I’ve been in El Porvenir, Honduras, for almost a week now, and yet somehow it feels like a month. I settled in to my new home — a volunteer house right on the beach that I currently share with six other volunteers — very quickly, and slowly but surely got accustomed to the classes and teaching methods.
The volunteer house is relatively spacious and clean, and I have my own room (and bathroom!) until more volunteers arrive in the next few weeks. We have no air conditioning or hot water, and we share the building with several species of insects (and a few miscellaneous rats), but we have a multitude of fans and a working kitchen, so I can’t complain. Plus, when one gets bored, one can always count the geckos on the wall in the common room.
El Porvenir is a town of 5,000 -7,000 people (depending on who you ask) on the North coast of Honduras. Just driving down the main street, one can see a wide range of types of homes: some look far nicer than many homes in the U.S., and others are scarcely recognizable as dwellings. (More on this wealth discrepancy in future posts.)
The first weekend I was here happened to coincide with Honduras’s Carnaval, which is an annual festival held in La Ceiba, a city near El Porvenir. The celebrating begins at least a week before the actual festival day, and a large parade is held on the day of the festival. In 2008, the festival attracted over 500,000 people, making it the largest celebration of its kind in Honduras. Several volunteers and I travelled to La Ceiba to see the parade, along with 499,998+ of our Honduran neighbors. The parade was fascinating: almost everything ran behind schedule, several trucks couldn’t turn the corner to get to the parade street without practically running spectators over, everything was loud and boisterous, and the street was awash in colors. To me, it was as beautiful as it was exhausting.
We went grocery shopping as well, which was a welcome piece of normalcy for me. We go to La Colonia for groceries, which is a nice, air-conditioned, generic-looking supermarket in La Ceiba. Except for the fact that everything was in Spanish, and I had to do a lot of mental math to get used to using Lempiras instead of US dollars, it felt like I was grocery shopping at home. That may seem like a very small thing, but it meant a lot to me in my slightly overwhelmed and culture-shocked state.
In town, there are many restaurants and pulperias at which one can buy food. One restaurant is right across the street from the volunteer house I live in. They sell baleadas (an amazing flour tortilla with beans, egg, and your choice of onions, avocado, and/or chicken) at this restaurant for 18 lempiras per baleada. Since the exchange rate is 23 lempiras to the US dollar, this could be very dangerous for my diet. So far, though, I’ve managed to pace myself.
One of my favorite things here is having the opportunity to practice my Spanish every day. Overall, the people I’ve met are very willing to help you learn, and they don’t laugh (much) when you mess up. I knew before coming that the best way to improve would be to practice all the time, without feeling nervous or awkward for speaking around people who are native Spanish speakers. While this can be difficult sometimes, overall I have been doing my best to adopt this attitude. Learning my students’ names, ordering in Spanish, and communicating in class largely in Spanish have helped me to improve, even in just a week.
This makes me excited for the end of my two months here, and for how much I will learn and grow over that span of time — in my Spanish skills and in everything else.