Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tomorrow is the day

Today is the day before school starts, and we have now been here for two weeks--two weeks of lesson planning, activity/poster making, laboratory researching, and trying not to think too much about what the language barrier will be like between us and our students.  I have definitely gotten to a point where I can understand a lot of what is said to me, but I am still lacking in vocab and it still requires an effort.  I still find myself decoding what they said in my head, and then thinking of a response, but by that time I feel like I am making them wait too long and then get flustered.  
I do a lot better when it is a low pressure situation.  Certain people are just easier to talk to, like Mary from the health clinic, Andrea (one of the other tutors) and Manuel, one of the workers at the farm who will be doing the labs with our science classes.  On Thursday I met with Manuel to go over my ideas for labs, which I was a little nervous about because I was the newcomer, this is the first time that I have talked with someone  about my ideas, and I expected them to be pretty different from what they had done in the past.  I didn’t want him to resent me as the new American know-it-all who tried to change the way he operated and how the students learned.  Therefore, when we met I presented the labs to him as my ideas, and asked for his input, or if he had thought something different.  Despite my fears, he was really enthusiastic about the labs and even my course outline.  He recognized that parts of it were stronger than they were in previous years and said so, then also said that he has ideas and books for future labs.  That conversation with Manuel really put me at ease about the relationship with him for the rest of the semester.  
Hopefully by the end of the trimester I will have a collection of labs, activities, projects and lesson plans that I can pass on for the next year, so that there is a more sustainable curriculum.  It seems like, in the past, things were kind of thrown together by whomever was the tutor that year, and completely followed the radio program.  My outline already differs from it a little bit, by spending more or less time on areas that I thought were more important, and by placing more of an emphasis on hands-on learning, but by the end of the trimester I will know what works, what doesn’t, and how to fix things for the future.  
Some of our recent work days, cooped up in the center all day long and shut off from any interaction, I began to feel pretty restless, so I’m pretty excited to start working with the students and to see how well all of our efforts pay off.  Specifically, I’m excited for them to do the activities that I made this week to review last year’s material, which I think will be a good way to ease us into the school year.  And, honestly, I’m a little proud of the work I came up with; for example, the poster I made is much better than many posters I made in high school when I was getting graded.
So, wish us luck this week!  I think that, once we get over our initial nervousness, we will do well, but that’s probably going to be difficult to do for a little while.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reality Check

So far I have been posting about how great our experience has been, but recently we saw the flip side of the coin.  On Sunday we drove someone to the airport in the capital and took a tour around.  Before that, though, we stopped in Valley of the Angels, a tourist-centric town to walk around and get some lunch.  
We think the juice that we had there, or the ice in the juice, was contaminated with something, because the three of us who drank it started feeling a little ill Sunday night and ended up sick as dogs all day yesterday and, for me, into this morning.  We thought we would be ok drinking the juice there because it is such a tourism spot, but it just went to show us that we can never let our guard down.  I don’t think I have ever been that sick before, but then again, I have never contracted a Honduran bug before.  
When I had to leave work yesterday morning, the sisters sent me over to the clinic, where they diagnosed me and Tori as having amoebas, so they treated us with their magnets, gave us a small amount of a mystery liquid in a cup for the pain, and then gave us a few packets of electrolyte mix to drink with lime juice and a liter of water.  
The magnets were...interesting.  They put one on my left temple with a metal head band type thing that stretched across the top of my head, taped three more onto my lower abdomen, and then taped one each onto the sides of both of my hips.  They asked if I had my cell phone, because apparently that messes it up, so I checked the pocket I usually keep it in and didn’t have it so they started the 20 minute countdown.  There was one moment, about five minutes in, when I was pretty startled because I felt my lower abdomen and hips vibrating.  I thought, “Wow, are these magnets really working?!  Is that them compacting the bad stuff? (that’s what they said happens).”  Then a split second later, I realized that I had put my phone into my other pocket and that I was getting a text.  So yeah, I felt pretty stupid.  I respect traditions and alternative medicines, but I have to admit that I’m a little skeptical of these magnets, especially since I felt a lot worse last night.  But, who knows, maybe the magnets kept it from getting even worse.  
So, last night we were all struggling, minus Chris, who hadn’t drank the juice on Sunday.  To make matters worse, Tori stepped on a large green caterpillar with spikes, and somehow it also got into her pants and stung her leg.  She began having pretty bad pain and those areas swelled up, so she called the sisters to see if she was dying from a venomous caterpillar.  One of them showed up here with Mary, the worker in the health clinic, to give her some cream, which made it better almost immediately.  It wasn’t venomous, but Mary said that some people have an allergic reaction to it, while some people, like her sons, aren’t affected at all.
Ranger must have know that the three of us were sick but that Chris was healthy because he tried to even it out a bit.  Chris went out to feed the dog, but didn’t see the package that Ranger had left on the porch, and of course he stepped in it with bare feet.  Later, Chris went out to get a shirt that he had left on his bike and found it in the grass...soaking wet and stained yellow with Ranger juice.  
This morning, when I was still waking up getting sick, I decided to just take some antibiotics the travel clinic back home had given me and see if that helped at all.  I can’t tell if I just have nothing left in me or if the antibiotics are working, but I haven’t been visiting the bathroom since then.  I didn’t take it last night because I knew that it would just go straight through me, but while I was sleeping it slowed down enough to allow me to take it around five in the morning.  
This I will not tell the sisters because they could have given us antibiotics, but they’re apparently broad-spectrum, so they decided to just do the magnet treatment instead.  That and the electrolyte mix, which just tastes like salt water, so I mixed in the limes they had given me.  Unsurprisingly, the citrus in the limes upset my stomach.  They also suggested to drink some basil tea, but I almost vomited when I smelled the basil leaves, so I opted for some Eastern alternative medicine instead and had green tea.  
So, this was a pretty long-winded way to describe us staying home sick.  I swear, I’m not just whining!  I thought all of the alternative treatment stuff, and the bugs (microscopic and caterpillars) we had never encountered before were pretty interesting.  Again, it just goes to show us that we always need to stay cognizant of our surroundings.  We might start to feel at home here, but we have to realize that “home” does not mean the same thing it does in the US. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Week In

Well, we have survived (and thoroughly enjoyed) one week in Guaimaca.  We have been incredibly busy this week with school preparations; we used this week to make outlines and schedules for the entire trimester, start planning some activities and projects and clean up and organize the school.

I think some specifics about the school itself are in order.  The school includes grades 7-11 (there is no 12th grade), and this year there will be about 70 students, all who come from one of the aldeas of Guaimaca, and who go through what sounds like a pretty intense interview process to make sure they will be committed to their studies and to developing as a person, developing in their faith, and developing as a member of the community.  Each family contributes to the school in some way, so that the families themselves are invested in and feel a part of their daughters' education.  Their contributions are completely based on what they are able to contribute, whether it's a few hundred Lempira, a few thousand, or some food that they have grown and then bring to the school.

The classes are based on a distance-learning format and are completely different from any type of class that I have had, even the most free, dialogue-based courses I had in college.   It's a system that was developed specifically for the thousands of students across the country who can't go to school past the sixth grade and therefore basically have to teach themselves.  It is only required to go to school through the 6th grade in Honduras, and most schools in the aldeas (the more rural, small agricultural villages) are a one-room classroom, with one teacher, and all of the ages all together.  With these needs in mind, the developers of this program created a radio lecture for each subject, which the students listen to, then complete exercises and read more information.  Once a week, a traveling tutor will come to the aldea and help students with comprehension of material, and then bring the state approved final exams.

The Hondurans are very proud of and invested in this program, so we in the school still work from the basics, even though we are there every day of the year.  Our students will listen to the radio the day before class, do some exercises and read, then we will come to class the next day and work on the material through activities and our own experience.  This first trimester I will tutor Biology and Chemistry and review Math from last year for the seniors, el Segundo Bachillerato.  It feels weird to say "tutor," just like it felt weird to say "tutor" last fall when working with the students who had been expelled from the high school, but that's the word that they use to describe my position.  We are in fact teachers, but it is in this system that is completely different from our own classroom experience.  I feel like I have an advantage, however, because that experience last fall "tutoring" really helped me prepare for this style of learning and teaching, and gave me a background that I would not have had otherwise.

Still, I feel like I will have to tone down the lecture portion of the classes.  I have already planned a few projects and big activities for both classes, which will be different for them but hopefully really help with their comprehension, but I need to come up with a lot of small classroom activities and labs to do while at the farm.  If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them!

Oh, one more thing-- we also each have some physical education classes.  I have three, and the other gringo tutors have two each, most of which are shared between us (my third is by myself).  We came up with a plan for this trimester, which includes a variety of activities and games, and a more intensive unit on basketball.  I'm pretty excited for these classes because it will help us really get to know the students of all the grades, and these classes will help them develop as a whole person, something in which both I and el Centro Marie Poussepin strongly believe.

I'm getting really excited for the start of classes on January 31st, but also pretty nervous.  The transition into this style of teaching will be difficult, not to mention the language barrier.  I can feel that my comprehension and expression has really improved in just this one week of immersion, and we have one more before school starts, but I know that at times my students will feel like they are not getting through to me, or vice versa, and I'm worried about how this will affect the class experience, especially in the beginning.  To help alleviate this problem, I will set up a box in my classroom for Preguntas, and if we don't get to anything, or I am unable to answer something, they can put it in the box for me to read through and answer at home.  I'm excited for the day that I say "Como?" ("how?" or "what?") in less than 50% of my conversations, hopefully that comes sooner rather than later.

I hope everyone in los Estados Unidos is happy and doing well.  I hear there's a lot of snow in the Northeast...that seems weird to me already.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

El Mendigo

Last night when I was getting water for Ranger I saw our neighbor in his yard, next to ours.  We started talking, and ended up talking about guitar playing and music.  While we were talking, my roommates came out, and when we were all there Norlan invited us all over to his yard to hang out and listen to him play the guitar and sing.  
We went over and met one of his younger friends, Juan, and his family, and had an incredible night of just sitting in his yard, listening to him play, sing, tell us stories, and converse.  The only light was the single street lamp nearby, which bathed everything in a surreal incandescence, while we sat under his mango tree and just lived life with all our new friends-- simple, easy and worry-free.
One of the stories Norlan told us was about a shoe maker who was visited one night by God in the form of un mendigo, or beggar.  God asked the shoe maker to fix his pair of sandals because they were his only pair, and they were broken.  The shoemaker grumbled that everyone was always asking, asking, and no one ever gave, so God said to him, “Regla mis zapatos y voy a darse cualquiera se desee,” or “Fix my shoes, and I will give you whatever you wish.”  
The shoemaker thought for a minute, then said in reply that he wants to be happy, and if he had a million dollars he could buy his happiness.  God responded by saying that He would give him a million dollars, if the shoemaker would give Him his legs in return.  The  shoemaker said, after thinking, no, even for a million dollars he would not give up his legs because then he would not be able to walk around town and see all of his friends and go to the market.  God then said to him, that if the shoemaker gave Him his arms, He would give him five million dollars.  Again, the shoemaker said no, if he did not have his arms, he would not be able to hug his children and to do the work he loved.  However, God again raised the ante and said that He would give the shoemaker ten million dollars if he gave God his eyes.  Again, the shoemaker declined, saying that if he did not have his eyes, he would not be able to see his family and appreciate the beautiful around him, so he would not give up his eyes, even for ten million dollars.
Then, God said to the shoemaker, “Entonces, no puedo darse nada, porque ya tiene todo que es necesario para sea alegre,” or, “Then I can’t give you anything, because you already have everything you need to be happy,” which of course, was the shoemaker’s original wish.  
Last night with Norlan was another amazing experience that taught me a lot about simplicity, perspective, and friendship.  So far, I have been posting about some of the people I have met who have already made a significant impact on me, even though they don’t realize it.  Soon I will try to post more about Honduras itself.  I hope this finds all of you well and happy.
Nos vemos!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

El Molino

Today I learned a lot about simplicity at the farm (la finca).  After spending the morning at the school getting oriented to their philosophy and style of teaching, we drove through town with Emilio, our neighbor, and Mary, a nurse at the clinic.  We brought with us a few buckets of beans in the back of the pickup, and, of course, we were also in the back of the pickup, sitting on the side.  Later, talking with Mary, we found out that sitting in the back of a pickup is illegal, just like in the US, and that drivers can lose their licenses and incur a fine.  However, if the police are even around, they don’t seem to care because everyone piles into the back of pickups as the preferred means of transportation.  
When we got to the farm, we carried the buckets of beans in to a shed where we found el molino (the mill).  Here is where they grind up the beans and seeds into a very fine flour, which is then used to provide sustenance to malnourished children and adults.  The mill itself is a small machine with a feeder funnel and two small millstones that rotate because they’re attached to an axle, which is belted to a nearby motor.  One person pours the beans and seeds into the funnel, while another uses one stick to hold the belt in place and another stick to push the beans down.  The ground beans and seeds spit out from the grinding stones and is collected below at a surprisingly fast rate.

A few things struck me about this process.  First, getting to know Mary a little more made me stop and appreciate the level of simplicity with which people conduct their lives and the level of commitment each person has to the community.  Mary is a nurse in the health clinic and is currently running it by herself because one of the Sisters from the mission, who normally is in charge of the clinic, is in Colombia with her family.  So, Mary’s daily responsibilities range from clerical work to the treatment of patients who come in from Guaimaca and the surrounding villages.   Today, however, Mary made the time to collect the beans and seeds from a house where they were toasting (to dry them out), drive up to the farm with her buckets, and grind the beans and seeds into flour.  Even though el molino works pretty fast, it is still a very time consuming process.
Mary, however, was the epitome of patience and cheerfulness.  Even though our Spanish is not very good, she talked with us on our way to the farm, explaining and answering our questions about Guaimaca and showing us where the fields start and what grows there.  She is one of the people I really appreciate because she takes the time to slow down for us and really listens to what we have to say, even if it’s not correct and she has to decipher it.  In addition, as I previously mentioned, grinding flour from soy beans is time consuming and must not be very interesting after doing it as many times as she has.  However, it is an essential function because it provides pinol de soya for local malnourished children, a very nutritious drink that includes soy flour ground at the mill, rice, oatmeal, and sometimes milk.  This drink sustains the malnourished children who come into the clinic with their families, helping them to survive and grow.  After grinding the soy beans, Mary and the other workers ground up a mixture of other types of beans and some seeds, which make a flour that is used to prepare another type of drink for the adults.  This drink is also very nutritious, and is for people who find it difficult to maintain a healthy diet due to economic poverty.
We in the US are so far removed from this simple way of life that it would never cross our minds to grind the flour we use for baking.  Most of us probably don’t even know where our flour comes from, but people like Mary plant seeds of these plants, tend them until ready for picking, pick them, toast them, bring them back to the farm for grinding, and then finally use the flour for a drink that can sustain several people for an extended amount of time.  Most importantly, Mary enjoys her job and is genuinely happy.  How many people do you know who would be happy if told to go to a smelly farm and grind up beans?
Life here is much simpler.  That sentence is both an understatement and a misnomer, because people here deal with more in a day than many of us in the US do in a month.  One of my hopes for this year is that, by living simply and in solidarity with the people of Guaimaca, I will develop my own appreciation for the simple things in life.  Additionally, many of the people I have met have priorities in the most important places-- como la familia, la communidad, el Dios, la educacion-- the list goes on.  Mary is one of these people who is devoted to her job, to the church and mission, to the health of those around her, and to the simple things in life.  Last week, during our reflections at Stonehill, one of my answers to the oft-repeated question “What do you hope to gain from this experience?” was invariably “perspective.”  Even after only three days here, I can see that I will gain the perspective I desire through people like Mary.

Our Community Covenant

This is the community covenant that Cassie, Chris and I came up with last Wednesday after a lot of time together spent on reflections and getting-to-know your values type exercises, with input from Tori after Skyping with her.  It is how we are going to try to conduct ourselves daily and live together.

Honduras Extension Program Community Covenant 2011
       As an intentional community, we hope to establish a welcoming home that provides us with a physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually safe environment.  We recognize that this endeavor will be an intentional struggle, a process that we will continually and determinedly have to adapt to and form as we serve together.

       In order to create an environment where we attain these goals, we will live simply and in solidarity with the larger community of the mission and Guaimaca.  Solidarity requires a deeper understanding of the greater community, and to this end we will actively learn about and participate with the cantrachos we encounter daily.  Likewise, we will respect each member of our service community so that we can fully grow into role models-- role models as US citizens, and role models for future Extension Program volunteers.  

When we return to our house every night, we want to enter an environment that will feel productive, positive, and balanced; not only with our work duties, but also with our internal relationships and personal development.  Open and honest reflection, both private and shared, is a vital centerpiece to our formation.  Although we eventually want our community to feel like a family, we realize that it will be a constant work in progress and that we will have to maintain open communication based on a foundation of trust and tolerance.  In order to build trust, we must remain dedicated to each other and care for one another.  

      These are the goals we set for ourselves this year, but they remain flexible.  As we strive to become an integrated part of the Guaimaca community, we will learn more about ourselves and the methods to fulfill our goals.  We will be successful this year when we incorporate our new knowledge and understanding into this endeavor we have undertaken.

Con paz y amor, los amigos de Stonehill College y Northeastern University,

Victoria Godfrey
Christopher McCormick
Matthew Rigby
Cassondra White

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Last day at home

Today is our last day at home-- tomorrow Cassie, Chris and I will head off to Stonehill for our pre-departure orientation.  As I write this, I am feeling a breathless mix of excitement, anxiety, curiosity and hope.  I don't necessarily like admitting that I'm a little scared, but I suppose that scared means that I'm human, right?

I am confident, however, that the next four days at orientation will help prepare us and even define our own motives and goals.  Much of our orientation will be spent in reflection time, which lends me a sense of calm confidence; during my H.O.P.E. trip reflections last year, I saw the powerful connection that can be formed between caring individuals who share a common service experience.  I am really looking forward to building a community with the other two Stonehill alumni and Tori, the Northeastern co-op student who will be joining us in Guaimaca for 6 months, and have high hopes for what we will accomplish together.

Finally, I want to thank all the people, especially my family, who have had a part in me getting to this point.  As I am about to begin my own life, I have to think back on all of the birthday parties, the holidays and the Clamboils that have kept our family so close.  Every day I count myself lucky for a family that has been so vital to my incredibly, essentially, formative.  I realize that the greatest asset I have to share with the world is not my money or my education, it is the dedicated compassion and empathy that you have instilled in me.  Whatever I do in Honduras, or beyond, will be due to you.  This afternoon we had dinner with some neighbors and Sister Dorothy and Father Ted of our old parish, and although I received great advice from them all, there was one story Fr. Ted told that is particularly relevant to and revealing of my point here.  His story described Chinese wedding customs, and how there are no tables at the reception.  Instead, they all sit in a circle, and in the center of the circle sit the grandparents.  Before anything else can be said, the groom stands up and talks about the grandparents, thanking them for their founding influence.  If it wasn't for them, he says, none of the people sitting in the circle would be there, and this wedding, this celebration of life and joy, would never have taken place.  If it wasn't for all of you, I would not be here today, and for this I thank you.