Monday, June 27, 2011

Reflections on life in the US and Honduras

I’ve been back in Honduras for 16 days since my trip home to the US. In that time I’ve wanted to blog and tell a little about my trip home and compare some of the things between the US and Honduras. Why did I wait so long though? Well, practical reasons such as being busy with work and having to take multiple trips to Tegucigalpa for a root canal. But, also reasons such as having to wait to soak in Honduras again instead of how I felt upon first returning from the US, basically getting used to it again. Thank God this time only took a few days instead of a couple of months like last year when I first got here.

On why I love America…

My trip to the US reminded me of what I love about America: variety and freedom. I know for a fact I’ve mentioned variety before and will preach on it again now, but it’s what makes the US so amazing. From my first moments back on US soil in the Atlanta airport trying to find food to eat I could see the variety all around. The first food I ate was a falafel pita followed by vanilla yogurt with fresh blueberries and strawberries for dessert. Nothing I would ever find outside of Tegucigalpa. Wandering the gates looking at all the destination cities reminded me of how huge the US is and how each different city is unique and has something to show for its culture and history. Skipping ahead to a few days into my trip, shopping for groceries where you can buy it all in one place and every item has its price posted, trips to Target when they were closing in half hour’s time (definitely NOT enough time) and restaurant menus (knowing it’s all available, whereas here in Honduras you will frequently be told a menu item is unavailable). The options made available on a daily basis in the US are truly overwhelming.

When I say freedom, I’m not talking the whole America, “Land of the free, home of the brave stuff.” None of the freedom of religion or speech stuff either – although extremists both liberal and conservative tend to abuse such freedoms. Of course I love all that, but that’s without saying. No, when I say freedom, I mean personal freedom. Freedom to live your life as you choose without other people interfering or judging (ok, they do it, but we don’t care in the US what people think about us). Also, freedom to go and be mobile. In Honduras I am under constant surveillance and scrutiny. Some local people gossip about me, which in the times I’ve been aware of it, has been malicious and fabricated. In the US we call people who try to bring you down “haters” and are told not to pay them any attention. It’s how we live and we do so without shame. I love that in the US everyone is too busy caring about their own life to not care about mine. That’s exactly how it should be.

Obviously, the best part of being home was seeing family and friends. From being accosted by the surprise attack of my best friend as I exited a SFO restroom to sprinting across the Denny’s parking lot to wrap my mom in a huge bear hug after seeing her for the first time in 15 months, the excitement of seeing friends and family was more than words. Having friends want to spend as much time with me as possible while I was in the US was the best feeling ever. It certainly made being at home feel like it was a billion times better than Honduras, instead of just the actual million that it is. Seeing my three- and five-year-old nephews go from being shy and ignoring me to fighting for my attention during a tickle war brought tears of joy to my eyes. I had feared their short memories would have erased me. The way everyone was vying for my time and attention made me feel so loved and wanted after spending time living without any family and great friends who are good people, but still people I can never have a good connection with like my US friends with whom I share native language and culture.

Coming back to Honduras…

While I was in the US I frequently caught myself saying, “When I get home…” referring to Honduras. People would catch it as well and seem to be surprised that I called Honduras home. The truth of the matter is that for the time being, it is my home. This is where I have my own house decorated and furnished (more or less, based on budget restrictions) the way I like it. My work is here. Like I mentioned in previous posts, I know I’m not saving the world and maybe not even changing lives, as I’d hoped, but I am really enjoying the work I have right now. I’ve found my niche here in Guaimaca working with youth and more specifically young girls. This “job” of being a volunteer is the best. It’s like being an entrepreneur with much less stress and responsibilities.

Don’t believe coming back wasn’t one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have no contract with the Peace Corps. If I choose to end my service today, I could call someone right now and tell them as much. If that were the case I could probably be packed and out of the country within four or five days. However, besides the fact that I’m at a point where I’m really enjoying my work right now, I’ve got a lot of pride and a stubborn streak that won’t permit me to back out on my word of having made a two year commitment to the people of Guaimaca. As we approached the Honduran coast on the flight from Miami to Tegucigalpa and the pilot announced we would be landing within half an hour, my heart started an irregular rhythm and I couldn’t fight the urge to cry. As we circled the mountains and landed in Tegucigalpa I cried like a baby. I’m not entirely sure why. I can hypothesize that it may be because the awesomeness of a great trip back home was officially over and I was heading back to a life where I make so many sacrifices to do a job that sometimes isn’t as appreciated as I wish it were. Walking into the customs hall and standing in the ‘Honduran Nationals’ and ‘Residents’ line where I was checked back into country quicker than all the do-gooder short-term mission trip “gringos” by the customs agent that happens to be my friend’s mom helped me feel good about being back. I called a taxi driver I trust and he took me to the bus station which would lead me back to Guaimaca.

That whole process made me feel a different sense of freedom not like what I feel in the US. I am able to navigate this country and know how to do so safely, because of all the experience I’ve gained from living here for 15 months. That element of routine and familiarity is what made coming back to Honduras feel good. I got back to Guaimaca and fell into the groove that I had left a few weeks before. For the time being this is where I’m supposed to be and it feels right.

And it comes down to this…

My life in Honduras gives me responsibilities never before had in the US. Working with youth and shaping their future for one that will hopefully be different is very rewarding. In comparison with my US work, this is a million times more important. Brewing some coffee or making copies, which I did in my two previous jobs in the US were merely sources of income and didn’t have much importance as it’s something anyone can do. I’m an ambassador to the people of Guaimaca and it falls on me to do the US proud. I do all this work as best I can while teaching and trying to change stereotypes: both of Americans and what the future holds for a Honduran youth.

My trip back to the US was a very romanticized version of what life there is truly like. Friends and family were vying for my attention because I’d been gone for 15 months and will be gone for another 12. Day to day life in the US doesn’t have people clamoring for my time like that. People aren’t always willing to treat me when eating out on a normal basis in the US. Treating the poor Peace Corps Volunteer is something I will only be able to enjoy on that trip home. Being able to sleep in and do whatever you want for two weeks without any obligations is also very unrealistic of what my real life in the US would be like. OK, so sure the US far outshines Honduras for many reasons, but those for my trip home being amazing are highly exaggerated and I realize that if I were to up and leave Honduras, life back in the US would soon get back to the stressful, competitive, rat race that it is.

For the meantime, my home and life is in Honduras. I have work that’s meaningful and important not only to me, but others. My house is mine and I feel at home here. I have friends and work partners that help me navigate the difficulties of the culture and its ups and downs. My two pets are here and they are my babies right now. I have people who come to my front gate selling a bag of roma tomatoes for L. 5 ($0.26) and Couch Surfers from Texas, Poland and Sweden whom I would never meet in Modesto, but sure can in Honduras and share not only about the US, but Honduras as well. There is a friend who is willing to drive 90 km from Tegucigalpa to Guaimaca so that I can help her improve her English and she will help me improve my Spanish. I have the opportunity to travel to some of the world’s most beautiful islands and second largest coral reef to get SCUBA certified. Mayan ruins full of history await my visit and fresh mangoes and avocadoes grow in my backyard. Sure, I have to spend two hours hand washing my clothes each week, I’m lucky on the days I wake up to running water, I can get stuck on a bus for an extra hour because the tire blew out and the one they replaced it with is bald so we travel about 55 mph the whole way back, I always have candles on hand for when the power goes out and my house may or may not flood each time it rains, but this is home now and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

Hasta la proxima vez...