Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas on The Ranch

Kids from Casa Suyapa sharing their own gifts with children in a nearby village.

Christmas morning in Casa Suyapa.

We spent the night with our mattresses on the floor, doing more jumping and laughing than sleeping. The kids got up early to see what Santa had left during the night. After breakfast, we hiked for about 45 minutes to La Venta Vieja, a nearby village. There, the kids shared some of the few presents they received with the children of the village.

Ruth looks out into the dark December night, wondering what Christmas will bring.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Unexpected Christmas

Christmas comes to everyone, everywhere, I suppose. Although, it´s hard for me to believe as I think about the things that have always framed my Christmases: family, cold air, snow, the smell of pine needles warmed by Christmas lights, piles of presents under the tree, the white-lit angels swinging from above on College Avenue, colorful cookies, long-distance phone calls, Christmas cards, blueberry muffins, Claymation Holiday specials on TV, clear starry nights.

For the first time in 25 years, I
am not celebrating Christmas surrounded by my entire family, I am not going to shiver in the car on the way to the Christmas pageant, I am not going to have coffee beside a lit Christmas tree with carols playing on the stereo or look out onto an empty, still street and imagine everyone else like me, tucked into their decorated houses, having Christmas.

Part of me wants to mentally skip Christmas this year. How can it be Christmas here, away from the snow, my family, my friends who live in far-away places who will be home and drinking Blue Moons with thick orange slices at Jim´s on Christmas night? How can it be Christmas when I don´t know any of the Christmas carols or traditions?

The truth of it is, I know it is Christmas. I know that Christmas comes to Honduras. I know that Christmas isn´t about snow on the ground or stockings hung on the fireplace. I know the Christmas story didn´t take place in a sleepy, icy Wisconsin town. But can I believe it?

Christmas does come everywhere, but we all see Christmas in our own ways, framed by our families, our climates, our songs, our traditions, our joys and sadnesses. In my rather self-absorbed pondering, I realized I am forgetting one thing . . . the unexpected.

The Christmas story is full of the unexpected: trusting to find shelter, following stars, giving presents to people you haven´t met, leaving your flocks in the fields. This year, may I--and you and all of us-- celebrate the unexpected!

I don´t know how Christmas will happen to me this year or to you, but I send my wishes for a very happy and meaningful one.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I need a real vacation

Monday was the start of cursos vacacionales, or vacation courses. Our regular school year ended in early November which makes right now sort of like summer break. Except that we have 500 bored kids, no swimming pools, no summer camps, no lemonade stands. The answer to this is more school--but fun school with classes like handicrafts and drama.

Hannah and I are teaching two classes together: Drawing 2 and Painting 2. We have classes of 25 kids each ranging in age from 7 to 17. Thrown in the mix are up to 5 special needs kids in each class. Now when I say, "special needs," we are talking about kids with severe problems. Autism, Downs Syndrome, wheelchairs. The non-"special needs" kids have needs of their own as well. We have kids with ADD, ADHD, kids who can´t read, kids who can´t sit still, kids who steal, kids who don´t come to class, newly arrived kids who ask us for money. If this doesn´t sound chaotic enough, please imagine trying to teach drawing and painting with a few boxes of crayons, some cheap markers, 3-inch long colored pencils, and computer paper.

The classes last for 80 minutes, more or less, depending on when they decide to ring the bells that day. However, our second class, with the most trying kids, lasts for 100 minutes, the last 20 minutes being designated for chores. We are still trying to figure out where 24 kids should stand while one of them mops.

An abundance of supplies
for 7 weeks of class
with 50 kids.

Yesterday, after class, seeing as a pack of computer paper only lasts so long, Hannah and I went into Tegucigalpa to buy a few supplies (with our own money, of course) for our class. After running around looking for deals on posterboard and pastels, I had an out-of-control headache and was threatening murder at anyone who happened to brush into my supply-filled backpack or grocery-bag-filled arms. At the persuasion of my friends, I decided should probably reconsider murder and settle for something less criminal, lest I change my blog from ameliagoestohonduras to ameliagoestohonduranprison. We decided on beer and stopped at the Salva Vida bar that is conveniently on our way out of the city.

Two beers, two bags of water, and 4 Advil later, I was back to my pleasantly-fiesty (as opposed to my violently-fiesty) self and we broke one of our own rules and hitchiked back to the Ranch after dark. Luckily it was a safe and beautiful ride. We watched the sky darken into purple and then black. Fireflies were lines of light as we flew by and the Christmas lights on the little plaster houses broke through the dark air like jewels.

Once back at the Ranch, we skipped hogar (concerned about beer breath and a possible resurgence of anti-child emotions) and stayed in, eating fried chicken we bought from a roadside stand and watching season 3 of Sex and The City.

Today was another day. Exhausting, yes. But better than yesterday. And yesterday was better than the day before. If this trend continues, well, I just might survive. Then, after these so-called "vacation" courses, I´m planning on a vacation all my own.

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