Machetes, Whistling and Buses

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A second grader, Leyla, and I hanging out and playing with fake mustaches.

Why am I still here? I have been in Honduras for over a year and a half. I missed my flight home, I have no money whatsoever, my travel insurance ran out while ago, I gave up my place in a uni somewhere, the stamps in my passport really don’t tell a very legitimate story, my diet of rice and beans has seen me back to down to the same weight I was when I was 15 and I look, and sometimes honestly feel, like a bona fide bum. I have asked myself, “Why didn’t you leave when you were supposed to? When you could?” Obviously, it goes without saying, the answer is the kids at school. I love the kids at school and I love teaching them. But I would guess that most people have read about things like that and so I reckon I’ll skip it. It can go without being said. There are some other things here that I like as well. They will seem trivial, but I reckon they’re worth a mention.

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Planting beans with some of the students

The first thing is the machete. They’re not very common where I come from, so I was rather delighted upon arrival in Honduras to discover you could buy one in the local supermarket for about 5 bucks. They’re a great thing; you can dig a little hole for a tomato plant with them, you can cut things with them and I even enjoy sharpening them. The other day I was walking around down near the river when I ran into a friend of mine who had a double-edged machete. The idea of a double-edged machete was pretty stirring for me, so we went to cut some bamboo. I tested my skills, played samurai and, when one edge got blunt, I just turned the bastard over and had another half hour’s fun. I feel it’s also a bit a symbol of the campasino. I like that too. The handle of my machete is about to go, so I’ll have get another one soon. I won’t lie, I’m pretty excited.

Heading out to do some gardening with my machete

Heading out to do some gardening with my machete

Point number two: whistling. It’s quite acceptable to greet someone or get their attention with a whistle. I find it very practical. After a long, strenuous day at school you don’t have to battle overweight women gossiping too loudly, children shrieking, reggaeton blaring and dogs yelping just to say hello to someone you know down the street. One short, high-pitched note cuts through all that rubbish and communicates what you want to say perfectly. It also makes you feel like a bit of a cowboy, which is pretty funny. Sometimes I forget myself and do it to one of the Americans and they say, “Hey! I’m not a dog, you know!” That’s also pretty funny.

I got a lot of whistles in this outfit.

I got a lot of whistles in this outfit.

Last thing are the buses. It’s on the buses over here that you get as close as you possibly could to the people. I’ll admit, I don’t really like it when some fat old guy’s crouch is jammed right up against my shoulder, but the rest of it’s good. The music’s always loud, the windows are always down, there’s nice scenery whizzing by and each road maneuver is deadlier than the last. I always get off those things in a better mood than when I got on. Sometimes they even have TV’s mounted up the front screening the latest semi-pornographic reggaeton video. I’ll even go so far as to say that if I weren’t a teacher here, I would want to work on a bus. I like the guys who collect the money and hang out the door yelling and whistling at potential passengers. I think I could do that for a bit.

Anyway, those a few things I like about living here. I reckon I would have appreciated knowing about them before I got here too. James, why didn’t you tell me about the machetes, whistling and buses when you interviewed me? Nah, turned out well in the end.

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James, my interviewer, and I when I first arrived to Honduras.

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What is it like to volunteer in Honduras?

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A Honduran house with a storm brewing in the background.

My name is Viera and I’m this year’s 8th and 9th grade English teacher.

I came to Cofradía at the beginning of August this year, not knowing what to expect. Despite having information about the school, I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like—not just the school, but Honduras in general.

There are so many things about this place I love. The countryside is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the mountains. We are surrounded by beautiful vast green mountains, and Cusuco National Park, another mountainous area, is nearby.

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The beautiful green mountains that fill much of Honduras.

People here in Cofradía are really nice, too. It was really funny for me at first when people started calling me ‘Miss.’ I’m still getting used to walking down the street and having my kids or their family members greet me with ‘Buenos dias, Miss.’ It’s feels good to get that level of respect from people.

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A quiet street in Cofradía.

And now a little bit about teaching.

When I decided to come to Honduras, I was really curious to find out what it is like to teach Honduran teenagers. Well…it’s fun. They are like any other teenagers in the world, I imagine. They’re funny and giggly, but also easily bored. I like them very much. They are a handful, but on the other hand, my hard work is rewarded when I realize that I will have a positive impact on their lives.

One of my favorite activities with my students is discussing various topics with them, such as current events or a political or social situation. I love listening to their diverse opinions. Now is the time of their lives when they’re determining their moral values and turning into adults, and it shows in the discussions. I could chat with them forever.

We also have a lot of fun together. A couple of weeks ago we talked about Honduran music, which I know very little about. I asked my students to sing songs, and instead of being shy, they actually sang couple of songs, using their desks as drums. It was beautiful and extremely noisy.

I recently had a little party with my 9th grade class to reward their good behavior, and I stupidly started a glitter fight with them (naively thinking they wouldn’t ‘attack’ their teacher—I was wrong). You should have seen me—I was covered with blue and green sparkly glitter. It was almost impossible to get it off of me.

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The 9th graders, spending a little time outside at the lunch tables.

But it’s not just fun and parties down here—last week was a tough one—exams week. But the kids did well.

I can’t wait for the second bimester and for more fun.

Volunteering in Honduras: is this for real?

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It’s been six weeks and I still can’t fully believe this is real. My name is Eliza and I currently teach Prepa (5 and 6-year-olds) and second grade English at CBS. Every single day that I’m here I’m blown away by how much love, energy, and enthusiasm my kids have. I’m also a little bit blown away by their passion for fried chicken and sweets.

I arrived in Cofradía on September 1st, a week after school had begun. The next morning, at 6:30 am, I climbed into the van and headed to school with the other volunteers. At that moment, I became a teacher – not just any teacher, but an English teacher to 54 students. As I walked through the schoolyard, my eyes taking in the surroundings, several little children ran up to me, wrapping their arms around my legs in a hug.

These six weeks have been weeks of experimenting with teaching methods, getting to know each of my students, and adjusting to life in Honduras. I’ve learned to cook a delicious pot of beans, to incorporate bubbles into my lessons, and to structure lesson plans around limited attention spans.

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From early-morning granola, to after-school stops at the one supermarket in Cofradía, to lesson-planning around the big table with other volunteers, this has become my every day. This has become my home, a place where I’ve developed a routine and found a comfort zone. This comfort zone is broad enough for the drinks that come in plastic bags, the unreliable running water, the diet of beans and fried food, and the farm animals that roam the streets. I love my kids, I love the challenge of teaching them, I love the beauty of the surrounding mountains, and I love the simplicity of Cofradía.

The other thing I’ve come to love about Honduras is that it is a place to be taken in stride. It’s hard to ever know exactly what’s coming. A shapes-review running game on the patio was thwarted upon arrival with my 30 Prepa kids to an already occupied patio. A five-day weekend was announced one day before it began. The laundry machine ran one load of laundry for three days. A taco turned out to be basically a large Honduran eggroll. All plans have been cancelled everytime it rains. Everything keeps me a little bit more on my toes and a little bit more ready to improvise.

From becoming a teacher overnight to writing bimester exams for this week, I’ve had six eye-opening weeks in this country. When one of my students handed me a shiny red apple one morning, it all became that much more real – I’m a teacher in Honduras now.

Volunteer Coordinator Amanda starts us off!

Emely soccer amanda This year at CBS is off to a great start! I’m Amanda and I am this year’s Kinder teacher (4-year olds) and Volunteer Coordinator. This is my second year at CBS and I am so excited for all that we will accomplish this year. We have an outstanding group of volunteer teachers this year (three of which are also second year teachers at CBS) and I am so proud of all of the preparation and dedication they have demonstrated so far.

Many volunteers who come to teach at CBS have never taught before, and it is always astounding to see the enthusiasm with which they jump in and start doing their best to educate their new students. This year’s team took it a step further by participating in multiple trainings, soliciting advice from teachers they know back home, and putting a ton of time and effort into lesson plans and visual/teaching aids for their class before school even started. Based on this group of volunteers and their dedication, and how much the kids have already learned in the first 7 weeks of school, I believe it will be a very productive year!

The first few days of school were spent getting acquainted with our students, reviewing, and guaging our class’s English level. It is hard to believe we are coming up on exam week for the first bimester. We have participated in a lot of school events so far, my favorite being the desfile de antorchas (“Torch Parade”). The desfile de antorchas is a beautiful event in which many schools in Cofradía march through the town of Cofradía with candlelit torches. It starts just before sunset, and each school arranges its students by age and height, with the smallest children in front. The parade includes a marching band that provides a charming soundtrack to our stroll through the streets. As night falls, the torch that each student holds provides a soft, peaceful light as the parade snakes through Cofradía. The parade is certainly beautiful, but it is also my favorite event because of the feeling of community it elicits. Parents keep pace with us and hand their children water or Gatorade to keep them hydrated. Onlookers line the streets with smiles, and a large crowd of families and an announcer await our arrival at the town park, where the parade ends. Afterwards, students and families want pictures with us, there are ice cream cones and snow cones for sale, and everyone just seems happy to be out in the open air together. While Cofradía is safer than many other small Honduran towns, the dangers that plague most of Honduras are still present, and one should proceed with caution when walking the streets at night. But not on the night of the desfile de antorchas . On this night Cofradía feels like the happiest, most peaceful place you could imagine.

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Another celebration we took part in was Día del niño (Children’s Day). This holiday is not celebrated in the U.S. and I was a little puzzled by the concept during my first year here. It is like Mother’s or Father’s Day, but with a lot more sugar and piñatas. Día del niño is about honoring children, which is done by serving them large quantities of cake, soda, and candy. Once they are properly sugared, games and prizes ensue. The favorite event for the children, and the most frightening for us teachers, is the piñata. The kids whack the daylight out of the piñata and charge at the first sign of candy, while we desperately try to hold back the crowd to keep them from getting belted by the child currently swinging the big wooden stick. But the kids enjoy themselves and school gets dismissed early, so we soldier on through the chaos of the morning. Never has a school day felt so long or exhausting. Especially one that only lasts until 11:20 am. amanda blog pinata Last Friday our school soccer team had their first game of the year! They played against the top team in Cofradía and tied 3-3! Some of our dedicated volunteer teachers went to support our boys and said they played impressively. It is really great for these older boys to have a constructive afterschool activity that gets them more involved in our school by letting them do something they love: playing soccer! I can’t wait to do see the next game! CBS  amanda soccer This past Monday we began what will be a yearlong school event: House color competitions! We divide all of the students from first through ninth grade into “teams” or houses (like in Harry Potter). Each house has it’s own color and several teachers assigned as the house leaders (Volunteer and Honduran teachers). Throughout the year, students can earn points toward their house for various achievements. There are daily and weekly points awarded for good behavior, work ethic, etc. but we also do school-wide events like Olympics and Academic Olympics. The winning team gets a lot of points toward their overall total. The house with the most points at the end of the year gets to go on a school-funded trip. Last year it was a water park in San Pedro Sula. This year I am thinking the beach…we’ll see! amanda olympics blog We will be posting updates on life in Cofradía and at CBS each week, so stay tuned! Comments and Shares are welcomed. Thanks for reading!