The muscles tense as the cold water gushes down your back. No amount of mental preparation readies you for the shock. After a full day of work or a gym session it is welcomed, but first thing in the morning it is dreaded. Standing there, staring at the bowl of water cradled between your hands, inhaling deeply before lifting and emptying the frigid contents upon your head; this is how my morning begins. Water in Camasca runs only every other day, and only for an hour. To combat this, there are a variety of storage containers in each household. In my host family’s residence, there is a spout in the kitchen, bathroom, and outside in the laundry area. Each of these cement repositories are refilled while the water runs, and are rationed to last for the next forty eight hours. In my estimates I use about ten average size pasta bowls of water to complete my shower. Am I clean by American standards; 99.999% bacteria-disinfected? Absolutely not. More importantly, can people exist in my presence without cowering away covering their noses? Yes.
The image of life in a third world country can be distorted. As with most things, it varies drastically depending on where you are located. I hope this post can paint a clearer picture of my living situation and day to day events. You won’t see my town in a United Nations commercial, asking for sponsors to contribute three dollars a day with a downcast tune playing in the background. There are no diseases running rampant through the villages. Malaria, Zika, and Dengue are rare. The most pressing health issues are muscular or dental. The muscular problems are a result of the steep terrain navigated by insufficient footwear. The dental complications can be traced to soda brands in the Coca Cola family. The ingredients used to prepare meals are locally grown and appear in more realistic forms than the gargantuan fruits and vegetables of the local American supermarket. Everyone eats at home; meals prepared by the mother or ‘la muchacha’, which translates to ‘the girl’ and is someone hired to help with cooking and cleaning. There is only one restaurant in my town and it is conveniently located across the street from one of the two small hotels. Although I do eat the majority of my meals at my host family’s house, I do occasionally make an appearance at the restaurant. The reasoning behind this being that they serve the best burritos in town and they have the strongest wifi. What more do you need?
A normal day in la frontera begins around seven. Let me clarify; seven is when my alarm goes off. If I am permitted to sleep in until then, it is a miracle. Usually I am awoken by the call of roosters, sounds of hacking machetes, or the revving of an engine from my neighbor the mechanic. For everyone else in Honduras, the day begins early. After a quick breakfast of cornflakes, eggs, beans, avocado and tortillas, I scamper out the door and begin meandering my way down the stone path to the main road. The best analogy is to imagine a skier. I venture sideways, zig-zagging down the hill and avoiding the crevices inviting my ankles to roll. On the way to school my route is entirely downhill. In the afternoon, already tired from a full day with the boisterous students, I will myself back up the hill and collapse in a pile of exhaustion. Juanita, the helper in the home, always chuckles upon seeing my sweaty self, barely able to respond to her inquiry of a beverage between my heavy breaths. The only thing benefitting from these daily ascensions are my calves. Students arrive and depart from school in a variety of transportation methods. Some walk, others hitch on a ride on the back of a family member’s motorcycle. A few groups of students arrive together in three wheel vehicles that resemble the rickshaw cars of Southeast Asia. What I find most impressive is that a handful of students pay for and ride in a van thirty minutes away from the closest town.
Once the director of the school and first grade teacher, Profe (short for profesora) Damaris, rings the bell the students rush to their classrooms. I begin my mornings helping out with the third graders. Profe Alexander, the third grade teacher, requires the students to line up at the door and provide proof of clean hands as an entrance fee. This past week I began my individual project with the third graders, which I have named matematicas minutas con Mateo (math minutes with Matt). It consists of two parts. The first is a three minute timed multiplication worksheet that I’m sure most of you are familiar with from your time in elementary school. There are an array of problems featuring the numbers one through nine. I’ve found that the students certainly know all the answers, but rely far too much on calculating and counting on fingers. My goal is that this program will encourage more memorization, which will in turn increase the speed in which they can tackle larger, more difficult problems. The second part of my program is basic English speaking. In the classroom the students hear English, repeat English, and write English. There is far more English being used in these classrooms than their counterparts in Malaysia and for that, I commend them. The hope is to start encouraging original, improvised thoughts. I’ve compiled a list of twenty topics, listed in English and Spanish, that consist of everything from family to movies to food. The student has free reign to choose a topic of their preference and from there we simply try to speak to each other in English. We ask each other basic questions and focus on answering in complete sentences. I’ve been impressed by their willingness to try, and even more so by their unyielding persistence.
My afternoons are spent across the courtyard in the first grade classroom. Upon my arrival after the morning break, someone inevitably shouts ‘Mateo!’ and there is a stampede to see who will be the first to hug me. It is a completely different environment than the third grade classroom and I’ve been surprised with how much I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve worked with young kids before as a camp counselor, but never in the classroom setting. It requires considerably more energy, patience, and repetition of directions. I assist Damaris with pronunciation of vowel sounds and basic words. I’ve taught the students a few of my favorite English songs, and The Great Big Moose has acquired the same frenetic enthusiasm as the Hamilton musical in the States. Once we get into worksheets, Damaris and I strategically circulate around the room, giving more individual attention to those who are struggling and complimenting those who have managed the task on their own. This past week Damaris was called away on school business for two separate days and I stepped in taught the class. When people ask me how, with my limited Spanish, I was capable of such a feat I tell them that within the school setting my Spanish is proficient. I can deliver all the necessary commands and directions, anticipate most questions, but most importantly hugs and smiles require no language.
Hasta la proxima,
(until next time)