Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Day in the Life (Part 2)

We left off at 2:10, the end of the school day. Usually I need a rest after the end of a school day so I try to come home for awhile to take a break. I go back to the volunteer house and drink some coca-cola (I've become a total addict here; I think I crave the sugar), and to prevent myself from never moving from the sofa, I try to wash clothes.

Here, as in most of Honduras, clothes are washed by hand. Every house I've seen has what's called a pila, a waist-high, rectangular concrete basin that fills with water. Imagine a lid on the basin and a large square cut into the top of it. The two remaining sides have washboards and a drain built in and that's where clothes are washed. We have bars of clothes-washing soap that we rub on to the clothes, you scrub them, and then you dip b uckets into the basin for water to rinse. For the kids, washing clothes is a daily chore, and I try to once a day as well or else it really piles up. Even when I have to skim the floaties off the top of the pila water; even when I can never ring all the soap out of my jeans; even though all my clothes are now hopelessly stretched out; even when I find bird poo on the clothes hanging on the line (okay, that one is a stretch), there's something I love about washing my own clothes. Maybe it's the feeling each day that I've accomplished something, or the peacefulness of standing at the pila after a long day, or the camaraderie I feel with the other volunteers when we wash clothes together, or the mindless productivity that allows me to think and process the day's events, or the feeling that by washing my own clothes by hand each day I'm a little closer to the daily experience lived by a vast majority of the world's population.

After taking an hour or two at home to rest and wash clothes and do some lesson planning or internet work in the office, I try to spend the rest of my afternoon with the kids. Every afternoon is different. Sometimes I've made plans in advance with a kid; someone in one of my classes who wants help with the homework I've given or needs to get caught up on a lesson; someone I promised to study English with; one kid in particular who likes to go up to the big white cross on the hill and have me tell him a story. When the kids have birthdays, the volunteers take them into the closest neighboring village, a 20-minute walk down the road, with a few friends to buy soda and snacks, so those "birthday parties" are usually afternoon activities planned in advance. A lot of other times, there's nothing planned. I'll wander out to see what's going on in the rest of the hogar and if there's someone I can play with or talk to.
Connected to either side of the comedor are two dorms, one for chiquitos, the youngest children at the hogar, ranging in age from 1 and a half to 6 years old. Little Rana also lives in this room, and all the children that come to the preschool class I help out with. There are about 15 of them in total. They are, obviously, adorable. As soon as you walk in, someone's on you, latched on to your leg or pulling you towards a toy, or yelling repeatedly the same 4-word bit of news - "We ate breakfast!" "We're going to the pool!" "We have school tomorrow, verdad?" The room is lined with little bunk beds with a large space in the middle for playing with toys and a TV corner, and the back opens into a fenced-in grassy play area with a swing-set and monkey bars and see-saw. Whenever you walk by the front windows or the back fence and children spot you, they begin yelling your name. Anytime I need an ego boost, I head to the chiquitos room, though spending a lot of time there is exhausting.

The other connected dorm is for the 12 girls who live here. If the girls have finished their chores and homework, they're usually out in their own backyard area, or playing in the room on their own bunk beds, or refolding their clothes (a common activity). We'll sit out back and play a clapping game or lay on the extra bed and sing songs. The other day one of the girls, one of the sweetest but with a gravelly voice and few rough edges, chased me around the field in front of the comedor and then wanted to wrestle me to the ground. The oldest girls are 13/14 and they all live in one room together, so there is definitely drama. There are a few sets of biological sisters in the group, but really all of them act like sisters. They have to stick together, the group of only 12 of them in a home of mostly boys, but, like teenage girls everywhere on the planet, they bicker and are sweet in turns.

Across from the comedor and the girls and chiquitos dorms on the other side of a grassy field, is the office building. Behind that there is a stream that can fill to waist-height after a heavy rain, and becomes completely dry during dry spells. A wooden footbridge crosses the stream and a dirt path leads to the boys side of the Amigos campus. The dorms sit behind a wide open soccer field. In the afternoons, there is always a group playing soccer and kids and padrinos hanging out on the porches of the dorms. The pequeños, or younger boys, 6 to 12/13 years old, live in one dorm and the jovenes, teenagers, in another. Two other buildings are for staff and padrinos.

Amigos is a great place to be a kid. The stream is full of tiny fish and if you're lucky you might be able to catch a crab. There are always boys messing around in the stream, using old bottles or scraps of wood to construct little buildings or catch fish. There are wide open fields and big trees, plenty of places to play in the dirt constructing little buildings or making highways for toy cars. A few weeks ago, one of my little buddies found a huge piece of cloth somewhere. By draping it over the low-hanging branches of a tree on one side of a fence and using a big stick to prop up the top like a tent, he made a cozy house. He found a piece of a pillow from somewhere and set it on the ground and we sat in there like two little kings. The tree was a lemon tree, but these are not like lemons in the states. The small ones are the size of grapefruits and they can get to be twice as big as that. Of course the house attracted several of the other pequeños and everyone was pulling off the giant lemons, peeling the thick skin and sucking on the juice for as long as they could stand.

There is fruit everywhere here. There's coconut, papaya, lemon, orange, avocado and coffee trees and a whole field of pineapple plants. Then there are trees with fruits I had never heard of before coming here and for which I still don't know all the names: guyaba with thick green skins and pink insides; strange orange husks that have bright red sweet seeds; moras, purple fruits the size of small plums that are a lot like grapes; strange yellow fruits the size of the lemons covered with spines that you eat by sucking the sweet, white, fibrous fruit off of large hard seeds. Since I've been here, the favorite activity of the kids next to soccer, across all ages, is collecting nances. Amigos is full of nance trees. They are tiny yellow fruits the size of small marbles with a seed in the middle and I think they taste like cheese, but the kids think they're the greatest thing since candy. They shake them out of the trees and gather them off the ground. They fill their pockets, or their shirts, or two-liter soda bottles that they find somewhere. A lot of times the older boys will make juices by filling some old bottle with with water and nances and shaking it all up. They cause all kinds of problems in school and in the preschool classroom we've had to institute a no nance policy.

If it seems like the kids play with a lot of trash (old bottles and sheets and other scraps) it's true, but not because Amigos is dirty or because the kids don't have toys. First, they're kids, and they have a great ingenuity for inventing new toys. But I've noticed that this ingenuity goes beyond what I've seen before in the states. The kids always seem to have something they've found somewhere that they're using as a toy. Combined with their innate knowledge of the fruits here, what's good to eat, what's not and when, you see a lot of the traces of the kids' lives before, when they may have really needed that knowledge and ingenuity to survive.

Five thirty is dinner. The bell in front of the comedor rings and the kids come running from all corners of the campus. Dinner is cafeteria style at long wooden tables. After dinner on a school night is free time. I'll wander out of the comedor and play or talk with whoever is outside hanging out. Sometimes we sit on the backs of the parked pick up trucks and play cards, or someone is kicking a ball around in the field in front of the cafeteria, or I'll sit on the porch of the building and talk. A few nights one of the kids has organized a big game of capture the flag in one of the soccer fields. 

This lasts until 8:00 when the bell gets rung for the last time of the day. All the kids come from their corners to the field in front of the comedor, all the padrinos and madrinas, all the volunteers, and we form a big circle holding hands. It's prayer circle, and it closes every day. The prayer begins with the sign of the cross and then the prayers begin. Each starts "Gracias Señor..." - "Thank you God..." - and ends with the same phrase, which the whole circle repeats, offering up the child's prayer together. This too is the subject of its own post. Payer circle ends with an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, and then the circle disperses for the hugs goodnight. Everyone hugs everybody and says Buenas Noches: the kid who was disrespectful in class, the kid who you talked with for an hour, the kid who sat with you making rude jokes at dinner, the kid who's mad at you and giving a cold shoulder, the kid who you know is hurting, the kid who made you laugh that day. The hugs are sometimes just another goodnight, sometimes a reconciliation, sometimes another wound, sometimes just what you needed. 

We volunteers walk back to our house to lesson plan and eat American-y snacks like peanut butter and honey sandwiches, we take our cold showers, and we - I anyway - collapse into bed, sometimes ready, sometimes not, for all the next day brings.

Hasta pronto.

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