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Living in two countries that are so starkly different, I have found it difficult to really put into words how having a life between the two feels. I love both Honduras and the United States for different reasons, but each time I leave one for the other, I feel like it is a betrayal. When I go to the United States, I feel a huge sense of guilt that I can go there and back to Honduras so easily when so many in Honduras want to do the same and cannot. When I leave the United States for Honduras, I don’t know how to explain to my friends and family in the states who love me so much that something about the American system and bureaucracy stifles me and makes me feel like an outsider. It is hard to see the repercussions of American government and businesses in Honduras and not feel nauseous about how rich Americans live at the cost of other countries living in poverty. I have had the education and the opportunities to do the things I do because of being an American. I feel so blessed, but at the same time, I feel guilty that someone else in the world did not have my education and opportunities. In a lot of ways, my knowledge about American foreign policy has made me hate, not only my country, but myself for belonging to it. When I travel, I try to adapt to the countries I go, pretending I am not American, or that I am somehow different than other Americans. I have an embarrassment for the privilege I have had and for how my fellow countryman act when they do travel to other countries. I am not the only one; I read in an article by Business Insider that American tourists are repeatedly voted the worst in the world, not only by other countries, but by other Americans. These thoughts have consumed me for years now, to the point they unhealthily seep into my interactions with other Americans who I judge and condemn. I find myself wanting to detach completely from this country, to forge a new identity, and yet, I am drawn back to it because it is my home. It is hard to explain this feeling of being outside, not really fitting in anywhere as a native.

Several times I have asked others about my sense of guilt. How to deal with it, what it means, what I should do, etc. I recently received the answer from a stranger leading a women’s discussion group on sacred silence who responded to my question without me even asking it. This stunning women with beautiful curly white/blonde hair framing a heart shaped face of wisdom saw inside me a struggle and dissolved the pain it was causing me in only a few minutes. Her words made me see that we are all beautiful and unique in our individual worlds, that it is appreciating privilege that is important, not whether you have it or not, that Honduras is a place for me to find satisfaction and joy in what I am doing, and the United States is a place to refill doing the things I love I am unable to do there, like dancing, so I can go back. Each country provides what I need so that I can feel full. I do not have to choose one over the other or feel bad when I am in the states. Living two different lives is a blessing that I can be grateful for. I am American, and I can be proud of the American I have become, a woman who enjoys traveling and loving others all over the world.

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I was standing in water with a stranger from Paraguay who was quickly becoming my friend over blueberry ice cream and travel stories when peppers started coming my way. Reds, greens, big ones, small ones floating along the river. Too fast to be rescued as they bobbed along. “There’s one!” I grabbed it and held it like a precious jewel. Yes, I had a treasure in my hand, a bright green pepper. I was determined to catch another. “Don’t do it. You can’t get it. Your going to slip,” she said. But I was determined, and that is how I lost my pink flip flops in the river floating along with the reds and the greens far far away.

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I walk along side a world I do not feel I fit into. Sometimes I think I am a foreigner in my own body. I have never really melded in quite right, a little too much or too little this or that. I live in a world of utopian ideals which when burst too many times lead me to be a bit grouchy at the world retreating within my shell to regroup. “Why don’t you just cooperate?!” I often cry out in frustration shaking my fist at an unknown source. I find the most peace in watching trees, and I feel like they are my friends waiting for me to die some day so I can nourish their roots and become part of them growing towards the sun. Human life seems small and unimportant to me when I look at myself as separate from everything in the world, but when I start to see my connection to the trees, birds, nature, the universe, I begin to feel an important part of a beautiful whole.

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(Photo borrowed from Naomi Hattaway)

When you are a traveler you do become a bit of a foreigner to those who choose to stay put either in the places you came from or those you go to. You are a rebel to the normal flow of things. You can connect, but you will soon also detach, and when you settle, you will be changed from the person you were, a foreigner in your own home town or to the place you end up. I recently read a blog post by Naomi Hattaway titled I Am a Triangle and Other Thoughts on Repatriation about ex-patriots and travelers being triangles in a world of circles and squares. It clicked with me this idea of me being a triangle. I like all the different shapes we make, the characteristics that make us each unique.

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I enjoyed the company of interesting, thoughtful people from all over the globe this week opening my mind to new reflections and perspectives and reminding me to enjoy simple things like walking barefoot with a pepper in my hand. One of the most enjoyable moments for me was sitting over a homemade dinner with three girls from such different cultural backgrounds from me, from Paraguay, China, and the southern United States, which might as well be a different country when comparing it to the United State’s northwest where I grew up. Each of these girls were so beautiful and thoughtful, and they shared a night with me that reminded me why change is good. Opening up to change is learning at light speed, and as an old couchsurfing friend used to say, “Beth Ann, you are on the fast train.” So here I go again…I am hopping on the train.

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I have never been much of a fútbol (soccer) or sports fan because I find games boring to watch on TV. I love watching from the stands, but here in Honduras, you feel like you are in the stands when you watch fútbol. People dress in soccer shirts and paint the colors of the flag on their cheeks. Blue and white flags are waving from cars as they go by. Even if you don’t have a TV, you can still follow the game by listening to your neighbors. You know if you hear them scream “Goooollll!!!” you can expect some fireworks to follow.

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I was lucky enough to spend a day visiting my Spanish instructor at her new home exploring their land, learning about the trees and plants that sustain them, and enjoying good food. I discovered giant lemons exist the size of cantaloupes, and I came home from a relaxing day amongst plants and good company to make fresh-squeezed lemonade. This family takes such pride in their land, and I could spend all day learning about it and being amongst the nature. Honduras is so rich with resources, delicious foods surrounding you waiting to be enjoyed and providing breathtaking scenery with their lush greenery.

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I had a lovely couchsurfer from China visiting, and I was so proud of her getting up and dancing even though she was nervous as it was her first time salsa dancing. She was a beautiful, sweet, insightful, and a blast to have around. One of these days our paths will cross again.

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Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, was a lovely celebration of remembrance and gathering at the cemetery. Sadness and mourning were replaced by the joys of eating traditional Honduran food, listening to live music, and passing the time in good company, showing respect for the dead by living.

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What would Halloween me without a nymph and a phoenix? Pre-party…We saw some of the best costumes that night…My personal favorites were the piñata heads.🙂

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(Photo borrowed from Society of Biology)

As a young girl, I used to go to a horse camp during the summer. Occasionally, I would receive mail, and as part of camp fun, those who received letters or packages would have to do embarrassing things like sing in front of everybody before they would be given their mail. One thing you might be asked to do is lie on your back and pretend to be a dying cockroach. I was often asked to do this never really knowing what a cockroach looked like or how it died, only observing others and doing the same. Here in Honduras, I have witnessed not only cockroaches dying, but several different varieties of beetles. These insects all dying with their legs in the air that used to terrify me have now become a source of fascination to me, especially the dung beetle.

I see dung beetles’ too heavy bodies trying to fly through the air, running into walls, without any clear destination, often crash landing in the most dangerous and inconvenient locations, their bodies too heavy to fly efficiently. They struggle to move from one area to another, completely chaotic in their journey. Most often, I will see the beetle a day later lying on its back in the dying cockroach form, legs frantically scrambling, hopelessly trying to flip back on its feet. As the hours pass, eventually the movement slows, the beetle too tired to make any further effort, but if you just nudge it, again the legs will be moving as though that touch rekindled a sense of hope.

At first, I used to sweep these bugs out the door, but after watching them on a daily basis, I have begun to see how they struggle, sometimes taking days to die, and I have developed empathy for them. Yes, empathy. These hard-shelled bugs that look so tough seem to be rendered helpless so easily. Several times I have flipped them back over on their stomachs hoping they would crawl away, but once they have been vulnerable and on their back their chances of survival are slim. No matter how many times I flip them over, sometimes every few seconds, they will eventually fall onto their backs again, legs in the air struggling. Yet, I cannot help but try to flip them over again even knowing their fate. Sometimes I wonder if it would be kinder to kill them knowing they will inevitably die, but I cannot bring myself to do it, so I just keep flipping them over, hoping one of them will walk away.

It is amazing to me that the dung beetle, which can pull 1,141 times its own weight, making it the strongest insect and animal on earth in comparison to body weight, can be so incredibly weak. It makes it hard to believe they can live for a year or more as I look at them in this state. Supposedly, they are so vulnerable in a house because of the lack of things to grab onto. In the wild, with plants surrounding them, they can right themselves by grabbing on to leaves and branches, so I have started returning them back to their natural habitat hoping then they might have a chance.

I see their struggle very human. I feel we too, once damaged or set back, flail with our feet in the air, maybe not literally, but definitely figuratively. We flounder about trying to balance ourselves. A beetle may take several days to die in this state, but we as humans take years, decades, sometimes recovering, but very often slowly dying, unable to see a way out. Once back on our feet, we then have to rebuild the muscles and learn again how to walk, sometimes making embarrassing mistakes, feeling like a child, vulnerable. I often wonder if I turned a beetle onto its feet again enough times if it would eventually regain the strength to hold itself up and walk away, or if I am too late and the lack of effective leg use while on its back has rendered the dung beetle helpless.

Observing the dung beetle makes me think of humans and their own suffering thresholds, their own living and dying. I believe there is a threshold of human suffering for each individual which if reached can render them helpless and dead spiritually, emotionally and/or physically, but there is always that last minute spark that can save them as well. Each person is different, but I feel we all have this threshold, and so I ask myself several questions which I now propose to you. What is that threshold that renders you helpless? How many times must people be supported after rendered helpless before they can stand on their own again? How many people will observe someone suffering and do nothing? Who will be the one to do something? What is that threshold where empathy and compassion turn to effective action and the people of the world truly live out their full potential? I think of these questions as I look at the dung beetle, and I wonder what my own thresholds are and how much support I need to regain my strength once I fall. Life’s struggles and its purpose are a mystery to me, but I feel the answers lie in reconnecting with the nature that surrounds us which humans so often claim to be above or better than. When you look deeply at the nature around you, you will find honest reflections of yourself.

Other blog post on suffering threshold I found interesting: The Value of Suffering and the Importance of Suffering Thresholds

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Love That Whispers Smiles Through Trees

I sat noticing only the passing of time
Lost in the chatter of a world unable to be silent and listen
I longed to stand to ease the discomfort of sitting
My body atrophied by lack of motion

Her little heart connected to mine
A pulsating surge of blood
Muscle memory remembered
The love that whispers smiles through trees

Wings reached out
Touching the wind that carries the soul
Stranded leaves floated amongst sunlit dreams
Waiting for death’s release

To return as a tree
Rooted in the knowledge of it is
Strong in the wisdom that it was
Growing steadily towards the hope of it will be

I wrote this thinking about one of my journeys back to Copán by bus after a long flight. I couldn’t stand sitting any longer, and so I stood for the last two hours, my head hanging out the window, truly feeling for the first time a sense of appreciation for the journey that I had so often dreaded due to its length. Looking outside the bus, I could see a different world than I had seen before when I had only viewed the outside looking through dirty windows. The beautiful lush greenery came alive, the rustling of the wind was a steady white noise invoking a sense of peace like running water. I turned around at one point, to look back into the bus I had perceived my prison, and I saw a little girl smiling so completely, so honestly at me that I smiled back, and our two hearts connected. She continued to watch me several minutes, standing in the isle instead of sitting with her parents. Each time I looked back, she was smiling.

One time I searched for her, and she was no longer there, and I felt something missing without her bright, joyous presence. I turned my head to peer back out through the window at the rolling landscape only to see a little heart shaped face looking at me a few windows down with an even more luminous smile, filled with pride that she too was now part of a world beyond the confines of the old man-made bus. Together we smiled at the nature surrounding us, the wind thanking us with its cooling breeze, occasionally looking to each other and widening both our smiles two-fold with the happiness of knowing another was feeling what each of us was feeling, to be so sure that in this moment, we were as humans should be, a part of nature instead of separate within our metal box.

Eventually, we did not look to each other as much. Instead we looked to the trees and mountains, satisfied enough to sense the other presence and wanting to soak it all in. The time came for the little girl to leave, only a few stops before my own, and as she left the bus, she turned to me and smiled again, as did her parents, waving to me as they left. Every few steps she would look back, smile, and wave as the bus slowly pulled away, continuing on its journey, and I would do the same. As she disappeared from view, I felt a part of me was left with her and a part of her left with me to fill the space. Together, we had shared the peace of true being, a moment of pure happiness I would never forget nor would she.

Traveled back to the states for some wedding fun and of course dancing…

“We can dance if we want to…

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We can leave your friends behind…

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‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance…

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Well they’re no friends of mine…

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I say, we can go where we want to…

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A place where they will never find…

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And we can act like we come from out of this world…

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Leave the real one far behind…

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And we can dance.”

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Men Without Hats-“The Safety Dance”

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When I came to Honduras in January, my intention was not to stay here. I was supposed to leave in March after studying Spanish for a month in Copán Ruinas and working in Catacamus with a Healing the Children orthopedic surgery medical brigade . I almost did not come at all. The truth is I was so terrified to travel to this small Central American country because of all the negative articles people sent me about it being “the murder capital of the world” that the day I was supposed to leave I was pale, shaking, and near vomiting. People had convinced me that going to Honduras would be my death sentence. It was the first time after going all over the world that I was nervous to travel somewhere. I was near panic attack, especially by the time I was on my second flight, which they almost kicked me off of because I was so ill upon boarding. All of this seems humorous now that I am living here.

At the beginning of this year, I found a journal in Powell’s Books in Portland, OR called The Happiness Project: One Sentence Journal-A Five-Year Record. Although a simple idea, the concept is a beautiful: To every day think of something, sum it up in a sentence (or in my case two or three), and write it down. Looking back at what I wrote before, during, and after my journey to Honduras, I remember the importance of me writing those words down. They gave me the conviction to do what I set out to do without fear and to come to this special place that I now call home.

1/24/2013: “I want to get at the root of human suffering, not to ‘heal’ or stop it, but to change our perspective of it so that we can understand and learn from it.”

1/25/2013: “‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself.’ There is no better time for me to go than now. If not now, when? I must go where the universe leads me so I can learn what it has to teach me.”

1/26/2013: “Follow through with what you set out to do; if you face your fears, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.”

1/27/2013: “Today, I woke up to the music of tropical birds singing from the mountain forest tops lit up with the fiery pink sun rising.”

In Honduras, I have learned to appreciate what I have so much more. Even the simple life I am living here is really not all that simple in comparison to most people. My old life in the United States just seems extravagant, unnecessary, and completely disconnected from the rest of the world now. Of course, at times, I miss going to plays and musicals, dancing like crazy throughout the whole week, eating out at the latest foodie find, and going second hand shopping, not because I need something, but because I want something new and hip. Looking back on this lifestyle, I feel like all this was the static in my life. The noise. The desire to keep busy busy because sitting still was so completely undesirable. I was always moving on to the next thing, one after the other. Really, it was exhausting…wonderfully fun and crazy exhilarating, but exhausting, and I always felt so restless. I would not trade any of those days in the states; they were a blast, but I enjoy the contentment I find here. I could live a similar life here as a tourist if I wanted to, but the truth is I feel a greater sense of self embracing the locals and their slow pace.

I am no longer part of the money making bureaucracy that is the medical system in America which morally and ethically was killing my soul and spirit. My paid work now consists of writing, a dream I have had for years. I volunteer as a nurse with some of the spunkiest and inspiring bad ass nurses I have ever met and take care of patients who treat me with respect and appreciate my services. Their problems are not primarily caused by self induced obesity, but instead a lack of nutrition and resources they desperately need. I see how important it is for people to share and to let people help you, not because you need help but because people feel good when they can help someone, when they have something worthwhile to offer as well. It is funny I have learned this lesson in a place where it seems my help is so necessary, but in the end I find people are really helping me, helping me to see what is most important in life, and perhaps, I am the most needy of all. People who have hardly anything give me more than I have ever been willing to give to others even when I was at my richest financially. They will give you their best food and drink even if that means they have none. They may not be able to afford a gift, but whatever form of work they have they will offer to do for free as thank you. At first, Hondurans saw me as a tourist with money, but now they see me as a friend and their neighbor, and that is where the roots of a good relationship lie.

I found my home here, not in the house I am living in, but in a little house for children. Casita Copán is what has given me roots for the first time. There is something about this place that helps me see the world more clearly. The children are constant reminders of what it means to live in the present. Their smiling faces that light up when they see me make my heart glow. Their little arms surrounding me with endless supply of love and devotion is more than I could ever think to ask for in this life. My day is instantly brightened when I see them outside of their day care in the street walking with their mothers. The first sign they are near is a loud cry of “Betty!” and then the pitter-patter of little feet on pavement running towards me ready to jump into my arms. I love these children as my own. They plug a hole in my heart and then fill me up until I am bursting with an energy for life I did not previously have. Every day is one spent thinking of what I can do for them because they give me so much, and not just the children, but the wonderful women who work with them as well. They remind me of a feminine power and strength I often forget within myself.

The In Her Shoes Challenge is coming up on October 6th which is to help support this loving home for children, and I would love your support in fundraising for Casita Copán. If you want to know a little more about them, here is a brief snapshot of the wonderful things they do. Casita Copán is an organization in Copán Ruinas, Honduras that provides day car services for single mothers who are living in poverty and are working usually 6 days out of the week only to make about $21 for that week to support their whole family. In Honduras, which is already one of the poorest countries, this is a below poverty wage, meaning without the help of Casita, these children most likely would not be attending school and would have very unbalanced diets leading to malnourishment and poor development. I will be eating with only $21 for one week to join in solidarity with others to raise funds for the families of Casita Copán. Casita Copán makes sure the children receive meals, follow good hygiene, have clothes/shoes/school supplies and get to school, finish their homework, and have a loving and caring environment to be at while their mothers are working. Instructors provide extra classes for children to advance literacy and also do various excursions/activities with the children. Also, mothers of the children, most of whom cannot read or write, are receiving free literacy classes. Casita also pays for medical needs of the mothers and children. The In Her Shoes Challenge donations which can be made online here are to help fund all these services. Casita Copán is a non-profit and relies on continuous donations and grants to function. Future programs that these funds will help with are domestic violence support groups, business skills classes, cooking classes, and health education classes for the mothers. Casita’s main goal is to keep children with their mothers while providing them with the support they need so that they can be healthy loving families and have positive futures.

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