Saturday, April 23, 2005

Good Things, Small Things

This month marks my 3-month anniversary on the Ranch. Despite many challenges and failures, there have been some good things too and I want to share them with you in celebration of my survival of these hard and crucial first months.

*Speaking enough Spanish to teach my students, barter with street vendors, and tell crazy men in Tegus to stop bothering me.

*Killing scorpions without remorse.

*Playing my first game of soccer and scoring my first goal! (All in the same game--Colegio teachers vs. Escuela teachers during recess yesterday. The kids thought it was the greatest thing--their teachers playing "futbol"--and all gathered around to watch, cheer, and offer strategical advice.) My team won, by the way--4 to 0.

*Being able to disregard chunks of milk in my coffee (we use powered milk and it gets sort of clumpy at times).

*Asking for things I need and sharing what I do have without hesitation.

*Earning respect and trust from my kids. They are beginning to tell me their stories.

*Swimming in the Caribbean and in the Pacific ocean, listening to Bob Marley in a beachside fish joint, drinking mango beer at a brewery in the middle of a coffee plantation.

*Making friends here who support me, put up with me, and generally seem to like me.

*All of my 6th graders passing their Bimester 1 classes--one of my students had the highest Spanish grade in her entire class! 97%!

*Seeing the love of my friends and family back home through their prayers, emails, letters, and amazing care packages.

*Spending the night in a stranger´s home because the only hotel in town was full.

*Growing fond of cold showers, lately wishing they could be colder.

These are some of my small victories. No matter how small, I am still proud of them. I guess that is another lesson learned for me--to be able to rejoice in these small, good things.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Crucial Word

“ . . . Be sure to learn the crucial word jalón.”
–Moon Handbook-Honduras

Let’s go back for a minute to my first day in Tegus. I am on the bus with Elizabeth, Jen, and Hannah. There are no seats left and there are so many people I can hardly breathe, someone’s butt is rubbing against me and it does not belong to one of my friends. People are staring at the gringas with steady, unabashed eyes and we know we cannot hide the fact we are freshly-arrived. We have full backpacks and there is no room in the luggage rack above the seats. It is a hot day and not everyone on the bus is willing to lower their windows due to dust and smoke. Dark blue curtains cover the windows and we have no idea where we are going, much less how we are going to know where to get off. A woman is kindly holding my backpack, but I am nervous about that too. What if she is not really just a nice old grandmother, but a thief, undercover in her roomy flowered dress?

A few minutes into our ride, it is time to collect fares. The bus driver’s assistant walks down the aisle of the bus and collects our fare of 10 lempiras (about 50 cents). In theory, this would work just fine, but, remember, we are packed into the bus as tightly as a box of crayons. The bus lurches forward, we lurch forward. The bus nearly falls off a steep mountain road, we nearly fall into the laps of the old men that will not stop looking at us. Someone’s butt is still touching me. Things don’t get better. 45 long minutes later, sweaty and cranky, we arrive at the Ranch.

Whether you’re traveling for 10 minute or 10 hours, this is Honduran mass transit. But, thank goodness, there is another option. As the good ol’ Moon Handbook puts it (authoritatively, although a bit dry): “Not only is hitching safe and convenient in Honduras, but riding in the open air in the back of the pick-up beats being crammed into a hot bus for a few hours.” Here, in Honduras, we go by jalón.

Jalón (pronounced ha-lone) translates to something like “big pull,” but it is used here to mean relying on the kindness of strangers to let you hop in the back of their truck and hop out somewhere down the road–be it a few miles or a few hundred. We volunteers, in English, use “jalón” like a verb. For instance, “We are jalóning to Tela this weekend,” but in Spanish it works as a noun, “Vamos por jalón” (literally, We go by jalón).

There really is no better way to see the country than stretching your legs, leaning back on your backpack and seeing it all fly by in the back of a pick-up. When you travel por jalón, there’s no need for bus schedules (not that the buses run on schedules here) or tickets, there’s no risk of not having a seat or missing a connection. When you travel por jalón all you need is a little faith and the humility to rely on someone else to take you where you want to go. It is a pretty amazing thing to have traveled across the country, thanks to the people who helped you along your way and asked for nothing in return.

By the way, don´t do this at home. Seriously. Traveling by jalón is generally safe (unless you consider blasting Bryan Adams dangerous) and is a part of the way of life here in Honduras. Please know I do not endorse hitchhiking in general, especially in the United States where you will surely get picked up by a murderer or lonely trucker.

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