Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Some reflections

A little while ago I signed up to write a 'volunteer testimonial' about experience here so far. Here's what I came up with, plus some fun photos of me teaching (see above).
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Being already most of the way through my year here in Honduras, it’s hard to pick one issue or experience to focus on. That’s probably because this has been a year of learning and thinking about a whole lot of new things, everything from teaching and discipline techniques, to reflections on love and respect, to how to successfully bake a cake with four or five excited and crazy 12-year-old assistants. And lots about positive thinking.

So, I've decided to talk about some of those things I’ve learned…Or better said, some the things I’m still only starting to learn:

-I no longer freak out about evenly serving lunch out of a cooler to 40 teenage boys, most of whom will inevitably say you didn’t give them enough.

-How to feel thankful about some of the privileges I never appreciated before, like running water, regular electricity, or growing up with a sense of security and things to keep me stimulated.

-“Dios es amor”, a common phrase you see here in Honduras. Coming from a fairly secular background, I wasn’t sure what the religious aspect of this experience would be like. However, my experience with religion here has challenged me and taught me a lot about love and spirituality.

-The kids really are, as someone explained to me, like sponges: they take in everything. Even though they might not act like it in class.

-Any action, done with a sense of love and solidarity, drastically changes the effect. For me, this has been most true in the classroom, where I’ve had to learn to laugh at the crazy things the kids do every day, even as I’m telling them to stop doing it. Trying to understand and feel where the kids are coming from has helped my teaching a lot. It’s also something I still struggle with every day. Love doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it helps lead to a more positive relationship with the young person that might help them feel less need to act that way in the future.

-Cake or candy can be an incentive for just about anything.

-How to focus on, and feel excited about, the many positive things all around me here on the ranch. Such as: a smile from a student who’s usually challenging; drinking coffee on a tranquilo Sunday morning, surrounded by the beautiful landscape and a good conversation; or a group of 12 year old boys dancing with their mops as they sing along to the radio (well, that last one happens pretty much every week). In short, to really feel good about the small victories. Because there aren’t many obvious big ones.

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The article, plus more photos, is on the NPH Website here.

This photo was taken with the random girls who happened to be around (or saw and ran over) when the photographer showed up, though they are a handful of my 7th grade students and they are generally very nice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Oda a la Alegria

I'm slowly working my way through Pablo Neruda's "Odas Elementales", which celebrate the wonders of life -from happiness to onions- in a really cool way. Plus, his poem about bread makes me feel revolutionary ("No tiene alas/ la victoria terrestre:/ tiene pan en sus hombros"). I told this to Sonia, a Czech volunteer here, and she responded "Well of course, he was communist, right?"

I guess sometimes the populist stuff does get a little heavy (it sounds much more dramatic in Spanish!), but I guess I really like that stuff too.

This is one of my favorites so far that I translated, since I haven't been able to find any translation. Plus, this way I got to try and keep the poem the way I read it.

Oda a la Alegria (Ode to Happiness)

a green leaf
fallen on a window,
a tiny
feeling clarity
recently born,
sonorous elephant,
a brittle gust of wind,
better said
bread on the table,
hopes come true,
obligations accomplished.
I looked down on you, happiness.
I was advised badly.
The moon
took me along its paths.
The old poets
lent me their glasses
and over every thing
I put
a dark nimbus,
over the flower a black crown,
over the loved mouth
a sad kiss.
It's still early.
Let me repent.
I thought that only
if my heart
was burned
by the brambles of torment,
if the rain soaked
my clothes
in mourning,
if I closed
my eyes to the rose
and touched my injuries,
I would help people.
I was not just.
I made mistakes in my steps
and today I call you, happiness.

Like the earth,
you are

Like fire
you sustain
our houses.

Like bread,
you are pure.

Like the water of a river,
you are sonorous.

Like a bee,
you share your honey while flying.

I was a taciturn young man,
I found your long hair

It wasn't true, I found out
when in my chest
your waterfall was untied.

Today, happiness,
found in the street,
far from any book,
accompany me:

with you
I want to go from house to house,
I want to go from town to town,
from flag to flag.
You're not just for me.
We will go to the islands,
to the seas.
We will go to the mines,
to the forests.
Not just solitary wood-cutters,
poor clothes washers,
or bristling, august
stone workers,
will receive me with your fruits,
but also the congregations,
the meetings,
the unions of sea and wood,
the young men
fighting for you.

With you towards the world!
With my song!
With the twinkling flight
of the stars,
and with the delight
of ocean's foam!

I'm going to work for everyone
because I owe
to everyone my happiness.

No one is surprised that I want
to give to people
the gifts of the earth,
because I learned through fighting
that it's my terrestrial obligation
to propagate happiness.
And I fulfill that destiny with my song.

Spanish version.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Morning Reflection

While curled up in a warm bed at 9:42 am (which is sleeping late here) on a weekend off, with Michael Franti on in the background ("Sometimes"):

These are the moments in which I need to thank life for giving me, and soak up as much comfort and thankfulness as I can to hold me through the rest of the moments when its harder to remember how much wonderful stuff there is in the world. (And use it do my best to make this feeling possible for others.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reggaeton videos are hilarious.

With access to TV for the first time in 6 months, while Jenny and I were travelling I got to see some Reggaeton music videos. I find it hilarious that they just seem to do whatever they want, as long as they hit the standards of 1) women dancing in very little clothing, 2) artists dancing with those women, and 3) artists posing together in front of a solid color -or slightly designed- background.

As you can see from this video, after hitting the above points they basically just do random stuff. My favorite is the guy doing the one-arm-dance-move-thing (and, actually, sorta legitimately pulling it off):

Here's the video.

For a comparison, check out the video posted below, which is a much more innocent version (ie, more clothing) but still mostly gets are the same ideas.

Mi Niña Bonita

I just got back last week from 2 weeks of vacation around Honduras with Jenny. I have a lot of ideas that, en teoría, I'd like to turn into blog posts, but por mientras here's a cute music video that was saw on our trip and got stuck in my head:

Also, check out the photos from our trip (which I spent an hour two in a Tegus internet cafe yesterday uploading) here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Can Santa even carry this much hair gel?

Christmas is coming up (all the writing tutors I've learned from would say not to start with such a generic opening...). Starting tomorrow, the tíos and tías go on vacation, and all the high school and college kids --and us volunteers-- take over watching the kids through the año nuevo.

Buying presents for the kids over the last few days turned out to be an interesting process. The questions that it raises are surprisingly tough: how do you find a balance between giving presents in a way that stimulates their excitement, but without being too over-the-top or making them think that you're just here to buy stuff. On other words, somewhere between making them feel excited (which is certainly a worthwhile thing to do), while also making the present part of some larger process of growth.

After brainstorming a variety of ideas, Leila and I laid out the best possibilities in a spectrum, from 'Most short-term/most obnoxious' to 'Most long-term/most emotionally meaningful'. In order, my options were:

-Hair Gel (they love their spiky hair here)
-Boxers with cartoon characters/soccer logos on them
-Printing photos of the kids that I've taken
-Photo albums in which to put those, and future, photos

With Leila's help, I ended up with the photos and photo albums, and candy. We decided that the candy would last short term; then, even if many of them wouldn't be thrilled with a photo album, if it could be meaningful for a few kids, that would still be better than something that loses its meaning for everyone after a week.

I'm scared that it will be a less popular choice in the short term, but I guess learning to keep in mind and work towards that long-term growth is part of why I'm here...

But then Leila came up with how I could also get hair gel cheap, thereby cementing both the meaningless and deep sides of my Christmas gift. Which is how I ended up with this:
It's something like 10 pounds of hair gel (which I'll split into little containers for each of the 23 kids). It's so big, there's actually another normal size hair gel container suspended inside this one.

Well, ¡Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Every once in a while...

Every once in a while, I find myself in a situation that makes me feel 'This is really cool'.

The other night, sitting at our volunteer house picnic table, eating a homemade bagel with strawberry jam, drinking a beer, and reading good poetry, was one of those moments.

So I tried to take a picture:
And, to prove that it was good poetry (though I should be reading more poetry in Spanish- any good ideas?), here's one of the Langston Hughes poems I was reading:

Juke Box Love Song

I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day--
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.