at home I would probably not interact.
Another realization is that my motivation to rejoin my classroom at home is growing by the minute. This surprises me, and I owe it to my kids in Itzapa and San Rafael. Like kids all over the world, they take advantage of situations and are quite ornery, but they are kids who want to be in school. My teaching skills were challenged and improved in the last 6 months, and instead of dreading going back to traditional work, I am looking forward to it. And actually speaking English in my classroom will be quite a treat!
Since getting back from Mexico, I passed Semana Santa and Easter in Antigua, where people from all over the world literally packed the streets to see the colorful rugs made of sawdust, vegetables, plants, and flowers lining the roads to be walked over during the religious processions. The following week, I went to Honduras to say one more goodbye to my kids there en route to visit the GVI Nicaragua project. Copan did not disappoint, with the chance to play some drums during a hippie jam session, and a return to the Red Frog for one more world-famous uterus shot. In Esteli, Nicaragua, I had a wonderful time meeting and hanging out with the volunteers and staff there. They are working in a brand new GVI project, so brainstorming ideas for them and helping out for a few days was fun. And what else could be a better way to spend my second to last night in Central America than going to Las Vegas Nicaragua. Slot machines, neon lights, and girls without any substantial clothing filled the room decorated with images of the Vegas Strip. And yes, we did actually find ourselves dancing on the disco floor until midnight.
I got into Costa Rica late the next day, paid $5 for a 5-minute taxi ride (the equivalent in Nicaragua was 50 cents) to my hotel, and got up this morning to head to the airport. Falling into the category of people I would probably not interact with at home but that traveling brings us together, I had a couple of beers at the hotel last night with a very stereotypical surfer-dude from California living in Costa Rica. I thought the word "gnarly" was just from 80's movies, but no, it is a top word in this surfer's vocabulary.
And finally... I never did like the name of my blog, I just picked something. Now that I'm not in Central America, any suggestions?
My first solo travel in Latin America did not disappoint. As I needed to renew my Visa, I headed to Mexico. San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, both in the Mexican state of Chiapas, brought adventures, friends, and fabulous food. I was a little anxious about the solo travel... finding hostels in each city, public transportation between different places... but excited to try it on my own. The trip had its negative points... including an unfortunate incident with my pants at the border, the downpour that proved my belt solution to the pants problem to be inadequate, that whole pesky bed-bug issue in Pelenque that I have feverishly fought off and defeated (I think!), and being told it was my lucky day by a man who said he would blow my f**king head off if he had a gun and a bullet when I wouldn't give him money to take care of his "lost passport" problem (perhaps this is a positive, as no gun and bullet were present).
San Cristobal is a beautiful colonial-style town, with lots of travelers and lots to do. Palenque is a city where tourists get in, do the two local attractions- Mayan ruins and waterfalls- and get out! Swimming in Misol-Ha falls was fantastic. I have never been so close to a powerful waterfall. The ruins were breathtaking, as all of the ruins sites I have visited just amaze me. In San Cristobal, I visited a Mayan natural medicine museum, getting to watch a 12-minute rather graphic video on Mayan childbirth. I also bought drops that are a natural remedy for cold sores (called "fuego de la boca- fire in the mouth) that also conveniently work for eye infections. From San Cristobal, I took a boat ride through the vast walls Canon del Sumidero and visited a rain forest style zoo.
Though I met cool people to do some of this stuff with, making the arrangements and travel on my own was good for me. Getting from San Cris to Palenque involved public transportation and switching in the middle, with me being the ony gringo the entire trip. And a little frustrating arriving in 100-degree Palenque (San Cris was in the 70's during the day) to find out I was too late to take either trip that day and was going to have to stay an extra night in this not overly-inviting town. Things always work out though, and that evening I met my new Aussie friend, a 57-year-old man riding his motorcycle from Chile to Alaska. We hung out for the rest of the time in Palenque and he was actually heading to San Cristobal next, so we had time together there as well. With a bit of job-hunting luck, I may meet him in Cali this summer.
As the date needed to renew my Visa was just before the start of spring break for the kids, I got to spend a week in Mexico. The next few days here in Antigua are going to be filled with processions, music, and colorful rugs decorating the streets for Holy Week and Easter. Monday is my last day at work, and Wednesday I head to Honduras to begin my journey home. The travel bug has hit me, though, so let's see what the summer brings!
Last Friday was the last day for 6 volunteers in Itzapa. Along with meaning that next week we is going to be incredibly short-handed and I will basically be teaching in 2 and a half classrooms and monitoring the others, it also means saying goodbye to some great people. Work won't be the same Monday without the normal crew. Since so many were leaving Friday, Elena, the community leader who feeds us and supports/aids the school in many ways, provided traditional indigenous clothing for all of the female volunteers to try on. She also gave us all some of the all-natural shampoo her womens' group makes... I'll have to see if I like my hair in aloe-vera scent! The dressing-up was a lot of fun, and the kids loved seeing us walk in. Most of the girls and women in Itzapa wear indigenous dress. Indigenous dress is also seen around Antigua and even Guatemala City. Most of the kids at our school also speak Mayan Kaqchikel as their first language and Spanish as their second. The thriving indigenous culture differs here greatly from the situation in Honduras, only hours away. The Mayan heritage is just as strong there, with the famous Copan Ruins being about a mile from where I lived in Copan. However, I never saw anyone in Mayan dress. Very few speak the language, and the traditions are basically extinct. There are some controversial political issues going on with trying to bring back the culture.
After the crazy week of work next week, ending with my birthday Friday, I will be headed to San Cristobal, Mexico to renew my visa. I return in time for Semana Santa, i.e. a week off of work (this is just too late for my visa renewal). I head back to work for one or two days, then on April 15 begin my journey home. The director has been promising me a visit to the Nicaragua project ever since my interning there fell through. On the way I am going to visit the Honduras project and see my kids one more time. From Nicaragua, the closest, cheapest way home is via San Jose, Costa Rica. I am excited for the upcoming travel, though have mixed feelings about leaving. I want to come home, but really can't believe how quick it has all gone! Really, just one more crazy week of work. Ending with a celebration and followed by being in 6 countries in three weeks. So, who's up for road trips in May?... it might be hard to stay still!
A bit after the fact, I know, but I've been wanting to tell about an experience of a parent/teacher meeting I had in San Rafael, Honduras, before leaving the last time (about a month ago now). The head teacher at the school called a mandatory meeting on a Tuesday at 10am. The kids got to leave early. About 5 parents showed up. The meeting was rescheduled for Friday at 10am, and a note was sent home with the kids saying that families who did not send a parent to the meeting would have to pay 50 Lempiras (about $2.50). Forty-five parents came Friday. Some by means of horseback. The parents sat in the kids desks and chairs in the largest of the schools three classrooms.
The meeting including voting for officers of the Society of Families (like a PTA, I think?) and officers for the Merrienda Committee (they arrange the groups of families who take turns making the rice, beans, and tortilla lunches for the kids each day with government money... when the money shows up). Nobody was volunteering, and everybody was nominating each other. Then they went around the room for each position in each committee to vote outloud on the nominees. Some of the contests were close, and you could sense the pressure on the last few people to have to voice their vote. GVI is also starting an adult literacy program in San Rafael. Once a week the volunteers teach basic spanish literacy to adults. While discussing this program at the meeting, the teacher asked each parent individually if he/she could read and write and if they wanted to participate in the class. They all gave seemingly honest answers out loud, with the majority not being literate.
The parents seemed like students sitting in the desks and being made to speak aloud and answer questions. But they really didn't seem to mind. As the other volunteers and I watched the meeting unfold, we were amazed at how different this was from any such meeting in the states. It worked for them, though. People vented, issues were resolved, and committees chosen. The same results any meeting would hope to achieve.
I thought I'd put up a couple of pics from Honduras with this post. And in about 2 weeks, I'll be going back for a quick visit. More on that and my upcoming journey home via a few different countries in a post coming soon, I hope.
As I expected, the almost 9 days of Marty´s visit went way too quickly. Trips to Lake Atitlan, Tikal, a coffee plantation, a hike on active Volcan Pacaya, a Guatemalan cooking class, and lots of walking and eating in Antigua kept us busy. I´m sure he´ll fill you in on the details! It was wonderful having Marty here, finally getting to see the things and meet the people that have been part of my stories for so long.
In other news, I finally have a home. Not that I was exactly homeless, but the GVI house for interns has been full since Christmas. I went home for Christmas, and for the first couple of weeks after Christmas I lived with a family in Antigua. Then I headed to Honduras for a month. Back to Antigua, and in with a different family. Then Marty´s visit, so a week of leaving my bags at the GVI house and taking what I needed for our hotels and trips for the week. After far more packing and unpacking than I enjoy in a 10 week period, I finally have all my stuff in a room in a house that should be mine until the end of April! In case you're interested, my new address is Las Arcadas; casa #4; 9a Calle Poniente; Antigua Guatemala Sacateqequez; Guatemala, Centroamerica. Now I just need to somehow adapt to the most uncomfortable bed I´ve had in Central America, and figure out what I´m going to prepare for the intern group once a week on my cooking night!
When I left Copan, Honduras before Christmas, I thought it was for the last time, at least for the foreseeable future. After Christmas, my director asked me if I would go back to Copan to cover for a few weeks during a lapse in intern coverage. No problem, so after a week and a half working in Guatemala, I came back to Copan. Three weeks was up last weekend. I had my shuttle booked for 6am Sunday. I said goodbye to many people Friday and Saturday. Then Saturday night, via email, the director and I decided it would be best for me to stay here for one more week for different coverage and logistical reasons. It was my initial suggestion, so I was fine with this change. People were surprised to see me Sunday and then Monday at work and in Spanish school, and joked that I am never leaving. This weekend is now my weekend to leave. My shuttle was booked for 6am today, Sunday. After getting up at 5:15 and waiting until 7, the shuttle never showed up. They were not answering the phone. When the office opened at 9, I went and got myself booked on the noon shuttle without having to pay again. He was very apologetic and said it was partly his personal fault. I know this apology is nothing by American standards, and I would have most likely gotten a refund or a discount at home, but it is more than you usually get around here.
So I had another day of saying goodbye yesterday. I've run into friends this moring and the Spanish school director, and people now don't believe I'm actually going to leave this place. 4 times saying goodbye for the "last" time is a bit much. You could drive yourself crazy getting frustrated over times, schedules, and logistics here... like we were saying yesterday when we met for an activity scheduled for 9am that started at 11. For your own sanity, you kind of learn to just go with it. As long as I make it Friday for Marty's visit:)