Thursday, September 11, 2008

Curtain Call

Seven weeks ago, my students from Olanchito Ballet had their recital before a standing room only crowd at the cultural center. That venue never fills up unless the municipality was giving out vouchers, or free meals to go with political campaigns. Somehow, rain or shine, all cultural activities I´ve organized also made the exception. Last year´s show only had seven ballerinas taking a bow, but this year, my adrenaline got the best of me and I ended up with 37 excited ballerinas and hip-hop dancers taking the stage by storm. It was a bittersweet, nevertheless, perfect conclusion to my service as a volunteer in Honduras. I knew it was going to be a long and exhausting road to the finale, but I couldn´t have asked for a better day for me in Olanchito, where, everything, actually went right.

Fast forward to today, as I reach another personal milestone. I remember my days back in the corporate world and daydreaming in the office of doing the kind of job I wanted, meeting new people and seeing more of the world. Check, check, and check. I finally got to do Peace Corps, met a ton of people along the way, and somehow got to know nine new countries in the process- Spain and all of the countries between Mexico and Panama. Not so bad to be a daydreamer afterall, eh?

After almost a month of being a former volunteer and spending much time traveling, decompressing and reflecting, we may all be asking, "What´s next?"

"HOME" is the definite first answer, but after that is all up in the air for me. This is the first time in my life that I´ve allowed myself to become this spontaneous and worry-free (constantly trying my best not to freak out). I have a definite idea of the things I want and don´t want in my life and I´ve been letting my faith and instincts guide me each day. The process has been terrifying, but undeniably, exciting. I´m really enjoying this whole "do-not-plan-too-much" state of self.

There have been days where I´ve been restless and wished I was back home already, but at the same time, I know all this down time is doing me a lot of good and keeping me from jumping from one big thing to another like I usually do. Much reflection remains to be done, but one insight I already gained is that my time here in Honduras was one amazing experience, but it is also up...and it´s time to go home. I think I can live with that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Three Cheers in the Month of June

Happy Two Years to Me. Last June 21st I turned two years in Honduras. I made it! Time sure has flown, but unlike in the States, I’m more aware of where my time and my days here have gone- an even split between doing my projects and spending time with people building and nurturing relationships. I can honestly say it has been an amazing experience in all levels; it wasn’t easy at all, but I am certain that I have become a better person for it, thanks largely to the difficulties and challenges I have faced. It’s somewhat ironic to be grateful the sources of my troubles and heartaches, but I know too well that they have been sent my way to instruct.

I know I have changed a lot and have formed a different perspective of life and people, including myself. How, I’m not sure I can explain. I just know that I grew up a lot in the past couple of years in ways I didn’t expect, and I probably will not realize to what extent until much later.

To celebrate the occasion, I was coincidentally invited to back-to-back parties that day and inadvertently, those two events turned into partly my own celebration, in the company of the people closest to me.

Feelin’ So Good. To make the two-year achievement more meaningful, last Friday I knew for sure that I did something right in this country. I haven’t been the type to think that so quickly, having had so many frustrations with work and moments where I have felt futile more than anything else as a volunteer. People left and right have told me that I have done a lot and I know that, I’m just never sure whether I was actually helpful beyond doing just “a lot.”

For the past two months, I, along with the other members of the committee, have been slaving over organizing a Spanish Language Competition in the elementary level where different skills, such as, reading, penmanship, spelling, oratory and declamation were evaluated. In true Honduran fashion, the teachers were late in joining and preparing the kids, or chose not to participate at all. But the schools that did show up became part of a defining moment and helped plant a seed of what hopefully will become a tradition.

The event was not only the first of its kind in a while, but it was exciting and beautiful at the same time. Children got to don their formal wear and had the experience of being on stage, reciting poetry to the public as if they owned the world, then went home with certificates of participation and, some of them, prizes for winning, something they’ll probably remember and brag about their entire lives. I made all of that happen. Yes, that’s right, for a change I am claiming credit for everything- from coming up with the idea to procuring the funds, forming the committee, planning out the event, getting the people there and do their part, and just plain making it happen. I know it was my persistence despite the road blocks (the event had to be postponed due to strikes, some committee members fell off the radar, getting schools to participate was like pulling teeth) that made it come to fruition. The best part was that eventually, I ended up having a real team of people equally dedicated as I was to doing the project and doing it right. I learned so much from them and from the experience and for the first time that I really felt I achieved incorporating “citizen participation” in its fullest sense.

Next and Last Big Thing. At this point so close towards the end of my service, I know I should be resting more than working. Despite the fact how some people may define rest as “inactivity,” there is an activity that I personally consider as still a form of rest, or at least relaxation…i.e. dancing. July 19th is when I have scheduled the final recital of Olanchito Ballet, the group I formed a year and a half ago and has grown. Ballet classes have been ongoing all this year and this week, I will start another series of workshops with ballet classes for younger kids and hip-hop for teens. I couldn’t resist sharing what I love to do the most with more people, especially since so many of them have approached me asking for more, so who was I to say no? Besides, I always wanted to have a graceful ending to my service, and it seems like I’ll be dancing all the way to the finish line.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

High-Speed 2008

It’s almost April. How did that happen? I guess I must have been having a lot of fun and really busy working to have time fly by just like that. I had a feeling that this year is going to be a much better one than the last and so far, so good. It has actually been pretty exciting and I don’t have anything to complain about, aside from, everything seems to be going a little too fast.

A quick rundown of my year, thus far:

• I held a three-week ballet and hip-hop dance workshop. It was the first time in my life that I had so many dance classes and it was a very exhausting but rewarding experience. I had two ballet classes divided into age groups ranging from 5-13 years old. A big surprise was, for the first time ever, a boy came to my class. I also had a hip-hop class with students from 5-56 years old! It was a lot of fun; some of them never even knew what hip-hop was, let alone, take dance classes. Personally, it was also a first to me to teach 5-year-old kids anything; I don’t know how I got through it, but I did. Despite a lot of hair-pulling moments, there were definitely a lot of “awww” ones too!
• January 25th was National Women’s Day and for the second year, I helped out some local women organize a celebration. My major contribution somehow ended up being dance related as well- I did the choreography for a dance piece for a group of women and kids to showcase the different roles and relationships that women have (daughter, mother, grandmother, friend, etc.) and also just to give the participants a chance to experience performing on stage. Also, I had photo exhibit of different women of Olanchito whom I interviewed as a part of a project I’m doing where I am trying to get to know the history of the town through the life stories and experiences of various women. I have interviewed eight women so far and it has been a poignant and eye-opening experience for me finding out a common thread on the reality of the majority of women here. This will be an ongoing project until I leave where the final product will be an archive of profiles of different women, along with, a reflection on their stories and the interviews.

• I helped out the cultural center find a librarian for the Children’s Library that was built as part of my project. It was fun seeing the process for the hiring- a local professor administered different tests to gauge the written, story-telling and creative skills of the different candidates to determine the perfect person who will be running the library and doing story hour with the kids. Of course, little did I know then of the drama that would ensue later on…see details under March.
• Hooray and thanks be to God for generous and kind hearts that chipped in to buy me a ticket back to San Francisco and have one of the best times of my life. It was a very much needed break for me to get my family-friends-and-food fix and just to decompress from a tough year of being away from home and the let’s just say, challenges of being a volunteer. The two weeks went by high-speed as well and I barely got a wink of sleep through it all, but I sure savored every moment being with my loved-ones and inhaling every type of cuisine I could. That trip reminded me of how loved I am by my family and crew who took care of me oh-so well (Gracias!) and spoiled me to pieces. I also think I brought enough goodies back to Honduras to last me the rest of my service. One hundred fifty pounds' worth of luggage, and I didn’t get charged a dime extra, pretty good, eh?

• I barely touched down in Honduras from my SF trip and I had to turn right back around to do another trip- this time by bus, to the other end of the country. I went down to the Dirrrrty South in Orocuina, Choluteca to meet with the volunteer group COLORS, that does American diversity education to locals and also serves as a form of cultural-exchange and support group among volunteers. We held another cultural diversity activity at a local high school where, once again, we demonstrated to shell-shocked students that Americans come in different shapes, sizes and hues. It was fun. Also, this trip made me realize in its full glory how hot and dry it is at the opposite end of the country (see photo of two kids waiting for the bus) and made me realize why most PCVs hate volunteers who get assigned to the humid but lush and green North Coast. All I can say is, I’ll just keep counting my blessings.
• As if my 15-hour bus ride trip (one-way) to the south wasn’t enough of a “welcome-back-to-reality” from my fabulous vacation, I went back to Olanchito with some mo’ drama fo’ yo’ momma. Let’s just say there were sudden unforeseen “staffing issues” at the Children’s Library while I was gone and two weeks after I got back and had already helped with training for the librarian. Hopefully, all of that is already resolved and part of the past. At this point, I’m actually pretty excited because it seems as if, finally, by next week, the library will truly be open, complete with a librarian and kids ready to fall in love with books to make it all legit.
• I would have to say one of the best things about this year so far is being visited in Honduras by my dear friend Gwen from the Yay! Area. We had a blast getting to know a few North Coast spots despite the flu and rain tandem that attempted to spoil our fun. She wanted animals, food, beach and Leah as part of her trip and we easily got to check off that list and at the same time turn her into a volunteer by teaching her how to be cheap. I was a happy camper playing hostess, translator and tour guide for my beloved guest.

What’s Next? Since life is going so fast, I had to come up with a quick list of what I have to do in my remaining months here, namely:
• Finish remaining projects and follow up on pending ones.
• Dance my heart out with the kids I am teaching and stage a dance concert before I leave.
• Travel locally and cross a couple of borders.
• Make the most of my last few months with the friends and family I have formed here.
• Do all the reading, writing and other things I’ve been planning “to do a lot of” during my service.
• Figure out my action plan for my return to America, come September.

And the countdown begins…

Monday, February 04, 2008

A New Year´s Prayer

I am thankful that when the clock struck twelve that fateful 9th of December, I turned 30 and the world remained intact.
At least my world.
I felt my heart race once or twice leading up to the moment.
I sensed a split-second anxiety wondering whether there’s an unspoken rule that once I turn 30, I would have to start behaving, well, 30-ish.
Shortly after the candle was blown out and being surrounded by friends with old souls and hearts that are forever young, I realized, it’s just another year.
I will always be the same kid I have been deep down.

Eventually, I started to notice a difference-
That I appreciate my youth more,
That I recognize its enduring, steadfast quality,
That I am proud of it beyond expression.

I am thankful for a new era in my life and the chance for a new beginning.
I am thankful for having been honed over the years for the adversities that face me today. That I had the foresight in the distant past of the challenges that I would have to one day endure.

I pray that I am as strong as I have to be, as forbearing as I would like to be.
I pray for the right perspective and attitude towards my life to get through day to day.
I pray for understanding and compassion from myself and from others that I may have peaceful rest every given night.
I pray for forgiveness and kindness form my past and for healing.

My thanksgiving I lift up to the heavens for accepting my imperfect self and my imperfect faith and for allowing me to at least try to be even just a little closer to perfect.

I pray for this world that has endured every conceivable pain, destruction and hopeless situation, and yet it persists and endures. May I be just like this world and the goodness that it continues to reflect. May I be a light, no matter how faint, but bright enough to shine in the darkest corners of people’s hearts.

- Journal entry, 010808