Saturday, December 31, 2011


I have decided to continue with the blog, at least for a little bit.  For my sake, and for yours as readers, I'm going to try and keep the updates quicker and more frequent.

I am now home after the first year of my service in Honduras.  Last year, I learned so much--about sacrifice, patience, love and compassion, peace, faith, and myself.  I returned here, thankful for the opportunity to rest up, regain some weight, eat home cooked meals, drink good beer, see some friends, but most of all, spend time with my family.  With every little thing that I learned last year, I was learning more about my life here than was hard to take stock of while I was still here.  It's not exactly like I didn't appreciate what I had until I didn't have it (see the posts from the beginning of last year), but my life in Guaimaca gently shoved me into the present, into a deeper understanding and feeling of the appreciation I have for the amazing family I have been blessed with.

Last year, I was blessed with the opportunity to find a new family in Guaimaca, composed of my students, my friends and co-workers, the Sisters and Fr. Craig, and of course our own volunteer community.  This year, I look forward to developing new relationships and fostering old ones.  I look forward to continuing to receive and give God's grace and love through my relationships with my family in Guaimaca.

I know that this year will be different from last year--I will not be teaching the same senior girls with whom I developed a relationship I can't begin to describe, I will not be living with the same people, I will not be teaching the same classes.  I will be better at Spanish, more capable of communicating, more experienced and knowledgeable about Honduras and the culture, more in touch with who I am and how I can use my gifts to help.  There will be difficulties (last year was the hardest year of my life, and I'm not expecting it to have gotten any easier in my short absence) and there will be joys (last year was the best year of my life, and I am now rested and capable of returning and giving my all once again).

I am nervous, but I am more excited.  Remember in Psychology classes, when we learned about adrenaline?  It's good to be a little nervous just before a test, a race, or a year of service; it keeps you on your toes and gives you an edge.  That edge that I have found and used all my life, that's what keeps me going, it's what helps me accept my faults and still proceed, it's the Serenity Prayer.

So, this post on New Year's Eve is not just something for myself; it is not meant to assuage my guilt over not posting more at the end of the year.  Its purpose is to remind all of us to take stock of the past year and give thanks.  Its purpose is to resurrect the fire of determination and hope so that, whatever your own personal journey looks like over the New Year, we take that first step, not aspiring to change, not waiting or preparing to become the person we want to be.  Rather, may we reconcile who we are and who we want to be, where we are and where we want to be, and may we do it today.

God bless you, your families, and this New Year we will share together.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I'm in the airport in Fort Lauderdale and... absolutely blows my mind that I can flush toilet paper.

...people here are gigantic (not just the group of basketball players sitting next to me).

...the sausage egg and cheese sandwich I just had was amazing.

...I can't figure out why anyone would buy bottled water when we're blessed with perfectly drinkable water from the tap.

...I miss speaking Spanish.  I miss my friends.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Some September Updates

My students took their admissions exam for the university yesterday.  They get the results in November, and although it's not a huge deal if they don't pass (there's an agreement and scholarship between the Center and the University because of the work we do here to advance the lives of these poor young women), it's a huge deal if they do pass, and there's an opportunity for more money.  I had no idea how to prepare them, so I prepared them as best I could, as intensely as I could in Bio, Chem and Math, and then found out yesterday it probably would have been better to just review the basics of everything.  The test was only 30 min, with about one fundamental question from each topic on the list.  There was also a 30 min logical reasoning test, and a 567 question psychological examination.  I just hope I didn't fail them too much.

Only one week left of classes before the two-three weeks of exams/cleanup.  The year flew by.

Which brings me to this point, that I'm definitely staying here for another year.  I'm pretty sure everyone already knows already, including all of the girls that I've been trying to keep it a secret from.  But, here it is, officially stated.  So, another year for all of you to come down and visit!

I have other journal entries about things that have gone on in the past few months, but I don't think I'm going to post them.  At first I was trying to share as much as possible with all of you, but with my thoughts and reflections moving past the differences in life here and the new environment, I found myself exploring more the differences that I found in myself, my feelings, my thoughts on things I am unsure about...more personal stuff, harder to share.  

So, if anyone has any questions you can reach out to me via email and I'll answer those completely honestly and openly.  I just don't feel right posting some things on the internet for everyone in the world (apparently, I've had readers in Denmark, Russia, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and a few other countries) to stumble upon.  For example, if anyone would like to read my reaction to one of the girls running off with her boyfriend, just email and ask.  So far we've had 7 girls stop coming, most of them recently.  In some ways it's been hard, in some ways it's so expected that it felt normal.

I might continue to update like this, more sporadically and briefly, but I think it's about time I admit to myself that I'm not going to keep posting the detailed updates like I did earlier, if only so I stop feeling bad about not keeping all of you up to date.  Also, look for pictures when I go home in December and have internet.  

All my love and prayers to everyone at home.  It's not that I want to leave and get out of here, but I miss the family and friends, and can't wait to get back and spend some time with you.  I hope everyone is in good health and peace.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Third Trimester

Sorry I've been bad at updating this recently.  Part of it is that I just don’t have much time, but it’s also that I haven’t found a lot of time for it. I haven’t had a lot of time because, during the week in the start of this new trimester, I have been incredibly busy. My first trimester was a difficult workload, the second trimester was difficult because of all kinds of things that were going on outside of school, and this trimester will be very difficult because of, again, the workload and, also the third trimester is the shortest. The first trimester was about 12 weeks long, the second was 10 (less with the time that I wasn’t here for) and the third is only about 8 weeks. I think it may even be shorter for the seniors, but I don’t know for sure. Things aren’t always communicated very well to us from the administration, which can be pretty frustrating.

So, this trimester I have a Philosophy class and Physics with Segundo Bachillerato, a few English reviews and a workshop with Tercero Ciclo, several classes with Segundo Bachillerato to review Biology, Chemistry, Math, to prepare them for the University next year, the same gym classes, and English with Andrea.

I have been enjoying teaching Philosophy so far because it allows me to talk about some interesting things that aren’t Science, Math or English, which are either full of cognates, numbers or English. This class has added some variety into my teaching and the vocab I’m learning. Physics has been going decently well, although it looks like it will get pretty boring and difficult soon enough when I stop talking about Thermodynamics and stop burning things in lab, and have to start covering things like light, magnetism and electrical currents, for which I don’t really have many lab ideas.

I’m also going to talk to the sisters soon about the idea I had months ago to move the school away from the IHER radio programs and make the school a more self-sustaining private school. Right now we use that radio program and their books, which don’t prepare them at all for anything other than memorization. It’s a shame that many of these students could perform on such a high level, and yet they’re still using this program, which is designed for students in the middle of nowhere who don’t have teachers. Here, however, they have teachers, time set aside for classes, and physical resources the majority of students here probably never have access to. If I could convince the sisters to go along with this, I would try to start with the last two years of High School level (the Bachilleratos) to gradually phase it in, because it’s going to be difficult to find materials like books and more lab materials, and then develop curriculums and instruct the Honduran teachers about how it is going to work. The good thing is that every year there will be new volunteers from Stonehill to carry on the work. The bad part is that I already mentioned something like this in the beginning of the year to Sister Marta, and it seems like some of the nuns in the community are really afraid of the effort and the change that this would require.

I will keep updating when I can about the progress I make on this front. In the meantime, if anyone were able to find ANY kind of lab equipment (thermometers, hot plates, glassware, anything), especially those of you returning to schools this fall which may have things lying around, I would be eternally grateful. Also, old textbooks--Bio, Chem, Physics, Math--even in English, would be extremely useful for future classroom development. The future Extension Volunteers would definitely be able to use resources like these, even if the girls can’t use them. We’re kind of in a void of information here because all we have is what we brought in our memories, some resources we brought or were sent, and the occasional internet connection. Again, if anyone could help us out a little, we would all be extremely grateful.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quick Updates

1. We started our third trimester a little more than a week ago.  Will post more on this later (now that I say it out loud hopefully I will do it and stop slacking on updating the blog).
2. I sold a pizza for 100 Lempira to the corner store two weekends ago, so that they could sell it to the people coming in on the buses.  First step to opening my Guaimaca pizza parlor!
3. We bought a chick on Saturday.  Cassie and I were biking past a hardware store and she saw a cage full, then kind of bet me that I wouldn't.  Of course, I took the bet and we now have another family member, who is (almost) the messiest in the house.  It's definitely the loudest...we better get some damned good eggs from this thing.
4. We still have two dogs, the "exchange" that was supposed to happen two months ago when the puppy from the farm was brought to the house hasn't happened, and doesn't look like it will happen.  Ranger's looking pretty depressed because we like Ceniza a lot more.
5. The novena for the patron saint of the parish started this past weekend, and there will be a mass in a different Barrio (neighborhood) every night.  So far they've been really pretty, especially with everyone working together to pull it off.
6. The town party is starting this coming weekend, which will be interesting.  We've heard a few accounts of the dancing, drinking and singing that happens in the park almost every night, all night.
7. The Day of the Indian (a day of national cultural pride here) was a couple of weeks ago, and was really a beautiful celebration.  Each class made their own costume and chose their representative to compete for the title of the Prettiest Indian.  Each class also made traditional food, so it was a pretty awesome day of learning more about their culture and eating great food.  Also, the best part was that my student, Lilian, who had an extremely difficult second trimester with a lot of illnesses and some family trouble, won the title.  My whole class was so happy, I have some great pictures of them screaming their heads off.

That's all I can think of now.  Sorry if it's been disappointing reading lately.  My thoughts and heart were with everyone at the clamboil this past weekend!

Just remembered:
8. The opening of a new supermarket in town, owned by Walmart.  The only thing that's worth buying there is the beer, which is about half the price of the beer in other places, and the occasional fruit and veggies we want to use but can't find in the market or the back of someone's truck in the park (which usually only has seasonal and local produce).  The biggest advantage is that it's open later than the other stores, so if we need something before 7:00 we can now go there to pick it up.  This isn't an isolated case of development, however.  Even in just 7 months we've been here, we've seen a lot of development and construction around town.  Unfortunately, it's almost all been funded with drug money, remittances from the US, or by Walmart, as far as we know.  
9. Chris' bike was stolen from in front of the new supermarket, in the direct line of sight of the armed guard in the doorway. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Can you say that?

First, I want to mention that I'm going to try and post about our family's visit soon, but I'm still trying to get caught up on the journaling and reflecting from then, so here's something new from today.

Political Correctness was always something I kind of laughed at in the same way that everyone does.  Before, what I was laughing at was the idea of “Correctness,” and that being decided in a courtroom.  Who’s to say what’s correct, and why do we need to define it?  
Many times PC seemed to be something over the top, something that disrupted normal living with rules that safeguarded who knows what, all because some misguided souls did not have the creativity to make up their own insults, or the openness to see the good in people, regardless of physical manifestations.  Of course, it was occasionally something that made a lot of sense.  When a lifestyle or physical appearance became so widely spread as an insult that children started using it ignorantly without regard to the millions of people they could be hurting with their slurs, in addition to the target, PC was something I was willing to defend.
Now that I have been in Honduras for six months, I can definitively say that I have changed in several ways, one of which is my sensitivity and awareness of what is PC.  Now, instead of laughing at the “Correct” half of the term, I find myself thinking more and more about the “Political” part, and how political is probably not the term we should use, but rather “Cultural.”  Politics is something that consumes and defines so much of our lives in the US, partly because of its presence in the media, but also because it seems like (compared to life here), in place of relying on cultural or traditional values, our society turns pretty quickly to litigation and rules (where here these hardly exist).  I’m really starting to get sidetracked, and feel like I’m getting into topics that I don’t know enough about, so I’m going to cut this line of thought short and explain what started me thinking about all of this.
First, my sensitivity to certain topics has definitely changed.  Here, people are very straightforward about body image, whether it’s weight, skin color, cleanliness, acne, height, what parts of you they think are less attractive, and the list could keep going.  After six months of hearing people very bluntly stating what you look like, I have become less surprised by it and think that I have become more straightforward myself.  Yes, I was fatter when I came.  No, the tan line on my forehead from my longer hair is not very attractive.  Yes, she is a little on the heavy side, yes he is quite dark.
This is probably fine as long as I’m here, but our culture in the US is so different, at times so on edge, that I can really get myself in trouble.  I realize this with groups here, especially when Kris and our parents came, because we spent so much time with them.  Occasionally I would say something that I would immediately have to justify, because I still remember that it’s rude where I come from.  Or, I would have to explain the cultural aspect, and how it is not the same here.  
Yesterday afternoon Ermin, Norlan’s brother, was over for dinner because he had been doing some work on the house and we invited him to stay.  Ermin is very dark for a Honduran, which we first noticed because his niece, sister-in-law and brother all said at some point that it makes him uglier and that it’s a good thing Alexandra and her sister take after their mother’s lighter complexion.  Like I said, at first this was pretty shocking, but as we started to understand more of their cultural values, and put aside our own political convictions, it got a little better.  
Yes, Ermin is dark-skinned.  Here, they value lighter skin, which is kind of sad because it seems to be, recently, based on commercialism from North America, and from the past, based on conquests from Europe.  However, Ermin does not seem to have suffered based on his skin color economically.  He has the same types of jobs as many men here in Guaimaca--he’s a go-to guy to fix or make anything, and people know he’s an honest, hard worker so people who know him, like the sisters, come to him for whatever they need done, as much as his lighter skinned colleagues, who call him “Negro” (black).  He also makes absolutely beautiful woodwork that he sells for the same prices anyone else could get, because it is superb work, anyone can see that.
In addition, Ermin does not seem to have suffered prejudicially from his darker skin, at least not extensively.  For example, yesterday afternoon Denis, Kenia, their daughter, and Kenia’s mother were also over and stayed for dinner as well.  Denis greeted him as Negro, and continued teasing him throughout the whole night by dropping that into conversation whenever he could.  This morning, he was calling Ermin because we were supposed to meet at our house to plan a party next week, but Ermin was late, and I noticed Ermin’s name in his phone was “Ermin negro.”  Although Denis used his nickname quite often, Ermin seemed quite used to it and never took offense to it, even referred to himself as darker a few times.  It’s what he is, why should he deny it?
Denis did tell one joke at dinner that I was really taken aback by and to which my initial thought was “He really just said that?!”  We were offering quesillo to everyone to go with our pasta dinner, but Ermin said he didn’t like quesillo, nor mantequilla.  I was pretty surprised, because these are two types of cheese very common in Honduras.  As I was trying to think of something to say in Spanish, Denis, with a big grin, said something like “It’s because they’re white and he’s black, he’s such a racist!”  Like I said, I was initially taken aback by his comment, but everyone was laughing, including Ermin.  
I started laughing too because it was pretty funny, and, watching everyone laughing, and how the conversation continued as normal after, I realized that this comment, although not PC where I’m from, was perfectly ok in our dining room in Honduras, eating dinner with a group of friends.  With the attention that they paid to Ermin’s stories, the level of respect they had for him as “un bien hombre” (a good man), and how much they were impressed with his woodwork, it was clear that, although they noticed that he was darker than them, they held no stigma or prejudice against him.  Ermin knew this as well, and felt very comfortable with all of us, even though we haven’t really spent that much time together prior to this.  When Cassie and I came back from church a little after 8:00, they were all still there, laughing and sharing a couple of beers that Ermin had gone out to buy, and stayed for another hour or so, telling stories and marveling at some of Ermin’s woodwork that he brought over to show us.
This is just one example of the differences in perceptions between our culture and ours.  In addition to last night and dinner with Ermin, we have had many experiences here that highlight our different perspectives.  However, one other experience that got me thinking was also with Denis, and was actually just this morning.  
Denis came over around 11:00 this morning to talk about the party next weekend, but we also started talking about the US, the states we were from, and the differences in some other states, like Arizona’s immigration laws.  My impression of the laws, of course my ignorant impression because I do an awful job of following the news, was that they have basically started to allow racial profiling of immigrants, and that several lawmakers have wanted to make them even more strict to keep Arizona “American.”  
First of all, I find that line of thought extremely ironically comic, as America was, is, and should continue to be, a country built on diversity and immigration.  It is something to be proud of, that people from all over the world recognized the values and ideals set forth in our Constitution, and decided to come to the US to be a part of that dream and try and make a better life for themselves and families.  It is something that should not stop now, or ever.  Last year on my HOPE trip, arguing with one of the donors to the Hogar del Niño, I said basically the same thing.  He wanted to block anyone who didn’t speak English from coming into the country, and I thought this was so wrong that I couldn’t keep quiet.
I just kind of assumed that all of the supporters of these laws, all of the sheriffs who jailed immigrants without papers and got them deported, all of the legislators who were making the laws, had the same convictions and values as the man I argued with in the DR.  I recognized that illegals are just that, illegals, and that they are breaking laws, but my impression of the response to them, the impression that trickled down to me up North, away from the frontier of the issue, was that they were usually, if not always, profiled because of their skin color or language.  Of course, some people are in fact snobbily defending their image of “America,” and I would bet that those who make really restrictive laws are either in this group, or at least paid by this group.
But, today talking with Dennis, I realized, that, as always, there’s a lot I don’t know, and that I don’t know how narrow my perspective is until it meets another.  Talking about the immigration laws with him, I half expected his reaction to be bitter or at least slightly frustrated.  However, he made some comments about how Latinos probably don’t obey the laws, and when I asked him what he meant, he elaborated about not waiting at red lights or stop signs, throwing trash in the street, and drinking and driving.  When he said that, I realized that, yes, those things are pretty serious infractions in the US, but that they are not well enforced, or even enforced at all, in many places here in Honduras, the Dominican, and according to stories I’ve heard, Nicaragua.  So, if the average Honduran were to go to Arizona, he or she might not be picked up by the police because of racial profiling, but because of any number of laws he or she may break, either out of ignorance or cultural differences.  
I haven’t really developed any good thoughts on all of this, other than I need to think about it more, and that the attitude here towards immigration to the US, from the people who have mentioned it, has been pretty interesting.  I haven’t gone out and interviewed people, but the conversations with friends have been valuable.  Anyway, it shows me a little about how little I know.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vacation #2

The past week we had our second of three week-long vacations.  Originally, I was unsure about how I felt about going on vacation, because I had just returned here and was just starting to get back into the swing of things, and it seemed too soon to break the rhythm again.  However, the week ended up being a nice way to see more of Honduras and to balance out work and everything else that was stressful with some relaxing activities and sojourns.
We started the week traveling to San Pedro Sula with the sisters, and from there catching a bus to La Ceiba.  On that bus I sat next to a guy from Cleveland who had quit his career a few months ago to start traveling in Central America and had some interesting conversations with him about everything from healthcare to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Of course, we didn’t quite agree on everything, but it was just nice to have an intelligent conversation about something outside of school.  I have definitely enjoyed my time separated from the US and the problems/issues that consume our news and politics, but at some point it’s nice to be plugged into what’s going on, at least for a little bit.
In La Ceiba we took a taxi to Andrea’s house, a friend of MaryAnne Capelleri, who works at Stonehill.  MaryAnne was one of the people who interviewed me for this program last July, and one of the leaders of the HOPE group in March.  While she was here, she gave us Andrea’s contact information, who helps run an orphanage in Trujillo called “Finca del Niño.”  Before the vacation, we got in touch with Andrea to see if we could travel out there and check out the orphanage, which actually ended up working out really well for us.  We stayed at Andrea’s house Friday night and enjoyed her amazing hospitality, then on Saturday caught another bus to Trujillo, where we took a taxi out to the orphanage.  We stayed at the orphanage until Monday morning, and while we were there, we got to see a very different perspective on service.
The orphanage itself has about 35 kids and 19 volunteers on site.  There are also Honduran families who are hired to live in the houses of the children (separated by gender and age) to act as mothers/fathers/aunts for the kids and provide a stable family-style environment.  They also have a school at the orphanage, which is not only for the resident children, but also for the children of their neighbors.  
The set-up of the orphanage was interesting, because it seemed to try to do its best to provide a real-life environment to these children who have never had a stable, real-life environment to live in.  However, it also gave me a weird vibe because it most definitely was not real life.  I suppose it’s impossible to have an orphanage that functions in real life, and they’re doing the best they can.  However, while we were there, it seemed to be more like a summer camp than anything.  The orphanage is right on the beach, and the volunteer house (we didn’t really see inside the orphans’ homes, other than the initial kitchen area) seemed like a bunkhouse you would find at a Boy Scout camp.  The community of volunteers also seemed to be somewhat disconnected.  They have no real connection with the community outside of the orphanage, so everything was much more Westernized.  When you bring kids in to a community run almost exclusively by gringos who have very little contact with Honduran culture, the only culture the children are going to grow up with is that of the volunteers.
Besides the atmosphere at the orphanage, the thing that bugged me the most was that, although they commit for two years, they are given six weeks vacation each year, and the program pays for one trip back to the States.  Therefore, what most people end up doing is that they take a month off at some point and go back home for four weeks at a time.  To me, this effectively stops the service experience and restarts it again when they get back.  It was hard enough for me to readjust after just a week back in the States, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to be away from the service, community and Spanish for a whole month and then try to return right away to working.  In addition, we noticed that many volunteers look forward to their vacation like a necessary break from their work.  Essentially, they have a countdown to when they can escape the challenge, instead of dealing with it as it unfolds.  Right before we left, we had a conversation with Jacob, the volunteer coordinator, who said exactly the same thing, and who had a lot of questions for us about how we make our intentional community work, because he is looking for ways to bring his community closer and more in-tune with their work.
Overall, though, it was good to see the orphanage because it showed us a very different side of service.  They are doing amazing things for a fair amount of children who otherwise would be stuck in extremely impoverished conditions until they were crushed either physically or mentally.  In comparison though, it also made me happy that I ended up where I am now.  There are so many opportunities and options for service, and every day I feel like I have been blessed with this opportunity and the decision I made.
After we left the orphanage, we went to an eco-tourism park, where we did some zip-lining with a guy who ended up being a Honduran Congressman.  He was definitely an interesting character, and there’s a lot to tell about him, and our experiences with him, but I won’t go into that now, for the sake of saving some space.  He ended up driving us an hour or so from Trujillo to Tocoa, another small town where we tried to catch a bus back to La Ceiba.
Unfortunately, we missed the last bus and got taken advantage of by a taxi driver who just drove us down the street to where his buddies tried to convince us to go with them all the way back to Ceiba (charging six times more than the bus ticket).  So, I started walking down a side street to try and find a place where we could sit and look through our travel book for a cheap place to stay.  After a short while we found a little store with benches in front, and looked through our book.  It turns out, though, that Tocoa was not in the travel book, so we were out of luck with that one.  In desperation I turned to the women behind the counter and asked if she knew of any cheap hotels nearby.  She had no reason to be nice to us--we hadn’t even bought anything from her--but she really was trying to help us when her husband showed up.  When he arrived she told him what was going on, and he immediately started racking his brain for any information that may be useful to us.  Eventually he remembered a hotel nearby that could have cheap rooms within our budget, and he gave us directions.  
While the three of us were discussing what to do, he stood there, listening, and then offered to go with us to the hotel and show us where it was.  I was so thankful for his help, and could sense that was a good person, that I immediately accepted his offer.  I expected him to just walk us down to where we needed to make the last turn, but instead he walked around back and started up his truck, then drove us the whole way there.  We were really in a bad situation, not having the slightest clue where we were, and he and his wife really came through.  It was as if our guardian angels came down and were acting through this couple.
The only problem with the hotel is that it was that it was called the Hotel California, and that on the way through Trujillo a couple of days ago, we had passed the same hotel, and I made the bold claim that I would never, ever, stay in a hotel named “Hotel California.”  Then, there we were, Chris and Cassie laughing at me, underneath the large sign with red letters on a black background.  And, I’ve got to say, it was not exactly a lovely place.
The next morning, we stopped by the little shop and gave the man and his wife a thank you note because I was just so thankful for their help (yes, we made it out of the Hotel California).  Then, we caught a bus to La Ceiba, where we met up with volunteers from the orphanage who live in an apartment for the Phase II kids--those who have graduated from the orphanage school and decided to continue with high school.  After hanging out for a bit and eating lunch, we walked around Ceiba, spending time at the beach (where I stayed out of the loose sand to avoid the syringes and the dead dog I found there), walking through the market, and through some small shops where I found a book of poetry by a Honduran author (until this point I had been unable to find any type of original writing by Hondurans and was disappointed by the apparent intellectual void), which I will read and then take into school to use in my poetry workshops and leave in the school library.  
The next day, we took a short chicken bus ride out to El Pino, an aldea at the foot of Picot Bonito park, the largest reserve in Honduras.  By the time we got there, and hiked up the wrong path, there was no time to find a guide and do some serious hiking that day, so we walked back down to a place called Natural View, where we ended up staying the night.  It was a very cheap place where we rented our own cabaña, were able to use the pool, hammocks, and other amenities they had available, and were able to set up a guided hike for the next morning.  
That next morning, we hiked through the outskirts of Picot Bonito (most of it is off limits to any type of intrusion) with a guide, whom we had met the day before in his artesian shop on the road going towards Natural View.  He was a really cool guy, about our age, who knew a lot about the trail and even more about birds, which we saw a lot of.  He is also actively involved in recycling and methods to protect the environment, which is extremely unusual for a Honduran, so it was pretty refreshing to talk with him.  
The hike that day was beautiful, and I have great pictures, which I unfortunately probably won’t be able to share for another few months.  That afternoon, we headed out to Sambo Creek, a Garífuna village on the other side of La Ceiba.  The Garífuna are a group descended from the African slaves that the Spanish brought over, and have their own language, but many of them also speak Spanish and English.  At the mass on Sunday night there were several songs and prayers in Garífuna, which was really cool because it was really involved and energetic, including several dances.  It’s a very different aspect of Honduran culture than the one that we are used to out here in the middle of the country, far from either coast.  
Sambo Creek itself was also interesting.  We got to go swimming for a bit, saw the sun set behind the fishing canoes tied up on shore, and ate at a seafood place where I had a seafood soup that had king crab claw, lots of shrimp, conch, and the front half of a fish in a Garífuna broth.  It was very different, but very good.  We were talking with our waiter and hitting it off pretty well, and he was also pretty bored on a quiet Thursday night, so he secretly brought over shots of a traditional Garífuna drink for us to try.  The drink is supposed to be medicinal, but they add rum to it and get really drunk, so I’m not sure how medicinal it really is.  
I also felt like Sambo Creek was the least safe place we stayed in.  While I was down on the beach collecting shells for my class, a woman approached me and asked if I wanted to buy drugs.  I told her pretty firmly that no, I don’t want to buy drugs, but she explained anyway that what she sells is really good and that she will be at the discotec right next to our hotel if I changed my mind.  In the Garífuna villages there also seemed to be more signs of a gang presence, with gang signs and names tagged on walls of buildings.
Despite this, it was really cool to see a different part of Honduran culture.  At times, while walking around Sambo Creek, it felt like we weren’t in the same country we have been living in for the past five months.  Even a country like Honduras, which is much more homogeneous than the US, has many different faces if you look in the right places.  
The next morning we started as early as possible to travel back to Guaimaca in three buses, which took us a full twelve hours.  We arrived back here very tired, and pretty smelly, but in all, the vacation was enjoyable and a good opportunity to see a lot of Honduras that we normally wouldn’t have gotten a chance to, and that in reality, wasn’t planned.  Before we left, the only really definite plans we had were to go to the orphanage and Andrea’s house, so we were fortunate that it worked out so well.  I also enjoyed this trip more than our first one because it was simpler, explored more of the landscape and culture we hadn’t seen before, and had more variety.  But, in the end, it felt very good to return home to Guaimaca (and to have a bed to sleep on).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rainy Season, Holidays, New Schedule

So, the two weeks I have been back now have been full of changes.  When I left, the rainy season was just starting, but when I came back it was in full swing.  The first night back I noticed the frog sounds coming from the puddles nearby, like the spring peepers back home, just ten times louder and probably venomous in some way.  
The next day I noticed the grass--long and green everywhere, where before it was just hard-packed dirt and burnt stubble.  Previously I had thought that flowers must just flower year round with the warm weather here, but found out recently that there are a lot more flowers that come out this time of year.  This also corresponds with the mangos ripening; our tree has at least a couple new ripe mangos every day and at least a hundred in total.  Over the weekend I made mango cobbler, which came out pretty well.  Not as well as the Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler on our camping trips, of course.
The downside to us now being in the rainy season is that it rains every day, sometimes multiple times a day.  The rain will cool things down a bit, but if it rains during the day the temperature goes back up again right after, when the clouds clear.  So, even if I do my laundry in the morning, it has been taking a lot longer to dry than it used to.  Also, events with the church have been canceled or changed because of the rain, and I have had several leaks in my room (mostly directly above my bed) and a leak in the living room.  This past Sunday I helped Norlan repair the leaks in his roof with tar, roofing tape and cement, and then we hopped over to my roof and fixed what looked like the problems.  We definitely missed something though, today I had a good sized puddle on my bed.  Tomorrow I’m going up by myself to try and fix the rest--pray that it doesn’t rain for a few hours after, and please don’t say “Break a leg!” because I probably will.
Yesterday in the States was obviously Memorial Day, which I am sorry I missed.  I have found that the times I most realize how much I miss family are the holidays that have had traditions associated with them.  For example, St. Patrick’s day was hard because I really missed the corned beef and hash, green food and soda bread that we used to make at home, and I really missed being home for Mother’s Day because of all of the traditions we had to thank Mommy (and because I was really sick and could hardly move).  Memorial Day, yesterday, was a day I missed for the parade we had in town, for the ceremony on the Green, and especially for the opportunity to honor all of the people I have known who served and to whom I owe so much.  Particularly this year I held memories of Grandpa close by, and also remembered Steve, as this was the fifth year.
For them, I really missed Memorial Day.
In Honduras, yesterday was their National Tree Day, which we celebrated a little bit yesterday and more today with a tree drawing contest, some special prayers, and a day at the farm today with presentations about the environment.  Usually only two classes go to the farm at a time, but today everyone came.  After the presentations, they split into groups to plant trees, clean up some areas, etc.  These new holidays are cool to learn about and participate in, but obviously don’t take the place of those that I have grown up with and that have helped form my identity.
When I returned two weeks ago, it was to an entirely new schedule and Trimester.  In place of the courses from Trimester One, I am now teaching Math and English to the seniors, English to the ninth graders, English to Andrea, three of the four gym classes (but I like to go to the fourth and play anyway), two poetry workshops, a Chemistry review, and Science lab at the farm on Tuesday.  We still go to all of the masses and services during the week with the girls, and supervise their daily activities.  So, I am just as busy, if not more busy, than the first Trimester, but I still thoroughly enjoy it.  Especially recently, I have needed to keep busy, and the change in the schedule has brought welcome challenges.  
My schedule has also changed so that I am now working in the health clinic Monday mornings.  Every Monday last Trimester I helped collect and organize the food that the students brought with them to the center, and although it was nice to greet and see the girls first thing every Monday, it was a little mindless.  Yesterday, however, was my first day in the clinic, where I spent my time taking patient histories.  I didn’t expect to be trusted with something as important as taking the histories (I am learning some interesting vocabulary), but there I was, in my own little section, asking patients questions and taking notes.  
Being in the classroom these past several months have definitely helped me develop a demeanor with the patients that I know I did not have before.  In comparison to my internship with a doctor and my volunteer time in an ER after sophomore year of college, I seem to have learned how to hold people’s attention and respect, thereby staying in control.  A few years ago, it was hard for me to get across what I wanted to convey or to get the information I wanted to hear, mostly because I would listen to the patients as they complained and empathize.  Now, I have a much better balance between empathy and business.  As far as I could tell, all of the patients I saw respected me enough to give the necessary information, and still felt comforted, which is a good thing, I think.
I still have no idea what I’m going to do with my life after this.  I don’t really want to think about it, because I am happy with my life here enjoy every day.  However, as I said recently in a reflection, going home for a short amount of time made me realize that I’m eventually going to have responsibilities to someone other than myself, and if only for that reason, I need to start thinking more about careers, stressful and confusing as it is.  Maybe with the new experiences this trimester I will receive some new insight.  Side note concerning this stuff, my students are convinced that I am going to become a priest.  I really don’t think so, but like I said, I have no idea right now...all I can do is pray for guidance.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Check out my facebook page to find newly uploaded photo albums from the whole trip thus far.  I have had a good internet connection this weekend but I probably won't be able to put pics up like this again until I return for good.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Exam Week


Exam week.  Yesterday the girls took their Biology exams, today is Spanish, tomorrow Chemistry.  Yesterday’s exam went well, everyone passed and Sandra got a 97.  Tomorrow’s exam will be a joke because they can only answer, at most, 9 of the 24 questions because this year they switched the books’ information but when they made the test it was still from the old material.  Now, four questions pertain to our information, and there are five more that they could answer because of material that I taught them in Lab.  
The past week and a half with them has had its ups and downs.  Before Semana Santa, they were pretty unmotivated, didn’t participate as much as they used to, and weren’t doing their homework.  I thought they were just getting tired after a long trimester--I was too.  So, I expected them to come back from the break refreshed and more ready to go.  Instead, they were just as non-participative and hadn’t done any of the homework.  I was trying to talk with them and get a feel for what they thought needed the most review, but they were not saying anything, and they would not answer my questions, so I told them that I was trying to make things interactive, but if that’s not what they wanted, we would just do book exercises.  No response.  So we started with the book exercises.
The next day after lab I had a talk with them about how it felt like I had lost their respect, that they had been doing well in class, until recently, etc, and that class would start to be different in the second trimester, that they would be held more accountable for participation.  I didn’t feel like this talk did all that I wanted it to.  It definitely helped a little, but it didn’t reach them and make them return to participating well.  
So, the next day I talked with them more from the heart.  What I said to them will remain between us, but I talked to them about role models I have had, and what I expect and hope for with them.  This talk definitely reached them more, and they were almost instantly warmer.  Their participation improved greatly within the same day, and since then things have continued progressing.  They have been working very hard, preparing for their exams, and I am very proud of them.  
Other than my own students in class, things have been going very well with the other students outside of class.  They could tell that something was bothering me in the beginning of last week, which started to affect the way they interacted with me--because, heaven forbid, I should have a bad day.  Now, however, I am interacting well with each grade, and I am looking forward to this next semester when I might have different grades in class, or at least in the poetry club that I will have time to do every week.

Well, I lied.  Immediately after writing that the Chemistry test would be a joke, I saw Sr. Theresa and she told me that we had just received special permission from IHER to write our own Chemistry test.  Which means: "Mateo, write a Chemistry final exam in a couple of hours and tell your girls what to study so that they can study for one day and take the test tomorrow."
I started out figuring out what types of problems I would ask on the test, then wrote a study guide out for them so they could start studying while I was writing the test.  For the next three or so hours until lunch I was in furious test-writing mode and just finished before lunch.  It used some multiple choice questions similar to those that are on the stupid IHER tests, but that were better worded and at least had the correct spelling and answer choices, and then the second half of the test was fill-in the blanks and diagrams/drawings of molecules for them to name, label or draw.  I always have worked best under pressure, and I think the test came out pretty well.
After lunch, I reviewed with the girls whenever there was free time to do so, even staying late that night with two of them who needed extra help, but as I was going home it was with a sense of unease in my stomach.  Not only did we have to cover most of the book in the last two weeks because of all the review I had to do in the beginning, not only is all of this material Organic Chemistry, which is hard for even college students, any type of Chem is the hardest and most dreaded class for every girl here.  Add to that the fact that I had shot myself (and them) in the foot and told them to not worry about the Chemistry exam because it would be a lot of material from the old book that I would end up giving them the answers to, and finally the fact they did not have any direction for their studies until about 10 am the day before.  
The next day, Thursday, we reviewed a couple of things first thing in the morning, and then they took the test.  Most of them passed, only three of them have to take the retest (for grades less than 60%).  For the ones who did pass, the average was a 70%, which I was pretty happy with because, despite all of the factors I already mentioned, this is a huge improvement over the quizzes and tests throughout the year.  I was even ok with those who didn’t pass, because, for the most part, their grades were improvements over their test or quiz grades throughout the year.  I told them to not beat themselves up too much over it because, considering all of the factors laid out against them, they ended up understanding enough of the material that, when they study more and take the retest, they will have the opportunity to really improve their final grade.  I’m almost positive that the first test score will go away as if it never happened.  Also, these final exams are worth 60% of their final grade and their work in the classroom is only 40% (not my choice, but it’s adapted for the long-distance learning format of IHER), so if they do well on this next exam their final grades have the potential to be very high.Therefore, one of my tasks this weekend will be to make the retest.  I will have to make it similar to the first one, but different enough for it to be a different test for them.  
Last week we also received next Trimester’s schedules.  I will be teaching Math, English and a continuation of Chemistry and Biology with the seniors, English to Tercero Ciclo (9th grade), two-three poetry workshops a week, three physical education classes again, I’m still going to the farm Tuesday mornings, and I will be working in the health clinic every Monday from 8-12:30.  This trimester will be very different, and very demanding.  I am nervous about the English classes--it’s hard enough to teach our grammar rules to native speakers.  I am looking forward to the change though, there will be many new experiences and challenges.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Semana Santa

Today is Good Friday, Viernes Santa, and is the second day of the most beautiful celebration I have ever witnessed.  Yesterday I began the day by doing a few hours of laundry to catch up, and while I was washing I got a text from Andrea that I didn’t see until a little later, telling me about the preparations with which I could help.  I had offered a couple of times last week, because I really wanted to get more involved in this kind of thing, but I had no idea what it would entail.  As soon as I could, I headed over to the church, where I found Andrea, her aunt Italia and uncle Geraldo, brother and cousin José (two different people), and a lot of the young people from the parish, making decorations, including the painted sawdust, el acerín, for las alfombras.  With Andrea’s help, I jumped right in and started mixing up the el acerín verde.  It wasn’t complicated to do, but I’m not going to write down the process because it would feel like I was somehow not giving the experience credit by reducing it to a recipe.  
After I mixed, kneaded and scraped the green sawdust, I stood up, with green hands, and shared the offered snack and soda with the other volunteers.  We then broke for a few hours for lunch so I came back, ate something, wrote a couple of letters, and at 3:00 headed back to the parish hall.  For the next three and a half hours I helped decorate columns with fresh green branches, in preparation for Easter Sunday, when these columns, with flowers coming out of the top, will adorn the church.  At 6:30 I rushed back home for a quick sandwich, then my roommates and I went to the 7:00 Holy Thursday mass.  Up to this point I had been feeling progressively more warm and connected--connected to the parish, to the people I was working with, and to my own faith and God.
However, during the next two hours at the Holy Thursday services, and the rest of the night I started feeling these kinds of feelings in a way that I had never experienced before.  I honestly feel like, at some point last night, I transitioned into a completely different person.  As I describe more about the night, hopefully I can impart and explain that a little more.  If not, that’s ok, because as I sit here writing this, I am swelling with emotion, which seems to warmly escape each time I exhale; but this is not a strong enough release, and I can also feel it welling out through the corners of my eyes.
The Holy Thursday mass is my favorite mass of the year.  Jesus, the son of God, kneeling down in front of his questioning, traitorous, doubting, denying...human...disciples and washing their feet with his own hands--that is an incredibly powerful image for me.  Yes, dying for us and wiping clean the world’s sins is the greatest act of love, but the washing of the feet and the Last Supper are when Jesus shows us what we, as humans and disciples, can and must do in order to best serve Him.  We must have the humility to get down on our knees, in front of the sinners, the poor, the anguished, and the lost, and offer ourselves and our gifts wholly.  To me, this is what service is all about.   
Father Craig’s homily beautifully touched upon all of these thoughts and feelings as he talked about how professions of faith must also be accompanied with acts of faith.  He recently led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and in his homily last night he used a story from his trip to highlight this lesson.  He and his group were standing in line to visit the shrine on the top of the mountain where the transfiguration occurred, and somehow started talking with a woman who was incredibly vocal and open in professing her faith.  At some point she said something about how she would meet God in paradise because she had such a strong faith here in life.  Fr. Craig looked at her and said, that good that you can vocalize your faith so well, but you need to accompany that with acts of faith just as strong.  Later, at the top of the mountain, he looked around and that woman was not there.  He asked where she had gone, and the answer was that she had walked back down the mountain, crying.  I don’t know if it was the place where this conversation occurred, or the way that Fr. Craig said it, but she was so struck by the fact that she had been trying to live a life devoted to God, yet had actually been distancing herself from Him and the true meaning of faith.
At the end of the mass, most of the congregation processed around the church behind the eucharist, before it was placed in the tabernacle and the altar was stripped.  When we returned to our seats, there was an hour of devotion and prayer, like what we used to have at home, but this was in the main part of the church, and it felt more right to stay and pray than it ever had before.  Prayer here has also taken on a completely different meaning to me than it had before; it is now a deeply investing, emotional and touching experience, a feeling that, before, I would occasionally have if there were something large going on in my life, but that now is a very present sign of an open communication with God and Mary.  So, as I knelt in the dark praying, it was a much different experience than when I had knelt to say a couple of Hail Marys and Our Fathers after previous Holy Thursday masses.  
After that hour, the parish’s live drama of the Passion began, picking up where the Last Supper leaves off.  The drama showed Judas making the deal with the Jewish high priests, and then progressed across the street to the park where Jesus was praying (in the garden) with his disciples sleeping, and there were young children surrounding Jesus and his disciples as angels.  After the dialogue in the garden, the Jewish soldiers came across the street, dressed in armor, carrying torches and pushing Judas ahead of them.  Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss and immediately followed the struggle when Peter cut off a soldier’s ear, who Jesus then healed.  The soldiers tied Jesus up, got on a couple of horses, and led him on a rope on a procession through town, with all of us following the torches and cracks of the whips.  The procession and drama ended back at the church, and was picked up again this morning.
After the procession ended, I went back to the hall to continue helping with the decorations.  For about twenty minutes just before the procession began, I had helped make some vine wreaths, but now, after the procession, we began the construction of las alfombras.  The alfombras are kind of like very large murals on the street, but they are made almost entirely with sawdust, which is why we were painting sawdust earlier in the day.  Again, I’m not going to go through the process step by step, but about fifteen or twenty of us started working on the alfombra in front of the church.  In the end, it was probably about a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide.  One part was a picture of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the other part was a chalice, with religious symbols surrounding it.  We also made several designs and figures decorating the borders and spaces between the two main pictures.  
So, the construction of our alfombra started at 10:00 Thursday night, and finished at 6:00 Friday morning.  I stayed the whole time and actually was able to do large, important amounts, which surprised me.  The people I was working with did not know me that well, I only met most of them yesterday, but they trusted me enough and were sharing enough to allow me to have a large part in the production.  Like I said, it was surprising, and actually kind of amazing how much they allowed me, who had never even seen an alfombra before this week, to do.  
The actual work was consuming and character changing.  Many of the parts were so detailed that you could only put a pinch of the sawdust on at a time, and remember, it was probably about 300 square feet.  As I was painstakingly working alongside the other parishioners I could feel myself letting go of something that had still held me a little apart from the parish community, and even though we didn’t talk much because my Spanish wasn’t doing so well that late/early, I could sense more of an acceptance and connection.  At one point, very late in the night, as I was working on a part of the Jesus depiction, one of the guys sitting on the side called to me and said something about me being the hardest working of any of the volunteers, and how great that was.  I was talking with him again this afternoon, and figured out that he was talking about all of the volunteers who come through Guaimaca, not just our community, because he didn’t really even know that there were four of us, much less that we are living here for the long term.  I was pretty embarrassed at the time, and still don’t like to write a conversation like this down, but I include it because it is a concrete example of the feeling of acceptance and belonging I started to develop while working all night on our alfombra.  You don’t just automatically become a member of the community you live in, it’s something that requires work, something to which you have to give everything.

View of our alfombra from the bell tower of the church

Close-up of the Holy Trinity--I worked a lot on Jesus

I hadn’t realized while making our alfombra that other people were also making others all over town.  When we finished ours at 6 am and someone asked how the others were coming, I did a double take and asked what they meant.  It was just hard to believe that there were more people staying up late, making similar massive beautiful alfombras.  They took me around the corner, and right there was another one, about half the size of ours and just as beautiful.  Then, I looked down the street and saw two more groups of people working, and, shocked, asked how many there were in total.  My new friends said they weren’t sure, but thought there was one for each station of the cross.  That was confirmed by someone else, so we continued on down the street to see the next couple of stations.  These were smaller than ours and than the second one I saw, but if I didn’t have anything to compare them to I would have said they were pretty damn big, and each one was detailed with beautiful colors, designs, pictures and symbols for each station.  I was awestruck that there were enough people (and enough sawdust in the world) who cared enough to get up very early in the morning (the smaller ones only took 3-5 hours, not 8 like ours) and create these beautiful alfombras all over town.  After seeing a couple of them, we turned back so we could go home and change out of our now tie-dyed clothes and wash off the sawdust and paint from our bodies.

Alfombra of the First Station
When I got home at quarter past six, there really wasn’t time to go to bed so I just washed up, had a hearty breakfast of macaroni and cheese, cinnamon rolls and coffee (bad coffee, we’re out of the Honduran grind), and waited for Norlan to walk over to the start of the Viacruces (stations of the cross).  They were starting in our barrio (neighborhood), but I had no idea where, so I needed his guidance on the way over.  In true Honduran fashion, he still hadn’t come out of the house at 8:00, when it was supposed to start, and then in true Norlan fashion, he came out about five or ten minutes later, without a shirt on and brushing his teeth (even though he was supposed to sing and play guitar).  He apologized later and said he hadn’t woken up in time, but things like this just don’t bother me anymore, it is one way that I have started to relax here.  
When Cassie, Norlan and I arrived at the first station, we saw a large group of parishioners gathered around, Father Craig with his truck and a microphone system in the back, the group of actors dressed in their costumes and ready to act out each station, the altar that the owner of the house set up in front of their house with a tablecloth, flowers, candle and religious picture, and the first alfombra.  This alfombra was, like the others, extremely beautiful.  The narrator for the station began with the description of the station and some prayers, then the actors acted out the station.  For this first station, Jesus is Condemned to Death, there were actors for the Jewish crowd, the high priests, Roman soldiers, Jesus, Barabas, Pontius Pilate, Mary, and some disciples, and they acted out the whole scene, up to Pilate washing his hands clean of Jesus’ blood and sending Him off on the path to crucifixion.  When we got to the actual crucifixion, the soldiers tied Jesus to the crucifix, but made it look like they had nailed him on, and lifted him up on the cross so that he was there, with his crown of thorns and fake wounds, above the crowd.  When he “died” on the cross, again he was up on the cross above the crowd and cried out his final lines.  It really was beautiful and touching in a way that the story never had been for me before.  It was obviously different from watching a movie like The Passion of Christ, but even without the special effects I would say that the live reenactment is more personal and meaningful.  
First Station

Alfombra of the Seventh Station

Each station was set up in a similar way, with a homemade altar and the alfombra in front of the host house and the reenactment scene.  We processed from station to station, walking around a large amount of the town on the way, singing songs in between each stop.  The Viacruces today really emphasized the parts of life here that are just so different from life in the US, like the sense of community and sharing that exists.  It also emphasized what I look for in religion, that sense of community, love, faith and communication with God.  Even without being so personally meaningful, it would certainly be something I never forgot for the simple beauty of it all.  
The stations ended with our large alfombra in front of the church, and the adoration service that I have always attended at 3:00 on Friday afternoon.  After that I had time for a nap--good thing, I almost fainted a couple of times--and then at three there was a service called Santo Entierro, which celebrates the holy burial.  For this they had a full-sized glass case, with pillows, a statue of Jesus, and flowers inside, which was carried by four people, each carrying one end of the pallet-poles on a shoulder.  
In the church they started out with a couple of prayers, then three men walked to the front of the church to carry Jesus’ effigy.  At this point Father Craig caught my eye and motioned for me to go up and be the fourth, which really surprised me, so I hesitated.  But when an older woman in the front row of the next section over turned to me and earnestly told me to go up, I walked up and joined the other three at the casket.  We picked it up (it was much heavier than I expected) and walked out of the church, everyone else following us down the street to the first stop.  Here, in front of someone’s house, was another homemade altar, similar to those from the Viacruces.  In all, there were six of these stops at a family’s house, the seventh stop being a large exhibition room at the graveyard.  At each stop the narrator, Manuel, or another woman, would say something, then we would all pray, and then thank the family before moving on to the next stop.  After the last stop at graveyard, we picked the casket back up and processed with it back to the church, where there was just a short closing.  
It was a huge honor for me to be one of the people carrying the pallet.  Not only because it was an important job, but because it was another example of becoming much more connected to the community, more of an actual member than an outside volunteer.  The same person who had said something to me last night about being a hard worker was the person carrying the pallet next to me, which was good because it definitely brought us a little bit closer, and because on the way back we were able to talk a little, so that now he knows more about me and my roommates.  I started writing this journal right after the holy burial service, so it is probably pretty obvious how I felt at the time.
There was one more Good Friday service today, at 7:00, called La Procesión de la Dolorosa.  It was run by two woman’s groups in the parish, and was a celebration of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  Mary is very important here in our community and is worshiped, prayed to and identified with a little more than in the parish communities in the US I was a part of.  I think this is very common in many Latin American communities.  
The procession itself started in the church and moved through town to five stations set up, again at people’s homes with little altars in front.  The groups carried a statue of Mary with us, and between each station, while processing, we sang songs by the light of the candles that some brought and the soft glow of the street lamps.  At each stop we said a decade of the rosary from the Sorrowful Mysteries.  I never realized it before tonight, but the mysteries and their emotions are seen through the eyes of Mary.  For example, the sorrowful mysteries are those events that were sorrowful for Mary as a mother.
This service, so peaceful, was the perfect way to end the day.  It brought to close all of the stories and celebrations of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and gave us a perspective with which to see the Passion and Resurrection.  Since arriving here, but especially this week, it has been especially valuable to me to spend more time praying to Mary and thinking about these events from her perspective.  She is the human mother of God, and she is who was left here with us after Jesus was crucified.  Therefore, although she was without sin and ascended to heaven, in my opinion it is easier to identify with her, and it is thus a little easier to understand the life and death of Christ when seeing the events through her eyes.  
Actually, while we were walking in Mary’s steps, following the death of her son, I felt a parallel to other funeral and burial processions I have taken part in, for those I know who have died.  It became all the more sorrowful because at this point I somehow saw the events through the eyes of the mother of the departed, which then helped me return to the present and see the death of Christ through the eyes of Mary much more clearly.  I think that this, the connection that can be drawn from Mary’s suffering to one’s own life, back to the Passion, could be why people here identify with and worship Mary more than I was used to in the US.
Holy Saturday was another day of preparations to ready the church for the coming services.  From about 10 am-6:30 pm, I was at the parish hall helping make decorations out of branches with green leaves, which we tied to long vines and hung around the church.  There were several other people there all day as well, many of whom I had already met while working the other days, and a few new faces.  Again, I really enjoyed helping out, not only because I saw how beautiful the end product was, but also because I ended up meeting many of the younger people in the parish, who now say hi to me when they see me.
The Easter Vigil began at 7:00 with the blessing of the new fire.  We met in front of a woman’s house in Barrio Suyapa (the neighborhood where I live), where there was a large fire that was blessed and then used to light the Easter candle, which then was used to light all of the smaller candles that we had.  It was amazing how much light there was when all of our candles were lit, and it was breathtaking to see all of the faces flickering with the flames, to hear the songs we sang, and to feel the strength of our community as we processed together through town back to the church.
The actual Vigil service began back at the church, where after the initial prayer, we extinguished the candles and participated in the following readings and prayer in darkness.  Then, just before the Gospel reading, the lights were turned on to symbolize the coming of the light of Christ.  With the lights on everyone could fully see the beautiful decorations all over the church.  All of our efforts to ready the church really drove home that this week is a celebration very much alive, as long as we make the effort to live our faith and to keep the light alive through our thoughts, words, and acts.
Last night was the first Easter Vigil mass I had been to, and for this I am thankful.  This triduum has been full of new experiences and new ways to practice a faith that also feels relatively new and fresh, so I’m glad that the culmination of the celebrations was also a new and provoking experience.
Easter mass this morning was of course beautiful, and was nice because it was a reminder of the Easter masses I have been to through the year.  There was not, however, anything very new or different about it, except for the decorations which were still there, the beautiful sermon Father Craig gave, and the differences I have already noticed between masses here and masses in the States.  The one significant difference for me was the deep feeling of gratitude and love that lingered after the other days’ celebrations, which was good to notice--I would have been upset if it did not continue and sustain itself.  
When we came home today, we had an Easter basket hunt that Tori kindly made last night while we were at the Vigil mass, I made a large brunch, we are going in a few hours to Easter dinner with Father Craig at the rectory, and I am filled with a warm peace.  I wish everyone back home a Happy Easter--“Felices Pascuas.”