Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Blues in all the Hues

Nobody’s volunteer service is supposed to be perfect and I was prepared for the rough patches heading into Honduras. Or so I thought.

It was a few weeks before I completed my first year in country (June 21) that I began to realize what I was NOT prepared for. So many subtleties in the different aspects of my daily life here have accumulated and have struck me quite hard out of nowhere. Eventually, it registered to me- or perhaps, I finally admitted that…”Geez, I’m in a funk!”

As a result of a series of deep reflection, I identified the following as factors to the quite extensive valley I have found myself in –

• Getting piropos (cat calls, kissy sounds, being called “Hola, mi amor!”¬) on a daily basis for pretty much an entire year has worn me down, along with, not so pleasant incidents where, trapped amidst a crowd in a big event, certain men took the liberty of grabbing what they thought they could get away with. Ever since, I try my best not to be a walking man-hating, angry women’s rights defender, but needless to say, I have graduated from simply ignoring all forms of harassment at all times and try to defend myself in various ways I have come up with.

• Realizing that the majority of my frustrations with work are rooted the apathy and complacency endemic in the culture. When nobody really wants to do any work or change anything, where do I go from there?

• Having my work with two different high schools be paralyzed by endless “days off” for every reason conceivable to mankind i.e. “Students’ Week,” review week before exams, exam week, rest day after exams, “Student’s Day”- which isn’t included “Students’ Week!” I mean, c’mon!

• Wrestling with existential issues such as the uncertainties with the future upon realizing more that anything and anyone can change at any given time, including myself. Also, the fear of being forgotten by or growing apart from my nephews and nieces who are all growing so FAST.

• Going through a “I’m still not good enough to be a Christian” phase even though I know for a fact that I’m quite an excellent human being.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the perennial issue that most volunteers mull over- that Eureka! moment of, “I am really not needed here.” Or- “Even if I were needed, nobody is willing to change anything anyway.” Worse, when there is interest from locals in any form of development or improving anything, having to work for it would be a major drawback. The vast majority in this country are so used to hand-outs (whether from foreign institutions in the country doing “development” work by just giving away anything to their discretion and from families abroad that send remittances sufficient to live off of) that lifting a finger for something would be a complete hassle or a foreign concept.

But am I complaining? Not really. If there’s a valuable lesson somewhere in this entire avalanche, it is that I am getting to know myself more. I thought I knew myself enough- but, surprise, surprise. I’ve been thrown into a fire I’ve never known before and that has forced me to dig even deeper into my being and find whatever fiber that will get me through this and help me look harder for the valuable things that are in the garbage heap that I am waist-deep in.

Ultimately, the gratification really lies in the relationships I have formed. Although at times I find myself counting the months and days until I finish my service (a little over a year and two months), as soon as I remember the loved ones here that I’m going to have to say goodbye to, I can’t even bear the thought of leaving them. Life is full of ironies indeed.

Another irony is that somewhere in my moments of blues, I find shades of warm orange that allow me to enjoy the difficulties and challenges because I feel more human than ever, and also, I can literally sense the growth happening inside of me. Let’s hope it is a butterfly that I transform into in the end, or at least a much better and stronger person.

So instead of fighting the pain (annoyances, really)- I just let myself feel it and go through the process and find breaks of white light in between. The perennial optimist that I am, I always know to just go back to counting my blessings when the going gets tough- naturally, I will end by listing the things that have kept me going…

• Getting my project proposal for the culture center approved. It means a lot of work before me and it’s really not official until the money comes, but at the least, it seems as if months of hard work and waiting seem to be bearing fruit.

• My most devoted ballet students are still coming to class. Also, although we are yet to present a dance piece we have been working on, it is finished and has come together nicely and is liked by the girls very much.

• Seeing a spark of interest even in just a portion of the different high school kids I’ve been working with in issues such as public policy, gender equity and cultural diversity.

• I’ve become an adopted member of many families that I have friendships with. I am invited to every occasion just like any next of kin and these relationships have just become my pillars of support and source of true joy.

• Learning a lot of skills both in the professional and domestic realm- from becoming familiar with issues well enough to impart them to students to making my own pupusas and encortido so that I don’t ever have to buy them outside.

• Enjoying the pleasures of living in solitude and finding solace in it- especially in moments spent writing, listening to music, cooking, reading.

• The hope that all my experiences here, good and bad, will someday serve me well.

I know that all the sucky things, too, shall pass so I have not made any drastic decisions such as packing my bags and going back to the U.S. mojada, as far away as I could from at times this seemingly God-forsaken country. In the end, I know that I am still where I should be because I sense that there’s so much more growing up in store for me here. Ojala que al fin, valdrá la pena. So I brace myself for all the cocoon moments that are still before me and I just close my eyes and picture la mariposa que voy a llegar a ser.