Gifts Honduras Gave Me
This is my third trip volunteering in the bilingual schools with Olancho Aid. I come to the schools after a lifetime in US schools as a teacher, administrator, college professor, and literacy coach. While I arrive in Honduras with the intention of teaching school teachers and administrators, I actually learn as much from being here as I give. Volunteering in another country has helped me to think about everything that is comfortable and familiar to me in the US. And to question why I do what I do and if I might want to do things differently.
One thing that is markedly different between my experience in Honduras and the US is the pace of living. From the moment I arrive in Honduras I see myself slowing down – whether I want to or not. The lines at the airport, the service in restaurants, the schedules of buses, meetings that always start later than scheduled – all these are achieved at a much slower tempo. I have a choice – I can either become impatient or accept the pace and ask myself why I’m in such a hurry.
If there is one lesson for me to learn from Honduras, it is flexibility. “The best laid plans of mice and men” are put aside and changed in a moment’s notice. I need to go with flow because fighting against it is a frustrating proposition. And is it a bad thing that I become less rigid in my expectations of people and events? I don’t think so. I know it will be an adjustment returning to the bustle and scheduled life I lead in the US, but I will bring with me a more hakuna matata attitude if I’m late to an appointment or when something doesn’t go as planned.
As a result of having a more flexible (unpredictable) day to day life, I have learned (am learning) to be a more improvisational problem solver. If my motto is to make the best of any situation, when things don’t go as planned – what do I do? I came here to be productive and contribute to the mission of the schools. I’ve discovered there is always something to do even if it isn’t what I thought I’d be doing when I woke up in the morning. And so when presented with a change in schedule or routine, I look around at what is needed, reach out to help, and do what needs to be done. Which might mean helping out in a classroom, working with a small group of students to turn their stories into books, brainstorming with administration, practicing my inadequate Spanish with native speakers, etc. Everyday is a challenge and an unexpected adventure. Being open to whatever the day will bring rather than living by a preset plan is the lesson I will bring back with me to the US.
That’s my weekdays. Weekends are a different story. Life in Juticalpa is very mellow. Some people might call it even predictable. Without a car (and no I don’t want to drive in Honduras although I know a few people from the US who brave the roads behind the wheel), I do a lot of walking. Fortunately, I like to walk. Basically there are restaurants (and I’ve discovered the ones I like), two medium sized malls with US fast food (in case I’m missing it), and of course shopping. The big must each weekend is buying groceries and fresh produce (and they have great fresh fruits and vegetables in Honduras). I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but the truth is I enjoy taking a chance on a new fruit, tea, squash that I’ve never seen in the US. I have grown to enjoy the down time on the weekends to accomplish all those things I never have time for in the US. I finished a sweater that I had been working on for two years. I continue to take an online herbal course, that I probably will never finish, but I persist one lesson at a time. I read, read, read. And watch online movies. Even though there’s technically “nothing” to do, somehow the weekends fly by and I’ve learned the value of taking time to do as little or as much as I want.
Finally, I want to mention the people I’ve come to know in Honduras. I am blessed with a group of volunteers at Olancho Aid who share life with me everyday. We span a wide range of ages, experiences, and interests. And yet we are all here together figuring this out. We share one community meal a week and often eat out or walk together on weekends. We visit a local site, museum or coffee shop (no Starbucks, but Espresso Americano which is kind of the same). We get together to watch the Super Bowl or to play board/card games, and talk, talk, talk. In my times in Honduras, I’ve learned so much from enjoying the company of other volunteers from all over the US and other countries. I must also mention the Honduran people I’ve met. They have been so accepting of this stranger in their midst. Their patience, assistance, and kindness teach me every day to return their gifts in kind to those I meet. I cannot count the number of “Buenas Dias” greetings I give and get every day. I will bring back that habit with me when I return to the US (in stoic northern New England) and try to spread around the joy those greetings have brought me.
Of course there is much more I could write about my time volunteering in Honduras, but it’s probably best that people take the chance and come here to experience it in their own way. You won’t regret it. Who knows? You might learn something about yourself that you never knew.
Volunteer 2017, 2018, 2020