In a couple hours, Hannah and I are heading to the airport. A few hours later, if all goes right, we´ll be taking off from one of the shortest runways in the world, leaving behind the people and places who have been our family, our world for nearly 14 months.
A lot, of course, is running through my mind. How I will miss buying bags of dripping pineapple!And hiking through the woods to La Venta! And tucking in my little Casa Suyapians every night! And the things I won´t miss: the old fat ugly men´s unsolicited "compliments" on the street, mangy dogs, persistant taxi drivers, Ranch food.
But you know what? I actually may miss those things too. I´ll miss everything--the good and the bad are, together, what made this experience. The good wouldn´t be the good without the bad. Everything worked together to make this year what it was and I wouldn´t change it. How can I begin to see everything that I have learned, every way in which I have grown?
As I fly away from the Ranch, from Tegucigalpa, from Honduras, I know that this has been the best year of my life, the most worthwhile, one of the hardest and, simultaneously, the most beautiful. I am deeply grateful and very proud. I never thought I could do this. Then, as I realized I could, I never thought I would be so touched by the children of Rancho Santa Fe and make friends who will be my friends forever. I was wrong. I did this. And was changed in the process.
Now, I know, you might be thinking how clichéd and, for lack of a better word, cheesy, I am being. But I find myself truly overwhelmed by leaving, by these experiences, by going home and staring over. I hope through these powerless words and trite attempts at expressing myself, you can understand a little bit of the confusion and montón of emotions.
I am leaving. That´s settled. How I feel? Not so settled. But ready and excited for whatever follows.
This past Saturday, after receiving wooden plaques, a standing ovation, and many, many hugs, the 7 other departing volunteers (Hannah, Fritz, Lukas, Michelle, Annie, Simone, and Josi--they all deserve to be mentioned) and I piled ourselves and our luggage into the Ranch´s brand-new micro bus and drove off, sappily enough, into the sunset. No one spoke the entire way to Tegucigalpa. The Gipsy Kings tape played, the Padre drove, and we all stared out the window, at the expanse of drying fields, of the shadowy mountains. I don´t know what each one was thinking, but I suppose it was something about the immensity of this past year and the odd combination of sadness and joy involved in leaving.
I have said goodbye many times during the past weeks and I have been feeling the tired inadequacy of the word. Why is it that we say "goodbye" for everything? If we leave a room for a few minutes we say it. If we go on vacation, we say it. If someone dies, we have to say it too. By the end of my 6th or 7th despedida (going-away party), I stopped using the word altogether and starting thinking seriously about sneaking off the ranch and not having to bid farewell to anyone else.
But I stayed, I said goodbye without actually saying "goodbye" and now I find myself 8 hours away from the Ranch in La Ceiba in the pouring, oh-god-stop-pouring, rain. Hannah and I got up early (well, no, we just never slept after getting in from the club in the early morning) and made the 7 hour trip up to La Ceiba intending to catch a 4 p.m. ferry to Roatán, one of the Bay Islands. We made it with time to spare, spend 100 lemps ($5) to take a cab to the dock outside of town, only to find out the ferry had left early due to the weather. It is still raining, so here we are, catching up on email and television in a dingy hotel (but clean and safe, Mom) in La Ceiba while we wait for the rain to stop.
Fortunately, we don´t fly out of Tegus until the 23rd so we´re not in a hurry and we´d rather be here in Ceiba than on Roatán where everything from hotels to beer is double the price. We are perfecting the art of budget travelling--we already have located the 16 lempira beer and the baleadas and the pupusas. So, we should be set for a few days. When the rain clears, we´ll smother our whitening selves in sunscreen and hit the beaches of Roatán. ¡Que pare la lluvia!
So, that´s that. The rain falls, I have said my goodbyes, and I am catching up on Desperate Housewives and Grey´s Anatomy and waiting, waiting for this rain to stop.
Yesterday morning, Jen, Hilary, Hannah and I decided to go to Tegus to run some errands. A bus comes by, we get on. As happens quite often, there are no seats. So, we move to the back of the bus and stand. Immediately some guys in the back start to harrass us. Now, keep in mind that catcalls, marriage proposals, and "I love you´s" are part of our everyday life. We didn´t catch everything that was being said, but it went beyond the normal and we all started to feel really uncomfortable being on the bus. So uncomfortable that we decide to get off after only 10 minutes of the 45 minute trip to Tegucigalpa.
We rush up to the front of the bus and tell the driver we want to get off. He gives us a funny look, wondering why we would be getting of at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We tell him that the men in the back have been bothering us. He shrugs and suggests we just stand up front. No, we tell him, we want to get off.
They let us off, making us pay way too much for the 10 minutes we rode the bus, and leave us on the dusty highway about 5 or 6 kilometers from the Ranch. As we stand there fuming and the bus drives away, I realize something is wrong. Something is missing. My backpack!
In our panic to get off the bus, I had forgotten my backpack on the overhead rack. Fortunately, I never put my bag on the rack if there is anything valuable in it. This time, it was nearly empty save for some toilet paper and my water bottle. Still, considering the circumstances, I was angry at myself, angry at the men who had bothered us, angry at the bus drivers for not caring and overcharging us. Now, on top of it all, someone was going to get my backpack. I tried to shrug it off. Apparently, I am not so good at shrugging things off and as we zoomed away in the back of a pick-up truck, I was still pretty pissed about the whole thing.
We are making good time in our jalón and Hilary has the bright idea that if we pass the bus we had been on, we can intercept it at Cerro Grande and I can get my backpack. This hinges, of course, on us actually being able to pass the bus. So we wait and watch and as we get near Cerro Grande, where we will get off, we pass the bus!
Yes! I can get my backpack and make things right! I am feeling pretty good until the doubts creep in. I think, will the bus really stop for us? And if it does, what will those men do or say to me when I have to get back on to get my backpack? We start to get a little scared.
As we round the bend to Cerro Grande, we pass a police roadblock which gives us another idea. Why not try to find a police officer to be with us while we stop the bus? (Sidenote: The Honduran police are not known for their moral conduct and willingness to help, mostly they are known to be corrupt and looking to make money from bribes. So we´re not sure what we are really getting ourselves into. But we´ll give it a try.)
We jump out of our jalón in Cerro Grande, thank the driver, and immediately (we know we have only about 5 minutes before the bus passes by) look for a police officer to help us. There aren´t any. But suddenly, we a police truck drives by filled with 4 Police Officers in blue camoflauge carrying machine guns and starts to turn. We flag them down, yelling "ayuda! ayuda!" (help! help!). They stop, mid-turn, and Hannah and Hilary run over to them. Jen and I stay on the side of the road, waiting for the bus. Hannah explains what happened, how we want to stop the bus but are afraid it won´t stop, afraid of what the men will do if it does stop. The police turn their truck aaround and tell us to get in. Apparently, we are not going to just wait for the bus, we are going to intercept the bus.
As we start to get in, I see the bus. I tell the police and one of the guys, gun in hand, jumps out into the road, in front of the bus and motions for it to pull over. I rush on, the bus is now filled with people, push past them all, get my backpack which is right where I left it.
The police didn´t do much, admittedly. They checked the papers of the bus drivers and mostly just stood around with their big guns and looked intimidating. But I got my backpack and a little bit of justice. I have no doubt that both the bus drivers and the digusting men in the back of the bus had a bit of a scare when they saw us 4 gringas with 4 armed police officers flagging down the bus. Maybe they will think twice next time they mess with gringas.
It is 5:30 in the morning. I got up 45 minutes ago and made my way through the dark with a cup of steaming coffee, past the homes of the older girls, all still sleeping, to Casa Suyapa.
Today, February 3, is the day of Honduras’s patron saint, The Virgin of Suyapa. During this year, I have learned that Hondurans like to celebrate things by getting up early, singing, and setting off fireworks. So we got up.
The Padre was there and after we sang, gathered around a lit image of The Virgin of Suyapa, the sky black and full of stars, he read us the Biblical account of Jesus turning water into wine. In the story, it is Mary who tells the people at the wedding, Do what he says. Even though some of us may have lost our mothers, the Padre went on to say, Mary is our mother. She cares for us and prays for us until we are reunited with our earthly mothers.
There were no fireworks this time and the children are now back in bed. I should be, too, but I am not sure if I can sleep. Standing there with those beautiful children, children who have been mine, or have felt like mine this year, I felt like a mother. And how does a mother leave her children?
Well, I am leaving. Whether I like it or not. These last days have been the fastest days of my life. Every one gets harder because it brings me closer to that moment we all will stand at Mass and say goodbye and then get in a van and leave.
Every day, I understand the reality of leaving more and more. Yet, I barely understand it. It is only in moments like this, standing in the courtyard of Casa Suyapa, with my arms around Marisol, that I get these flashes of exactly how much it will hurt to wake up underneath my down comforter instead of this scratchy, thin blanket.