When I first arrived in Honduras walking down the street was a bit perplexing for me. As someone who is used to meticulously organized US suburbs it was hard for me to understand what I was looking at when I saw this hodgepodge of small buildings lining the streets I walked down every day. I eventually realized though that having houses next to businesses was probably typical for the rest of the world, and once I got used to it I found it oddly comforting. Once I was able to recognize the ones that were houses and the ones that were places of business like pulperias or comedors things started to make more and more sense.
Whoever chose the long term volunteer house on behalf of the foundation definitely considered the three most important factors to keep in mind when house hunting: location, location, and location. The location of the house is ideal. We are right around the corner from a grocery store called Santa Gema. It has pretty much any sort of grocery that one would want. Across the street from Santa Gema are a few fruit stands where one can find many different fresh fruits and vegetables. The town square is located about a five-minute walk away from the house. The square has free Internet and is usually bustling with people and school kids. It is surrounded by restaurants and shops and the main street leading up to it, the boulevard, is the major commercial center for the city. It is lined with shops and stands where you can find a myriad of different foods, textiles, or services. On the same street as the long term volunteer house or a few blocks away are located many different pulperias. A pulperia is basically a small corner store where you can find drinks, snacks, and other small conveniences. Across the street from the house is a comedor that just opened up. A comedor is basically the front room of a house that someone serves food out of. The one across from us has excellent tajadas (friend plantain chips with sauce, cabbage, and meat).
While it might not be the white house or Buckingham Palace, the house where long-term volunteers stay is definitely a comfortable place to live. When looking at the house from the outside, it may not seem like much. The space that it takes up on the street is pretty small, but I have found in Honduras that the space that a house takes up on a street is a very small indicator of what the rest of the house is like. In front there is a gate that you pass through first that leads you to the front door. This is fairly typical of most of the Honduran houses I have seen and been in. There is also a larger gate and driveway where the foundation van or motorcycle is often parked.
Upon entering the house the first thing that you come across is the family room and dining room. It is a large area with a few couches and chairs, and also our two dining room tables. In this room is also the bookshelf where all the books from the former volunteers have accumulated. FYI there are about 5 copies of the same Honduras travel book. In the main part of the house that is closest to the street is also a bathroom, a kitchen, and two bedrooms. Located in this part of the house is also the large set of cabinets that house a plethora of different supplies and household items. It is basically the area that former volunteers leave everything that they do not want to take with them that may be useful to future volunteers. You never know what you may find in this gold mine.
To get to the rest of the house one must go outside through the courtyard. The courtyard is a really nice area that has some trees and plants and spaces to sit and relax. There is a couch and 5 plastic Adirondack chairs. The courtyard is also where we have our washing machine and the clotheslines. Off of the courtyard is the second kitchen. It is covered and enclosed but all the windows are open. It’s just like the other kitchen just with fewer frills. Both kitchens have refrigerators, freezers, microwaves, ovens, stoves, water coolers, and cooking utensils.
The house is built into a hill, so up a few steps and just off the courtyard is another room that has a bathroom attached to it. In another building that is off the courtyard and also up a few stairs there are 6 more rooms and 2 bathrooms. 3 bedrooms and a bathroom are downstairs and 3 bedrooms and a bathroom are upstairs. With nine rooms total everyone has their own space to relax and unwind. After a long day at school most of us come home and take a nap and have some time to ourselves.
Despite how well the house accommodates all of the volunteers, it does without a doubt have some flaws. Some are specific to the house and some just come along with living in Honduras. Mosquitoes, spiders, bugs, and the occasional cockroach are not uncommon to find in the courtyard. This means that finding them in the house on occasion is something that all of the volunteers have gotten used to. Because there is no hot water in the house, each shower-head is fitted with what is called a suicide shower. The idea of this is to take the cold water and run it through an electrical fixture on the shower-head in order to heat it up so it becomes bearable to stand under. By no means does this make it a hot shower, but when it is working at its best it does take most of the chill off of the water. Even though the house is located tucked away from the busiest part of town that does not mean that no noise reaches it. The noise heard from our house though is a bit different as it consists mostly of stray dogs barking, roosters crowing, and firecrackers going off. One last inconvenience that is a weekly occurrence is the planned power outage every Monday evening at 6pm. It lasts for about 3 hours. Even though this outage is planned every week it is not uncommon for the power to go out on any day at any time. It is important to keep in mind this is a fairly rural city located in a third world country so electricity and clean water should never be taken for granted.
The great part about this house is the way it is set up to create a tight knit community. With so many people living in one place tensions can definitely elevate if people do not have their own space, which this house provides. It is nice to have the option to be by yourself, but it is even better that there always seems to be people out on the patio chatting about plans for the weekend or what happened at school that day. On the weekends the mood around the houses is very relaxed and you can always find someone who wants to go grab a bite to eat, get some coffee, run some errands with you, or just hang out and chat or watch a movie. Every other week or so I have found that we end up hosting some sort of get together. Whether it is a barbecue with a friends and colleagues from the foundation and school, or a birthday party to celebrate one of our housemates the courtyard makes for a great place for a big group of people to gather.
The mixture of having a safe and secure place to lay your head and the people that you are surrounded by makes the volunteer house a distinctly familiar environment while at the same time being such a unique venue in itself. After traveling during the weekend and coming back to Juticalpa I have found that returning to the long term volunteer house really does feel like coming home.