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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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I had my first visitor in Honduras! My lovely sister came to visit me, and it was nice to be a tourist again for a week. I ended up visiting places I didn’t even know existed and learning a lot both about myself and this little town I now call my home. It is hard to believe that it has now been a year since I quit my job, and I have been away from Portland, OR traveling and living abroad for that long. I hope others will come to visit me too!

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The drive from San Pedro Sula to Copán Ruinas.

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The Mayan Ruins.

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Waiting for our bus to the Hot Springs.

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The Spiritual Baths at the hot springs.

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Met a new friend at the hot springs!

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Our good luck charm to start the day off right before we hiked around Copán to all the Mayan sites.

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The first stop on an all day trek circling Copán and visiting the sacred check points of the ancient Mayan city.

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Notorious for my problems with customs, this is before I almost got sent to Mexico and after a delicious breakfast in Guatemala. Turns out at the airport they stamped my passport but didn’t say how many days I could stay, and I almost got deported even though it was an error on their part and not my fault. Just my luck. Good thing our guide was able to work his magic, or I might have been coming back to the United States sooner than I expected.

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Yoga and meditation spot at San Lucas.

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Walking up switchbacks to get an amazing view of the city.

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Our guide’s little helper hanging out in the tree.

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From the top of the mountain.

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Walking through cornfields to return to the city.

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At Rastrojón, a newly excavated Mayan site. Incredible this sculpture is still intact.

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Horseback ride in the night.

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My sister and I having a relaxing late breakfast at Café San Rafael.

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My sister was rather popular with the kids at Casita Copán! It was so special to introduce her to all the important people in my life here, and we spent a whole day just hanging out with my Copán friends and family. It made me realize how far my Spanish has come as I was actually able to translate between English and Spanish for a whole day.

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I had a lovely visit in Oregon spending quality time with friends, enjoying Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and relaxing at Gleneden beach with family. I was so inspired by all the people who supported Casita Copán, the non-profit day care and women’s support center I have been volunteering at here in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. So far Casita Copán’s In Her Shoes Challenge has raised $1,841 thanks largely to people in Salem and Portland, Oregon who came to Honduran culture and art fundraising events.

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The In Her Shoes Challenge is more than just a fundraiser and takes donating to the next step of participation and interaction. People who have more fortunate financial circumstances are challenged to feed themselves on the $21 average salary/week of mothers at Casita for one week starting October 6th, 2013 to build solidarity and to receive pledges leading up to the event to help reach the $10,000 goal. This money will help continue the work of Casita Copán and develop new health and education programs for the mothers, children, and other women within the community. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the people donors are giving money to. These women and children may have financial struggles and can use help but those participating in the Challenge can learn something from these people whose culture is rich and beautiful as well. We all have something to share, and I have found that the good and bad aspects of the USA are the opposite here in Honduras. Every day in Honduras, I am reminded what is good about my home country and I appreciate it more while at the same time realizing what I was missing in the USA. It feels good to call a second country home where children are playing in the streets and people still have a connection to the earth that sustains them. Want to join the In Her Shoes Challenge and learn more about Casita Copán? Go to: http://www.crowdrise.com/inhershoespovertychallenge/fundraiser/casitacopaninc

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The last couple of weeks have been a lot of fun at Casita Copan with adventures to the ruins and a movie and popcorn day. I love seeing their little faces light up. Literacy classes have begun for the mothers who are excited to be learning to read and write for the first time. Literacy and time for fun activities are things I often take for granted. I can’t imagine a life without words to express myself or not having the opportunity to venture out into the world and explore. Writing and reading are the doors to imagination. They make dreams and positive change possible.

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It has been some time since I have written on here. Free moments were swallowed up quickly during the month of May. This week is the first in a while where I have chosen to relish solitude. I have had little time to absorb it all and process the direction my life is going. Sometimes, everything seems so clear and full of purpose. Other times, I feel like I am exerting a whole lot of energy for nothing and want to throw my hands up in the air. In Honduras, I am free to do many things I could not in the states, but sometimes feel trapped by the endless possibility and find myself hoping someone will tell me what the next step is. Often, I feel oppressed as a female. In the USA, I feel limited by the complex systems and bureaucracy, but am free to express myself and act as I please without constant judgement. I find that what is good in one place can be bad in another and vice versa. There really isn’t a perfect home, and so, I am split between two. What I dislike about the USA, I find here, and what I like about the USA, is not to be found in Honduras. The irony of it all only validates for me that life is one big cosmic joke.

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I have had my share of creepy crawlies the past month in Honduras with a house full of ticks that required fumigation and a spider bigger than my hand that chased me around the house until I brought her life to an end with a garbage can.

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Sometimes my little neighbors drive me nuts, these children who are always yelling, “Betty! Betty! Betty!” at the gate all hours of the day. But when I choose to let them in, I find I also enjoy their company. They remind me to relax and not be so serious as we play hangman, make cookies, or knock mangoes out of the trees to enjoy while rocking in the hammocks. When these Honduran children are in my home screaming and running with Diego barking after them, all is chaos, and it reminds me of family get-togethers at home, and I have to smile.

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I enjoy my work with Casita Copan more than anything I do here, the children have so much love to give, and I feel like I am overflowing when I leave. The women that work there are so wise and strong, calm and collected. I find I learn much from them.

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Working in the clinic is a way to stretch myself in different ways. Here, a nurse is many things. One day I will be doing injections, basic intake of blood pressures, weights, and heights, and making arts projects and another day organizing paperwork, handing out prescriptions, going door to door vaccinating, and making laboratory slides. Some days are spent drinking coffee, enjoying each others company and a good laugh over things like me attempting to translate English songs into Spanish and then sing them.

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My Spanish is daily improving thanks to my wonderful instructor and friend. She teaches me more than just the language but about the culture as well, guiding me through the confusing or upsetting differences that I have trouble understanding and accepting. Whether I am sick, my house is infested by blood-suckers, I am having problems with men, or I am overwhelmed, her and her family find a way to remind me I am not alone and have people who care about me here. She is often a source of stability amongst all the uncertainty while being in a foreign country. Her generosity is a comfort, and her list of sassy responses demanding respect from men harassing me in the streets is invaluable.

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I have a friend here who has been showing me some of the most beautiful parts of Copan. The natural landscapes and rivers that speak to your heart and the quiet restaurants and cafes where one can feel relaxed and at home. These have been my best moments, exploring Copan’s hidden treasures with someone whose company and conversation I enjoy so much. Our time together has inspired me to write beautiful poetry and self-reflect on my journey and character.

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Going “home” felt foreign. I found comfort when I encountered people who spoke Spanish. Blues dancing, which I have missed so much, had a sense of melancholy, as most of the people I enjoyed dancing with were not there. I had more fun dancing with my mirror companion to the blues than with others. I went salsa dancing but found my salsa skills weren’t so hot anymore as I have stopped dancing in Copan due to the unwanted male attention. Dancing was once my addiction, but when it lead to me being perceived as a sexual object in Copan, the joy I once found in it began to fade. My best dance moments while in Oregon were dancing to funk and electronic music because there was no expectation to dance with others, only to feel the beat of the music and move my body in response. In the end, I found more joy in catching up with friends and family.

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I am not sure how many times I have moved these last couple of years, but now, I only possess enough to take in one truck load wherever I choose to go next. Going home and clearing out the rest of my stuff from my friend’s home was a daunting task. I found in the end it was easier to let my stuff go instead of trying to find a new home for it. I kept the pieces of wall art from my travels and my books, but most everything else got sent to Goodwill. I thought I would be sad, but instead, I feel that a huge weight is now off my shoulders. Finding a home for my cat was the most difficult part. I adopted him when no one else would and nursed him back to health. They told me he would probably only live one year, and he has been alive for four. How could I desert him or take him to a shelter again when he has come this far. I felt like an irresponsible, selfish mother. My sister was kind enough to adopt him into her home, and I am happy to hear he is adapting well but wish he could be here with me cuddling on my bed.

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I had a lovely time at the beach while in Oregon, enjoying the weekend wedding event of an old friend and his love. It was honestly the best part of my trip, being with one of my closest friends from college, seeing faces from high school days, dancing, drinking, and conversing with interesting and inspiring people. I miss the ocean and the calming certainty it gives. I love the Oregon coast and all the memories I have there. This non-traditional wedding was so sincere and honest, full of laughter and joy, just as a wedding should be.

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The biggest blessing I have in this life are my friends and family. You stretch across the globe and embrace me from afar. And the truth is I always have a friendly face somewhere thinking of me. Going to Portland and returning to Copan, I realize that neither is better than the other, only different, and I am happy to know I have many places I can call home.

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During Easter week an evening was dedicated to making las alfombras, which are made of colored sawdust. The streets are cleared and these sawdust mosaic carpets of religious and Mayan symbols are created only to disappear the next day under the feet of Catholic pilgrims who walk from one Catholic church to the other in a grand procession on Good Friday.

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For about two weeks there was a severe shortage of running water in Copan and many houses were without water for bathing, washing, flushing, etc. Purified water for drinking was available to buy, but realizing just how important running water is and how much I need in a day to do basic tasks was a good lesson in conserving resources. Water is so abundant in Oregon, hot or cold, and I forget how precious and essential it is to our existence.

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I have moved again and am now living with a friend and adopted street dog. I met my friend through Casita Copan, a non-profit day care and single-mother support center we both volunteer at. In my new home, clothes are washed in an outside tub called a pilla. Washing clothes at the pilla while listening to blues and enjoying a light breeze blowing through the backyard has become a source of peace, self-reflection, and meditation for me. The yard is filled with mango trees and behind it are mountains in the distance. Yesterday, I hung up two hammocks and am looking forward to spending afternoons reading and writing in one. The dog adds spice to our lives with his boundless energy and playful nature. There are times I consider killing him because he drives me nuts, but then I look at his floppy ears and hopeful smile, and I fall in love with this little rascal all over again. Yesterday, I made my first batch of green mango juice which is the equivalent of fresh lemonade on a hot day, but better. It is nice to have a bigger but cheaper place now. I love to have guests, and here I could have a whole party.
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I have been working at the local clinic and recently going door to door with doctors and nurses to give vaccinations. It has been interesting and fun to see how various people live here and in what conditions. When I asked the nurse how she knew which houses to go to when all she had was names, she told me Copan is small, and after twenty years working here, she knows everyone. I am finding I too am getting to know everyone and they me each day. I am starting to be less looked at as a tourist and more as a local which is a satisfying change. I started teaching English for income and have found these classes to be the biggest surprise to me. Because of them I am meeting wonderful people and forming new friendships while gaining a certain amount of respect from locals, especially men, that wasn’t there before. I am enjoying seeing my students learn and am amazed at how fast they do with so little time to study. They are extremely dedicated and eager, and seeing them smile when they speak in English is one of the best rewards.

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