Monday, January 23, 2006

Eating (plantains), Drinking (wassail), Being Merry (very)

Today is my birthday. My second in Honduras. It doesn’t seem quite fair that I came here a young gal of 24 and leave a wizened woman of 26. Well, maybe not so wizened. Anyway, hostess that I am, last night we rang the devastatingly big number of 2-6 (and I know I’ll regret complaining about this when I am older) in style with a bonfire, wassail, 125 homemade mini pizzas, and lots of friends to eat them.

We (Hannah, her friend Raya, and I) spent most of the day yesterday preparing for the party: making pizzas, carting boxes of wine for the wassail, hauling firewood. We managed to fit in making a homemade lunch–Honduran style. We fried up a bunch of ripe plantains that were blackening in the Casa Personal kitchen, heated up some beans, made a batch of chismol (a salsa of tomatoes, onions, green peppers and lime juice), and blobbed some mantequilla (a liquidy soury creamy type substance) on our plates. Yum. We do a pretty good plato tipico.

The party started early, around 7 p.m. and ended just into the first hours of my real birthday. Everyone was there, including the 11 new volunteers (who just arrived a week ago) who had ventured into Tegus for their first time that day and brought me back a bottle of champagne as a present. It was wonderful to be surrounded by friends–old and new, stuffing our faces with pizza and downing the hot, sweet wine. Annie, Michelle, and Francie made me green and gold heart-shaped sugar cookies. The Padre made flan. We ate, drank, and sang songs to which nobody, ever, knows the words.

This morning, I woke up at 8 to a knock on my door. It was my next door neighbor Shannon apologizing for waking us up and telling us that school had been cancelled (due to a transportation strike, now resolved, in the city). I felt like a kid on a snow day. I think I was actually happier than a kid on a snow day! No school! We took advantage of the morning by doing more eating (making a breakfast of pancakes with lime and powdered sugar and scrambled eggs) and drinking (just coffee).

The afternoon was more eating and drinking. We walked through the woods to La Venta, the nearest village, to eat and drink a beer at a roadside restaurant, Gabriel’s. When we got back we cracked into the cake (a delicious, incredible thing from Pan Y Más that Shannon and Jen got for me and--even more impressively--successfully got back to the Ranch in one, gorgeous, chocolate piece).

Then I got to feeling sick. Big surprise, huh? All that eating, drinking, and being merry caught up with me, I guess. So, here I am, holed up in my room for the night, reflecting on another great birthday in Honduras.

My sister reminded me today (as I was panicking that I went from 24 to 26 during my 13 months in Honduras) that the wonderful thing about having celebrated 2 birthdays on the Ranch is that I spent my entire 25th year of life here. I am proud of this year and it makes me happy to think that whenever I think back to being 25, I will think back to children begging to be cuddled, green bottles of beer filling the table in La Venta, friends who will check your hair for lice without complaining, and the way the rain sounds when it hits the red tile roof of my little room.

Happy birthday it was.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The last days are the hardest days

Exactly one year ago today, I was standing in a bus stop in Comayaguela (the city across the river from Tegucigalpa), greasy from traveling, too nervous to be nervous. I remember that first day vividly: Elizabeth meeting us at the bus stop, eating enchiladas and drinking pineapple licuados in a Mediterranean restaurant, rushing through the crowded streets of Tegus, backpacks clutched to our chests, cramming ourselves onto a bus, driving 45 minutes into what seemed like nowhere, walking up the dusty road of the Ranch, thinking what the hell am I doing and how am I going to do it?

Well, friends, somehow I did it. Today, I celebrate what is, for me, a huge accomplishment. I have been living here in Honduras, on Rancho Santa Fe for an entire year. A year! Those words make me want to open my door and scream it into the mountains. I never thought I could do it. I had told my father, only a month before I applied to NPH, that there was absolutely no way I could live abroad for a year. I don’t know what changed, I don’t know how I did it, but I did it.

This morning, I looked back in my journal to see what I had written during my first days here on the Ranch. My attitude then was much as it is today, one of amazement and gratitude. On those first pages of my now-filled journal, I found this poem I had written based on Poem in Thanks by Thomas Lux.

Poema de Gracias

Lord Whoever, thank you for the bus
that takes everyone, these bricks
and banana trees, the bananas in
the kitchen,
the wind–both the cruel and the warm
of bamboo, mountains, and faraway sea.
For Wilco playing a few doors away,
the compost bin,
the brownish water
brownish: thank you.
Thank you, Lord, coming for to
carry me to Honduras, where I’ll
cry it out, Lord, where I will
listen and teach, Lord, thank you
for the vultures in my yard.

The first days on the Ranch were beautiful, filled with clear, cold nights and sunny afternoons. I remember being filled with joy, a joy that was so real I could feel it in
my muscles and bones. It was thrilling to be beginnning an adventure.

That thrill ebbed and flowed during my year. Sometimes, it hid and I doubted I would ever see it again, but I always did, it always came back. The thrill is back again and in so many ways I feel I have come full circle; the beginning of 2006 is an ending of something very important and dear to me, but at the same time, a beginning of the next adventure, whatever that may be.

I am excited for what's to come, but I am also facing something very sad. 4 weeks from today, I will be gone from the Ranch. The new batch of volunteers are already here, experiencing breakfasts of beans and boiled plantains for the first time, braving the cold showers, learning how to wash clothes in the deep cement sinks. They will be the ones who fill our jobs and hogars. They will be the ones to build bonfires and who will walk across the dam to La Venta in the dark to drink warm beer and carve their names in the
table. They will be the ones to tuck my children into bed and to pick them up when they have fallen and to go home every night with smudges on their blue jeans from little arroz-con-leche-covered hands.

The thrill of adventure is back, but that doesn’t make it any easier to leave.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Night is falling on the Ranch, the New Year has started, and I am wondering what will be for dinner

It has been a confusing (although not bad) start to 2006--confusing for lots of little things that don´t warrant a mention and some big things (leaving the ranch in a month, graduate school, finding my place somewhere, turning 26, trying to decide which Shins album is the best) that it´s probably okay to worry about a bit. I came down to the internet lab to write an entry, to sift through these things that seem so irritatingly confusing that I wonder if they are really confusing at all, but I just can´t do it. So, instead, here are a couple pictures from New Years.
  • The Ranch as it looks every day around 4 p.m.
  • The bonfire New Years Eve with all the children.
  • Fritz and Francie in the Hortaliza, New Years Day, early morning.

(Um, and nothing confusing is represented in these pictures, in case you were wondering.) Happy 2006.

Click here to support Amelia's volunteer work