December Update 3: Cayos Cochinos

One of my biggest goals to do before I left Honduras was to go to Cayos Cochinos, a collection of islands and Cays off the coast of Honduras. Well with just a few weeks left until I leave I packed up my bag and headed off to paradise for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s. I had worried that there wouldn’t be any buses on the 26th but, silly me, didn’t realise Honduras is pretty much back to normal the day after Christmas. 

So I headed to a La Ceiba – straight away it seemed so strange to travelling without my travel buddy Laura! Although we drove each other crazy at times I really got used to waiting in bus stations and sitting next to Laura on countless buses in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. So it was quite lonely to travel without her. A lot of people were shocked also when I told them I was going to travel by myself but I didn’t want to visit Utila again, where Julia has gone, so I braved the trip sola. I stayed in a hostel in La Ceiba before heading to Cayos and met a couple of people from the States and Austria so had a nice meal in a bar with them. There was a live band and four people showing off their ass shaking moves – a gringo also got up to sing a traditional Honduras song which was pretty cool! 

The next day I headed to Sambo Creek where my boat to the Islands was leaving from – I had found a package deal with all my accommodation, food and 3 dives included. As we came up to the islands I was amazed at how bright the sand was on each island. The Cay we stayed on was so basic – there was no running water or electricity. There was only one light on the whole island which was in the kitchen of the main cabana which was solar powered and on my second day there wasn’t much sun – so no light. In the picture below, I stayed on the second cay from the bottom – the one nearest to the bottom is home to a Garifuna village and you could actually walk from island to island: 

There was a main house on the island with two bedrooms and then 3 cabanas with 2 bedrooms each. While I was staying there, there was also a group from Tegus I got to know – I even knew one of the girls already from Julia’s project! Honduras really is tiny! The food was really typical Honduras – fried chicken or fish with frijoles and rice. I did freak out a little at the hygiene as there was very little clean water on the island but I just had to get on with it as that is what island living is! 😀 The first night we also had a bonfire with marshmallows which was really fun – I also spent a loooong time looking up at the stars, there were so many and they were so clear 😀 

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The second day of my trip I went scuba diving – my only time diving was in a swimming pool at Centre Parcs! So definitely a little bit different. I was quite nervous at first but we started on a beach so I could ease into it – it was amazing to go down and see the fish. At some points huge schools of fish were swimming right next to me which felt really surreal. Our next dive was out at sea and I was super scared to do a James Bond style backwards fall off the boat with this huge, heavy tank of oxygen on my back but it was fine. The third dive was my favourite – we went to see a plane that had crashed into the water about 15 years ago. It was amazing to see how the coral had overtaken it and it almost blended into the rest of the reef with plants all over it and fish swimming around it. My diving instructor opened the door to the plane and there was even so many plants in there – it was seriously cool!! I’m so glad I went diving and I think I got it a lot cheaper than if I’d gone from Utila or Roatan – especially as I had a one on one lesson, rather than as a group.

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That afternoon I went to the island next to us which is a Garifuna village – it is amazing how a community can exist on such a small island. Around 150 people live there, 100 being children, and almost the whole island is made up of their houses. The houses looked really sturdy – as they would need to withstand bad weather, and the only the island’s whole economy survives from fishing and tourism. The island even has a small kindergarten school and the children get a school boat to a nearby island for school after that. I had a walk around the houses and saw people cooking, fishing and playing card games. Everyone looked really happy and relaxed – it was pretty awesome! I didn’t have my camera with me though so I don’t have any pictures from inside the island but I have some from the beach…

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I was meant to stay on the island three nights but the second night it rained and the forecast was looking bad so I left the next day with the family I had met from Tegucigalpa. Before that though we went snorkelling off the island and had some yummy baleadas. We then got completely soaked going across the rough water back to the mainland on a really basic boat. And I then had a bit of a nightmare trying to find a bus going back to Tegucigalpa so I ended up getting one that was quite a bit more than I’d want to pay… but it was unbelievably comfy 🙂 

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So that was my last trip of my year in Honduras – I fly out of Tegus two weeks today and I’m already starting to feel a little emotional. There are so many things I wanted to do before I leave and so many people I need to say goodbye to – I hope I will have time to do at least the most of it. I will try to post as much as possible these next two weeks as I know I’m going to be crazy busy when I get back to England. So have a great New Year everyone and make sure you see 2014 in with a bang 😀 

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December Update 2: Christmas

This year was definitely a different kind of Christmas. There are so many similarities between Christmas at home and Christmas in Honduras, like Christmas trees, lights on houses and presents. But there are also big differences – like the celebration here really start at midnight on the 24th and people stay up into the early hours of the 25th to celebrate. And there is no Boxing day (most people are back at work by the 26th!). And of course, it is more religious for most families. So here is what I got up to…

For the last few years my host sister, Azariah, has organised an event called ‘plato de Jesus’, in which she collects plates of food from people all over Tegus which her and others deliver to people in hospital over the Christmas period. We began preparing the plates at 6pm and left the house around 7.30pm… we then spent the next few hours going around the city collecting plates and then visiting 2 hospitals to give out the food. Due to the divide between the poor and rich in Honduras, people with money use private hospitals so the public hospitals are mainly used by people who have little money. One of the wards we visited was a maternity ward; in one room there must have been about 30 women and they all had to share their bed with their newborn baby as there were no cots for the babies. One of the saddest things I’ve heard about this year was when Laura told me she’d seen a new mother leaving Hospital Escuela (one of the largest public hospitals in Honduras) with her new baby and getting an amarillo, which is the cheapest but most dangerous bus to use in Honduras. It was so sad to think that she didn’t even have enough money to get a taxi home with her newborn baby. A lot of the people we saw in the hospital were very old and weak as well. It was really sad to see people so ill and alone over Christmas but at least we could help them even a little by giving them some food. 

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The next day I headed to the south of Honduras with my host mum, sisters and friends Teddy and Christopher. My host mum’s mum lives in Nacaome and it is also her birthday on the 25th. It is a lot hotter in the south of Honduras than in Tegucigalpa but it has been chillier lately so the heat was actually bearable more of the time! Two of my host mum’s brothers were there and a lot of great grandchildren so it was a lot of fun to see everyone. We had some yummy food, including a traditional Honduras Christmas pudding which I can’t remember the name of but is very different to anything else! And also a piñata which one of the cousins put $100 dollars into, woohoo! It was a really fun day but a very different kind of Christmas day for me.

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I did miss my usual Christmas Day in England with watching the dogs opening their presents, taking them for a walk in the cold and then a big Christmas dinner after. But I managed to skype with my Dad and Grandma and call my mum which was lovely 🙂 And I also received an amazing parcel from my family the day before Christmas with some cards and goodies, thank youu !! 🙂 

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December Update 1: Leaving AYO

I have been so slow to update recently – with Christmas and it getting close to my leaving date I have found myself being quite busy lately! Hopefully today I can post a few updates on what I’ve been up to the last the few weeks…

The first news was the birth of my host brother and his wife’s first baby. Her name is Sua Alejandra and she is unbelievably cute:

A couple of weeks later I had my last week at my project; I can’t believe the time to say goodbye to them came around so fast! It really doesn’t feel like I have been here for a year. On the Wednesday we had a meeting to sum up the results of the year and celebrated all the different teams results. I was given a certificate thanking me for my time at AYO and we also did secret santa. Then the Friday, my last day at the project, I gave a couple of presentations – one showing everyone how to use the website I have made for the project, and one with photos from my year with them and thanking them for their support. The whole week everyone had been telling me to make sure I was free at 12pm that day and we’d be having a party for someone’s birthday. It turned out the party was for me and the other girl who had been volunteering for the past few months to thank us and say goodbye; how lovely is that! We had a barbeque, lots of dancing and they had even bought me some presents. A bag, a diary and an amazing mug with a picture of my team, it was so lovely of them and a really perfect way to say goodbye. I’m going to miss my project so much – especially some really special people like Emma, Lurvin, Estefany, Hector and Kelvin. 

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March for Women’s Rights in Honduras

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Today was one of those days that was a little bit different than usual. Mainly because I went on my first march ever. There are many protests in Honduras, mostly for good causes and mostly peaceful. AYO and other human rights organisations joined together today to march for women’s rights and against the violence they suffer in Honduras. Violence against women is a huge problem in Honduras and the rate of femicides (murder of women) is worryingly high. The Guardian stated last month that a woman is murdered in Honduras every FIFTEEN hours (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/honduras-election-could-woman-lead-high-femicides). There are many different factors contributing to this; poverty, the machismo culture etc., but there is very little being done by the government to make things better. International Women’s Day is a big event in Honduras and I remember Laura marching with her project then (and making it into the newspaper!).

Anyway, we marched today up the main comercial street in the centre of Tegucigalpa, where we shouted some things like ‘women need help… but the government does nothing’ before heading to the Congress building to shout there a little bit more. It was a lot of fun to shout and cheer with everyone watching us – everyone looked interested and a lot of men came up to us to find out more. Then outside of the Congress a band of drummers turned up randomly so the atmosphere became even more amazing and we did some dancing too :D  it was really a lot of fun and I’m so glad I got to take part. See if you can spot the gringa (me, the only white girl in the pics):

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10 things you learn from living abroad

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I never imagined all of the things I would learn from a year abroad – of course I knew I’d be learning a new language, manoeuvring a new city and adapting to cultural differences. But until you have lived abroad you don’t quite realise the amazing number of quirks each culture has. You also get a lesson on your own culture – it is impossible for me to not compare my own country’s culture to the one I am living in; the good and the bad. There are things about Honduras that I can’t wait to say goodbye to (the harrassment from men on the street for one) but there are so many more things that I love and wish I could pack up in my suitcase to bring home with me. It’s just not going to be the same describing things to friends and family at home – like the sexy dancing and how passionately Hondurans talk about every subject. So here are some things I learnt while living abroad in Honduras… 

1. You can’t really learn what a country is about from just a few weeks. Many of the things I’ve learnt about Honduras were after months of settling in; if you only live somewhere for a month or so, or you live by yourself, or you don’t speak the language, how can you learn the little quirks and eccentricities of a culture? I still learn something new every day from watching people at my project, in my family or just in the street. How you address someone you respect, whether you can ask someone who they are voting for or what is an acceptable way to eat. There are just an unbelievable amount of things about a culture you can’t imagine before you get there. 

2. Learning a new language is complex… but you don’t always need it. Unfortunately my Spanish isn’t as good as I would have hoped by the time that I am leaving. But I can get by and I enjoy speaking Spanish, despite the headache is can bring on sometimes. But despite my lack of fluency, I have managed to make amazing friends with people who speak not one word of English. Having someone help you form sentences when neither of you speak the same language can be a lot of fun and helps you to trust someone. And the feeling of reward when you can have a full conversation with someone is enormous. 

3. You will realise aspects of yourself that aren’t just about you… you’re actually more British than you thought (or whatever nationality you might be!). For example, in the UK if you happened to make the mistake of sitting next to an odd, smelly person on the bus, you wouldn’t dream of changing seats even if there were plenty of others available. Otherwise you might just accidentally offend someone you will never see again! But in Honduras there is none of that silly over-politeness. Even you want to change seats on the bus, you just change. Simple. Other British traits that have been a disadvantage to me during the past year: my eagerness to queue, inability to complain to the person I need to and always feeling the need to talk about meaningless subjects, like the weather. 

4. Traditional occasions are celebrated differently. This Christmas will be my first abroad and with people other than my family. I have to admit that my sister and I are quite spoilt at Christmas – we get some nice presents and then a big, fat Christmas dinner. We enjoy spoiling our parents too though, and of course our dogs. This year I won’t be expecting any presents or yorkshire puddings… but instead I will be staying up until 5am Christmas morning and then visiting family and eating lots of traditional Honduran Christmas food. I will also be joining one of my host sisters in giving food to homeless people in the city… how amazing is that. And, thankfully, they love Christmas trees and Christmas lights in Honduras too! 

5. You’ll never understand your second home country completely. There are still so many things about Honduras that I just can’t understand. And I know if I lived here, some things would drive me crazy. This may be due to the large cultural difference between the UK and Honduras but I think it would be true of any country – everywhere has things that are hard to explain to a foreigner. But it makes living abroad an adventure every day; constantly learning and growing in your understanding of a new place. 

6. Making new and exotic friends can be good and bad. I never imagined that I would make so many great friends during my time here – both from Honduras and Europe, through my volunteering organisation. It has been amazing to learn about other cultures, share stories and be invited to visit so many foreign places. But along with new friends, comes more goodbyes. Especially with my host family, I know I won’t see or talk to them anywhere near as much as I would like to. But it’s all part of the experience and so worth the airport tears. 

7. You’ll learn how adaptable you are. Having been here during two volunteer periods (my volunteer organisation sends volunteers for 6 or 12 months at a time), I have been with around 12 different volunteers and every person has had such a different experience. Some people can really adapt and integrate into the culture, whereas others approach their time as being a temporary volunteer in a foreign country; just visiting. Fortunately, I have been more of the former and I have been described as a ‘catracha’ a few times, which is a name for a Honduran woman. 

8. Everyone’s experience is different. I have been quite narrow-minded in my view of Honduras. I love Honduras, truly I just love the country and it’s people so much. And I love travelling and living abroad. But some people don’t love Honduras, don’t have a particular interest in exploring other countries or would hate to live somewhere other than their own country. And for some time, I struggled to understand these other stand points – I thought people who didn’t want to travel and explore were missing out. But I’m missing out too – I see my friend’s Britishy Christmas pictures, I see pictures of my family together and want to cry with jealousy that I’m not there with them, I can’t complain about the weather with everyone I meet. Everyone’s priority list is different so you just have to learn to appreciate another’s persons different list to your own. 

9. Politics are REALLY complicated. And differ in every country. The approach and state of politics are so different in Honduras than in the UK. Obviously, Honduras is a lot less economically stable than the UK but it goes a lot deeper than that. It was a really interesting experience to see the 2013 elections here and it helped me to learn a lot more about the country. Just as a small example, the graffiti on walls here is all about the government and freedom, rather than swearwords and weird letters. There is a wall near the centre of Tegus that has a painting of a stack of dynamite with a tag on saying ‘Para: el gobierno’, which means ‘for the government’. As well as a, really good, painting of a toilet with the word ‘education’ going down the bowl. I just think that’s amazing… people really care about politics here but have little opportunity to express it. 

10. Sharing your own culture is a refreshing experience. It gives you the chance to be passionate and proud of your country, and even encourage you to recognise things you maybe hadn’t seen before. I’ve never been more proud of our posh accents and that English came from England (not the US as some Hondurans think). But also I’ve never been more ashamed of our ungratefulness for our welfare system and social security. I’ve never been more proud of the Royal family and little baby George. But I’m also ashamed of our issues with racism and ignorance. Sharing your own culture can be great though, especially when you’ve got a big bar of Cadbury’s to pass around. 

As I said before, I need to be more open-minded to other people not wanting to travel etc, but I think it is a great experience to live abroad, at least for a couple of months. You can learn so much about a new culture, your own culture and yourself. I have loved almost every moment of my year abroad – someone asked me recently what was my worst day this year. I really couldn’t think of any particular day – of course I’ve been upset a few times but this year I have generally been happier. I wish I could do the whole year again, thank you Honduras. 

I.C.Y campaign

The organisation I am volunteering with recently asked UK volunteers around the world to send in picture of their time abroad with a caption of what they have learnt from their volunteer experience. Here is the finished video (I am around minute 2.15 mark); there are some really inspirational quotes and I really wish I could do an ICYE year all over again!! Unfortunately I actually need to work when I go home next month… 😦

Enjoy! And be inspired! 😀 x

Education

Whether you live in South Africa, the UK or Hondurasm or anywhere else… I don’t think anyone could have missed the fact that Nelson Mandela passed away this week. He is one of those people who you imagine will be around forever inspiring people around the world. It is quite clear from all of the reactions this week that the memory and inspiration of Mandela will live on forever. My favourite quote of his…

Education is at the core of everything we do at my project. This week we had a graduation at my project to celebrate the youths and women that had recently did a computer course with Lurvin. It was a fun day as usual with some emotional speeches, some delicious food and some silly photo taking afterwards. Here are some pics: 

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