Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And some strangers will buy you mangoes!

Sometimes I find myself wondering, how did I get in the back of this police truck?
No really, how did this happen?
Not the paddywagon, mind you. The metal bench in the back of the Policía car that saved us from thumbing all the way down the 5-South. We didn’t feel particularly lucky after being dropped off in front of a corner store, pulpería, and stood up as if on a bad date. Most people are wonderful, and trustworthy, and sometimes, people forget that they were driving you to Zambrano and leave you at a hot, dusty corner listening to a borracho singing mariachi music.

For all the bad I’ve heard of the Honduran police – they are corrupt, they are corrupt, and hey, they are corrupt – at least they have a soft spot for pathetic looking gringos.

The cement truck.
But this was the end, the journey worth just as much as the destination (the lake that we never saw, because we were more interested in finding fried fish and relaxing and taking showers in the hot water at the hostel. I maxed out at three showers in two days.) Definitely more interesting was roaming around Peña Blanca getting cat-called and eating ice cream out of an old man’s push cart, and admiring giant banyan trees, and spitting semi-confident Spanish at some caballeros around the fire pit.

The fish.
The memory that is worth shelving is standing in the truck bed, watching the mountains pass, the sugar cane pass, cutting open a mango with a pocketknife and having sticky mango fingers for hours. Drinking real beer from the only known Honduran microbrewery, hammock hanging, foot after foot of miles in my shoes that finally gave me blisters. And smiles are passed around like water bottles: the Honduran road is an unsuspecting ally.

Six hours there, eight hours back – we hauled ourselves in at 3:30 yesterday covered in dust and sweat.

We went to Peña Blanca this weekend, and it was amazing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stress Free by Design

It is not a prison.

It might be the coffee, possibly the leftover excitement that I’ve always had from teaching; my heart is racing and my hands excited.

The students aren’t really students. I generally refer to them as “The Girls,” if I have to, but it wasn’t too difficult to memorize 23 names. We eat breakfast together, sometimes in comfortable quiet, most of the time in an uproar of Spanglish. We gather firewood together, play soccer together, kitchen dance reggaeton, haul toilet bucket water from the hill, smoosh compost, we cook together, and saying “Good night” and “Good morning” is almost unnecessary: it's more like "Be right back."

Therefore, it seemed strange at first that the “students” were about my age, and we live together in the middle of forest. I can’t put my finger on why there really isn’t any problem. Maybe it’s because everyone loves to learn, and everyone needs someone to teach. I’m the “expert.” I’m the one responsible for my goals, my methods, my assessments. I am the Controller of Fun, the Shah of Expectations, and the Queen of Keeping It Cool. Somewhere along the way, I picked up this ability: there is no stress related to my job.

There is no stress related to my job! Good Heavens, I think she’s got it. I teach math slowly and with lots of stories and pictures. I teach English with a lot of heavy handed no nonsense “You will absolutely succeed if you listen to everything I say.” My English girls started with nothing, some of them only “Hello.” Now I get chased down after classes to define words, spend dinner talking about spoons, forks and knives, and giving lots of hugs.

And we learn to swim together, and sing American club songs together, and share idioms together, and por lo menos, every day this week I have Birken-flopped away from my classroom with satisfaction. Across the road in the student dorms, I can hear the Freshmen practicing their difficult words: NOT esleeping! Ssssssl-eeeeeee-ppppping. NOT sinking! Th th th th th th inking.

Despite the window made of bars (lovely cross breeze!), and the mice that sometimes run across the floor at night, and the limited supply of paper and even less available copies, you couldn’t even offer to pay me to adore this job. I already do.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Descent, or How I Learned to Climb in Wet Pants

It wasn’t until the last five minutes of walking that Alli fell down the hill, confirming the feeling I had been trying to suppress all day: climbing can be a little scary. Bouncing up and finding her glasses unbroken, banged up in the knees and elbows, she was lucky, we inhaled, and continued down the hill.

I’m not a terribly experienced rock climber, or rock hopper, or rock balancer, or rock jumper. It’s a quick lesson to learn that forward is forward, whether it involves finding footholds, using branches as makeshift monkey bars, or playing hopscotch over the river: if you turn back, you will be alone, so don’t even think about it.

And so in this manner, sweating but determined, that we found our way from the top to the bottom of the waterfall, a big ‘ol waterfall, the pool filled with icy water and pouring down like a thumbtack exfoliant on your back. I loved it. What a reward after navigating nearly two hours of Swiss Family Robinson meets Indiana Jones meets Last of the Mohicans! Finding power and strength in places I didn’t even know existed, like my legs, like my arms, like my stubbornness and inability to feel less capable than anyone else: I couldn’t stop thinking Where am I, and how do I stay?

After only a week it felt strange to leave school campus, even though we only camped an hour away: I missed it. It’s a ridiculously special place when the students are here, women that are just as easily singing buddies, laundry washing companions, even teammates. (I “played” soccer twice. I’m batting about 50% on the ball/foot connection.) Friday we took the new students to learn to swim. Teaching adults to swim, an intuitive skill for everyone else I know in urban reality, is magical. Kick kick kick kick kick, trying to cheerleader them through what must be terrifying. Trying to convince Claudia that she will not sink when she tries to float, trying to hold Nidia’s legs together as she flops furiously. And after a week of establishing classroom routine, setting a tone of trust and humor, I am home.


Sleeping outside, under the stars, under a sleeping bag, next to a fire (that I make Zippo fast now), with occasional sprinkles on the face, giggling in the half dark, illuminated by the moon, full of a few s’mores and a bit more ron, I think I can make an exception for getting away, just for a little while.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sin Agua, or the Six Bucket Flush

This has nothing to do with the water outage except that the best thing to do when there is no water is to distract oneself with a sunset.

If I had to guess, right now (9:05 AM) would mark about 50 hours without running water, and for 50 hours, we have not been able to flush toilets, wash our hands, wash dishes for 40 people three times daily, shower, or wash laundry – without hauling a ten gallon bucket up a hill to fill from the reserve tank.

And so I propose a solution to all of these things:

Only go Number One and take other business to the expanses of forest.
Bum hand sanitizer off thankfully over-prepared roommates.
Eyelash flutter until someone with a machismo complex fills your bucket of water.
River shower, don’t forget the shampoo.
Use extra deodorant.

And by following these practical rules, I have managed to stay well hydrated, reasonably smelling, and appreciative  of the small things, such as our drinking water has remained unaffected by the very unfortunate break in the water line, apparently a few miles up the mountain.

Adaptation. It seems like I’ve been here a lifetime already. Scrubbing undies on the pila, washing my feet before I step into bed (I don’t want to have dirt spots in there), eating at least six tortillas, eating at least two eggs, batting the giant flying beetles away from my face after dark.

Jumping off the waterfalls, I don’t think I’ll get tired of having a swimming pool/watering hole/rock climbing wall right in the backyard. It really hasn’t been much of an OH NO without the water because there is plenty. Climbing twenty feet, thirty feet to (cautiously, with much hesitation, but then commitment) fly off the ledge and into the jade green water. It’s as much of a shower as I could get in our house.

I am completing this at 6:30 PM and the water has been back for about 4 hours. People are scrambling for the showers like the shower was made of chocolate and pizza, which are other things people would go crazy for. I went to the river. I’ll get dusty before bedtime anyway.

***Fast forward to 8:45 AM, when the water is yet again not working because we have to fill the tanks. So I went to the bathroom to prepare for my day, armed with the bucket of water filled to “flush” the toilet. So I went. And I poured, and it persisted. Dragged the bucket out to the laundry station to refill. Fail. Four more times and I had attracted an audience: apparently, it has never taken someone six buckets of water to flush the toilet. But victory tastes so sweet when accompanied by perseverance. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Pregnant Dog Followed The Whole Way

Last night we were driven home in the back of a pickup truck, standing, watching the stars pass over our heads. Five gringos, two perros, and six members of the family that had let us eat dinner in their dining room. This was the same “non-road” road we had taken on the way up from the airport, but at night, yakking in bad Spanish with strangers, I wasn’t even scared this time.

The Spanish practice is really paying off,
even at the price of my feet and legs. (Bite count: 32) 
We had hiked the extreme road (is it really possible to just keep going up for nearly two hours?) to Las Botijas, an unreal “metropolis” in the middle of nowhere. Even more in the middle of nowhere than us, who have two neighbors within a ten minute walk and have to hitchhike two hours down the mountain to the nearest tiny grocery store. But Las Botijas has it hooked up: street lamps! Bars! More than three houses! We puffed over the last ridiculous incline and proceeded to drink the best worst beer I have ever had. He only had five left in a nearly empty giant freezer and we bought four.

The sun had just set and we were a particular shade of starving, having survived the laughable inclines of our walk. There was a second bar down the road, and apparently a woman who can cook. Walking, walking, walking, we pass houses with televisions outside: there is a soccer match between Honduras and Mexico (Honduras didn’t win, which is probably why everyone seemed sedate.)

Bar two, “Raul Bar,” is in a windowless house that looks nothing like a bar, but like…a windowless house. Procedure calls for a knock on the door. He recognizes Drew, our fearless leader, and we walk into a room full of pool tables and blue  collar men. A lifetime of feeling like a foreigner had prepared me for the moment that we entered as the only white women these men had seen for a long time. Awkward, amused, aware. We sit, buy beers, bags of chicarrones (at this point I probably would have eaten anything,) and then Drew and I leave to negociate a meal.

We interrupt a large family relaxing in their garden (here comes that assertiveness I've been sharpening my whole life!), and I become the interpreter, asking if it would be possible to have dinner for five, we would pay anything and it didn’t matter how long it took. What do you want? Eggs? Cheese? Whatever, anything, amazing! Thirty minutes later after some conversation with the sons and a little confusion, we were sat at their family dinner table, where this angel of a mom had made rice, refried black beans, fresh cheese and scrambled eggs. And a giant plate of corn tortillas. The kids brought us ice water.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so grateful for a meal, so surprised by a meal, or enjoyed a meal so much as the one this family made for us. When we finished, she quoted us “150 Lempiras.” $7.50. We gave her more, I gave her a terrific hug, and the husband said he could drive us home.

And here we end up on the back of the truck, even with our dogs from campus who stayed with us the whole way, even pregnant Macarena ready to pop. This kind of generosity exists in all corners of the world, but I’ve never been brave enough to ask for it, especially in Spanish. We asked to be dropped off about 15 minutes from home (that truck might not have made it over another river crossing), and gave him every penny we had on us. 

Really, what’s $5 a person for one of the most beautiful nights we’ve ever had?