Friday, October 10, 2008

Ay, La Mochilera Que Soy (Ah, the Backpacker I am)'s been about a month since my last post...I apologize. BUT this month has been FILLED with various travels and so I haven't had the time to sit down and write. In fact, I am currently in Costa Rica sitting in the host house of my friend Brian Orr from Hopkins...small world eh?

I think I'll just update you on my travels and that will bring some good Jo stories. First, about 2 weeks ago I flew to Roatan, the island, to review the work of the 8 women who I had trained in jewelry making last August. Seeing them again was refreshing because we grew very close in those 2 weeks. I got to spend sometime with one of the ladies who turned in her supplies because she wasn't going to continue on with the project. Why you ask? Well, she was pregnant and about to have her C-section the next day. Nothing personal, she said. I was really excited for her though and we spent some time discussing how she was feeling. She was nervous...a 19-year-old who would longer have the independence she once did. Nervous that the baby might be born with HIV. Nervous that the surgery would hurt. All normal fears for a woman living with HIV. I can remember her in the workshop in August, very pregnant, moody, and with an attitude of a teenager--swearing and throwing garbage in any direction. And looking at her now, I could tell she had matured in the last few weeks, with the recognition of her new role as mother. She still has a lot of maturing to do...but a part of me is looking forward to learning how someone grows with a life-change like that, watching the good it might bring, the difficulties it might bring, the frustrations and the blessings.

After that trip I returned to Siguatepeque for a few days, and then I was off to Copan Ruinas. This quaint little city is the home to the Mayan ruins in Honduras and famous cobblestone streets with some crazy-looking red taxi "cabs." I was able to stay with a friend of a Hopkins friend (thank you Jessie McKenzie) who is now living in Copan to carry out her Fulbright Fellowship (I know!) It was such a blessing to meet Therese and her boyfriend Graham and learn about her work here in Honduras. For those of you who know I applied for a Fulbright to the DR (and was rejected), it was really good for me to hear her process and experiences and ideas. It was definitely helpful...especially when she told me the Fulbright winners for the Dominican Republic were all masters students (which obvi made me feel better at least, hehe).

The majority of my time in Copan, however, was spent at the annual Project Honduras Conference, where organization that work between the US and Honduras come to share their experiences, and of course, NETWORK. I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to give a presentation during the NGO panel. I was definitely nervous...I think I was one, if not the, youngest person to present, but I think it went pretty well. I spoke about the organization, our variety of projects, clinical services, and then more specifically our microenterprises and my work in Siguatepeque and Roatan. I was the only speaker about HIV/AIDS in Honduras so a lot of people had questions for me and it opened up some good conversations and networking.

Apart from presenting and that going well, I have to say that there were a lot of things that bothered me about the conference as well. The theme of the conference was "Millenium Development Goal 8: Buiding Global Partnerships"...a good theme for an international US-Honduran conference. One presentation on this topic was really helpful in discussing cross-cultural communication, which is something really difficult for Americans and Hondurans a lot of times, including myself (see last posting, haha). But, the ironic--and disappointing--part of the conference, was that we were in Copan Ruinas, Honduras (an Americanized tourist town), primarily conducted in English (headphones with translator for Spanish-speakers), and the majority were Americans talking about their work in Honduras instead of a discussion between Hondurans and Americans about their mutual work together in the country. And why is that? Well, first, Project Honduras is an internet-based initiative...connecting people far away via new technology that is isn't easily available to all Hondurans, and therefore they haven't heard of it. Second, it costs $135 simply to attend the conference, not including cost of hotels, transportation, and extra food. While that is not the fault of the initiative...after all, conferences do COST money to put on and it IS a great opportunity to learn about the different projects going on in Honduras and work together to accomplish certain goals. However it just seemed a bit frustrating to me that Hondurans can't afford to attend a conference about work in their own country, and if they can, those who don't speak English are at a disadvantage and may not be able to understand the majority of presentations and workshops. Global Partnerships means the cooperation of two-sides. The listening to local needs and the response of available resources of both Hondurans and Americans to address those needs. I know I'm an American talking, but I've come to really be proud of the fact that I'm part of an organization that is almost completely Honduran staffed and grew out of a local need that was listened to and addressed by Hondurans and Americans together.

After my Copan trip, I was almost straight off to Costa Rica to renew my visa. Yes, I, an American, had 2 days before I became an illegal in Honduras. Ironic, right? But, it's true, and my two options were go to Belize for 2-3 days alone, or go to Costa Rica for a few days to visit Julie and Brian, my Hopkins friends...despite the 17-hour bus ride, I chose Costa Rica. So here I am and it's been wonderful. Costa Rica is significantly more develop than Honduras, more lush and green, and the neighborhoods kind of remind of the LOVELY Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic that I have missed so much. It's been fantastic seeing Julie and Brian...sharing in our new lives and experiences. Yesterday I went to the Abraham Project with them and did some work as they gave their math tutoring lessons. It was almost surreal, watching them in this new, different environment outside of Hopkins. They are the first familiar faces I have seen in 4 months, yet I'm seeing them so out of the element that we are used to. We have changed but I feel I may have changed the most. I think about my life in Honduras and tell them about my work and realize that I've grown up a lot, have an altered outlook on life-planning. They've been a reminder of my structured, academic Hopkins life, which is actually refreshing after such a lack in intellectual stimulation over the last couple months. Julie mentioned today on the bus into San Jose that so many of our friends are in grad school stressing over tests and the beginning of med school. I thought about that for a moment and realize how removed my life is from academics these days. Academics was MY life. And it will be again at some point soon. But right now, it's as if my life has dramatically shifted from the academic "tunnel vision" to the practical realities of a non-linear life plan. Things happen in life. And sometimes those things--jobs, babies, sicknesses--make turns in the road. Now before I scare my parents, I do plan on going to grad school, pursuing an MPH and maybe an MSW and I'm sure by that time I'll be craving the intellectual academic stimulation and craving a "real job" (although I feel like my current job is more in touch with "reality" than many others). But maybe that won't be next year. And that's okay...because, as my mother said to me before I graduated, life is no longer linear.