Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Part 2 – This is The End

Alas, the time has come: The time when I write my last blog as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  When (I feel) I should be deep and insightful and really understand the lessons I learned over the past two years of my life.  It’s a little harder to do it that way because of the circumstances my service is ending under.  However, I was close to the end and definitely appreciate all the time I did have there.

The last couple of weeks here in the US have been a time of adjusting.  This country is so big and unfriendly.  It’s fast paced beyond any reason and the things we have here are absolutely, 100% ridiculous.  At the same time, I love driving in my car, being anonymous and not having to be under lock and key come sundown. 

I’m still upset that we had to leave.  It brought me to tears again a few days ago.  It’s entirely unfair that we can just up and leave.  I gave my word to the people to be there for two years and we’ve both been robbed of nearly four months of time.  (I like starting every sentence with “I”.)  Left behind in Honduras are my friends and family.  Left undone and unfinished are projects that could have made a huge difference in many people’s lives.  Not just my own, but those of 157 other volunteers. 

However, it is what it is and I’m dealing with all the associated emotions.  There are good days and there are bad.  The Lord has blessed me with a short-term job working at a non-profit I volunteered at before leaving for Honduras.  It will be a great opportunity to get good work experience and even better to earn and save some money.  Getting into a “normal” 9-5 will help me pass the time and not be so bored.  The plus side is I love the work this agency does!  I’m also applying for jobs with the Peace Corps (stateside) and other non-profits.  I’ll go to grad school for my Master’s eventually – once I figure out what I really need it in.  Maybe I’ll learn I don’t need it!  Once I’ve accumulated enough savings to start my next adventure and still be responsible for my debt, then I’ll be on the go again.  That’s one definite lesson I learned – I cannot do normal!

So, now comes the part when I’ve got to reflect and say ok, “What did the last two years teach me?”  This is really off the cuff and by no means all inclusive, so let’s see what I’m thinking… 
            I learned that I am a chameleon.  Eat like the locals, live like the locals, talk like the locals, sympathize with them and at times even empathize with them.  I wouldn’t think twice before throwing myself into the unknown again.
            Patience IS a virtue.  I spent a ton of time waiting over the past two years of my life.  Each time I was forced to wait just made me more patient.
            Home is where the heart is – not a physical address.  My heart knows three homes now.  No matter where I am I can build a home and create a family.  I’ll never be alone because my heart is so full.
            As an American I need to do a lot of good.  It’s so easy to lead a mundane life here and get caught up in the “American Dream.”  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to educate myself both traditionally and non-traditionally.  I honestly feel it is my calling to “pay it forward.”  I get so much happiness out of helping people and that’s what I want my life to be about.  My life will be better when I’m helping others help themselves.
            I’ve got oodles of confidence!  In terms of self confidence I’m a completely different person now than when I left two years ago.  I’m more confident in marketing myself in the job market.  The experiences of the Peace Corps make me an amazing candidate and I will bring amazing ideas and fresh perspectives to any work place.  I’m even confident in my appearance!  Two years being the target of men’s off handed compliments (that annoyed the heck out of me) actually made me realize, “Yah, I am pretty darn good looking.”  Now, don’t think I’m conceited.  I’m still a woman at the end of the day and will always fret over silly things.  But 9 days out of 10, I feel darn good about myself.
            Perhaps, the most important thing I learned is this: Honduras is a beautiful country inside and out.  From evergreen pine forests covering the towering mountains reaching heavenward to the cumulus cloud filled sky, to the island paradise with white sand beaches and crystal blue water – you will see some of the most amazing natural beauty in Honduras.  Los Catrachos (what Hondurans refer to themselves as) will go above and beyond to welcome a stranger into their land.  The poorest of people will make the most immaculate feast their meager ingredients can muster and serve it to you at their plastic table with fancy place mat and piping hot coffee, just to say, “Welcome to my home.”  A young boy will carry your 50 lb. suitcase four blocks from the bus stop to the house down the pot hole filled dirt road.  Your friend’s family will invite you to their coffee farm on Sunday – a day typically spent with family in Honduras – because they know you don’t have your own family to be with.  Your landlady will feed your cat for weeks while you travel.  Small neighbor children will bring you fresh fruit off the tree from their backyard.  A work counterpart will drive you two hours to the airport and decline taking gas money when offered him.  Young girls will treat you like the hottest pop star because you took time to teach them a class for 12 weeks.  And the list goes on!  I saw no lack of generosity from a people that are supposedly needy.  It’s a terrible shame the rotten few are giving the country a bad wrap.  I encourage you, nay – dare you to go beyond what you read in the news and go see for yourself what an amazing country Honduras is.

So, this is the end.  My 27 months became 23 and I spent the last one living in the US.  It has happened for a reason.  My Peace Corps Volunteer experience may end today, but tomorrow begins the rest of my life as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.  I can forever share my love, knowledge and experience of Honduras with the world.  What a blessing!  Thank you all for reading and following my adventures.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  I’ve had the time of my life.  I’ll never let go.  Don’t stop believing.” 

PS – Update on my cat, Amor.  She’s in Tegucigalpa, medically cleared for entrance into the US.  We’re just waiting to see which flight she can get home on.  She should be reunited with Frijoles and I within the next few days! :)

Vaya pues, cheque, que le vaya bien, que Dios te bendiga, vaya con Dios y Amor y Frijoles

La Gringa formerly in Honduras - Emily
Catracha de Corazon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Administrative Hold: Life in Limbo - Part 1

It’s been two weeks back in the US.  Where have those fourteen days gone?  I feel like I’m in some sort of time warp, paradigm shift or anything else like a sense of altered reality.  I definitely know I’m in LIMBo. – lonely, isolated, misunderstood, bored.  At the all volunteer conference in Tegucigalpa, we were told by the psychologists to expect certain feelings and that acronym was the one that really stands out.  However, I’m getting ahead of myself.  For the longest time I’ve been writing my blog recap style and there’s no reason to change now.

We last left off with la gringa spending Christmas Eve and Christmas with friends in Guaimaca.  It was a beautiful holiday full of the Honduran traditions and food I love.  A special Christmas Eve church service with a program put on by the children, rosquillas en miel, pierna, nacatamales and staying up ‘til midnight to set off fireworks.

Shortly after Christmas my parents, this time my mom and stepdad, arrived in Honduras for a vacation that’d been planned for months.  Instead of it being an opportunity to see what my daily Honduran life was like and get to visit my host families it became the opportunity to see what my daily Honduran life had been like and going to visit my host families for the last time to say our good byes.  While most volunteers who stayed in Honduras over the holidays were on Standfast and not allowed to travel, I’d been granted permission from our Country Director because my parents had rented a car and we would not be on the oh-so-dangerous public transportation.  My parents trip ended up being great timing due to all that was happening because we were able to get my dog, Frijoles, to the vet and cleared for entry to the US and they were able to bring back an extra suitcase full of my stuff – which makes my grand total for pieces of luggage coming back to the US three, while I only arrived in Honduras with two.  Weird, since I left 95% of my clothes there.

The first few days of January were the cliché emotional roller coaster as I started really packing up my house (my home), saying goodbye to friends in Guaimaca and faced the reality of the end.  January 8th was my despedida both with my favorite host family and my best friends in Guaimaca.  At one point there were about twenty people in my small home.  It was stressful trying to manage the two groups who didn’t know each other, while individuals from each wanted to buy furniture from me and have other things gifted to them as recuerdos.  I didn’t handle the situation well at all and my best friend from Guaimaca ended up not getting some of the things I had promised her beforehand.  Later that evening when I was sitting in my house with nothing left but a small foam mattress she texted and said she was upset with me because of that and also that I’d neglected to give anything to her daughter.  It hit me so hard – I tried to call her to talk about it and explain myself, but she didn’t answer.  However, things were resolved and I think it just came down to her trying to deal with her feelings of my leaving by trying to start a fight.

January 12, 2012 was the last day I woke up in my home of Guaimaca.  My favorite taxi driver had offered to take me to the neighboring municipality where Peace Corps was picking us up in a bus.  I spent the morning dreading his arrival to my house and doing my last minute errands in Guaiamaca.  The waterworks started when I went to say goodbye to the one little girl I’d spent the most time helping personally – giving donations to her and her family.  I’d spent very little time with her in comparison to other people, but she was very attached to me.  As soon as she saw me she burst into tears and it broke my heart.  I had also spent the night before writing a goodbye note to mi pueblo.  There are three local news stations and one radio, which was run by a neighbor, so I left my notes to be read on air that afternoon or evening.  It was the best way I could think of to express my gratitude to the people of mi pueblo for welcoming me home for nearly two years and treating me like one of their own, while also saying goodbye to those I’d missed in person.  Finally, the hour arrived and I walked my beautiful dusty streets one last time, passing the chickens pecking away, hearing the niños kicking a soccer ball around and breathing the ever present smoke wafting heavenward from the fogones heating café and tortillas.  Waiting at my back door was my best friend with her little girl.  Two of my favorite people, not only in Honduras, but the world.  They watched as I packed my last minute things – laptop, cords, chargers, phones and camera.  My vision was already blurry with tears and heart so full of pain – I felt the impact as my friend punched the wall in anger and despair crying, “Que cabrona!”  It was the hardest day of my life.  The taxi arrived and I sought out my cat, temporarily left behind with her young kittens, burying my face deep in her soft black fur and sobbing the pain out and trying to wash some of the sadness from my soul.  I gave my landlady last minute instructions on the cat’s habits and how to feed her, praying that I will actually have her back here with me in the US soon as planned.  I hugged the kids whose laughter and greetings had been the soundtrack to my life.  I thanked my landlady for everything and her aunt who lived near as well.  Then I took the ride out of Guaimaca.  The clear blue skies, wispy white clouds and sun shining even in the middle of January.  I soaked up the views of mountains, valleys, pines and creeks as we neared the next stop.  The whole morning will forever be etched in my memory.

Almost as soon as all the pain hit, it was eased seeing other volunteers in Talanga, where the majority of people from our region were being taken into Tegucigalpa met up.  Seeing twelve or so people going through the exact same thing helped immensely.  We went to the very luxurious Hotel Maya and spent four days there going through an excruciatingly painful COS (close of service) conference.  Meetings all day from 8-5, in English with punctual Americans and no permission to leave the hotel.  Weird.  They were fun filled days, trying to pay attention in the important meetings, collecting last minute samples of bodily fluids for medical testing, enjoying the amenities of the hotel and surviving on little to no sleep as we squeezed all we could out of last minute time with friends soon to be scattered all over the US.

We finally flew out of Honduras on Monday, January 16, 2012.  It was another really hard day as all three of the US bound flights out of Tegucigalpa carried PCVs back to the unknown.  On the bus to the airport I heard from a PC staff member that after the incident when the volunteer got shot on the bus PC Washington had wanted to evacuate us from the country within THREE DAYS.  She told me that our amazing Country Director stood up to PC/W and told them to not make such rash decisions and convinced them to let us volunteers stay in Honduras until a later date.  I was so shocked that PC/W had thought the situation was that serious because it wasn’t and felt even more appreciation for our Country Director whom I already had so much admiration for.  She’s an amazing lady!  Finally at the airport there were yet more goodbyes with the PC Honduras staff who had helped us through so much.  The last goodbye that was hard for me was sending “Bessie” along on her flight.  Her short three months in Guaimaca made it so much more bearable for me and I knew I was going to (and already do) miss her tons.  At least it’s easy to visit people aquí en los EEUU.

I spent my last few minutes in the airport using all my saldo and calling friends and family before boarding the plane.  Tons more tears shed and a heart warming moment as a random American monk noticed and came over and handed me a wad of napkins.  Random acts of kindness are always fun.  Then we were whisked away to Miami for a night of layover fun.

Continue on to part 2 to see what it’s been like back here stateside.