When I pulled through the front gate of Amigos de Jesus, there was a crowd waiting to meet me, and they were clapping.
One of the current volunteers later said it was a poor showing; usually, new volunteers are welcomed by the entire Amigos de Jesus family, 85-children strong, along with staff. To me, the cheering welcome party seemed enormous. The windows of the truck they had picked me up in at the San Pedro Sula airport were open; to wave made me feel like I was making a pretense of some kind of royalty, but to not respond felt strange too. I think the result was a couple half-hearted hand gestures of some kind, and definitely a lot of awkwardness.
As soon as I stepped out, a little girl ran towards me and, without losing any momentum, right into my arms to hug me tightly. Several of the other young children were not far behind. The whole situation would later resemble many of my experiences on my first night at Amigos. There’s uncertainty and hesitancy, and discomfort too, sometimes painfully so, but the children’s hugs make it all seem worth it. From what I’ve heard from this year’s volunteers, it sounds like that’s an experience that will persist.
I have to apologize to many of my friends who knew I was arriving in Honduras on Saturday and never heard anything from me about whether I got in safely. I haven’t had very regular access to internet since I got here, and part of it is just being moved from one place to another in a short span of time. I had hoped this post would come much sooner!
My flight was seamless and so was my pickup by Amigos. After a harrowing ride through the streets of San Pedro Sula (driving norms here are the subject of another post altogether!) we arrived at Amigos in the afternoon. That left plenty of time for me to move my bags into the volunteers apartment, attend a convivia with the chiquititos, eat dinner at the comedor, and hang out with the kids afterwards on the lawn and while they watched a movie on an outdoor makeshift screen. I also got to meet the current community of seven volunteers, and learned way too many Spanish names to remember.
Some of those earlier Spanish words deserve a little explanation. A convivia, as distinct from a fiesta, is, here, a party without dancing. The chiquititos are the youngest children at Amigos, ranging from 2 to 4 years old, and the party was being thrown as part of a string of despedidas, farewell parties, that the current volunteer community will hold this week as they begin to say goodbye to each group that makes up the Amigos family.
For me, the convivia was the perfect way to enter into the life of Amigos. Eighty-five children is overwhelming, but twelve adorable little children are just heartwarming, and they don’t mind my rough gringa Spanish. The party consisted of them getting to run around the backyard of the house where the volunteers live, asking to jump off a wall into one of the volunteer’s arms, playing tickle games, or sitting on our laps to color pictures. Two of the children held each of my hands when we walked the group the short distance from their dormitory to the house, and two more grabbed them for the walk to dinner.
I’ll have to tell more about life at Amigos: the grounds; the children; the comedor, or cafeteria, and the food in it, in later posts. There will be plenty to tell, and plenty of time to tell it!
On Sunday, I was driven to Copán Ruínas, the city where I’ll spend the coming week at language school. I was introduced to my host family at the house where I’m staying. I already know I lucked out in a host family. First of all, the family is big, so I feel at home. There is the mother of the house, who is my host, her mother, her two sisters and several children assigned to each. Each of them has gone out of their way to find out about me and talk to me, and with every conversation my Spanish becomes a little more confident. The house has everything I need and is certainly middle class by Honduras standards, but it is simple living. The rooms and hallways seem almost carved out of the space between more permanent buildings. At a certain point, a clay tile or corrugated steel roof begins and the courtyard-type spaces end. A gate is the entryway to the house, but the rooms have their own doors. The floors are tiled and the walls are painted concrete, and there are small steps everywhere which change the elevations of each room. I’m probably not giving a good picture, and that’s because it’s so different from the way we would go about structuring a house in the U.S., but it seems typical here.
My first meal at the house was a delicious lunch of soup broth and stewed vegetables. The corn tortillas and broth and vegetables may have been served separately, but everything gets combined in the bowl. Of course I asked everything’s name, and then promptly forgot! I do remember a chunk of plátano among the vegetables, which was familiar. My favorite vegetable looked like an unripe pinecone, the kind that hasn’t opened its leaves yet and is green and smooth. It tasted like an artichoke and had a similar structure, with multiple leaves. My host grandmother said they are found in the mountains, and that it was a good harvest this year.
The mountains! Every view here is marked by them, with their lush green coverings. The current volunteers here say the beauty of the scenery never gets old.
Already this is too long for an initial post! It’s my own fault for my lateness; so much has happened in the last 48 hours! I’m sorry if all of this is completely disjointed. There is so much to tell, so much newness at every turn. The total newness of things makes me feel homesick and adventurous at the same time.
In future posts I promise not bore you all with the details of each day, but I’ll stick to particular themes. For instance, the fascinating dinner the other volunteers here and I attended tonight at the beautiful home and farm of a retired gringo couple, one native to Germany and both of them Canadian. “Free-spirited” would be an understatement.
For the time being, thanks for letting me put you to sleep with all the initial details! If you want to get an e-mail every time I post, sign up to the right (I won’t send out any more e-mails). Also, continued prayers are very much appreciated as I make the adjustment to life over here.