New Beginnings – Conexiones ESL

I’m beginning a new adventure: ESL classes for Spanish speaking adults in Randolph, County, Indiana.  This is the culmination of three years of research, learning how to teach Engliesl-conexciones-12x18-undrgrndsh as a second language, and putting my thesis to work as a guide for teaching adult Hispanic learners.  I elected a creative project which pairs traditional Spanish folk and popular melodies with English lyrics created for teaching specific grammar and vocabulary points.

Unfortunately, as a nation, we are a little unsettled right now. Immigrants are frightened. Mass deportations have begun and Indiana is not exempt. I never imagined that my students might be reluctant to attend class for fear of being torn away from their families and sent “home”. Some from the only home they have ever known.

Yesterday, it was decided that until things cool off a bit, the location of the classes will be kept secret, and publicity will depend on word of mouth. I’m excited and anxious, but so many doors have opened during this process that I have no choice but to walk through them. More to come! Lo mejor aún está por venir!

Reflections on Roatán

It was with very mixed feelings that I finished my third month at Casa de Luz. I was sad to leave the children, and they didn’t make it easy for me, with their hugs and pleas of “Please don’t go, Miss. Sharon!”, but I was also looking forward to returning to my home and to my family and friends. Three months is a long time. Long enough to really get to know a place, to understand a culture and its motivations and rules, and long enough to appreciate the things that you left behind.

I am very grateful for this experience. I believe God knew I needed this time. He taught me much this summer about keeping an open mind, about self-reliance versus reliance on Him, about patience in the face of inconveniences, and most importantly, that His grace is sufficient.

I came to realize that Casa de Luz, indeed is a lighthouse: An island within an island and a place of refuge and peace for many of the children. It is a safe and happy place. I can honestly say that I never saw an angry face, a sullen look, an “attitude” that we find so often with young people in the States. Instead I was greeted every day with smiles, and with earnest efforts to speak English. We shared laughter and games, songs and stories. I celebrated my birthday this year with 40 children who made it one of the happiest I ever had. On my last day, Miss. Jamie brought cake with chocolate frosting to share. I’d been missing chocolate so much! We had a going away party and a wonderful last day of crafts and fun. It helped to make the day a little less sad for all of us. Some of the children wrote me letters and made cards, and it is still hard to look at them without tears. Some gave me small gifts which really touched me, because I know they have very little in the way of material things to give. I wanted to say, “Nooo!” but they had such joy on their faces, that I could do nothing else but accept with humble gratitude the things that they offered me. One student, upon realizing he had arrived empty handed, disappeared for five minutes and returned out of breath, with an ice-cold orange soda and a huge smile. It was one of the tastiest drinks I’ve ever had.

These are the precious memories I have taken home with me. It has taken me a while to rest and process all my thoughts and feelings about this experience. I expect that God will continue to reveal truths about this experience to me as time goes on. The question I have been expecting to hear is “Why?”. Why did I take three months, go to a third world country and spend a lot of my own money to teach English at a small school on a small island that many people have never heard of? To be honest I have not fully prepared an answer. I have taken time to think and spend time quietly apart from others, but in general this is what I have decided:

Because Lusbin… a bright, beautiful and godly sixteen year old who invited me to her Quinceañera to share the most important experience of her young life. A young woman who told me, “I have a great God in me!”.

Because Brenda… a sweet, kind and devout young lady who shares my love of music, and who now has my guitar. May God bless her with a music ministry that will last for a lifetime.

Because Mariela… a bright-eyed, loving young woman who is trying very hard to learn English so she can fulfill her dreams of becoming a nurse.

Because Nathalie… a funny, wise-beyond-her-years 12-year old, who drew beautiful drawings for me, and wants to learn English so she can go back to the city of her birth, Tegucigalpa, to attend the university and learn to be an architect.

Because Ender, Carla, Meylin and Evelin, who struck me as the best examples of beginning students: eager to please, hard-working, and determined to learn English.

Because Nora, my only student who had not yet learned to read or write in Spanish. We shared many funny discussions. She is bright, happy, and spirited, and she learned English at a phenomenal rate.

Because Robert, one of my advanced students, who speaks English well, and whose intelligence is accompanied by boyish enthusiasm. He was one of our prayer warriors, and I sensed a true love and respect for God in him. Robert wants to be an agricultural engineer, something that could truly benefit his country.

Because Arlyn, a remarkably poised 15 year old, who at the end of this year will finish ninth grade and leave school to begin helping her family. My heart aches for her, but I am also in awe of her strength and belief that she will achieve her dream of becoming a chef and having her own restaurant.

Because Adalid, who is learning to golf, and wants to be a famous fireman. He is incredibly smart, and has a great sense of humor. His words about people, “They should be joyful”. Great advice.

Because David, who at age 9, is one of the youngest advanced speakers. He is an avid reader and is going to be a doctor.

Because Mayra, a soft-spoken 11 year old, who at birth was expected to be deaf and mute. She is neither. She is intelligent, and is already thinking of ways to accomplish her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

And because of many, many, more students, too many to name, who touched my heart with their optimism, hope and belief in themselves, in the face of very difficult circumstances. Their dreams are just like those of young people everywhere: to go to college, to have a family and a career, to be happy. I pray that God will bless each one, that He will answer their prayers and those of their parents, as they grow into adults who will reach their full potential as citizens of their country and as members of His Kingdom. I wish I could be there to watch them grow up, but as I mentioned earlier, God has taught me that He is enough, He is in control, and He will take care of His children. I am blessed to have been a small part of the lives of these children of Roatán. They taught me far more than I ever expected and I am honored that God called me to serve Him at Casa de Luz.




A day in the life on Roatán

A day in the life…

5:50 a.m. The sun is way up because in Central America the time zone is about two hours off from the Midwest even though I’m directly south of Indiana. The ceiling fan in my room has run all night just to keep the air moving. I take a quick check through emails and messages praying that there’s no emergency at home.

6:00 a.m. I head for the shower, reminded that I need to sweep again… sand is ubiquitous here and in order to keep it out of my bed, I have a small throw rug on the floor so the last thing I do before sleeping is clean my feet. Sandy sheets are no fun.

The shower is warm, thanks to an on-demand and efficient water heater, although due to the exorbitant cost of electricity, ($.48/ kWh!) I turn it off while shampooing and soaping. I use those terms loosely because the water is extremely hard here. There is a well that provides water for these houses, but it is unfiltered and not softened. It isn’t rusty, just filled with calcium. Shiny hair, like any kind of a good hair day is a relic of the past. 90% humidity every day + curly hair = Edward Scissorhands. The electricity which powers this island is provided by huge diesel-powered generators, explaining the high cost. Fuel is brought here on ships, and gasoline is about $4 per gallon at the moment. The power needs of Roatán require 15,000 gallons of fuel per day. The generators can pump out 11 MW of power. RECO, Roatán Electric Company is the subject of many complaints, and although there is much talk of investment in renewable resources or a subsea cable to the mainland, I simply can’t imagine it. The profit from such a venture would never cover expenses. Many Islanders live without electricity. It is beyond their ability to pay.

7:00 a.m. I fire up the laptop which spent the night in a garbage bag filled with dry rice in hopes of recovering audio, which disappeared two weeks ago. Acer service told me that it might be due to the humidity here, or perhaps a cockroach has crawled in and wreaked havoc. What a happy thought! No sound. I have lost an important teaching tool, the ability to bring recordings and videos to my students. Back to teaching as it was in the past, and is, on Roatán most of the time. Did Ball State prepare me for this? No, this is one of those self-discovered axioms: Expect the worst and be ready for it. Stripped to the essentials, teaching another language is oral, and will continue to be so, regardless of the techno-tools available.

7:15 a.m. It’s time for breakfast. I eat early so that the daily call of nature can be attended to before I leave for school, where there is no bathroom. This was something I worried about before I got here, but somehow my body has trained itself to deal with this. This job would be tough on someone with IBD or a tiny bladder. I light the gas stove-top with a match. After 3 matches, I’m successful. It takes several tries to coordinate the flow of gas with the match against the breeze blowing in the window. Kitchen matches don’t last long here. The match heads soak up the humid air and they crumble upon striking. My usual breakfast is one egg and a serving of refried beans topped with queso duro, a sprinkling of a sharp, hard, white cheese. I serve it on a small corn tortilla and top it all with homemade salsa. I am an undemanding eater, fortunately, because there isn’t much to choose from. While eating, I look over my lesson plans for the day, and review them for the rest of the week. I correct spelling tests which contain sweet little messages at the bottom of the page. It’s hard to put those corrections in red pen on a paper that has “I ❤ you” written on it… My students are so wonderfully unaffected by the world that I know. They have few restraints when giving affection and expressing emotions. They are a joy to me.

8:30 a.m. It’s almost time to leave. I apply sunblock to all exposed skin, and bug spray as well. The sand fleas have caused me more grief than anything else here. I have frozen my lunch since last night, an American style sandwich, so that it will be safe to eat at 11:00. I gather my back-pack, book-bag, frozen water bottle wrapped in a towel (to catch the sweating), placing my two most valuable items, my wallet and phone, in my shorts pockets. Lately I have been taking bags of mangoes which fall freely around my house to the children. Many have told me they have little to eat at home. I just can’t seem to get away from that feeding ministry that has been a part of me for so long. I walk the long drive to the mainroad and wait in the already hot sun for the 15-passenger vans that run the route between Coxen Hole and West End, approximately 8 miles. If the van is full, it roars past, and I wait another 15 minutes for the next one, or opt to take a taxi. The taxis also run continuously, beeping to get your attention, so that you can either signal for a ride or ignore them.

Waiting for the bus
Waiting for the bus

8:55 a.m. A bus picks me up and I slide open the rear door and climb inside. It is crowded this morning, and I snag the last fold-down seat available. Beside me a Black Islander chats with a Honduran tradesman. In front of me, a beautiful little girl stares back at me. I am, 20150706_084527as usual, the only white face on the bus. The man beside me greets me politely and tells me he is hoping to go to the states to visit his brother who is dying of kidney disease. His mother made him promise to donate one of his kidneys if he is a viable match. He is trying to save enough money to make the trip. From his head covering, and by his confirmation, he is Muslim. He tells me that he is having trouble with a visa because he is 1) black, 2) Muslim and 3) poor. Once again, I am surprised at the openness toward strangers on the part of these people. They willingly share stories that our reserve as Americans would cause us to bear in silence. This man doesn’t rail against the wheels of bureaucracy. He tells it as it is with a shrug, as if to say, “what else can you expect?”. I wonder if they are emotionally healthier than we are.

9:00 a.m. Once I am on the bus, it is a relatively short journey to school, about 7 minutes. The school is located just inside the Colonia, an area of dense population, where the homes of the Spanish-speaking poor are located. Some 5000 residents, with more arriving every day, are crammed together in hastily constructed houses of scrap metal and lumber.

The Colonia
The Colonia

The population of the island can be divided into four groups. Black Islanders are the descendants of slaves who were sent here to work on plantations in the 1500’s. They speak English with a Jamaican accent but also a curious patois that is solely their own. Many speak Spanish also. The island was originally claimed by the English, then the Spanish, and then became a part of Honduras. White Islanders are the descendants of the English explorers and are usually fluent in Spanish also. Hondurans make up the third group, many of whom have come here from the mainland to seek safety from crime and to try to find a better life for their families. The fourth group is made up of North Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, many of whom own second homes here and claim partial residency. Some are retired, but others are raising their children here, opting out of the westernized life-style that Americans enjoy, in favor of something that resembles the America of 50 years ago. Children play on the beach instead of with video games, they eat fresh fruit picked from the tree instead of cookies and candy, and they socialize in real time with real friends of various colors and languages.

The view from my friends' porch
The view from my friends’ porch

Friends of mine are renting a two-bedroom ocean front house for themselves and their five children, all under 12, for $450 per month. Think Robinson Crusoe, with a van, and a grocery store.

For the first hour at school, Jamie, Juan and I discuss plans for the day, issues that need attention, and then prepare for our first class. Juan, a 21 year-old native Honduran who graduated from this English program tidies up the classroom. Debris blows in all night from the jungle, so sweeping is a necessity three or four times a day.

Classroom at Casa de Luz
Classroom at Casa de Luz

The children begin arriving around 9:30 in order to take advantage of the many board games available for their use. This is a special treat, and for many, Casa de Luz is the only “safe” environment they know. They invariably greet us with happy smiles and cordial phrases that they have been taught. “Good morning, Miss. Sharon!” is something that will live in my memories always. Juan has taught them to respond to “How are you” in a refreshingly honest way. Some will say, “I’m happy, thank you, and you?” It always makes me smile.

10:00 a.m. All the students are here. Absenteeism is low, and spirits are high. We begin our class with singing favorite songs. Some are about learning English, and some are faith-based. Music is universally fun so it’s always enjoyable. We discuss the weather and date, learning to use ordinal numbers, and common weather terms. Small talk will always be a valuable skill! The children take turns leading these discussions and it is rewarding to see their leadership skills growing, as their English competency improves. We divide this class into beginning and more advanced learners. Juan teaches the beginners and I work with the students who have been here for at least two years. The hour passes quickly and then this class is dismissed to go to their regular public or private Honduran school.

Public education is mandatory here only to the fourth grade. Most girls finish after ninth grade at which time they are expected to either work or help out at home. Few parents here are guided by the notion that they want their children to have a better life. The general attitude is, “If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them.” It’s really hard to wrap my mind around this concept. I’ve grown to realize I cannot change certain beliefs here and that’s not my job. I accept and work with, rather than against the confines of the culture. Some parents do recognize that education is critical to their children’s futures but they are not the rule. Higher education until recently was limited to the universities on the mainland, a nearly impossible dream for children from Roatán. Without a relative or other sponsor to take them in, going to Tegucigalpa to attend the university is like dreaming of going to the moon. A new program has made the dream of a bachelors’ degree, or licenciatura, an achievable goal here. For about fifteen lempiras per quarter, or $7.00, students can earn one of three degrees by attending college for four years on Friday evenings, Saturdays, and half-days on Sunday. They can work a day job, and choose to study Informatics, Tourism, or Teaching English. These are the most in-demand jobs on the island. This program is a huge step forward in education, and gives hope to many students who have dreamed of a four-year degree. I’m very excited about this opportunity and the life skills it will provide to many. There is also a trade school on the island which has programs in electricity and computer science.

11:00 a.m. It is Wednesday, and Jamie and I head off to Blue Bahia, a restaurant located on Sandy Bay for our weekly women’s bible study. I normally spend my lunch hour at school, or I walk up to the Colonia to visit the bodegas.

The patio where we have bible study
The patio where we have bible study

But on this day, a group of island women, most involved in missions, meet to eat lunch, study and pray for each other. It has been amazingly easy to get to know these women. Revealing your deepest needs for prayer creates an instant bond with like-minded women. I have grown to enjoy these meetings very much. We laugh, talk, and catch-up, talking over the things that we are all concerned with, and life on the island. These women have been a tremendous support for someone far from home. They are American, Canadian, and Honduran. Our pastor’s wife generally leads the study. I felt welcome from the very first day, and I am so glad that the sisterhood that our faith brings us is with me wherever I go.

1:00 p.m. Afternoon classes begin. At this hour I have a private student, a sweet five year old girl who is extremely bright but is not yet literate in Spanish. She is in first grade here but without knowledge of written Spanish I cannot teach her English phonics or letter associations. So our lessons are oral. I am amazed at the speed with which she learns and her phenomenal memory. Generally she remembers words after only one or two hearings. We have become great friends, and she has learned about colors, months, days of the week, foods, animals and ways to put whole sentences and questions together. IMG-20150618-WA0001She calls me “teacher”, which is common here at this age. She loves to “read” and this is also something that is rare on Roatán. There is no money for books, and at any rate, few people read for pleasure. This is something that I am trying very hard to change. My students have read several books since I arrived on a variety of subjects. This is another window on the world that I want to open for them.

2:30 p.m. My most advanced class has arrived. This is a group of 10 -14 year old’s. I am amazed at the tolerance of the older kids for the younger kids. They are very accepting. This group has been studying English for three years. I have really pushed them and challenged them to see what they are capable of. They are all very intelligent, but may have never heard that from anyone. I try to give each one, as often as possible, the affirmations they need to see themselves in a new way. This is a tough age in any culture what with raging hormones, and an idealistic view of how the world should be. The key is to temper the idealism without squashing it, and to help them weather the storms of adolescence without too much damage to their self-esteem. We are working on creating autobiographies which include their future plans. There is a lot to work with here: grammar in several tenses, helping them to structure a paper logically, creating a rough draft and then a finished paper. I want them to set goals and surpass them. I’m asking them to think deeply about their past experiences, and their future accomplishments. An interesting note: boys here tend to be extremely confident, in spite of the practical difficulties of their lives. Most have very concrete plans for their futures even if they don’t yet see the road map to getting there. 20150625_151501 (800x450)Girls, in a radical departure from Americans, have very positive self-images. They often say things like, “I’m pretty” or “I’m a good person” with no false modesty and without bragging. These statements are delivered frankly and without ulterior motives. All the kids are adamant about one thing. Family comes first. This is one of the best parts of this culture. They hold on to this attitude throughout every stage of life.

3:30 p.m. Time to clean up and catch a bus home. We close and lock all the windows and doors and leave for the day. On this particular day, there is a soldier, and several policemen waiting on the street. They appear to be directing traffic but it turns out they have just arrested three boys who were carrying guns. It is not legal for a private citizen to own a gun in Honduras. Knowing how boys are with each other, I am thankful that no one was shot. I have witnessed many shoving matches on the streets. Apparently they were on school property when this occurred. I was reminded that life is fragile, and that a stray bullet could change lives forever. I am grateful that someone called the police and that they responded quickly and appropriately.

4:00 p.m. I arrive back home and generally head for the beach, the pool or a cool shower. Fluid replenishment is very important and I keep several water bottles ready for each afternoon. It is my only beverage and I try to drink 8 bottles a day, even when I can drink very little while at school. I usually take a nap in the late afternoon so I can spend the evening hours writing or creating lesson plans. I have read several books this summer. I am an introvert and the amount of alone time I have seldom bothers me. I am so glad that I brought a guitar, because music is very much a part of who I am, and if I’m lonely, there is always that.

6:00 p.m. It is almost sunset here. It’s not really safe to go anywhere now, and at any rate, the buses stop running at dusk and the taxies raise their rates to ridiculous levels. They know they control the market during the hours of darkness. 20150505_174807I prepare something for dinner and about half the time I choose something American like spaghetti or chicken with green beans. Meat is terribly expensive here so I try to stretch a chicken breast into three or four meals. I try to precook things that take a while like rice or noodles in the morning when it’s cooler. I wash the dishes immediately because the omnipresent ants will attack anything left out or unwrapped. Opened boxes of dry pasta are inside plastic bags. No food can be left outside air-tight packaging. Spoilage occurs very quickly. In an older wood-constructed house, termites, ants, and geckos are constant companions. The geckos are supposed to eat the ants, but I seem to have lazy ones. I have awakened twice with ants in my ear. The first time frightened me. But by morning it was gone, on its merry way to errant crumbs elsewhere. The second time I ignored it and it too was gone by morning. Ants are in my bed, in the bathroom, on my table, and in the kitchen. They are a constant nuisance. They are crawling on me as I write this. They are very tiny, and they don’t sting, for which I’m very grateful. It’s strange to think that in just three weeks I will be sitting in my ant-free, air-conditioned home in the states. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I believe you can become accustomed to anything. Maybe I’m adapting to the Islanders view that “it is what it is.”

7:00 p.m. It’s time for my second shower of the day. After a long, hot day I can’t stand the idea of going to sleep sweaty. One of the simple pleasures of living alone is that clothes are optional. If you don’t like the idea of an old woman like me sitting around in her undies, then stop reading. Lots of women in their thirties are grandmas here. After dark, with the breezes blowing and the ceiling fan on, I’m not about to get dressed again. This blessed coolness is the one thing I look forward to. Since I don’t get company unexpectedly, I don’t worry about it. I enjoy composing, writing and playing guitar for a couple of hours. This is my quiet time. After the noisiness of children and huge air-moving fans at school, it is peaceful and necessary to recharge. Tonight the weather is wet. Rain makes a different noise when it falls on the large leaves of tropical trees and plants. It is louder, and the thunder rolls for long minutes at a time. I think it’s because the island is so narrow and surrounded by open water. The wind picks up and mangoes hit the house and roof like little bombs. The first time I heard it, I thought it was gunshots. Now I sleep through it with no problem.

10:30 p.m. I turn on my outside light, my only security. I read for a while and then turn in since with sunrise occurring so early and without room-darkening shades, I am wide awake by 5. I usually read for a short time. I’ve read through an entire shelf of summer escapist books while here. I pray. Lately this seems more like a wrestling match with God than an act of devotion. But that’s a subject for another day.

It’s not a vacation just because it’s in the Caribbean…

When I made the decision to go and teach on Roatán I had no idea how hard it would be to leave all that is familiar and to immerse myself in a culture so different from my own. It is a beautiful place but not without its hardships. Believe me, it’s not a Caribbean vacation. It’s hot, dirty, and buggy. I went through a whole can of Off in three weeks, and I’m still plagued by sand flea bites. I have to pay for a bus or taxi everywhere I go, always trying to keep personal safety in mind. (Never get in a cab with two men aboard, for example) I have no way to wash clothes except in the sink, or pay to have a local laundry do it for me. ($5 per load) Groceries are super-expensive because this is an island so I’ve learned to love eggs, tortillas, and beans at almost every meal. Air conditioning? Forget about it. At $.48 per kilowatt hour I can’t afford it. It’s not safe to go out after dark which arrives here at about 6:30, unless you have a ride somewhere. It’s lonely at times, but I’m grateful for many new friends and for the transportation they have graciously provided. Thank you, Adrien, Nic, Ivonne, Esteban, Fernando, Mercedes, Robinson, Juan Carlos, Ron and Jamie.  Did I mention hot? The heat index has been about 98 degrees this week. It is always humid. At school we use large fans to move the air around which make it difficult to hear and teach. Sometimes I dream of having a good hair day, or jumping in my car and going… anywhere. Because I can. Makeup? Not unless you want to wipe mascara off your cheeks in an hour. I haven’t had a dry moment in six weeks. Need to use an ATM? Go to the airport. It’s one of the few “safe” machines on the island so you don’t risk losing the only debit card you have. I don’t want to complain, because I believe that all of this is worth the struggle if I can help one person have a better life because I was here. I love the children and I’m doing all I can to help them grow in character and the ability to speak English. They are a joy to spend time with. I am so grateful for the prayers and financial support I have received from my friends back home. I want to especially mention the encouragement and support I received from Gloria and her husband Art, missionaries who came here from Florida last week. They went back home and based on a short acquaintance decided to support me financially. I have always believed that a person can accomplish whatever they set their mind to, but it sometimes takes one other person to say, “I believe in you” to renew your spirit. I am humbled by your confidence and faith in my abilities. Thank you, Gloria and Art. You were a huge blessing today.

Changes at Casa de Luz and Getting Around on Roatán

We had a little excitement here on Roatán this week. A visiting young man serving on a mission team took a kayak out to watch the sunset and was pulled by wind and strong currents out to sea. After many anxious hours and thousands of prayers he was rescued by a coordinated effort of American and Honduran search teams. He has a wonderful testimony about his experience on Facebook. It’s well-worth the time to read it.

20150609_155454 (800x450)At Casa de Luz we had two teams of visiting missionaries; one from Colorado and another from Florida. I made many new friends and it was so exciting to watch the progress on the court (new nets and paint), the school (beautiful new turquoise color called Calypso) and on the retaining wall behind the school. Screen material was put in the ridge pole vent on the roof to help stop the leaves and debris from the jungle that blows in constantly. Through all the noise and activity, we managed to have school, often yelling over the gasoline-powered cement mixer and the shouts of workers just outside the windows. It was a busy, happy scene!

Before I came here I heard many dire warnings about the dangers of Honduras. It didn’t really bother me much because I have always thought that wherever I am, like Aaron discovered, God is with me. He has promised never to forsake me or leave me. I have come to understand many things about Honduras and the Honduran people. First of all, every one, every single person I have met has been unfailingly polite, kind and has greeted me with a smile. I have never heard an angry word spoken here between two people, nor between children. Some have gone out of their way to help me, providing advice, rides, and even a day-long tour of the island. I have been invited to study Spanish, to their homes to have dinner, to birthday celebrations, and to learn to make tortillas. My niños at school have brought me refrigerator art, flowers and stickers to wear on my shirt at school, and more joy than I have experienced in a long time. I’m already dreading saying goodbye. I have made a good friend in the property manager where I live, who, as a life-long resident of the island, has provided me with everything from rides to the grocery store, advice on where to use an ATM, what trees produce what fruits, and WD-40 to help with a sticky lock. WD-40 is universally useful! Juan Carlos has actually climbed a cashew fruit tree and shook it so I could have a fresh taste of this amazing fruit, of which we enjoy only the stem. The stem is the cashew nut. I learned that the roasting process is dangerous as the hulls give off toxic fumes. Good to know as I’m sure I would have tried stir frying them in my kitchen! Today he showed me an almond tree, how to find a ready-to-eat specimen and smashed it with a hammer so I could have my first fresh almond.

No has tried to rob me, stab me, or shoot me, even though I’ve seen guns everywhere and many of the men carry machetes. Lots of people are employed as trimmers and grounds-keeping is an intensive occupation. The jungle is pervasive and in constant need of cutting back. Most banks and technology stores e20150605_141537 (450x800)mploy an outside guard, who carries a sawed-off shotgun, and an inside guard who is also armed. Can you imagine walking into Verizon and seeing a well-armed sober-faced soldier standing guard? The reason for theft here, and the stories that are heard, is that technology is what sells on the black market. If I do get robbed, I am not likely to be hurt, but I will lose my cash and anything with resale value. And the bottom line is this: Unemployment approaches 65% here. Desperate people will do whatever is necessary to eat. I asked Juan Carlos how much taxi drivers make here. I pay $2 to go wherever I need to go. One way -$2. There is one main road from Coxen to West End, about 8 miles or so, and taxis continually run back and forth all day, picking up customers who wait on the roadside, and running the route. They honk as they approach and you either wave if you want them to stop, or shake your head no if not. One of the things I will remember most about Roatán is the constant sound of horns honking. They honk at potential customers, pretty girls, and friends going in the opposite direction. I’m pretty sure there’s a “horn language” but I haven’t figured it out yet. It’s not unusual to share your taxi. And who can blame the drivers? Gas is about $4 per gallon. They pay $20 per day to rent their cab and according to Juan Carlos, they clear $40 after expenses if they have a good day. Forty dollars for 10-12 hours in a taxi all day.

There is a “bus” system, but the bus is really a 15-passenger van, and they run every 15 minutes or so. For 18 Lempiras, or $1, I can go anywhere I need to go on that same main road. The buses run into the Colonia where I work and they stop wherever I need to get off. You just yell, “Baja!” and they let you out. You pay and get out of the way! There are no road shoulders so you need back up quickly. All in all, it’s very do-able if you can live without the independence that having a car gives you for a while.

I feel I have settled in well. I am already half-way through my time here. There is still so much to accomplish but I am surrounded by loving, supportive people and children who express their affection for me every day. It’s a good life in spite of the hardships. I pray that I can make a difference in my small way. Thank you all for your prayers and support. It means so much to me.

After two weeks at Casa de Luz I am certain that I am in the right place. I absolutely love these children. Their enthusiasm and sweetness is so contagious. They are so smart and eager to learn. There are very few behavioral issues, no sulkiness, no bad attitudes, and no meanness toward others. They are just beautiful and sweet natured kids who encourage others because it is already inside them. This is, without a doubt, the best teaching-learning environment. We have been getting to know each other and I’m sure that they are ready for some new challenges.

In addition to my work at Casa de Luz, I have joined “R Church” in West Bay and am playing keyboard with their worship band. Everyone has been so welcoming and I appreciate so much the rides provided to church and practice.

Yesterday, my day off, I went to visit the local library where there is a respectable collection of books and games for children, housed in a beautiful octagonal structure right on the beach. After reading Green Eggs and Ham in Spanish to a small group of attentive visitors, I also discovered that they have a very nice collection of LEGO Mindstorms robotics equipment and no one who knows anything about it. Beginning next Friday, I will take my ten years of electronics and machine-tool robotics knowledge to the library to begin classes in robotics, one for girls and one for boys. Chance? Coincidence? I don’t think so.  If I didn’t belong here, these things wouldn’t keep happening.

Today, the maintenance manager for the apartment I live in taught me how to eat cashew fruit. I had already learned that the nut is actually only the stem of the fruit. He actually climbed a tree and shook it for me. After harvesting 5 or 6 fruits, he showed me how to wash and eat it. It was a bit sweet, but also astringent. He warned me that two would require a big glass of water afterwards. I’m really enjoying learning about things that are so different from the places I know.

At the dump

20150508_115350Today we went to the dump to distribute rice, beans, and oil to the families who work there. Their work consists of sorting recyclables from the mountains of refuse that make up the dump. They sell plastic bottles and aluminum cans in order to live. Recently a 600 gallon water tank was installed on the site by the church, which is refilled every two weeks. The water is clean and provides both safe drinking water and a place to wash their hands. Esteban, one of the team members climbed up on top of an earth mover and gave a short sermon on why we were there. He emphasized that God asks all Christians to share what they have. That it is an act of love on God’s behalf. These citizens of Roatán are among the very poorest. They bear the marks of a hard life spent outdoors, their skin leathery from the sun, eyes milky with cataracts, missing teeth, and wearing clothing most likely retrieved from the garbage of others. In the midst of all this, I saw a small baby in her mother’s arms. She was born on January 1, to a girl of thirteen. In this culture, pregnancy brings happiness to a woman’s life no matter the circumstances, even if the child is the product of an incestuous relationship. The striking contrast between this beautiful little girl and the squalor of her filthy surroundings reminded me that God makes no mistakes. Every life has a purpose even when that life doesn’t resemble our standards of perfection. As I stood there, feeling conspicuously clean, I was reminded of these words from Luke, Chapter 12. “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return”. Every day I am broken in a new way here. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be working in this beautiful and humbling place.

First Impressions

Today I had my first teaching day with the children at Casa de Luz. They are sweet, polite, and attentive. Already they have stolen my heart.   They said goodbye with hugs, as though we were old friends. After class, my teaching colleague, Ivonne, took me to Coxen Hole. It is a small city on the south side of the island, and without a doubt one of the poorest I have seen. The streets are narrow and crowded, and traffic moves along by some sort of sixth sense and a lot of guts since there are few signs or signals. It reminded me of India, without the cows.

Last night a man was picking through the trash outside my area of houses. I could hear the “plink” as he dropped aluminum cans on the ground. Most of us have seen homeless people picking through trash and we don’t think about it too much. But you have to understand that here, as in most of Central America toilet paper doesn’t get flushed. They simply don’t have the water treatment facilities that we do, so paper gets deposited in a toilet-side trash can, and then it goes into dumpsters, where the poor sort through it looking for food and recyclable items. Parents send children to do this. And they eat what’s edible. I had a little trouble with this last night. It’s hard to imagine but here it is reality. The school where I teach has no indoor plumbing. We have a five-gallon bucket which we empty ourselves, into the jungle behind the school. I carry hand sanitizer and I can only wonder why the children aren’t sick more often. I plan to take my paper trash down to the beach and burn it. Sleep well, friends. We’ve got it made back home.

Traveling light with 150 pounds of luggage

Mi Casita
Mi Casita

I’m here! After toting 150 pounds of luggage and a guitar yesterday, the shoulders are really feeling it, but the guitar made it just fine. I’m not such a high-maintenance kind of girl – one suitcase was devoted to school supplies. My flights were smooth and on time, and the weather was fabulous. I had a very nice conversation with an American gentleman from Texas who sat next to me on the flight from Atlanta to Roatán, who knew everything there was to know about lots of things. He gave me his contact info as well as that of others on the Island. I have friends!

The onsite missionary (Jamie) and a fellow teacher (Ivonne from Costa Rica) met me at the airport, took me to my new house, fed me lunch, took me to buy groceries, and then to visit the school where I’ll be teaching. There I met the other teacher at the school (Juan, a graduate of this program). With the time change, I had two extra hours in my day, and by this time I was dragging, so I cooked a nice supper on my (gas!) stove, no idea how to cook with gas anymore, and went to bed at 8:30. It was pouring rain and the smell of the tropical foliage was wonderful.

Jamie arranged a ride for me to church this morning in West Bay with neighbors Eric and Carly, and at church I met another lady who lives in my immediately cluster of houses. I have neighbors! After church I visited Eric and Carly’s dive shop. They live two piers down from me, and they host diving tours, snorkeling trips and rent a couple of homes on their lot. The weather was gorgeous and it was so nice to sit on the edge of the ocean and cool off. It was very steamy this morning after that hard rain last night. I’m giving up on straightening for the summer. My natural curls are a riot today and Carly says all the women have “island hair” and they just don’t worry about it. Sounds good to me, but I warn you, it’s not “beach waves” as much as it is “Edward Scissorhands”.

I’m planning to walk down to the beach and snorkel later, but I’m making some marinara for my dinner and doing battle with the gas stove again. I had a scary moment when the only hand-operated can-opener exploded into five pieces, but I searched a diagram on the internet to figure out how it went back together. I had a washer left over, but it works. What I wouldn’t give for a pair of needle-nosed vise grips!

When I turned on the gas a horde of tiny almost invisible ant-like creatures fled the stove top and scurried down the counter top like some kind of six-legged cavalry in full retreat. I’ll be dealing with that very soon…