Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Christmas Break

So computer is fixed (mostly) and the first grad school application is complete, so it's time to get back to blogging. I'm just going to give a little update on what I did over the break. First, we had a teacher's Christmas dinner the night before school ended for the break. At the dinner, we exchanged Secret Santa gifts, and I got some nice jewelry and a new watch. Also, Ms. Dinora and I did the "Taxi Dance" that we do each week at aerobics-- the song came on, so naturally we decided to demonstrate.

Teacher's Dinner. 

Secret Santa Gift Exchange! 

Performing the "Taxi Dance" with Ms. Dinora. 

Pictures from dinner with some of the people from aerobics class! 

A few days later, my parents came to visit! Our journey started in Tela, and we spent the first night there and travelled the majority of the next day to Roatan-- a beautiful island off the coast of Honduras, where we spent the next three days

We had a pretty traumatizing experience on the ferry over, but thankfully we arrived to a beautiful resort. We were the only people there at the time (and the first guests they ever had!), so we were treated like royalty. We spent the next three days in Roatan eating delicious food, drinking delicious drinks, and laying by the water. In particular, I was a fan of the air conditioning and comfortable bed. We shopped, swam, and snorkeled. Unfortunately we were only there for three full days, and we headed back to Tela to spend our last night there, where we ate at one of my favorite restaurants in Tela, the Bungalow.

We never managed to take a picture of the whole family, but here are a few other pictures of our trip!

Martin Street. Lover of all Banana Flavored Things. He had a Banana Daquiri the first night when we ate dinner in Tela! 

Some pictures of the resort where we stayed, Caribe Tesoro. The resort had just reopened and we were the first guests to stay there after the reopening! It was wonderful. The owner was also a gourmet chef and we had breakfast to order every morning, and had a delicious meal on our first night there! 

Christmas Day at Roatan! 

Another picture of our resort. 

West Bay. 

Our last night at one of my favorite restaurants in Tela-- the Bungalow. 

More updates to come!! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Making the Journey Here, and How Things are Going Thus Far

So I’ve been here almost two months now, and I would say the adjusting definitely isn’t over yet (and probably won’t be until I can speak Spanish). However, I have learned a lot, and it’s definitely been a growing experience thus far. I know I haven’t updated my blog in a while, and for that apologize. Whenever I first got here it took a couple of weeks before I had internet, and during that time, I had so many ideas to blog about, and now it’s hard to pick just one.

So I guess I’ll start from the beginning, and then at some point I’ll probably skip ahead and around a bit, so I hope I don’t bore you to death or lose your interest at any point.

I’ve never been the kind of person who talks about how family is the most important thing in my life… Now, it’s not that family isn’t the most important thing in my life, it definitely is, but you know there are those people who really talk about it all the time and who talk as if it is something that really defines them as a person, and I’ve just never really been one of those people. However, only a month before leaving, I watched my sister get married, and I saw my immediate family grow from 4 to 5. It’s a special thing really-- to see your family transform in that way. It’s something that makes you see your family in whole new way, and it’s not as if they’re new people, but in a way, they are.

See, I’ve always thought of my family in terms of its separate parts—my father, my mother, and my older sister. All separate people-- all individuals with very unique qualities, talents, and personalities, all whom I appreciate for different reasons and who I have very distinct relationships with. However, as I watched my family grow, I understood for the first time that we aren’t really separate at all. No matter where each of us is in the world or in the different stages of our lives, we all carry each other with us, and as my mother and I cried watching my father walk my sister down the aisle, I thought to myself, “How lucky I must be to have carried these people with me my whole life, and how lucky I must be to have another special person to carry.”

A month later, I found myself saying goodbye to them. Unfortunately, Mary Alex and Peyton could not come to the airport to see me off, but both of my parents were there. I had imagined this moment for a long time. When I pictured the event, I was standing there—hugging them goodbye, trying not to think about what this moment really meant, and reminding myself not to cry. I thought, “You can cry later, but for your parents’ sake, and for these nice airport people, you should really keep it together.” Needless to say, this is not what happened.

Saying goodbye to them that morning was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to face—which probably says more about how great my life has been thus far than it does about how difficult it really was. I crossed through security with tears streaming down my face, hoping my parents wouldn’t see me and apologizing to all of the people in the security line.  I really began questioning the decision I was making and wondering why I would ever want to do something like this. Each moment was a battle between telling myself that this is something I really needed to do and that it wasn’t too late to turn around and go home.

Obviously, I made it to Honduras in one piece, and by the grace of God, I sat next to a girl on the plane to San Pedro Sula that was about to do the same thing, and she reassured me that Honduras was a beautiful country that I would fall in love with.  When I made it to San Pedro Sula, the principal’s son was waiting to pick me up with a sign that said “Emelie Street” –  a creative yet incorrect interpretation of my name. However, I was grateful for the effort. 

Despite being the incessant talker I am in most awkward social situations, I struggled to make conversation. He spoke pretty good English, but I was tired, emotionally drained, and I wasn’t really sure whether or not we shared the same conventional conversation points. (In general, conversation has been a struggle. Immediately after arriving I realized how often I use sarcasm to break the ice, and how much harder it is to make a clever joke when no one shares the same first language.)

On the car ride to Tela, I mostly slept and stared out the window wishing that I could find it in me to make conversation, but at the same time, hoping that no one would notice my silence (the typical inner battle for a tired, moody extrovert). These people had been so kind to me-- they took me to lunch, they bought me groceries, but as much as I wanted to use that time to get to know them, I knew that it wouldn't be genuine, and I didn't want to start off on the wrong foot. Plus, I think Americans are really chatty, and that's not something the rest of the world necessarily shares, or at least, that's what I told myself.  However, after two hours of sparse conversation, we made it here, and I was introduced to my new home for the next year.

I would just like to note that from this point forward, I found it extremely difficult condense 2 months worth of information into a concise entry that would not lose your interest. (Of course, it is my own fault for waiting two months to post something.) Because of this, I jump around a lot and cover various topics. I added numbering to make it easier to follow. Forgive me for any confusion.

After my arrival, I quickly learned some unique things about the culture here:

1.   Within the first day, I learned that the food is super delicious and the beach is beautiful. Though I miss Pick Thai and Aladdin (my Thai food and Mediterranean favorites), the food here has certainly proved to be an adequate replacement. I could eat seafood soup while sitting by the beach every single day, and I probably still wouldn’t have done it enough.

2.     Secondly, things in Honduras move a lot slower. Mississippi isn’t slow enough for you? Well then, head on over to Honduras. Just kidding (sort of). In reality, it’s not slow in the same way. See Mississippi is slow to change—at least for the developed world. Additionally, it’s been said that people in Mississippi walk slower and talk slower—however, Mississippians still have a sense of urgency that is often associated with American culture—for the most part, we’re always in a hurry, and deadlines are deadlines. And honestly, I think it’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until you’re taken out of that environment. Time is just perceived so much differently. It’s not that there is no regard for deadlines in Honduras; however, that sense of urgency and anxiety that seems second nature to us in the United States just isn’t as prevalent here. I realized that the inefficiencies I often make a big deal about in the U.S. really aren’t a big deal at all, and I’ve learned to brush my shoulders off before I make a fuss over something that honestly doesn’t matter much.

3.     Third, Tela (I’m not speaking for all of Honduras) is much safer than I assumed it would be. In the first month, I was very cautious about the clothes I wore, where I walked, where I left my bike, and what time of day I left my apartment. I’m still cognizant of those things, but since then, I’ve become far more comfortable biking home as it gets dark and leaving my bike unattended as I pop into a store or restaurant to buy something.

4.     Finally, perceptions of wealth are MUCH different than I expected them to be. While I’ve always felt privileged to own nice things, I’ve never considered myself rich. Well off, financially comfortable, sure, but not rich. I was discussing perceptions of wealth in the U.S. with one of my good friends the other day, and we talked about how our idea of wealth is if you can walk into a store and pick out and purchase the things you want without ever looking at a price tag—funny how I know many people who actually enjoy that pleasure—Personally, I always look at the price tag. However, here in Honduras, because I own an iPhone, a MacBook and a pair of RayBans, I am the cream of the crop. To be fair, I obviously understood that I would have more money than your average Honduran; however, many of my students come from some of the wealthiest families in the area, and they frequently point out how rich I must be.

I’ve also learned a few things about myself, and picked up a few hobbies along the way:

1.     First of all, I love teaching much more than I thought I would. It’s been hard, getting into the swing of teaching with very little previous knowledge of HOW to teach, but it’s been an interesting adventure, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of it (maybe, probably not).  I think I’ve learned how to balance being mean with being cool (maybe, but again, probably not). Also, I think I’ve learned how to appreciate simply observing other people’s joy. See, I have recess duty, so I typically sit on the concrete bleachers in the court area and watch the students play soccer or volleyball (which, surprisingly, is their favorite sport). Typically, I observe the students and reminisce about how it felt to be in high school—remembering old friends, different friend groups, and the different roles everyone played. Instead of feeling jealous, I’ve learned to observe the students and feel a sense of contentedness knowing that these are some of the best days of their lives, even if they don’t recognize it themselves.

2.     Additionally, I started going to a free aerobics class that one of the teachers from my school instructs almost everyday. After a couple of weeks, she invited me to come on the stage with her (she thinks I’m really coordinated which is honestly amazing to me), and now she has me learning new dances to help demonstrate for the class. I can honestly say that when I thought about what my experience would be like in Honduras, the thought that I would be helping instruct an aerobics class never crossed my mind. Nevertheless, I am there everyday, and in many ways, I find it just as rewarding as teaching.

3.     Finally, every Friday afternoon, I go get 3 baleadas (probably each about the size of your average Mexican restaurant quesadilla), a large bottled water, and a beer for less than $4. (I’ve also decided that Oxford, MS might as well be the most expensive city in the world compared to Tela, Honduras.) It’s a ritual I’ve adopted to bring some normalcy into my life and to ensure that I remain true to my youth by having at least one beer per weekend… I also try to watch the Rebels play, but that’s always a little bit trickier.

There you go—that’s two months worth of life lessons and new hobbies, and there are more to come! I promise to be better about updates, and I promise to be more concise. I’m aiming for one every 1-2 weeks—probably Tuesdays or Wednesdays when I have less to do.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

With Gladness and Singleness of Heart

Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Last night, I spoke with former YASC member, Becky Gleason, who was also placed in Tela two years ago. Becky and I talked on the phone for two hours about her time in Tela-- both the good experiences and the bad. She was kind enough to fill me in on the challenges of transitioning to life in the third world, where very few people speak your language, the water and electricity are shut off once a week, and every month feels like summer time. After our conversation, reality began to sink in. My mind flooded with fearful thoughts as I contemplated, "what have I gotten myself into?" 

I began to calm down as I thought about how often she said "You're going to love it there!" or "I'm so excited for you!" I reflected on stories about the friends she made, how much she loved her students, all of the cool places she traveled to, and of course, all of the wonderful food she ate. "Okay," I told myself, "This isn't going to be so bad." 

Taking a year off to travel to a foreign country and serve in an underserved community often appears to be some glamorous adventure.  Adventurous? Maybe. Glamorous? Probably not. In fact, chances are that the situation will be far from glamorous, and it will probably be a bit (or more than a bit) scary. But a mission trip is not supposed to be about the glamor-- it's supposed to be about serving God and one's neighbor, and I think before I leave, it's important that I ask myself, "how can I fulfill God's purpose in this new place?"

Sometimes fulfilling God's purpose seems easy-- love your neighbor as yourself right? I think I'm a generally nice person, that's easy enough. Things I've done with the church over the years--  being a camp counselor, working with the mentally and physically disabled, helping out with events for my college ministry-- I love those things, those things are easy, and if I could, I would do them everyday. On the other hand, my conversation with Becky really made me reconsider what it truly means to be God's humble servant. 

Becky did more than just her assigned job when she got to Tela-- in addition to teaching several sections high school English, she also volunteered with kids at a church in the surrounding community, helped prepare students who wanted to go to college in the United States, led chapel services, and offered language lessons to teachers in the school who struggled with their English. She made sure that her main purpose in being there was to improve the community in as many ways as she was able. Her stories reminded me that as much as I love what I do with the church, and even if those are good things, doing God's will is not always easy. In fact, if it is easy, that probably means that I am not searching for new ways to challenge myself and my commitment to bettering my community. 

Her dedication reminded me of the prayer mentioned at the beginning of this post. It is one of my favorite prayers, and as an Episcopalian, I have the chance to say it after Eucharist every Sunday. This part in particular always stands out to me: "Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart." 

Sometimes, truly committing yourself to the service of others is not as easy as it seems, and oftentimes, it takes courage, humility, and intentionality to truly impact a community. This year is going to be a hard one, but it will help to remind myself that the purpose of serving others is to serve God and his mission "with gladness and singleness of heart."