Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Couple of Much Needed Runs

The best part about running is that there are only two constants: left, right and repeat.  It is definitely the rainy season here, as dark clouds roll in at about 1:30 p.m. every day.  Some days I just need to go for a run no matter what the conditions.  It was hotter than usual yesterday and I told myself I would go out no matter what the temperature was—I would just need to bring water...

I got home from school and changed into some running clothes and decided to lace up an old pair of shoes in case there was mud on the trail.  When I stepped outside, I saw the storm approaching from the north and I knew that I would be running right into it.  Sometimes, the storms aren’t so bad here; it will just sprinkle and there will be some mild thunder accompanying the dark clouds.  Other times the rain damn near forms river rapid systems through the unpaved streets.  I couldn’t tell which one it was yesterday, but I didn’t really care.  I decided to be bold.

North of my town there is a path that follows a valley that was cut by a river.  This is my running path.  The path is so diverse in its terrain that I haven’t gotten the least bit bored of it for 6 months.  Especially since the rains came, the path is completely different now.  Lush green vegetation shades most of the path, which is a welcome break from the afternoon sun.  I figured the vegetation would give me some cover if it decided to rain too.  As I reached the trailhead, I looked up to see that the space in between the two mountains had sheets of opaque rain that blocked much of the view.  I knew I was going to get soaked.

There are like 5 river crossings until the end of the path.  At the end, there is really no sense in trying to go further as you would pretty much be walking through dense jungle-like brush and traversing riverbeds.  Depending on what time of year it is, the river can be dry or filled with water.  Before today, I never had an issue crossing.  I would say that the normal level for the river is around 3 inches if any water at all.  Normally if there is a little extra water, there are always large rocks protruding that make for nice lily pads to hop across.  There were no such lily pads yesterday.

As I made it to the first river crossing, the rain started to come down pretty heavy.  My Ipod was getting wet so I decided to put it in a ziplock bag that I brought for just such an occasion.  The river was higher than I had ever seen it.  I stopped my watch and thought long and hard about turning back.  I felt adventurous and decided I would cross.  Just before I jumped I looked like an apprehensive dog or cat hanging on a ledge deciding whether to take the plunge.  I bound across, just sinking one of my legs shin high.  I remember thinking, “That’s not a good sign.”

The further north I got, the harder it rained and river crossings became more difficult.  There is one main river crossing that even when it is at a low water level, I usually get my feet a little wet.  When I arrived, that part of the river was torrential.  There were rapids and strong currents.  I was repeating something I heard over and over in my head, “It only takes about 2 inches of running water to knock you over.”  In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good idea to cross this one knowing that I would have to cross it on the way back, but I did it anyways.  At first I thought it was shin deep like the other one until I plunged ass deep in a pool and got caught in a current.  I lost control and got swept a couple meters down river and did my best to stay balanced enough to keep the Ipod out of the water.  I made it to the other side and continued to run with soggy shoes, which was kind of like running with ankle weights.  On the way back I took the river diagonally with the current and it was much easier to pass.  The rain came down even harder on the way back because I was running with the storm.  It was coming down in huge, tropical drops that filled my mouth every time I breathed.  Definitely not my fastest run by any means, what with all the mud pits and river crossings, but it had to be the most fun. 

Today I decided to go for another run and I took my time.  I was more worried about settling into that rhythm than anything else.  Any runner will tell you that that rhythm is the only thing to strive for.  It is the effortless, mindless lull of left and right that puts just the right part of my brain to sleep and activates a whole other part that I don’t get to use during the day.  There is a treatment for PSTD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  The back and forth movement of the eye is supposed to activate both sides of the brain so that information can fully be recalled.  According to Francine Shapiro, the developer of the theory, “The memory and associated stimuli of traumatic events are inadequately processed, and are dysfunctionally stored in an isolated memory network. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process these distressing memories, reducing their lingering influence and allowing clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms.” 

A great deal of professionals don’t use eye movements, but rather use a pulse system.  The patient holds a small object in each hand that alternates pulses between the two hands at whatever speed feels comfortable to the patient.  The left to right rhythm helps the patient to relax, remember, and eventually reprocess and restore information in a healthy way.  EMDR has been proven effective despite many critics.  Most of the critics argue that it isn’t the right to left motion that is helping the patient; rather it is just recalling the events and working through them that makes the difference.  Either way, the results have been extremely positive.

I feel that this has a definite connection to running.  The rhythm of a runners stride acts as the right-left stimulation.  I always seem to be processing so much information when I am running and after the run I always feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  Some may call this a runner’s high filling the brain with endorphins, but maybe the brain has just found a better way to process the information from a long day’s work.  When a runner decides to run may depend on when they like to get their information processed.  Some people may prefer to start their day by preparing and processing information to make their day go smoothly.  There are probably people like me who are more reflective and view a run as a way to wind down and echo the day’s happenings.  Regardless, I don’t think you can argue the fact that running is therapeutic both physically and mentally.  There are only two constants to a run—left and right—everything else is up to interpretation and a little bit of Mother Nature.              

Monday, July 25, 2011

6 Months Here

Today, July 25, 2011, marks 6 months that I have been in Honduras.  I had a terrible weekend.  It was one of those weekends where I question what the hell I am doing here.  I wrote a couple pages of what I thought encompassed all my feelings about 6 months in Honduras.  I reread it this morning and decided it would be better not to put that into a blog.  It was basically a pissed off rant.  Here are some bullet points of things I have learned:

  1. Being here hasn't taught me to place any trust in the Honduran people.  I am not saying that Hondurans aren't trustworthy in general or that there aren't any honest Hondurans.  What I am saying is that I haven't met any.
  2. I have never really liked to bathe.  Taking cold showers doesn't make that any easier, and you don't ever really get used to it.
  3. Honduras, and Central America in general, is a beautiful place filled with largely undiscovered treasures.  It really is a tourist's dream.  Would I like to live here permanently?  That is a resounding no.
  4. The thing that makes this all worth it is the teaching, which is what I am here to do.  Sometimes I lose sight of that, but each day when I wake up I have purpose.  I truly believe that what we are doing has an impact on our students.  Maybe when this generation of kids grows up they will behave differently than their parents.  We haven't exactly been welcomed into the community as we would have liked, but each day we keep our mission at the top of the list and it makes all the difference.  And it is totally worth it.  To hear your students speaking English that you taught them is next to nothing I have ever experienced. 
  5.  I don't love this place, I love what I am doing in this place.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dia del Indio



The Day of the Indian was much like the other holidays we celebrated: an all day assembly that should take about an hour that is filled with inappropriate dances and dramas that have nothing to do with the celebration.  For some reason, the students all want to dance to punta music, which comes from the black Garifuna population on the north coast.  I still cannot believe there is no oversight on what the kids can do in the assembly.  The funny thing is that I look around and it seems that the parents are loving it, so maybe it is just culturally sensitive to the gringos. 

Tiffany did a great job as the India Bonita, but they put a bunch of make-up on her and she looked kinda like an Indian witch.  Some of the preschool kids were calling her bruja.  You know something is bad when the preschoolers are in on it.  She even gave a great little speech that she memorized thanking everyone for voting for her.  Whenever we have an assembly we are expected to come early to the school and set up.  We always make these grand displays only to have the kids come and ruin it before the thing even starts.  I guess that is what elementary education is all about.

Most of my fourth graders dressed up as Indians and escorted Tiffany down the walkway to her throne.  There really wasn’t anything historical about the event, except for the kids dressing like they were going to a Cleveland Indians game.  It kinda rendered an important holiday useless and wasted a day of school, but the nice thing was that the assembly ended at 11 and we all went home early.

I met a guy today from Cleveland who will be here for 6 weeks working for a Catholic parish to install some water purification systems and to lead a couple medical brigades.  He said that I could come along to some rural villages and translate for the doctors and nurses, so I am looking forward to getting that experience.  I haven’t really had the opportunity to visit rural Honduran villages.  If I travel, I pretty much bounce between the big cities.  It will be nice to see how the other half live in Honduras.

It is the rainy season here and usually rains every day at 1 pm.  This makes it difficult to do the laundry.  If you do your laundry after the rain the sun isn’t strong enough to dry it and you are going to smell like mildew.  If you do it before the rain you better make sure you do it early or your clothes will get wet and again you will smell like mildew.  What I am getting at is that I smell.

The internet here has been painfully slow.  I am having trouble uploading photos.  It takes like an hour to upload 20 photos. Pretty frustrating.  Wuuuusahhh 

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Class Activities

Tiffany getting elected

India Bonita

Every year, Honduras celebrates their indigenous heritage with Dia de Los Indios or Day of the Indians, if you couldn’t guess.  They eat traditional Indian food, dance, and play other cultural games to celebrate.  They always pick a Miss India Bonita and this year it was Tiffany from first grade.  Tiffany has to be the most animated 1st grader I have ever met.  She has a toothless smile that lights up her entire face.  They select a representative from each grade, preschool through 9th grade and take a vote.  Tiffany won unanimously.  She was so embarrassed that I think she cried a little bit.  All the teachers have been involved in making an outfit for her, which will be a traditional Indian dress.  It is kind of like thanksgiving in that it has to do with the harvest and corn in particular.  We hot glued corn kernels in patterns on the dress and I have to say that it looks pretty great.  Last year, a dress that the school made went all the way to Panama and got 2nd place for the celebration.  We have high hopes for this year.


Salva and the bigote

Here you have Salvador with a drawn on mustache.  Salvador is one of my favorites.  He has such a grown up sense of humor and laughs at all the right things.  He is a decent student, but has one of those personalities that will take him far on its own.  He doesn’t necessarily act out in class, but if he isn’t paying attention or is doing something that he isn’t supposed to be doing I threaten him with a “bigote” or mustache.  Everyone secretly wants a bigote but we play it off that it is a punishment.  The kids in 4th grade will get in legitimate fights with each other.  Specifically, they will just haul off and kick someone.  Salvador and Julia do this in particular to each other.  They are the two leaders in the class I think and I also think they have a crush on each other.  I have been teaching them how to ask questions like, “Do you want, Do you need, Do you like, Do you love.”  So I say things like, “Andrea, do you like Juan?” Andrea will vehemently deny liking Juan, but when I ask Julia if she likes Salvador she will get quiet and have a surprised look on her face.  It is so funny because they are always basically kick boxing.  I really wish I could upload some videos I took of them play fighting but the internet is too slow.  


About to blow out the candles

Faviola turned 10 the other day and we had a little party during English class.  Her dad came in about a week before to ask me if it was ok.  He said, "Hey, I was wondering if I could bring in a Pinata and some cake for Faviola's birthday.  It is just a small cake and a small pinata, it will only take like 15 minutes.  Well, the celebration lasted well over an hour. It was a huge pinata and a decent sized cake, soda, and gift bags for everyone.  If I thought my kids were on fire before, after they got all that sugar in them they were intolerable. We had a little dilemma with the pinata.  The ceilings are like 13 feet high and we needed something to hang the pinata on.  So her dad was like, "Hey, just stack two desks on each other and climb up and hang the pinata."  I said, "Man, I don't really feel comfortable doing that."  He said, "Oh, you can do it, come on."  Couldn't really argue with that.  So I balanced on two stacked desks and threaded the rope through the support beams so we would have a proper pinata.   

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stress--and a Roots and Wings post

In many ways, the rural Honduran environment is wearing on the group.  The tension is palpable in the house.  I think everyone is a couple degrees away from a personal meltdown.  Oscar won’t be returning from La Ceiba to teach so that he can be closer to home.  After the death of her other son, his mom didn’t want him to leave.  Oscar could have come back and should have come back because there aren’t any jobs for him in La Ceiba.  It was a choice he made and I think he made it in part because it really isn’t easy living in Olancho.  The difference between even Olancho and La Ceiba is striking.  Unfortunately, in a situation like this, the students are the only ones losing out, although it has worked out okay since we have Honduran student teachers working at our school.  They aren’t so good at English, but at least they can look after the kids in the classroom.

I have been engrossed in the search for a new teacher for the last week.  I posted the job on the internet and have been receiving applications from some extremely qualified candidates.  I have interviewed a couple and would be willing to hire any one of them.  Fortunately for us, we found a bilingual girl in Juticalpa that spent about 12 years in the United States, so she has a pretty good command of the language.  I think we are going to hire her and she will start on Monday, so the gap has been filled.

Other than that, my disciplinary council has been implemented and it is functioning like a well oiled machine at the moment.  We already met to discuss the behavior of a student and we decided to suspend the student for a day.  It was really nice to see something go from an idea to actual practice.  It really gives the feeling of creation.  Going along with the theme of creativity, I have been trying to put together a website for the school and it is harder than I realized.  In addition to writing the content, which I often need to translate from Spanish, I have to make sure the site looks professional and not tacky.  Even though I am using Wordpress and the templates are already made, it has been really tough for my creative side to construct something worth while. 

Regardless of the difficulties we are having, the weeks are piling on and in a couple days it will be 6 months that I have been here, leaving 4 months to go until my contract is up.  Not sure whether I will teach for another year or look for something in another country.  We really do have a great situation here, but as I said before, living in a town like this really wears on you.  Last night I was in the kitchen and I heard something in my room.  Someone was reaching in through my window with a stick trying to grab something from my room.  The funny part was that I am pretty sure they were trying to steal my underwear, because we found a pair of my underwear out by the window.  It was just a really weird thing.  5 minutes later, Oscar called me from the other side of the country and asked if I was alright because he heard someone tried to rob me.  News gets around pretty quickly.     

Please check out my Roots and Wings post at

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Oscar and Abuelito

The other night, I awoke at 4:50 in the morning to someone banging on our living room window.  I opened my bedroom door carefully which opens into the living room and peeked my head out.  In my sleepy state, I thought someone had somehow penetrated the metal jail bars that protect our door and had gotten inside our house—like someone would be banging on the window from inside our house.  I was pretty upset about being awake over an hour before I had to get up, so I asked as forcefully as I could in Spanish what the hell he was doing knocking at this time in the morning.  He asked for my Honduran roommate, Oscar.  I asked why the hell he needed to see Oscar.  I didn’t want to go get Oscar and then have the guy pull a gun on him.  Oscar isn’t exactly the most well liked person in the city since he isn’t from around here, lives with the gringos, and can speak English fluently—there  is a lot of jealousy.  Finally, I told him I wouldn’t get Oscar until he told me why he was here.  Finally, he said something was wrong with his brother.  I figured that warranted waking up Oscar.  He was just as confused as I was when I woke him up.  We came to find out that his half brother, which is his only sibling, was killed in a drunken motorcycle accident early Friday morning.

Oscar and his brother didn’t have the best relationship growing up.  In fact, Oscar has a huge scar on his arm because his brother stabbed him in the shoulder in an argument.  I think on some level that makes it harder—to be in a bad place with flesh and blood and have him die before you can make it right.  Oscar threw on some clothes, packed a bag, and left for the 10 hour trip to La Ceiba.  Normally things like that would affect me deeply, having lost a “brother” in the same sort of way, but my day surprisingly went on as planned.  Things like that happen around here all the time.  You hear about two deaths here, two deaths there, bad accident here, and a bad accident there.  It got me thinking how immune I am to bad news at things point, and not even just bad news, but change.  Things are constantly changing around here and you kind of just assume that nothing will stay the same.  It is an interesting way to live, always being on your toes. 

Ricardo, my boss, is studying to be the administrator of a school, even though he already owns a school and could probably just place himself in that position whenever he wants.  I am sure the extra education would benefit him, but he already has over a decade worth of experience.  The thing is that in order to be placed into an administrative position by the government, you need to have a degree as an administrator.  Ricardo told me that he has no idea who will win the next election or the one after that.  The terms are only five years without reelection.  He said that if a socialist or communist wins the election, they might take away his private school and his store and make them public, which would leave him jobless.  In order to ensure that he has a steady income for the rest of his career, he is giving himself options by getting that degree.  The point is that people here have to worry about a lot more things than we as Americans have to worry about.  The strange thing is that generally the people don’t worry about these things.  They don’t look for ways to insure themselves and cushion the blows.  Most don’t have that rainy day fund to fall back on.  Maybe it is because they live a sort of fatalistic lifestyle not knowing when that bad car accident will come or when that war will start.

Speaking of war, I have been spending a lot of time at Ricardo’s house brainstorming ways to make the school better.  Of course Abuelito is there.  Abuelito is full of wrong facts about World War 2 and he quite possibly may be the most racist person I have ever met, even towards his own race.  In addition to his occasional racism he will without warning hock a loogey on the floor of the house without remorse.  Normally I would think something like that is disgusting but he does it with such confidence that it is more of a statement of how awesome he is. 

When Abuelito tells stories, I get about 85 percent of what he says.  It is tough to catch all his words when he is missing most of his teeth.  My Spanish has come a long way, but not quite that far.  Honduras has been at peace in terms of formal wars compared to its neighbors.  Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua all had horrific civil wars that crippled the nations.  Honduras has just maintained the same level of shitiness for some time now.  In 1969 Honduras had their most recent war.  It was called the soccer war because it was rumored that the entire thing started over an international match.  It only lasted 100 hours. 

I always love hearing old people talk about what they were doing when an event happened and Abuelitos version was pretty entertaining.  He told me why the war began, which had to do with agriculture and the fact that El Salvador is a nation the size of Olancho and wanted more land to farm.  Abuelito heard on the radio that El Salvador was attacking Honduras.  Any single, armed man was being recruited to fight their neighbors.  Abuelito was married, so he was able to stay in town.  He began organizing a town militia armed with knives and machetes in case the Salvadorans came into town.  The entire town slept with the lights off and under the bed for a week so that the bombers couldn’t find a target.  All of this turned out to be a little paranoid as the only deaths reported in Olancho were from a mortar that killed 2 ducks.  I thought it painted a perfect picture of my Abuelito, the toothless, machete wielding racist that has absolutely no problem spitting on the floor.  Because of all these things and many more, he has definitely been my favorite and the most dynamic personality I have met on this journey.                  

Friday, July 8, 2011


Progress is painfully slow here, and it isn’t because people here are actively resisting change for the better.  I think generally people here know what’s right, they know what works, and they know what they would change if they had an “easy button”.  I guess they are waiting for that fictional magic button to show up, when all they really need to do is be a leader and get something done.  Hondurans are by no means incapable of working hard or working smart, they just have some serious organizational issues and a lack of a strong institution that runs deep into society, so deep that it has actually become a cultural trait.  Hondurans are constantly tardy and they have a general lack of pride and vision for the future of their work.  I have already expressed how pissed off the tardiness makes me, and I got over it thinking it was just a cultural difference, but the tardiness is part of a grander scheme of lost sheep waiting to be herded by a guard dog.  The sheep have great wool and their meat is delicious.  These sheep have all the potential to use their resources to better their lives, but without leadership they will continue to be farmed and exploited just as they are now.  I’m not really sure if that metaphor worked, but I am going to roll with it.

I live with a European who has different views on just about everything when it comes to society.  We all were talking about the school and the trouble we are having with discipline and other small organizational issues.  I have been saying from day one that there are some serious changes that need to be made and without these changes the kids won’t learn English and the bilingual program will crash and burn.  She didn’t understand why I would want to change anything, especially since my job is only to show up to work and teach the kids and go home.  I feel that we were brought on to advise Ricardo about how things were run in our schools growing up and implement these things into the school’s curriculum.  Things are changing.  They have been changing for the past 10 years, and the world isn’t getting any smaller.  If we don’t get things done now, I doubt they will ever get done.  I really hope for the world that leadership isn’t just an American trait.   

If you look at every successful bilingual school in the area they all have common traits: a bunch of American volunteers, an American owner, or both.  They are all on the American system rather than the January to November system that we are on now.  I am not saying that it is necessary for the schools to be American run.  There just needs to be some standards, there needs to be a system in place that doesn’t allow exceptions, because if there is a system that allows exceptions here, everyone will take advantage.  The foreign influence gives a school the appropriate system and allows for a no-bull-shit, business first environment that is separate from the local politics.    

I am trying to implement a disciplinary council to take care of the tremendous amount of problems we have in the school.  I told Ricardo that we are no longer on Honduran time, this is international time and we are going to get some things done.  The first thing we need to do is manage the behavior of the kids so that we can have some peace in the classroom and so that the most pressing issue of providing an environment conducive to the best education possible is taken care of.  We want the best education for those kids that we can possibly give them.  I hope that is why all the teachers go to work everyday.

What we want and what we are striving for now is an environment in which we don’t have to spend half the class period disciplining our students.  In order to learn another language, the student needs to have complete focus and actually want to learn it.  There are some students that don’t see the value in it, or more importantly, their parents don’t see the value in it and aren’t supporting their children.  Either way, I think in order to increase enrollment into the school the enrollment must first decrease to weed out those who aren’t committed.  When we establish dominance in the language market in the area people will sign on to learn because they want to and because our process is proven.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Roots and Wings: Erik Swanson

I am finally starting to feel better and I hope I never feel like that again.

As soon as I felt better I wrote an article about Roots and Wings founder/director Erik Swanson.

Good to be back!

Saturday, July 2, 2011


FACT: Travel sickness is the worst thing on this planet.  I imagine if I drank water from a rancid puddle of Martian water, I wouldn’t get as sick as I am from eating bad Honduran food.  I haven’t really left the toilet in 4 days.  That is four straight days on the toilet expelling any liquid I drink.  I am beginning to think I will never again have a solid bowel movement.

The worst part about travel sickness is that it completely incapacitates you and leaves you bed ridden.  The boredom almost drives you nuts.  You can’t really stray too far from a bathroom or you are going to have a serious mess on your hands.  In India, I shit the bed.  I woke up at 2 a.m. and realized I had completely lost all bodily functions.  I found a plastic bag and took off all my clothes and threw them in a trashcan outside.  They were unsalvageable.  It never really gets easier being sick and away from home, especially with a sickness so degrading as explosive diarrhea.  Nothing sizes up your distance from home than being sick.  I think it is because in part, being home is feeling completely inline with your health—it is being centered and stable physically and mentally as well as in location. 

So hopefully I will turn the corner soon.  Maybe one day I will be immune to all the bugs that give me travel sickness, though I am not that hopeful.  My Honduran roommate got the same thing just last week and he has never left the country.  Bad food is bad food, I guess.  All I have to say is thank God for the United States Food and Drug Administration…