In every country that I’ve traveled to there is an aspect of the language that catches my attention. It can be a greeting, expression, toast, exclamation, etc. In Myanmar I loved how the greeting ‘minglaba’ rolled off of the tongue, and how it applied to any time of day. While drinking rice wine with Vietnamese friends in Hanoi they taught me the toast, spelled phonetically, ‘khong si khom vey’ which roughly translated to ‘you can’t go home until you’re drunk’. My favorite Malaysian expression is a no brainer: ‘sama sama tetapi beza’, which means ‘same same but different’. The seemingly contradictory elements combined with the applicability of the phrase won me over instantly. In Honduras I have developed an affection for ‘che que le que’. I’ve seen it spelled a variety of ways including ‘cheke leke’. Its English equivalent is ‘okie dokie’. The full expression, to coincide with ‘okie dokie artichokie’ is ‘cheke leke pankekke’. Students howl with laugher whenever one of the gringos uses the phrase is in entirety. I’ve used ‘cheke’ as an affirmation, farewell, and a reluctant response when understanding is lacking.
Last weekend (15-17th of July), three of the other volunteers and I ventured to El Salvador for a short three day excursion. El Salvador is less than 50 miles from our little town of Camasca which led us to assume the journey would smooth and straightforward. I am always amazed at my ability to underestimate less developed nations and their transportation systems. To be revisited later. On the contrary, our trip there was flawless. We caught a ride to a nearby town at four in the morning to be on the five o’clock bus that crossed the border into El Salvador. At the border all of the males were required to exit the bus and present identification. While the border patrolmen, dressed in camouflage and decorated by looming AK-47s inspected our documents, we waited uncomfortably. Honduras has an agreement with the neighboring countries that their citizens can travel freely without the need of a visa. We weren’t sure it that applied to us Americans but after examining our passports they were returned to us and we continued on our way. We arrived in El Salvador at the town of Gotera. From there we caught two more buses and a taxi and were at Tunco beach by early afternoon.
El Salvador is considerably smaller than Honduras, and the concentration of resources showed in the infrastructure of the country. The restaurants, buses, and our hostel all had AC and the majority had wifi as well. Our hostel was tucked back amongst a row of resorts and hotels on the water that were blocked off from the public and guarded by security twenty four hours a day. I gorged myself on fish tacos and forty ounce beers for two days. We brought my speakers to the beach, sipped rum and cokes and gazed at the surfers on the horizon with Spanish hits playing in the background. It was an ideal weekend getaway spot, one that I hope to return to in the future. On our return trip that Sunday we made it as far as Gotera only to learn that there were no buses that crossed the border into Honduras on Sundays. Previously, we were under the impression that there was a 2pm return bus that ran every day. Similarly to Malaysia, when asked for help nobody was willing to admit their ignorance. For about an hour we encountered a myriad of answers until we finally realized we were stranded. After brainstorming for awhile we found ourselves with two choices: stay overnight in this small town and return on Monday, or use a common first world solution. We chose the latter, which I refer to as ‘throwing money at the problem’. With the help of some incredibly kind folks in the town we were able to hire a driver to take us across the border, and then from there a friend of ours picked us up, again for a fee. Although it was a costly day even by American standards (El Salvador uses the U.S. $), it was a welcomed relief to arrive safe and sound in our small town, and to sleep in my own bed.
This past weekend was the annual town fair in Camasca. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there was a palpable enthusiasm in the town leading up to it. The town center was flooded with merchants peddling cheap clothes, plastic cooking amenities and knockoff brand hats and watches. As opposed to the markets of Southeast Asia where I had to put myself on a spending allowance, here there was little that intrigued me. These products weren’t targeting tourists with screen printed tank-tops or elephant pants, but instead were household items offered at a discount. I witnessed my host mom buying plastic bowls for water distribution, candies for her children and granddaughter, and a few other small trinkets. I was more interested in the events of the weekend. The first day of the fair, Friday, was the motorcross endurance competition; otherwise known as a race. During my weeks in Camasca I had witnessed a patch of dirt become transformed into a small track complete with ramps, dips, and obstacles such as tires and logs. On Saturday I attended my first ever rodeo. It was a small arena that, in my estimates, close to a five hundred people crammed into. There were six bull riders, a few horse trainers, a singer and a live band. The rodeo clowns provided the most entertainment in my opinion. Their courage in baiting the bulls, and breathtaking dives for cover under the metal gates had my adrenaline pumping. While I felt myself being underwhelmed by these events, I attributed this to being spoiled by American television. The riders, of both sports, that I had seen on TV were the best in the world, and I shouldn’t expect the participants in a small third world town to compete at the same level.
In six days time I will be returning to the U.S. for a short respite before once again boarding a plane and heading to Peru. There I will be visiting my good friend Max, from the Fulbright program, who is a teacher at an international school. After about five days in Peru, it will be time for me to start my teaching program in Chile. My time in Honduras has helped me to cultivate a strong foundation in Spanish. I’ve watched myself grow from needing constant repetition to grasping a fair amount of conversation. My vocabulary has easily doubled. I’ve been exposed to the hospitality of Latin American people. I’ve formed relationships with coworkers in six weeks as strong as those I built in eleven months last year. But at the same time it’s not all roses and rainbows. Looking back on my blog from Malaysia, my single biggest piece of self criticism is that I wasn’t real enough with my readers. When one rarely acknowledges the challenges of life abroad it seems almost easy. It’s not for everyone and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is a constant navigation of cultural and societal boundaries. For instance, in Honduras I’ve found myself once again one of the few people wearing shorts in the town. I’ve been frustrated by students thrust into the bilingual school with no preparation. Whether their parents are both working or don’t value the education the same as we do, it is the child that suffers. The lack of knowledge with regards to personal hygiene, especially brushing one’s teeth, is frightening. The conservatism of the town has also surprised me. I was chastised for being seen by a student with a beer in my hand. Not for being drunk or stumbling through the streets, but rather for sitting with friends outside engaging in conversation with a beverage in my hand. We’ve had school days cancelled for inexcusable events. The last two Fridays we didn’t have classes so that football games could be held between the teachers of neighboring towns. Lastly, the lack of discipline exhibited by parents, especially on the younger boys has enabled a culture of disobedience in the classroom that can’t be combatted by a single teacher attempting to guide twenty plus students, the majority of whom are angelic.
I plan on living and teaching in two or three more countries. I realize that none of them will be perfect. Perfection is unattainable. I don’t have a place to use as my utopian model, I am just as vexed while living in America. But in order to create transparency in my writing, I want to present all aspects of my time abroad. A single paragraph amongst four blogs from my time in Honduras is related to the negatives. It hasn’t ruined, affected, or influenced what I consider to be an extraordinary time. My thinking is that maybe this will discourage all of the folks who think traveling is all one big party. That what I’m doing and how I’m living, is somehow comparable to study abroad. Or that the person you know who spent three weeks lounging in Central American resorts somehow had the same experience as I did. I welcome the challenges because it signifies authenticity. I’ve had food poisoning, ridden a bus for twelve hours, and been without power for a full day. But I’ll tell you the same thing that I’ve said to my host family, I hope I have an opportunity to come back here next year. To the students who stole my heart, my incredible host family, and my friends and colleagues in Camasca: you will all be missed dearly.
Hope to see you all stateside next week!