1 April 2013

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you – it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you…Hopefully you leave something good behind.”

My good friend who is presently studying abroad in Florence, Italy recently sent me this quote. I have found myself returning to it every few days, letting its truth sink into my consciousness as I reflect on the changes settling into my being with each passing week. We have been in Honduras for over three months now; only six short weeks remain. We have learned, and we have changed, though often we cannot quite say what we know now or how we are different. We have seen and heard and smelled and experienced things that have left deep marks; we will leave here with new scars, new memories, and new perspectives. The change may not be obvious; it may not scream at our friends and families, or even us, the minute we step off the plane in the United States, but it will remain beneath the surface. It will be in the way we react to the smell of certain restaurants and car exhaust. It will be in the way we mix up our English sentences with a Spanish structure and in the way we naturally say “púchica” instead of “shoot.” It will be in the claustrophobia we feel without the mountains to split up the land and expose the sky and in the ache in our guts when we hand over a $5 bill for a cup of coffee. The change may be subtle, but it will be change nonetheless.

Our semester in Honduras continued to make more marks last week when we spent four days participating in a service project in Cedros, a mountain town whose cobblestone roads and colonial layout closely resemble our own town of Santa Lucia.  Our goal for the week was to help construct a kitchen next to a kindergarten, one project of many currently underway throughout the town. Various schools in small towns like Cedros lack a cafeteria, so parents often come to school during the lunch hour to bring hot meals to their children.  The kitchen will allow for more flexibility and resources for these families to come and cook for their children at the school, rather than bringing food from home each day.  What is more, we discovered upon our arrival that not only were we helping to physically construct this kitchen, but Calvin is also providing the money for the building supplies.

Our first two days were spent hard at work, painting, mixing cement and earth to make bricks, building the metal skeletons that will eventually form columns to hold up the structure, etc. The sun blazed hot and relentless, but we worked, sweaty and persistent, until the late afternoon when we cleaned up and headed to dinner.

Wednesday, we traveled around the area visiting the other projects set up by the organization we were working with. We saw the thirty latrines they built farther up the mountain, as well as the eco-friendly wood-burning stoves they have installed in various houses. Near the main road, we saw the kiosk that they are constructing for local women to sell food and other goods. We then hiked up the rainy, cold mountain, visiting the water dam that provides running water for the latrines and a couple of old Spanish mines that still wind under the mountain.

We then spent a couple of hours at the natural hot sulfur springs a few miles away, where people can purchase eggs or plantains to boil in the natural bowls of bubbling water that look like witch cauldrons snuggled into the earth. We spent a while warming up by the steaming water and tasting a bit of sweet, boiled plantain before finally returning to our site in Cedros. After providing us with mugs of hot coffee and a box of oatmeal cookies which we devoured in minutes, the kindergarten teacher gave each of us a “diploma of recognition” to thank us for our work on the kitchen. It was a beautiful and moving way to end our time there, the icing on a rich and memorable cake.

My shoulders are still tender with sunburn, and my back aches from bending over and standing up like a foldable car seat in one of those easy storage minivan commercials.  The rusty red paint splattered and dried on random parts of my body is nearly indistinguishable from blood, continually forcing me to jump and wonder how I cut myself without knowing. My hands are still sore from the wire cutters I used for hours upon end, and I am fairly certain I pulled a muscle in my palm, which I didn’t think was possible. I have a blister on my middle finger from twisting together the long metal poles that make the column skeletons, and my ankles are covered in scabs I won on our rainy hike up the mountain.  All of these ailments consume my current reality, yet I hope they remain a good while longer. For these small aches and marks constantly remind me of this past week in Cedros, a time of hard physical labor and meaningful group bonding, of cold floors and bucket showers, of blazing sunlight and dirty fingernails, of service and laughter and community. These are the marks of change and of growth, and they give me hope that our group has, indeed, left something good behind.


“Viajar no es bonito todo del tiempo. No es cómodo todo del tiempo. A veces, viajar duele, aun rompe su corazón. Pero está bien. El viaje le cambia – debe cambiarle. Deja marcas en su memoria, en su conciencia, en su corazón y en su cuerpo. Toma algo con Usted…Ojala se deje algo bueno atrás.”

Mi buena amiga quien está estudiando en Florence, Italia recientemente me envió esta cita. He regresado a esta cita cada pocos días, la verdad de las palabras hundiendo en mi conciencia mientras estoy reflexionando en los cambios que han tenido forma con cada semana aquí en Honduras. Hemos estado aquí por más que tres meses; solo seis semanas permanecen. Hemos aprendido, y hemos cambiado, aunque a menudo no podemos decir los que sabemos o como estamos diferentes. Hemos visto y oído y olido y experimentado cosas que han dejado sus marcas; vamos a salir Honduras con cicatrices nuevas, memorias nuevas y perspectivas nuevas. Quizás el cambio no va a estar obvio; quizás no va a gritar a nuestras familias o nuestros amigos, o aún nosotros, el minuto que salimos el avión en los Estados Unidos, pero va a estar debajo del superficie. Va a estar en nuestra reacción al olor de unos restaurantes y el escape del carro. Va a estar en nuestra tendencia usar palabras españoles, como “púchica” en vez de “shoot.” Va a estar en nuestro sentimiento de claustrofobia porque no hay montañas para dividir la tierra y exponer el cielo, y va a estar en el dolor en nuestros estómagos cuando paguemos cinco dólares para una taza de café. Quizás el cambio va a estar sutil, pero va a estar cambio todavía.

Después de nuestra semana de servicio en Cedros, una semana de trabajo duro en el sol caliente y fuerte para construir una cocina para un kinder, mis hombros todavía están doloridos con quemadura de sol. Pintura roja todavía está en partes casuales de mi cuerpo, y mis manos me duelen por las horas de cortando alambre. Tengo ampollas en mis manos y pies, y estoy cansada porque de las horas en el sol. Todos estos achaques consumen mi realidad corriente, pero espero que ellos se queden por mucho tiempo más. Por estos achaques y marcas pequeños constantemente me recuerdan de la semana pasada en Cedros, un tiempo de duro labor físico y significativa interacción grupal, de pisos fríos y baños de pilas, del sol fuerte y uñas sucias, de servicio y risa y comunidad. Estas son las marcas de cambio y de crecimiento, y ellas me dan esperanza que nuestro grupo ha, seguramente, dejado algo bueno atrás.


Ruthy Berends


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