Sunday 28 July 2019

Returning Home to Honduras

I’m back, back, back again! It’s been a long time since I’ve stretched these particular muscles but I have to say I have missed annoying everyone with complaints and dreary day to day movements… ahem I mean cultural insights and inner observations. But anyway, I’m back for one more blog post and one more only! 

Welcomed back to Gracias in style
 As some of you will already be aware I recently returned to Honduras for a whistle stop visit. I was in New York with my family and in my head New York is pretty close to Honduras (news flash: it’s not, it’s still six hours and several flights away) so I thought I had better seize this opportunity lest I have to wait until after university as I had previously thought I would. I was prepared for going back to be an emotional experience in all kinds of ways and it was – it was a very reflective week and gave me a lot to think about which is why I’m back!

One of the things I was most excited about was being back with my host family. In the past two year the girls, my host sisters, have grown up a lot, especially Antonella who has gone from a few-month-old baby to a walking, (almost) talking toddler! She obviously had no idea who I was but by the end of my first day back she was already calling me tía, which means aunt in Spanish, which I’ll happily take! 

Jamie and Daniela had also grown up lots in the few years I’d been away. Jamie was my little shadow while I was there, never letting me go anywhere without her. She is a very nurturing girl and really loves looking after her little sister. Daniela, as ever, is the more independent of the two and this quality has really come out in the past two years. 

As great as it was to be back with family, there was a more mournful side to things. Less than two months before I visited, my host dad Jaime passed away after an extended illness. It has obviously been a very difficult time for everyone, especially my host mum Saida. She has had great support from her family and friends in Candelaria and elsewhere in Honduras, now and throughout his illness but it had been frustrating for me being so far away. There was obviously very little I could do other than tell her I love her and give her my support, but even that felt insufficient as I tried to convey it adequately in Spanish. At the end of the day being back, however briefly, was a little more poignant for me and for Saida after this hard time. 

Ice lollies at 9am... why not?

During my visit, however short, I was once again surprised by the generosity around me. This was not something new to me as when I first arrived in Honduras and throughout the whole year, everywhere I turned I was met with tremendous generosity and such a warm welcome. Now, back again, I couldn’t walk down the street without meeting a friend that wanted me to come round for coffee or go and get something to eat. An especially heartfelt thank you goes out to Saida, who fed me, put me up in my old room and wouldn’t accept anything from me all week. 

I also spent a lot of time with my friend Karen Yanina, who came running with me and Amy a few times. Her son Alejandro is also in Jamie’s class at school and good friends with the girls. She has just had a baby as well as having recently opened a clothes tienda and started taking beauty classes in El Salvador. She was kind enough to give me a tshirt so I could rep Honduras once I got home, do my nails for me and come over to Saida’s and make baleadas– my favourite!

With baby Luna Jazmín
Of course, I also spent some time with my other family in Candelaria, Lety and Victor’s family, who in my year were the organisers of the project. From the year after me, they have also been the host family for the next generations of Project Trust volunteers. Unfortunately this year’s volunteer was on a visa run when I was visiting so I didn’t get to see her. One of the first nights I was in Candelaria, the evangelical church that Lety and Victor belong to was having a special service in the town square with some guest speakers and musician.  While I’m not religious, I went along with Karen who is also a member, as church was always a good way to practice my Spanish and I especially enjoy the enthusiasm and music that accompanies any service in the evangelical church. I also obviously couldn’t leave Candelaria without procuring, as per my dad’s request, some specialty Honduran coffee from Victor’s dad’s coffee finca

Mi segunda familia 
I unfortunately arrived on the last day of school before the Easter holidays and after the end of the school day so I wasn’t able to go into the primary school and see all of my students again but I ran into many of them all across town, at church or while out playing with the girls. Even though I was occasionally faced with a kid who couldn’t remember exactly which gringa I was, most of them immediately knew who I was followed by a chorus of voices asking where Amy was! I assured them she’d be back as soon as possible, we've even talked about coming back together once we both graduate from university in another two years. 

It amazed me how quickly I fell back into the same habits once I arrived in Honduras. From the second I landed everything felt familiar, from the oppressive heat and humidity, to being surrounded by Spanish, to the smell of frijoles wafting through the air. Some things came back to me almost immediately – my Spanish for one. Unsurprising seeing as it had gotten to a high enough level during the year I spent speaking it every day that I can call it back very easily, even if I hadn’t spoken it in a while. What did surprise me though, was how quickly I fell back into the Honduran way of speaking, not just slang but also the way sentences are phrased and the gestures and body language that accompanied speaking. Eating using my hands and tortilla more than the actual utensils was also an easy enough habit to reclaim, though I have to say, getting used to putting toilet paper in the bin instead of flushing it took a little longer to get used to again!

In the time since I have left Honduras I have often been quite hard of myself, quite critical of my time there. I felt like I could have done more, had more of an impact, made more of the time I had. This visit was able to assuage a lot of those feelings. While I knew I had come away from Honduras with a new family or two, I sometimes questioned if I’d actually made any lasting friends. I said before that every time I was out of the house I would bump into someone I knew and have a chat if not a cup of cafe, proving these worries wrong. I visited my friend Enedina, who lives on the edge of town and who Amy and I made soup with in the early days of our year. I caught up with Eric, the boyfriend of a volunteer from the year before me over a cool bottle of Fresca.I got my hair cut (quite drastically!) by Edwin, the only fluent English speaker in the village, for the bargain price of 50 lempira (less than £2). I bumped into a number of teacher from the kinder, escuela, or colegio on the streets and chatted with friends in comedores, on the football pitch or even the town radio and had others messaging me, even if I wasn’t able to see them. It was incredibly heart-warming to return to a place I consider home with such a welcome. 

Views of the town square
Another thing I questioned was whether I had actually made a difference. I want to be careful here not to stray into any sense of saviourism, expecting to change and improve an entire town or culture in one year at 18 years old. That is never what I wanted or expected to do. But as a teacher I at the very least wanted to be able to pass on some new skills and knowledge to my students. There were definitely days while I was still in Honduras that it all felt futile - second grade just wouldn’t sit still, fifth grade wouldn’t stop talking, sixth grade were out of class for the second time that week and no one could remember the same thing we’d been learning for the past month! But there were not as many of these bad days as there were good ones. It was encouraging, two years down the line to see these kids more confident when I asked them about what they had been learning or quizzed them on some things that I had taught them. Language learning is, after all, an ongoing process and while the they may not remember every word I taught them while I was their English teacher, I might just have laid the foundation for lifelong learning, just as I’d hoped. 

In this same vein, it is so great to see the project in Candelaria transforming into something hopefully more long term, as it welcomes its fifth year of Project Trust volunteers after the summer. Amy and I were only the second year of volunteers and thus felt the burden and responsibility, mostly self-imposed, of ensuring the PT volunteers had a good reputation and presence so that this could become something sustainable as we so desperately hoped. At times this felt limiting as we were more reserved, less political, less involved at times than we might otherwise have been. However on returning and seeing the project still running, and hearing about the positive place volunteers now have in the community and how involved and assimilated they have become, I feel like it might just have been worth it. 

While some worries of mine have been put to rest after returning to Honduras and Candelaria, I have come to accept others. Sometimes I felt like I should have done more with my time in my town, gone out more, gotten more involved, and so on but after returning I found I had forgotten one very important thing – its bloody hot! I was drinking litres and litres of water every day and was still exhausted just from wandering around town. The sun beats down from about 8 in the morning until at least 3 or 4 in the afternoon, depending if it’s the wet or dry season. And I wasn’t just teaching in that heat during my year, I was doing it in jeans! I understand how most days I wanted to spend my afternoons having a nap until it was a little cooler or sheltering from the high temperatures by sitting in front of the fan. 

I would never use the word regret when talking about any aspect of my year in Honduras, apart from the fact that it couldn’t have been longer, and I think I need to go a bit easier on myself with a lot of these things.

There is a difference, however, in giving myself a break and looking back with rose tinted glasses. As much as I loved my time in Honduras and wouldn’t change it, I have always made sure to remember the bad with the good, not that there was much, just to make sure I am remembering things realistically. Being back did sharply remind me that I didn’t enjoy every single moment of the year. There were times when I was ill, times when I was homesick (usually the same time), times when me and Amy argued (we lived together for a year though, can you blame us?), times when I felt frustrated with the work we were doing and times when it all just felt a bit too overwhelming. However, you have to take the bad with the good and without it I wouldn’t have had the same experience, taken away the same things or appreciated the good times as much. 

I managed to achieve some tremendous things in the year I spent there. Not only did I gain a home and a family on the other side of the world, I made lifelong friends in the form of the other volunteers, some of whom are still my best friends. I lived away from home for a year, without seeing my family for most of that time, showing myself I can handle things on my own. I overcame challenges such as hospital trips and rowdy children. I became fluent in a language that I still love to speak. I curated a blog which provides a powerful look back on to so many aspects of my year, for me and for others. I became a teacher and experienced everything that comes along with it. I cherish all of these things and endlessly appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to achieve all of these things. If you are one of the many kind people who supported me in any way to get me there in the first place, thank you again. You’ve no idea what you helped me do. 

Saturday 9 September 2017

From One Person to the Another

I feel like I’ve always struggled between being who the person I am, the person I think I should be and the person I want to be. I was never really happy with the person I was until returning from a volunteering trip in Costa Rica when I was 17. After that I felt not quite that I was who I wanted to be, but as if maybe that person was in sight, reachable. I had caught a glimpse of the kind of life that I wanted and the kind of me that I could be in that life.

On returning to school, I felt restless. All of a sudden I knew what I wanted to be doing and it wasn’t being stuck in a classroom in dreary Scotland. I struggled to keep myself settled throughout the year and keep my patience with those around me who, I felt anyway, didn’t understand what I was going through. 

At this point I had already applied and been selected for a year in Honduras with Project Trust and, quite honestly, just felt like I was wasting time until I could get away again. With the exam results I needed in my back pocket, I focused all my energies on fundraising. I jumped at the chance to go to any Project Trust event and whenever I was there, with other Project Trust people, I felt completely at ease. It was the most like myself I had felt since leaving Costa Rica. 

Honduras drew closer and closer and eventually I was right on the verge of leaving. One last trip to Coll to Project Trust headquarters for our training and then I would be off. Meeting all of the volunteers for the first time felt like meeting up with a group of friends. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a phrase used so often but ‘like minded people’ really is the best way to describe the connection I felt with the rest of my group. It takes a certain calibre of person to decide to move across the world to embark on a year of teaching with very little preparation or training and at only 18 years old! It is this part of us that was attracted to the each other when we met, even if we were different in other ways. Around these people, I didn’t have to think about how I acted or care about what they thought of me. I was able to just be me.

It goes without saying that I have gained an inordinate amount from my time spent in Honduras working as an English teacher. Some things are hard to measure, like the confidence I now have in myself and my abilities and the view I have of the world, but others, like the skills I have gained from being in the classroom and my language acquisition, are very tangible. 

As with any job, there are myriad skills to be gained from the experience and a year with Project Trust is no different. After a year of doing nothing else, I am obviously considerably more comfortable standing in front of a class and teaching and my ever present organisation has been put to good use but I have also developed others skills that have not been so strong in the past. Tolerance has definitely been key at various moments throughout the year, sometimes with my pupils if they won’t stay quiet or focus on the task at hand but also with myself, when the limits of my language or previous experience as a teacher restricted my ability to deliver an effective class. My people skills, while not necessarily lacking when I left for Honduras, have been enhanced by not only having to deal with people in a different language but also with different social cues and expectations. 

One of the more unexpected but most significant areas I have developed has been in my adaptability. Before Honduras, I would let small issues stress me out and everything had to be on time, arranged in advance and I had to know everything that was going on. After living the chaotic lifestyle that is Honduran to the core, I have learnt to adapt a more tranquila attitude. Things happen when and how they happen and there’s not much you can do to change that so why worry about it? This has been somewhat hard to translate into life back in the UK but I’m trying.

Spanish was a crucial part of my decision to spend my gap year in Latin America My aspirations to become near fluent had an effect on my university decision as well - I chose to study French with Chinese instead of Spanish - so it was important to me that I learnt as much as possible. Language is an integral part of any culture so not only have I improved an invaluable skill, it has also enhanced my understanding of the people and the way of thinking of a vibrant country and region of contrasts. 

There is so much more than this however. The understanding of Honduras that I have achieved after living there for a year is the the kind of understanding that can only be attained with this kind of total immersion in a place. This has exposed me to the thoughts and motivations behind a clearly different style of life to my own, which is something that most people, even those who have travelled widely, may not ever get to see. Understanding a culture means understanding its language, its history, its landscape, its people and so much more. 

Meeting so many people from across the globe while travelling has also shown me there are so many options in life. There is not one set path - life does not have to be school, university then work. I have seen the many paths you can take through life and working in the role I have has confirmed the path that I want to take. In my head, my future has always held travel. As this thought grew to become more realistic ideas for a career path, I expanded on that to three criteria; I wanted to travel; I wanted to learn foreign languages and use them; and I wanted to do something to help other people. My trip to Costa Rica introduced me to the idea of working for overseas organisations but it was still vague at best. I now know that I do want to work in this field with charities and NGOs, specifically with education, social development and women’s empowerment. 

As I have said, I have always felt caught between the different versions of me that there are and could be. If Costa Rica opened the doors for me to become the person I wanted to, Honduras had me stepping through those doors. It amazes me how much my self confidence has grown in just a year and with all the changes I have faced I feel more ‘me’ than someone else. It’s like I’ve always been this person but she just needed the right opportunity to come out. I used to feel very self conscious, something not a lot of people might have realised because I was quite good at pretending I didn’t care what anybody else actually thought of me. Now I actually don’t - I realise how many different types of people there are, either in appearance or personality, beliefs or ambitions, and that all of these should be celebrated. 

Coming home was the hardest part of the year by far. I can see the difference in myself after this year and leaving behind the place responsible for all this positive change pulled at something inside of me. The other volunteers that I had spent the year with had become my family and have been big influences on me. Saying goodbye to my Project Trust family was hard because I was worried that I would be saying goodbye to all the ways I’ve grown this year and I don’t want to. Moving backwards makes it very hard to move forwards. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to have happened, so far anyway, and I’m hanging on tight to make sure it never does!

Being back in Dunblane has been strange. It doesn’t make sense to my mind that I’m back where I was a year ago after having everything be new and exciting. I feel like I’m 17 again and still figuring out who I am and who I want to be. Now I feel like I have that at least partly figured out, being back in Dunblane is making it very hard to reconcile the two feelings. I know I don’t want to go back to how I was before but I feel like Dunblane sits on the new parts of me, the more outgoing, relaxed, adventurous parts and says ‘Sorry, there’s no room for that here’. It’s suffocating and I have been eagerly watching the clock counting me down until I move to Edinburgh for my next adventure. Dunblane will always be my home but I’m not sure I fit here anymore, or that I necessarily ever did.

As I sit on the cusp of my next adventure, it may feel like my Project Trust adventure is over but that is definitely not true. I will not, and cannot, let go of something that has given me so much without giving at least a little in return. Project Trust has done so much for me that I will never be able to adequately put into words and I know that a large part of the what is to come will be a result of the experiences I have had throughout my year in Honduras. I want to thank them in a million ways for the effect they have had on me but nothing seems enough. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for my life-long friends, thank you for giving me a family on the other side of the world, thank you for bringing me out of myself and into the world. Thank you. 

Wednesday 30 August 2017

¡Hasta Luego Project Trust!

Don't worry I'm still here! I've have been back in Scotland for a month now and it seems like my time has been split between wishing I was back in Honduras and pretending I am by doing a PT road trip to see Amy in Surrey, Jesse in London and Lucy in Edinburgh. 

Project Trust Debriefing 2017

The last step of the Project Trust journey, after the inevitable, crippling reverse culture shock, is Debriefing. It's our last chance to get up to Coll and spend a few days surrounded by the only people that are still willing to listen to gap year story after gap year story. It's not a compulsory course like Training but out of our 20 Honduras volunteers we managed to get 16 of us there - Hannah, Eve, Alice and Norome, you were missed. We were reunited with some of the volunteers we were on Training with who went to Zambia and also had Malawi, Japan and the Domincan Republic volunteers with us. Because we have such a large group, even with our missing members, we made up more than half of the total number!

I took the train up to Oban for the first time, having had a lift and then taken the bus for my previous journeys, and it was incredibly beautiful. There was a big group of us on the train and we were reunited with everyone else in the beloved Backpackers Plus hostel. 

We had two full days back in the Hebridean Centre. The first day was based primarily on looking back on the year we spent overseas. We worked in our country groups with our Overseas Coordinator to look back on our best bits and the challenges we overcame while away. We ended the day with a trip to the gorgeous beach (only gorgeous because it was so sunny!).

Yes. This is Scotland. 

Day two focused more on looking forward to how we, as returned volunteers, can stay involved in the PT community. The sense that you get as part of one of Project Trusts many groups of volunteers is very much one of family. These people that you have been sent away to the other side of the world with you quickly become your family but on coming home it's like meeting all the extended aunts and uncles and cousins that are all there for you. Just like in Honduras, everyone is related! There are Facebook groups and reunions and local meet ups and professional opportunities all to be found among the 7,700 and something returned volunteers, dating all the way back to 1967!

The legend that is Peter Wilson PT and the Honduras gals

It has been almost a week since the 'official' end of my year overseas but definitely not the end of my involvement. Project Trust are always looking for people to go into schools and talk to pupils about their experiences, inspire the next generation of teachers and social care workers and adventurers for them to send all over the world. With Global Citizenship being such a large part of going overseas with Project Trust, returned volunteers also go out to schools and run workshops on this in primary and secondary schools. With the experience I have of this from my fundraising, I think if I hadn't signed up I would have been chased from Coll and told never to return! Finally, as part of a new scheme, you can become a mentor to a volunteer who is in the process of fundraising for their year abroad - you can share your top tips and secret strategies as well as all your best stories (probably best to keep the bad ones under wraps to begin with!).

As ever, no Project Trust course or visit to Coll would be complete without a ceilidh to finish things of in style! What with there being two Latin American countries in attendance, traditional Scottish dancing soon morphed into a reggaeton/bachata party!

Project Trust tradition states that windows MUST be drawn on

Leaving Coll the next morning was a sad affair though I hope to be back next year as summer staff. Once again, the train back down to Glasgow was filled with PT people. Amy stayed one more night at my house before flying back down to Surrey. This was our final goodbye for the summer, after having seen each other three or four times since getting home. I know it won't be that last goodbye however, as we already have plans for a trip to Prague at Christmas and Amy is coming up to Edinburgh for a rugby match in February.

Best partner ever

As for the rest of my Honduran lot, there were a few goodbyes in Oban and some more when we got off the train in Glasgow. A few people stuck around in Edinburgh for a few days and we had one last night out together before we all went our separate ways.  However, apparently there's already a reunion in the works and I'll be at uni with Hannah and Eva in Edinburgh, with a lot of people not far away in the likes of Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Coll is such special place because of all it embodies. It is an integral part of any volunteer's Project Trust journey. It is there for you on Selection when everything is filled with excitement and you can't wait to get started. It is there on Training when you are are wondering what you've gotten yourself into. It is there to welcome you home on Debriefing, showing you that it's not all bad to be back. It encompasses the heart of Project Trust and all the people you meet along the way, from the staff to the other volunteers even to the people you meet in your Project. Coll is a place I love and will always love for I will forever associate it with the best year of my life. 

Project Trust Honduras volunteers 16/17

Friday 11 August 2017

Worth the Wait

With our goodbyes all done, the only thing left to do was to actually leave but apparently Honduras was just as reluctant to say good bye to us as we were to it. Please fasten your seatbelts folks, we are now approaching some turbulence.

Our journey home was composed of at least two flights for everyone, from San Pedro Sula to Miami and then Miami to London Heathrow. For some of us there was one more, onwards to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and even Budapest. We arrived at the airport in SPS in plenty of time (none of us wanted a repeat of what happened at Christmas when we missed our boat to Utila - we weren't quite that desperate to stay) but were told that our flight was delayed by 45 minutes. Not so bad but as we waited our departure time kept getting later and our wait longer. We eventually left just over two hours late but because our layover in Miami was originally three hours long, the delay meant that we had very little time to get through the monster of an airport that is Miami International.


An accurate representation of our feelings about leaving Honduras

We touched down at 8pm and our flight left at 8.40pm so as soon as we were off that plane, we were sprinting, bags flailing, flip flops flapping, cursing our lack of fitness. We managed to bag a flashy fluorescent orange pass that let us skip queues which worked until we got to security where there was a separate queue for others with the same flashy card so we couldn't skip it. Another issue was that we came through security at gate D26 and our gate was E23. It sounds worse when I say that the D gates go up to 60. And we had 15 minutes. We were told we weren't going to make it but we tried anyway. Amy and Sophie were sent ahead without their bags so they could sprint to the gate and maybe get them to wait for the sweaty, hopeful group of 16 other teenagers that were on their way.

It didn't work. Amy and Sophie got there two minutes after they had closed the gates/the plane had left so by the time the rest of us got there there was nothing we could do. We had to traverse our way back across the terminals we had crossed to the rebooking desk where we waited for an hour and half, witnessed a show of crazy that you can only see from someone who has missed multiple flights and thinks the world owes her and had to wake up various family members to tell them we wouldn't actually be home in the morning.

It turned out that the next flight to London wasn't until 5pm the next day and all the airline's hotel spaces were full so we had to just slum it in the airport for the next 19 hours. There was another option, to find, book and pay for a hotel ourselves and get reimbursed but none of us had enough money to pay for a last minute hotel near the airport in Miami. Instead we found a nice corridor behind TGI Fridays and bedded down for the night like a row of tacos.

18 hours to go...

The next day was wasted by moving between our base camp and the charging sockets nearby, trying to stretch our fairly meagre food vouchers as far as possible and re-re-booking ourselves on the next flight because we just by chance happened to discover it hadn't been done properly the night before. Everything went right in the end though and we were sat by gate E23 again (what a coincidence, huh?) with plenty of time before our flight left.

8 hour flights being what they are, the first four hours flew by and the next four were excruciatingly slow. Almost 24 hours later than planned we arrived at Heathrow. After all that Lucy and I still had another flight to catch so we couldn't hang around for long. We said our goodbyes to everyone (not too painful because we'll see most of them in a few weeks at Debriefing) and a quick hello to everyone's families before hopping across to our terminal.

Two painless hours later, we were pulling into the gate at Edinburgh airport and not long after were faced with home for the first time in 363 days. I have to admit that it wasn't that emotional to see my family again - for me at least. It had been a few months since I had seen my dad and Kirsty but only two weeks since my mum and Amy left Honduras. For them though, it was the opposite. It didn't  matter to them that not that much time had passed since they last saw me. I was home again and not leaving (at least not for a while). That idea was not one I wanted to dwell on at the time, what with not wanting to be home and everything, but for them it meant a lot.

My welcoming committee

And so resumes 'normal' life. Once again, I don't want to overload you so if I can get my feelings about being home into any kind of order anytime soon, maybe there'll be a blog about it (ok, there will be, I'm not quite ready to stop annoying everyone with this just yet) but for now, yes, it is nice to be home.

Worth the wait

Monday 7 August 2017

No Se Vaya!

It's been a week since I arrived back in sunny Scotland and it's as if nothing has changed. If it weren't for the residual crick in my neck and emotional scars from the journey home, I would think that maybe I've just been in a coma for the past year and have a very creative imagination. Before I get into what it's like being home again after so long, let me tell you about our goodbyes and the journey back. (The journey will follow in the next post, I didn't want to overload everyone with too much to read!)

Our first official goodbye was with our Kinder classes. We were leaving Candelaria on a Friday and the last day we see them is a Wednesday. We walked in to find all of the tables in my classroom pushed to the side and all the kids bouncing around the room. We hadn't been expecting anything special and had just planned to mark our departure by spending the whole lesson playing games. Instead the teachers kicked things off by saying a few words, thanking us for our effort and our patience, and then invited a few of the kids up to speak too. A big part of our lessons in Kinder revolve around songs so both classes got up and sang Wind the Bobbin Up and my class also sang the Colours Song - I was so proud I thought my heart might burst out of my chest! To finish we had cake and fizzy juice, as is customary at any Honduran celebration, and were presented with a little gift each of a Candelaria t-shirt. 

With all our little cuties!
In the words of Amy Lynch - how sad can you be when your name is on a cake?

My Kinder kids can drive me crazy sometimes but it was hard to say goodbye to them all the same. They are so adorable and for once I didn't mind when they mounted their daily ataque (they like to swarm me at the end of class and hug me so hard that it's not uncommon for me to have to brace myself against the wall so I don't fall over on top of them!). I'll miss their little faces and smiles and the fact that they only ever sing the 'oooooooooh' part of the Hokey Cokey. It's weird to think that by the time I'm back (because I will be back) they'll be proper little people in primary school. 

Our next goodbye was a dinner that evening with Lety and Victor, our second host family. They had us over and we ate cena típica (a typical dinner including beans, eggs, avocado, cheese, mantequilla and tortillas) with them. They made a big deal out of giving us a present, making us stand in the middle of the room with our eyes closed and hands out. It turns out it was a hammock! I desperately wanted to take a hammock home but had convinced myself that they were too expensive, I wouldn't use it, where would I even put a hammock? It was perfect. This wasn't our final goodbye with Lety and Victor and the family, because we promised to come back the next day, our last day. 

Samuel looks a little too happy about the fact that we're leaving...

And then finally, the day that had been looming over us all year was here. We knew it was coming but that didn't make it any easier. We still had classes and our timetable on Thursdays is actually my favourite because we have 4th, 5th and 6th grade who are my favourite classes. It felt like most of my day was hugs, goodbyes, gift from kind hearted kids, telling myself not to cry and choruses of 'no se vaya!' (don't go!) which broke my heart.

Somehow we made it through, with almost no tears on my part, and to our goodbye lunch with the teachers. We ate soup and chicken with tortillas and listened to the headteacher say a few words. They also presented us with these beautiful wooden plaques and mirrors, handmade in Candelaria, on behalf of the teachers, students and parents. 

All of our fellow teachers
After that, all that was left was a few of our friends and both of our families. We did the rounds to see our friends throughout the afternoon and then had a special dinner of tamales with our host family. Later in the evening we went over to Lety and Victor's to say goodbye to them for the last time too. Again, I managed to make it through without any tears, even when little Samuel started screaming as we left.

Part of the reason for this is that it still didn't feel real that we were leaving. I felt like we would be back in school with the kids after the weekend or we were saying goodbye to our families for a week while we went on a visa run. Because we'd been there for so long, leaving and not coming back didn't make sense. This was my home. Why would I be leaving?

That lasted until the morning. When it was time to say goodbye to Saida and the girls, things got very real, very quickly. We promised everyone we would come back in 4 years, once we've graduated from uni but who knows, it may be longer before we can see them again. Daniela and Jamie are both desperate to come to the UK though so you never know!

Mi familia
Las quiero, mis hermanitas
We drove to San Pedro in a car that Victor organised for us, swinging by Tomala to pick up Jesse and Lucy. The whole group was back together again for our last night in Honduras, minus Norome and Eva, our 8 month volunteers, who are staying another few weeks to travel.

Leaving Honduras was not easy. Even after a year, I feel like I had just settled in properly and then it was time to go. I could easily have stayed another year which made it even more frustrating that we had to leave. I wouldn't change a single thing about this year though. The people I've met, the places I've been, the kids I've had the pleasure of teaching and the country that I've fallen in love with, I will be back. It may be in four years, it may be longer, but I will be back. 

Thursday 27 July 2017

Welcome to Candelaria, Lempira!

Welcome to Candelaria Lempira! I'm writing this on my last day in this beautiful town and I thought it was probably about time that you got a look at the place I've called home for the last 12 months!

This is the view of Candelaria from what is essentially a viewpoint (not sure if that is the intended purpose, It's basically just a layby, but doesn't the town look good?) called the circumbalacion. Candelaria has a population of roughly 800 people living in the town centre, pictured, with a further 200 or so in the surrounding aldeas of La Hacienda, Posada de Flor and El Regadillo. The mountain that's visible is called Cerique but is commonly known only as 'el cerro' (the mountain).
Image may contain: mountain, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and natureThis is the view of Candelaria from the other side, from just below the summit of Cerrique. While it was very rewarding to climb the hill that looms over us wherever we are, it's not something I would ever do again. Do not attempt without an experienced hand that also carries a machete! Our 'experienced' guides, Alex and Jonni, can be seen in the photo.
First stop on our tour is where our mornings start every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - Jardín de Niños de Profe Marcelino Pineda Lopez a.k.a. Kinder. There are around 50 kids here split between two classes, pre-kinder/kinder for the 3-4 year olds and prepatorio for the 5 year olds. Its more or less a minute's walk from our house.
From Kinder we walk down this rather steep but thankfully paved road (at least we're not going up it though, right?). We go past our favourite comedor (a Honduran restaurant that is usually just the front room of someone's house), Comedor Delmy, or as we call it, Nayely's because our friend Nayely lives there. You can't actually see because of the angle of the photo but is a bright pink facade below the blue one two thirds of the way up the photo.
The bottom half of the road above. When we swim in the river with our host sisters, we walk down past the pink house that is visible which leads to a nice swimming spot that has a natural slide the girls love!
Image may contain: sky, house and outdoorWe continue along this road to the primary school, passing by our friend Erik's mechanic's workshop.
Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sport, basketball court and outdoorThe canchita (playing court) where we used to play football all the time is below the road above on the left hand side.
On the last stretch of the walk from Kinder to the primary school. In reality this walk only takes about five minutes. This road is always nice to walk down because it's frequented by a variety of very colourful and very beautiful butterflies!
Image may contain: plant, tree, mountain, sky, outdoor, nature and waterCrossing the bridge at the bottom of the steps up to the entrance of the escuela, you can see the formidable form of Cerrique very clearly. (It's not actually that high, it only took us 4 hours to go up and down and part of that was because there's no path so you have to scramble your way through scrubbery and up rock faces.)
This is the last step (haha, get it?) on our journey to school. The bridge from the previous picture is at the bottom and the gates are on the right. (The girls are our host sisters, Jamie and Daniela.)
Image may contain: tree, sky, plant and outdoorWelcome to La Escuela Urbana Mixta de Jose Cecilio del Valle!
These are what our classrooms are like. The buildings are over three different levels but I haven't included many photos of the school here. If you want to see more have a look at my blog post Introducing: La Escuela Jose Cecilio del Valle. In total there are about 230 students. 
One of the many gorgeous views from the school. 
On the way home now, this is at the top of the butterfly street looking the other way. Many of the houses here in Honduras are painted bright colours, like you can see here. It's one of the things that you first notice as being different to home when you arrive.  
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, cloud, sky and outdoorThis hill is the bane of my life. It is every bit as steep as it looks and incredibly bumpy. I'm smiling through the pain.
After the steep road we come out onto the square from the gap on the left hand side of the photo. Our house is straight ahead on the left from this angle. On the right is the central park and as always, Cerrique is watching. 
Image may contain: sky and outdoorOur house! The windows looks into our bedroom and the door is into the living room.
Image may contain: outdoorIf you go the end of our block and turn left, this is the road you are faced with. It is steep, slippery and not properly paved, all the things you want from a road and all the things you can expect from many roads in Candelaria.
The road behind our house, which is the green door behind the flowers on the left.
The street outside our house again. It forms one of the sides of the parque central. 
If you go anti-clockwise from our side, you'll come to the side that has the Catholic church and is the unofficial mototaxi station. This is also where they set up the stage for the big celebrations like Independence Day or Lempira Day. 
The iconic (at least to us) Catholic church that sits on one side of the square. We have attended mass here once, on my birthday after some of my sixth grade girls invited me. We've also gone to the Evangelical church a lot with Lety and Victor which is a very different experience from the Catholic services. 
If you go down the street at the end of this side of the park you come to our favourite place in the whole of Candelaria - the post office! Even the worst of days could be turned around with a text from the post office saying that we had mail! Unfortunately we could be waiting a long time for our packages, I think the longest was six months! Everything we've been sent has arrived though, eventually!
Continuing around, this side of the square house the municipalidad (the equivalent of council buildings) and the alcaldía (the mayor's office).

The mayor's office and the council buildings. 

A beautiful mural on the side of the palacio municipal (council building). 

 The park in the middle is very pretty and a lovely place to sit for a bit in the afternoon, as long as it's not too hot. Whenever there are celebrations there are usually a lot of things set up here and it's very full. Apart from that, it's actually pretty empty, even though there's free wifi!

This is what the bit of the square outside our house looks like on a Sunday morning when the market comes to Candelaria. The market is a great thing for the town because it brings people fresh meat, fresh vegetables, clothes, shoes, homeware, everything they could need!It's great, but not when they start setting up at 4am right outside our bedroom window!
Enjoying some (free) fried chicken and tajadas in the comedor area of the market. (It's all about who you know!)
Moving away from the square, this road continues from the side of the park that we live on, with the church being on the left. Our favourite pulperería (a corner shop),Irma's, is just visible further down on the right.
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If you keep going straight, you'll arrive at Ferreteria Genesis, our second host family's hardware shop.
Image may contain: mountain, plant, sky, outdoor and natureGoing right and then left brings you upon this stunning view which you can see from the entrance to the colegio (the high school).
The colegio is much bigger than the escuela because students come in from the other aldeas once they leave primary school.
Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoorAt one end of the high school there is the cancha (the court). Here there are a lot of people gathered for a dance competition that we judged.
Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoorSet up for the dance competition but usually this is where the football, basketball and volleyball teams practise.
This photo was taken down the road from Kinder. It features the public bathrooms I have never seen anyone use and would never dream of using. Seriously, hold your nose as you go past. 
Keep going and you get to, in my opinion, the worst road in Candelaria. Luckily we never really have any reason to be on this side of town so we can avoid it pretty easily. 
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, mountain, outdoor and natureThe only thing we´re ever on this side of town for is to go to the campo, the big football pitch. This is where we came with the escuela to practise marching for the Independence Day parade. 
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The rio pichigal runs through Candelaria and there is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than going for a swim. Sometimes it's not necessarily the cleanest but sometimes you're just too hot to care! 

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We would often take our host sisters, Daniela and Jamie, to the river to play and to try and teach them how to swim. Unfortunately it's a skill that many of the children here lack.

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There is one 'main' road that runs through Candelaria. At one end it goes to Gracias, 100km that takes four hours on the bad roads.

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Way back when we first came and Amy and I still ran, we wouldrun along the Gracias road until we reached this bridge where I would die for a few minutes while Amy waited patiently and then we would turn around.

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At the other end, the road runs to Mapulaca, a border town with El Salvador.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and natureThe road goes uphill steeply but if you time it right, it is absolutely worth. You get rewarded with a breathtaking sunset over the hills of El Salvador. 
And that's it! That is basically all there is to Candelaria. I hope you've enjoyed having a look around my little Honduran town. Over the past year these streets have become my home and the people that walk them have become my family. It breaks my heart that I have to leave them tomorrow but I know one day I will return to walk them again.