Honduras is Weird

Honduras is a weird place. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but as an American, I have seen some things here that have completely surprised me. I watched an adult woman use an escalator for the first time with help from a mall security guard. I have been in a small van with about 24 people, some of whom were hanging on outside the car as we were driving down a highway. I wake up to roosters crowing every morning and fall asleep to reggaeton and fireworks that the neighbors set off at night for no apparent reason. The water shuts off when it rains, meaning it can be off for days. (I’m writing this on Friday and haven’t showered since Monday. My hair does not smell good.) If someone had told me five months ago that I would be living here, I wouldn’t have believed them.

This is what my street looks like here.  What you can't see is the dirt road and how it immediately drops off into a dangerous hill that cars can't drive down.

This is my street. What you can’t see is the dirt road and how it immediately drops off into a dangerous hill that cars can’t drive down.

It says cheddar. It does not taste like cheddar.  I somehow still managed to eat most of it.

It says cheddar. It does not taste like cheddar. I somehow still managed to eat most of it.

Living in Honduras hasn’t been a cakewalk. There are things I miss about home. I have yet to eat quality cheese in Honduras. I have eaten super salty, powdered “cheese” and “cheddar” that tastes of chemicals, but nothing that satiates my deep desire for cheesy things. As someone whose diet usually consists mainly of cheese and carbs, this has been a serious problem for me. I miss hot showers too. When it’s cold outside (it can drop down to a frigid 70 degrees!), the last thing I want to do is get under freezing cold water. I usually just don’t, which contributes to the issue of my hair being gross. I miss being able to hop on a bus and visit my family or just pick up the phone and call my mom. I’m incredibly sad not to be eating Thanksgiving dinner at home. Sometimes I wish I could meet up with friends for dinner and drinks and have a night out on the town (this is a polite way of saying, “go out barhopping”).

Even though my social life is vastly different here, my hair is constantly dirty, I’m hundreds of miles from my family, and I live a depressingly cheese-less existence, I can’t imagine leaving Honduras before my year here is up. I don’t know how to describe it without being cliché. I spend my days working with these goofy, little kids who crack me up while driving me crazy. I deal with kids constantly coming up to me and saying, “Miss! The Emily. She pushing! SHE PUSHING!” and instead of being annoyed that I have to go handle the issue, I’m proud because at least they whined to me in English. My students come to my desk during free reading time and point out every word in a book that I’ve taught them.

These goofballs make me laugh every day.

These goofballs make me laugh every day.

I’ve never been a gung-ho, “save the world” type, but I come home every day feeling fulfilled about what I did that day. Even though I have basically no experience teaching, I feel like I am somehow managing to actually teach 19 third graders something valuable. I don’t worry about what I should be doing with my life anymore because right now, I know I should be here, teaching these kids, dirty hair and all. That’s reinforced when I get a note from a kid saying, “I love Mizz Lizz. I am happy.” (And yes, we did learn “happy” this year. There’s still time to work on “miss” and my name.)

kids tackle hug

-Liz, this year’s 3rd grade teacher

Intense Science

I don’t take responsibilities lightly. My first year in college, when I was still an acting major (later playwriting), I woke at 6 a.m. to do vocal exercises before conservatory. When I wrote seriously, I woke at 4:30 a.m. to write before work. When I worked as a dramaturge on a theatre production, I went to rehearsal after a full day of day-jobbing (paralegal), got home around 10 or 11 p.m., and spent the next hour or so writing, reviewing, and editing my notes for the director or doing requested research. When my passions are called upon, I can be a little…intense. Or nuts, you can say it.

So when I learned I would be teaching 7-9th grade science, without textbooks or equipment and only the vague but ambitious national curriculum to guide me, I felt a wee panic, a faint nausea, which has never really left. After all, science is serious and seriously fun…but I hadn’t studied it in any serious way since high school sixteen years ago. How was I going to guide these kids through the wonders of the universe’s first moments, animal nutrition, and “various atmospheric phenomena,” and “conceptualize the experimental research process and develop simple experimental designs, systematizing the basic process of the experimental method”?

I did what I could to prepare. I located some very affordable textbooks for myself, thanks to /r/scienceteachers, which also helped translate the curriculum for my layperson’s mind and pointed me in the direction of helpful websites. Still, between nerves and the vastness of my subject and curriculum, I didn’t have my first lesson planned until two days before the first class.

Some of my affordable science textbooks.

Some of my affordable science textbooks.

And it’s been that way ever since. I have no doubt that my fellow volunteers, perhaps with affection, think I’m a little crazy, because when our busito gets home I almost immediately am at my desk, researching and planning for tomorrow, and that doesn’t stop until 7, 8, or even 9 p.m. And that’s just for tomorrow, because try as I might, I so rarely get ahead. My books have some but not all of the topics in the curriculum. Even if they do, to break something into digestible bits, I have to understand the topic thoroughly, so I must hasten to Google for details. Then I try to find cheap, minimal material projects, if I can, because science doesn’t come from my notes on the board. Science is experienced. Science is relevant. As you can imagine, my intensity, my desire to give these kids as wow a science class as possible, leads to some exhaustion.

I have become an expert on the hagfish, also known as the slime eel.

I have become an expert on the hagfish, also known as the slime eel.

Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail. Last week the 7th graders made edible animal and plant cell models out of gelatin and candy. The 8th and 9th graders blew up balloons with fermenting yeast. I did a lesson on carnivorous plants using a song from Little Shop of Horrors. I lead all three classes in the construction of seismographs using rubber bands, shoe boxes, string, and markers—an endeavor of ultimately dubious value but, for me, a useful personal study in how maturity affects the ability to handle frustration. I try to laugh at my mistakes, because I make a lot. The kids surprise and stump me all the time.

My key to survival is to never take the long view. Come June, I’ll be here, but if I think about the months, weeks, days, minutes it will take to get there, let me just say there’s a small padded room with my name on it.

But today? Tomorrow? Yeah, I can look at that through the window.

Yours in Science (oh, and 7th grade English),


A Day in the Life…

I should start off by saying that no two days at CBS are EVER the same. It’s wild, crazy, wonderful, and fantastic, and that’s exactly why I love it.

Monday Morning

5AM – Wake up to chickens squawking outside. Pull covers over my head and mentally berate the stupid chickens until I fall back asleep.

5:50 – My first alarm goes off. I sleepily press the snooze button and try to enjoy my last 9 minutes of solitude before the day begins.

5:59 – Here we go. I lazily drag myself out of bed and trudge to the bathroom. Since I haven’t put my contacts in yet there is a 75% chance I will trip over the fan, even though it has been in the same spot all year.

6:06 – I return to my room, turn on the music, and procrastinate for as long as possible.

6:21 – I’ve somehow managed to put clothes on, but whether or not they match is another story entirely. Now for the hair. Hmm…did I wash it last night? Nope. Ponytail and headband it is. Make up? Ha. Haha. Hahahaha.

6:35-6:40 – A bus picks all volunteers up for school at the big house.

6:45-7:15 – Attempt to make copies and curse the copier for not working properly. (Repeat approximately 5x.)

7:15-8 – Acto Civico. This is an assembly put on by the Hondurans every Monday morning. Announcements will be made, Stars of the Week will be given out, and a quick lesson will be given on a relevant topic. (Humility, love, peace, honesty, respect, etc.) During this time all volunteers teachers are required to help wrangle and watch the kids. I usually stand in the back and quietly sip my coffee, relishing the final few minutes of the calm before the storm.

8-8:45 – On Mondays this is my only off period, so it is usually spent making sure everything is in order for the rest of the day. If the internet is working I try to catch up on some emails and read the headlines.

8:45-9:30 – 1st Grade Math. Today we’re reviewing the first nine ordinal numbers. The kids are usually very well-behaved in the mornings so the lesson goes off without a hitch.

9:30-10 – Recreo! I spend this time enjoying a delicious baleada and watching the kids play football in the yard.

10-10:40 – 1st Grade English. We’ve been working on using “I have” in sentences, so today each student has to write four sentences describing their family. Since I know several of my kids come from very untraditional households, I purposefully avoid telling the kids to write “I have a mother,” or “I have a father.” I showed the kids several pictures of my family on my iPad and they were ooohhh-ing and ahhhh-ing the whole time. “Miss Krysten…beautiful! Sister…beautiful! Mother…beautiful! Father…beautiful! Dog….AYYYYYYY!!! BEAUTIFUL!!” Needless to say my kids fell in LOVE with the two little marshmallow-looking dogs we have back home. I had kids coming up to me the rest of the day asking to see more pictures!

10:40-11:20 – 2nd Grade Science. Today we are talking about how your body changes as you get older. We talk about the difference in babies, children, adults, and old people. The kids really enjoyed this lesson and loved pretending to crawl like a baby and hobble around like an old person!

11:20-12 – 1st Grade Computación part I. Half of my kids go to computer class and the other half stay with me. I use this time to continue working on “I have.” I pass out number cards and go around the room asking who has which number. By the end of the period, the kids were pretty much running the show. They were shouting, “I have 2! Who has 4?” (When I taught the word ‘who’ I put an owl up on the board and asked what sound it made. All the kids responded with “Hoo! Hooo!!!!” So in all honesty, it sounded much more like this: ” I have 2! HOOOOOOOO has 4?!?!”)

12-12:40 – Almuerzo! That glorious time of day where I am able to partake in a bit of adult conversation. The table we eat at is being slowly taken over by 1st graders, though, and I’m not sure how much longer we can hold them off. (As much as I enjoy spending my lunch time talking to the other teachers, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tickled to death that my kids want to eat lunch with me. They’re my best little friends.)

12:40-1:20 – 1st Grade Computación part II.

1:20-2:10 – 1st Grade Física (PE). I round up my bunch and we head outside to the yard. We manage to fit in follow the leader, leap frog, and freeze tag before it’s time to go back inside.

2:10 – Dismissal! Even though I’ve been here for a year and a half, I still consider it a major accomplishment to make it through the day without serious incident. Nobody got hurt, nobody got lost, and nobody ran away. On top of all that, I think the kids might have even learned something! I’d say it was a pretty great day.

3PM – We have two new volunteers coming this week so I’m headed to town to make copies of our house keys for them. The key shop I wanted to go to is closed, so I backtrack until I reach the first one I passed. I tell the man I need some copies and he just smiles. “Ahhh, I can’t do it right now, mamí!!” he tells me in Spanish. I tell him I’ll try again later.

3:15 – Since I’m in town with nothing to do, I head over to the newly built supermarket. After making my measly selection of a loaf of bread and some Cuban ham, I stand in line for about 20 minutes waiting to check out.

3:45 – Back to the key store. “Can you make the copies now?” I ask. “Ehhhh…..mañana. Si, si. Mañana esta mejor.” (Time works differently down here, so telling me to come back tomorrow was probably no big deal to him. Today, tomorrow, what’s the difference?)

4PM – As I’m walking back to the house preparing to tell our volunteer coordinator I couldn’t get the keys made, I pass the key shop I originally wanted to go to. A man is at the counter finishing opening up because, like I said, time works differently in Honduras. Down here it’s perfectly acceptable to open at 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon! I go in, sit there patiently, and listen to the machine grind the keys.

4:30 – Sacred keys in hand, I’m finally headed home for the day.

4:45-6 – It’s already time to start thinking about and preparing for tomorrow. I pull out my laptop and get to work.

6-8 – Finally! Some “me” time! I celebrate by attempting to watch Netflix, only to realize that my sister (whose Netflix I’ve been not-so-shamefully stealing) needs to update her payment information. I can’t tell her this because she doesn’t know I’ve been using her Netflix, so I settle for reading a book instead. (Sis, if you’re reading this, I love you!)
8PM – I take a shower, make sure everything is packed for tomorrow, and continue reading my book until I fall asleep at the wild and crazy hour of 8:45. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly dangerous, I can even make it to 9.

1st Grade English Teacher
2nd Grade Science Teacher

CBS has a documentary coming soon!

We are very excited to announce that CBS will soon have a documentary about it! Rob Faris, a filmmaker and sibling of a current volunteer, came to visit Cofradía and is currently working on making a documentary about our school.  We can’t wait for everyone to be able to get a glimpse of everything we love so much about CBS.  You can watch the trailer below!