Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Challenges and Adjustment

Well, I have officially been in my site for two months, and here in Honduras for five. WOW!! And to best describe how that period of time has most affected me, I would say that what I used to think of as quick errands or minor events in the states now define my most productive days and joyous memories. I think the hardest part of adjustment to Honduras has been modifying what I call a productive day. For the first couple of weeks in-site, I tried to get out as much as I could and went door-to-door introducing myself and getting to know the people. However, every night I came back, I felt disappointed with the day and felt I could have done better in some way. In the states, having free time was a luxury that I didn’t get too often, but also was something I didn’t want too much of because my mind was always set on moving forward and doing something that was constructive. Squeezing class, science lab, work, tennis practice, weekly meetings, meals, and homework into one day was normal. Here, I would consider buying groceries an adequate daily accomplishment. It has been nice to indulge in the free time I have now, (I have read 5 or 6 books in two months!) but I sometimes felt stressed and guilty, too, thinking that instead of reading there is something else that I could be doing.

Dona Honoria making fresh tortillas. First, you take corn kernels off the cob and soak them in water. Then, you grind them with a hand grinder and they have a powdery texture. Then, you add water and grind, or ´´repasar´´ the corn on a rock like this:

Once you have ground the corn twice, the texture is that of pizza dough and you can form the corn into little balls and make them into tortillas.

As far as the standards I have of what makes me happy, this has both good and bad angles. On one hand, I have learned how to live a life so simple that some of my happiest memories are as plain as eating oranges in the grass with my neighbors or receiving a gift of sweet bread because I stopped by to congratulate a mom’s daughter after graduating from kindergarten. On the negative side, however, sometimes having a day where I didn’t feel depressed, lonely, discouraged, or stressed, was considered a good day for me. These past two months have had its ups and downs and even though our project directors told us that the first three months are the toughest, I didn’t imagine any part of my Peace Corps experience would be as tough as it has been.

Every day has been a constant test of my self-motivation, self-confidence, and ability to be independent. As a training group, we always had other North Americans around to confide in and whatever anyone was feeling or struggling with, someone else was on the same page. Everyday, it seemed we were able to escape from Honduras just for a little bit in the time that we went out to dinner, played soccer, or even just hung out and spoke English. But in my site, there was no one to give me words of encouragement before going door to door to introduce myself to the families; or to let me know if I was integrating well or if I needed to meet more people or go to more meetings. I was so used to a life where I knew exactly how I was doing in everything. In tennis practice, my coach always told me what I needed to work on and what I was doing well with. At some jobs, I had weekly meetings with my bosses or managers to review the week; and in class, there were always pop quizzes or midterms to let you know exactly where you stood to 1/10 of a percent. So, it seemed that no matter how much I went out trying to integrate in my community, I always felt stressed that I might not be doing a good enough job because I didn’t have anything to compare my experience to, I just didn’t know how I was doing.

To make things tougher, I am the first Peace Corps volunteer in my site. My project director, Menelio, told me I would find more challenges because of this but I was truthfully excited to hear I was the first volunteer because it meant I could start with new projects that interested me rather than wrapping up unfinished projects that other volunteers had left behind. However, this also meant that very few people here knew what Peace Corps was. I was offended that after all that I have given up to be here and all that I have already gone through (loneliness, scabies, diarrhea, leaving my family and friends. . . ), people thought I must be here for my own selfish personal gain (getting college credit or getting lots of money)! And I was hurt that after trying so hard to be open and friendly with everyone, no one thought to ask me straight up. Also, since my community is Lenca, a native ethnicity of Honduras, they are used to getting screwed over by people that come promising change and then take advantage of them or don't do anything.

Another unusual and unfortunate detail about Nueva Esperanza is that most girls from the ages of 18-24 leave Nueva Esperanza to go work in the larger cities like San Pedro Sula. That means I am unable to befriend any girls around my age and since I am pretty much the only young woman in the whole community, you can imagine what kind of attention I get from every guy between the ages of 18-45. I had one guy ask me “how long the marriage contract was in the US”. When I told him I didn’t understand the question, he said “Well, for example, (yeah right for example –he probably thought about this the first second we started talking) if we were to get married and I went back with you to the United States, for how many years do people stay married before they can get divorced legally?” (But I guess I would have to be nuts to believe that it was possible for a 22 year old Asian-North American single girl to move into a community for two years and not be noticed.)

Celaque at sunset

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