I leave the United States filled with excitement, nervousness, and apprehension. But mostly excitement. The plane rides are easy and quick, and I soon find myself in San Pedro Sula, Honduras...In the airport....Where everything changes. Any excitement I once held has now disappeared and fear, dread, and regret have taken over. We land and I meet up with Anthony, another volunteer traveling from the United States. We go through customs, get our luggage, and then get major culture shock. Neither one of us speaks Spanish well enough to communicate our needs. Finally, I find an information booth with someone who speaks decent English. After an hour or so of being lost and confused, we buy our next plane ticket to the city close to our final destination. Meanwhile, I am drenched in sweat. 3 hours later and we are taking off on a little plane from Central Honduras to the coast of La Ceiba. This half hour plane ride was easily the highlight of my day: we weren't extremely high in the air, so we could see so much of the natural beauty that exists in Honduras. The mountains, pineapple fields, and finally the Caribbean.
From this tiny airport in La Ceiba, our taxi driver picks us up and we are off to a super market to buy groceries and then head to our house in El Porvenir. The next 5 hours or so are a blur of emotions: fear, regret, confusion and sadness. I have never experienced emotions so strong and negative in my entire life. Arriving at our volunteer house, I was ready to hop on a plane and go right back home. The culture shock that comes with moving anywhere different than your native country hits me. And it hits me hard. Nothing is the same here. Nothing is what I'm comfortable with. Everything is new and strange and scary. I don't feel comfortable or safe. And I miss home. The living conditions are much worse than I thought and I fear that I will not be able to live here. I quickly make up a plan to give it a week and then leave if I still don't feel comfortable. I don't unpack anything, besides my bed sheets so I can sleep tonight. Sleep? Yeah, right. More like waking up every 5 minutes from dripping in sweat, chickens and roosters clucking all night, and loud bus horns. Oh and a lizard crawling on my toes. Great first night!
I wake up Monday feeling worse than I have ever felt. I have morning class with 3 other volunteers from the other house and they pick me up to walk to PEP 3, a location about 15 minutes away. During this walk, my head is spinning and my stomach is rumbling. I haven't eaten anything. I don't trust the kitchen here or the living conditions enough to make any food. The volunteers ask me basic questions and give me a rundown of how class will go. I coast through, on auto-pilot, not really paying much attention. During class, I quickly realize that my Spanish is much worse than I anticipated. I am unable to communicate with the children. I feel out of place. I feel uncomfortable. And I feel sad. I mostly just watch and let my mind wander off: why am I here? Why did I think I could do this? When can I go home? Is there plane back home tonight?
Class ends and we walk back. I get dropped off at my house and all I want to do is cry and call my friends and family and go home. I lay in bed hating myself for thinking I could live in Honduras. I quickly look up plane flights and decide that I will leave Wednesday. I tell my parents and they agree that if I am so uncomfortable and unhappy here that I should come home. I tell them I will never get used to living here, that the living conditions are just too much for me to handle and that I can't do it. I plan to tell the Project Manager tonight when she comes over to give me an orientation. During these next few hours, I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself, feeling hungry, hot, dirty, and out of place.
At some point, another volunteer from the other house comes over to use our wifi, because hers is out. She sits and talks with Anthony and I and asks how we are doing. At first, I say fine. But then I tell her that no, I am not fine. I am scared, I don’t like it here, and I don’t think I am going to stay. I tell her I can’t live here or get used to this and that I am feeling things I have never felt in my entire life. Finally, I tell her that I have plane tickets ready to purchase to leave Wednesday and that my parents agree with me. My mind is made up, I am leaving. But in this moment, she tells me she felt the exact same way, down to every emotion I describe. This gets my attention, as she speaks close to perfect Spanish and appears to fit in so well in this Honduran community. She tells me that it took her the first week to even feel remotely comfortable living here and that she doubted herself as well. This surprises me and gives me the slightest bit of hope. Even though I still feel negative emotions, I now have a small sliver of hope as well. She tells me to stay and that I will regret leaving. And I realize that she is right. I embarked on this journey to learn how to live differently, and I knew it would be hard. But like she told me, after a week if I still feel this same way, I could leave. But not giving myself a chance, not giving this beautiful country a chance, and not giving these amazing children a chance would be a horrible decision. So just like that, I decide to give the week a try and stick it out.
Things are still hard. Extremely hard. I still don’t feel comfortable, the living conditions still scare me, and I still can’t cook anything in the kitchen. There are ants all over the kitchen, the pots and bowls are literally stored in stone, and the stove has to lit with a match.
I begin enjoying classes more and find myself speaking Spanish more. I quickly build bonds with these amazing children in my classes and find myself smiling and laughing with them. Even though my Spanish is not where I would like it to be, I am able to communicate through other means. By hugs, and hand gestures, and facial expressions.
One night, I go to the other volunteer house and they feed me so much food that I finally feel full and not in pain. We hang out, listen to music, and I find myself feeling more comfortable. Everyone tells me they had the same apprehensions their first week and now they are extremely happy living here and wouldn’t change it for the world. Eventually, my negative emotions are gone and I am filled with happiness.
One day I walk to the beach, which is a 5 minute walk from my house. It is beautiful. Not the kind of beautiful you are thinking of: there is garbage everywhere, stray dogs, and no white sand. But it is beautiful. The simplicity of everything here hits me. I realize that I can do this. I can live here. I can adjust. I can get used to an entirely new way of life. And I can be happy. The things that disgusted me my first few days still exist. But they are no longer gross or scary to me. I have learned to embrace the geckos coexisting with me in the house. I have grown accustom to being sweaty and hot 23 out of 24 hours each day. I am content with cooking my food in a kitchen that is nowhere near what I am used to. Yes, the ants everywhere, the mosquitoes, and the gross bugs still freak me out, but I have learned to be okay with them.
I can do this. And most of all, I want to do this. I can finally say that my heart is so full. Full of love, compassion, happiness, and hope. Hope that I truly will make a difference here. These children, and the rest of the community, are amazing. Their resilience and strength are so refreshing to see. Even with essentially nothing, they are happy. Always smiling, laughing. As much as I would love to teach them something, I can already tell they will be the ones teaching me.
I look forward to future days here: classes with these smiling faces, walks through the community, smoothies and laying in hammocks, swimming with clothes on in the ocean, and the bonds that will be formed with the children and other volunteers. My heart is happy.