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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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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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Feeling a deep frustration today with the world. I am quickly realizing how lucky I am to be able to travel and discovering how little opportunity Hondurans have to do so. For the average Honduran, it is difficult to leave Honduras to visit another country for fun, let alone work. Immigration laws and VISA and passport requirements are so easy for Americans but so complicated for others. I like to imagine a world where people can come and go as they please, if anything, just to be able to explore. Maybe then humanity would have some understanding and compassion when it could see we are more similar than the differences that keep us at war.

Americans can do things so easily, but their government constricts the rest of the world. The people of the USA have no clue just how lucky they are to have the opportunities they do. Instead, they sit in front of their TVs watching the world go by and judging it without ever exploring it. Some Americans give themselves a pat on the back for donating $20 a month to a child in some third world country, and these programs do help. But what is the root of the problems in these countries? It might be worth it to look a little deeper at the history of America and find out, to see how willful ignorance is causing much of the suffering in the world. Programs like this make Americans feel they are so generous but don’t give them the perspective they need to see what is at the base of true and positive change for the world. If anything these programs give Americans the sense they are somehow better than the rest of the world because they are so giving with their money to those less fortunate. This results in an “Oh those poor starving children in Africa.” mentality instead of a “How can this be happening?” and “Why?” mentality.

The USA’s immigration laws keep families separated and punishes desperate people who need understanding and opportunity to follow their dreams. The US government spends about 5 billion dollars per year detaining and deporting immigrants, most who want the same opportunity American ancestors had just one hundred years ago. If undocumented immigrants who needed work were allowed to enter legally and easily, that is 5 billion per year the USA could be putting into more jobs and using to pay off it’s outrageous debt. Three months of minimum wage work in the USA would be about what a Honduran makes in a whole year. The USA could be helping these people, who typically have families, feed their children, build a house, get an education and have the basic things Americans take for granted. Meanwhile, that money could be taxed if these immigrants were legal, adding to the cash flow for the economy. The truth is big businesses and farmers in the USA don’t want immigrants to get legal status because that would mean they would have to pay them minimum wage and/or benefits. Obama has given large sums of money to the Honduran government and the USA is training its military. If the Honduran government is so intertwined with drug trafficking in Honduras, why would the USA be supporting them under the guise of fighting the war against drugs. It is contradictory no? Shouldn’t that money be going directly to the people of Honduras to help improve their education system and living conditions giving Hondurans the opportunity to make their own country better for all their friends and family? The truth is keeping Hondurans uneducated and poor benefits the Honduran government and its few rich landowners who can take advantage of powerless people while also allowing the USA to have a stronghold in Central America and a place where American businesses can take advantage of cheap labor. American foreign policy continues to rape poorer countries so that the USA can take advantage of these people while Americans live rich lives disconnected from the rest of the world. This only drives more immigrants to the United States where the cycle of abuse continues with poor working conditions and separation from family, living every day in fear of deportation.

Many immigrants have no desire to stay in the USA. They want to return to their families and culture, but they don’t have the resources to have the future they dream of in their country so come without papers to the USA. Often, undocumented immigrants end up staying instead of returning to their families because the risk of being caught is too great to return to Honduras. If lucky enough to get in, people try to stay in the USA as long as they can to save as much as possible for their families back home. But families can only survive so long when separated, and they are destroyed by this system. Undocumented workers in the USA find themselves lost in a new culture and language, never fully able to absorb into the culture because there is always a level of fear of deportation or jail. They are away from those they love and often lonely. When they return to Honduras, sometimes it is to divorce, death, and heart break.

I challenge others to look at the process for a work or visitors VISA from Honduras and see for yourself why people come illegally. Imagine if you had limited funds to travel to a big city to visit an embassy or limited access to internet, how would you apply, especially if you can only apply in English? If you made on average of $3000-4000 a year, working six or seven days a week, and had a family to support, when would you find time? If all your parents could afford was a high school education for you, and for a VISA, a person needed to have a skilled job requiring a university degree, how could you even begin to imagine leaving Honduras legally? If most of the work illegal immigrants do isn’t even work that requires a university degree, why is the US government keeping these people out who are doing jobs educated Americans don’t want to do? This year is an opportunity for immigration reform in the USA. I challenge people for just one day to put on the shoes of an undocumented immigrant and see how your perspective might change. I am amazed every day at how my ideas of the USA and the world transform while being here in Honduras. It is a lot harder to judge people when you are sitting right across from them at your dinner table.

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You are an Electrical Engineer: You now know how to strip the protective sheath around wires if they don’t have plugs and create your own plug, and you no longer get electrocuted when you stick it in the wall!

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You are a Doctor: As a nurse, you used to get frustrated with those doctors that just wouldn’t let their patients go when it was time to go. Well, now you understand. A dead fan can always be fixed if you have medical tape.

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You are a Procrastinator: Laundry or hammocks? Laundry or hammocks? It really is a very easy decision.

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You are a Gardner: You have successfully bought, planted (let’s be honest here. Someone helped you…a lot), and are tending things that are growing and edible. Now, if only you could remember which plants are weeds and which ones are food. Lessons learned: Next time use plant markers, and seeds need to be more spread out if you expect anything to grow underneath (Although, the greenery on top looks nice right?)

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You are a Contemporary Artist: You almost broke your leg trying to move the old giant washboard for the pila someone decided to dump in your yard, but then realized because of the experience of being pinned to the ground by this massive slab of cement, that it was really an artistic representation of power and strength and would be a great modern art piece in your garden. If you had not almost had your leg broken by this amazing piece of art, you would have never realized its true potential to inspire the soul.

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You are a Foster Parent: You always have dog food and water available for dogs who need a home. They are just so cute and cuddly. How could you resist?

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You are a Garbage Collector: You now finally realize what your neighbors have been trying to tell you all along; your true potential lies in garbage collecting. If only you had caught on sooner, you wouldn’t have gotten so grumpy every time your neighbors put their trash in your yard and you went around picking it up. Who knew that you were learning to embrace your life’s calling?

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You are a Productivity Manager: You now know that having two bottles for water exchanges, you can wait until both are empty before exchanging for new bottles of water. This gives you more time and energy to complete other tasks. Also, someone usually offers to carry one or both of the bottles more often than they did with one. One less trip each week and a lot less unnecessary weight lifting. Awesome!

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You are an Environmentally Friendly Security Specialist: You know that keeping your home free from burglars can be done cheaply and sustainably. Because of your innovative thinking, you now realize you can turn trash into highly effective weapons to improve the safety and security of your home.

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You are a Survivor: Although the “widow-maker” has tried to kill you many times, you are resilient, and the times you have been electrocuted have only made you stronger.

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You are a Mighty Warrior: You have battled the ice monster and won. You keep the stick around just to remind it who’s boss and keep it in line. For those fighting their own battles against these formidable beasts, wood has been found to be more efficient than knives. In fact, I STRONGLY ADVISE not using knives to avoid unnecessary losses. Wooden sticks. That’s where it’s at. Trust me.

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You are an Undercover Investigator: You are investigating “Peeping Tom” occurrences in Honduras. You came upon an interesting finding when you had the fence repaired in your back yard thinking it would be a kindness to your neighbor for who the fence belonged. But only a couple days later the board and its nails were again ripped away which seemed very unlikely done by accident. This is a major finding in the investigation as the open slot provides a convenient passage of entry for someone who might want to look into your window. Now you can narrow down the suspects to the neighbors next door.

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You are a Tourist Advisor for Honduras: Two most important do nots are DO NOT drink the water and DO NOT put toilet paper in the toilet! It goes in the garbage can! Please and thank you.

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You are a Water Conservationist: After living two weeks without water readily available, you are now determined to save every single drop. Next professional goal: Become a Plumber so you can fix the leaky faucet.

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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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