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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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I ventured out to Santa Lucia this past weekend to visit a dear Honduran friend and her family. The little town reminded me of some of my favorite places in Italy with steep cobblestone roads, quaint cafes, and breathtaking views. I love the endless forest and mountains; there are so many places to enjoy nature while still being close to the city.

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I received a tour of the whole city by motorcycle, weaving around hills overlooking endless forest and the misty covered city of Tegucigalpa and its surrounding towns.

ImageI got word there was a winery near by which is a rarity in Honduras and was pleasantly surprised by the delicious blackberry wine and the beautiful view from the vineyard.

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Right now is the rainy season, and while wandering around a Tegucigalpa park overlooking the city, my friend’s family and I got caught in a torrential down pour and were soaked in a matter of seconds. Outrunning it was pointless but it didn’t keep us from trying to escape nature’s bath.

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I really enjoyed getting to know my friend’s daughters ,who are beautiful and sweet, while playing Monopoly and Bingo. While my friend was at work, they and their grandmother showed me around the city, and I got to see some great street art.

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Pisco Sour night! We made our own…mmmm muy rico!

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We went into Tegucigalpa for some dancing, and I had a blast. It was nice to dance without feeling like a piece of meat. In general the men of Tegucigalpa and Santa Lucia were more respectful than those of Copan, and it was such a relief not to be harassed. I sometimes forget that Copan Ruinas is not representative of all of Honduras. In Copan, my roommate and I have been contemplating making shirts that say “¡No soy tu bebé!” y “¡No soy tu muñeca!” and wearing them when we go running. In English, that is “I am not your baby!” and “I am not your doll!” Words that are used daily to greet us in the streets.

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Most days in Santa Lucia, I did some reading while relaxing in the hammock. I am currently reading my first novel in Spanish which is a challenge but improving my vocabulary quite a bit.

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My friend and her family were so generous and kind, and it was nice to be pampered for a weekend while exploring other parts of Honduras.

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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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My trepidations about deciding to stay here are quickly being replaced with excitement of the daily adventures that come with living in a new country. I am finding that friends come easily. For example, I had two new ones the first week in my apartment, Harry the Spider and Mr. Cucaracha. That said, I eventually decided they were best left as outdoor friends, and they have since then departed. New friendly faces have filled the void of those that left and I am especially happy to have found another running buddy. I woke up at 4 am a few days ago to what sounded like gun shots and spent the morning plastered to my bed eyes-wide-open only to realize later when I asked about the event that it was the morning wake up call from the Copan Ruinas fair with fireworks. This is the big event right now which is akin to those at home with rodeos, games, rides, greasy food, princesses, and the like. It has been fun to explore throughout the week. I saw the little girl crowned princess who was maybe six and her dress was so puffy she had to be carried down the steps so she wouldn’t trip. One night, I danced for six hours to Latin rhythms and arrived at my home when the fireworks began. I danced that night from one fiesta to the other with a family of cowboys in the street to mariache music. The next day I ran in Copan Ruinas’ very first 5K run after two hours of sleep. People here work so hard when there is work and party so hard when there isn’t; I am not sure how they have the energy. I spent Sunday sleeping all day and feeling the previous night must have been a dream. I met with wonderful women this week to discuss potential work opportunities, and I am excited about what people are doing here in the community and the possibilities to creatively use my nursing skills in more preventative and educational ways. The only problem is deciding what project I want to commit to. There are so many things people need here, and there aren’t really rules about what you can or can’t do because there is so little governmental control and so much corruption. The freedom is a bit overwhelming. I feel like there is always work to be done, but no guarenteed outcomes or pay. It’s a bit like looking over a cliff and trying to decide if you could jump far enough to reach the other side. In the end, I think I just need to pick one passion and focus my all on that, and it will come to be. I am a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, and it has gotten me this far.
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I relished the last moments with my dear friend before she left to return to the states. I had the best night of salsa dancing in Antigua, moving my body to the rhythm until parched of all fluids, collapsing exhausted on the floor after endless spinning, being flung from one side of the dance floor to another. The music down here speaks to my soul, and I want to die dancing…what ecstasy it would be.

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I did yoga under the night sky, candle lights flickering in the breeze, ancient ruins and mountains before me. It felt good to return to my heart center and listen.

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I spent a day with a friend doing nothing in particular, enjoying simply being part of this world as butterflies floated through the sky and birds came and went, restless as I so often have been. I watched and savored my life, music playing in the background, songs of our hearts. I sat on the grassy overgrowth of a broke-down church that is home to a saint and was content.

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Playing Con Quién with two wanderers, I felt a tinge of doubt about deciding to stay in Copan. Why did I choose this place of all those in the world to live? Would it be the same when my alma gemela left, when I returned to an empty apartment? Would the people I let into my heart in this little town love me or disappoint me, protect me or hurt me? It is too early to tell. I jumped into this world without thinking. In a day, I made my decision to stay final. No time was spent thinking of the pros or cons. I suppose this is what living in the now means, moving day to day, letting the world catch you as you fall backwards. As I think about Katie leaving, the shear terror of it all hits me.

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Back home in Copan for a few days, I moved everything I owned into a little apartment overlooking a butterfly farm surrounded by trees and tropical plants. It felt cozy in this small space I could now call my own. Never has a move been so easy, no paperwork or boxes involved. I was not there long enough to absorb everything, only long enough to make it my own and leave for Catacamus, the reason why I came to Honduras.

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Seeing the members of Healing the Children, doing the work we did in the hospital, made me more certain of my decision to stay in this country. I realized that the core of me staying here is something deep in my soul that I have never tapped into before now. It’s an inner peace that no matter what goes wrong in my personal life, the work I am doing here is something special that feeds and nourishes my heart as nothing else ever has. Giving these children the opportunity to walk, to work, and to play is right. Forming relationships with these families, showing them that someone cares and seeing them glow just by being acknowledged, I see that the human spirit is burning bright here. They are helping me see what is important, they are reminding me why I am alive, to love with a heart wide open and receive love as well. People never are evil; they simply do the best with what they have; they make the best decisions they can based on the information they have been given. A wise person taught me that on this trip. The team was a breath of fresh air for me. For so long, I have been out of the USA. I forgot the beauty in freedom. I change in each country, adapting to be culturally sensitive, sometimes forgetting who I am. It felt good this past week to come out of my shell, to joke freely, to feel like a human being instead of a sex object, as I am so often seen in this country. To dance and drink, work and explore, to feel equal and respected, to laugh and to talk without inhibition, to feel like I don’t have to hide aspects of myself and that I will be accepted and valued for all the talents I have to offer. Saying good-bye was harder than these beautiful and inspirational people will ever know. But when I feel lonely or begin to forget who I am here, I will remember dancing the conga with friends in a restaurant in Tegucigalpa and I will know who I am in my heart.

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Today, I panicked on the bus ride back to Copan. Nervousness turned to nausea. Returning a week early from my work in the hospital and saying good-bye to my last American friends in Honduras, I found myself shaking as it soaked in that I was returning to a city that all of my English speaking friends have left, and in which, I have chosen to live alone with minimal Spanish. I wanted to cry, but realized I had no one to cry with as I stepped off the bus. My only thought was to get to my apartment as soon as possible and let it all out there. I looked for a moto-taxi driver and in my desperation to escape claustrophobia, I almost didn’t recognize the man, who was the first I met when I came here. When we first met, he greeted me with a smile, and helped reassure me when I had similar feelings to today…complete terror. He knew English and wanted to practice but let me painfully try to use my Spanish that first day and promised that when next we saw each other in Copan, we would talk in Spanish only. So today, we met again, and in Spanish, I told him I was sad and scared, alone and crazy, and I cried. And I remembered that when you let yourself be vulnerable, life has a way of holding you up and showing it cares. Yes, I have made a crazy decision to stay here, but no, I am not alone. There will be other friends, other people to help me grow. There is always someone who will help me smile when I am sad, even if it is a stranger.

My Heart Will Be Full Again

My heart is open
And it bleeds
A smile on my face
I grow pale
A body so dry
Tears are needed
To maintain pressure.

You cannot see them.

I smile to show I trust
Even when that trust is broken
I trust because it is only in trusting strangers
That they have an opportunity to be trustworthy
I trust and wait for the silver lining amongst all the pain
I never stop believing people can be more than this
But learn to accept us as we are
I smile because I know the pain is part of the joy
Every day is an opportunity for the world to change
I smile because my heart will keep beating
If I trust others to give me enough in return to survive
Some days my heart is more empty than others
But it still beats
I still can love
The hardest part is letting others love me
Because that involves trust
And it can be broken
But if I smile despite the pain
I will find love seeping back in
And my heart will be full again.

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It never fails to amaze me how the perfect people appear in my life to help me grow and expand myself. I think they have always been there throughout the years, but I perceived them in a different way, clinging to the “good ones” and letting go of the “bad ones.” Now people seem to me just passing lessons, some staying longer than others, neither bad nor good, perfect in that they help me transition to new phases in my life in unexpected but beautiful ways.

When I quit my job this past year, I decided to let the wind carry me wherever I was meant to go, but had a couple goals in mind for my new found freedom: Go to Europe to see old friends, work on my writing, and publish something; go to Honduras to learn Spanish and work as a nurse. I am proud to say I have completed both and had many wonderful experiences along the way.

While in Europe, I worked with another photographer to tell the story of families building Earthships in the Netherlands. I hope the article will bring them more volunteers to complete their homes. Visiting their community was one of the best parts of my travels, and I would love to return in the future. You can see my article here: http://www.satellitemagazine.ca/2013/01/earthships-rise-in-the-netherlands/

The month has gone by quickly here in Copán. Some days are better than others when speaking Spanish, more up and down than a steady climb to fluency. I am amazed at how far I have come in only a month and overwhelmed by how much I need to learn. I spend my weekends dancing merengue and salsa, learning punta as well, which involves a lot of butt shaking. I have found soul sisters here with dreams as big as my own and discovered love and family in this little town. Working in the clinic, I use my nursing differently cutting out folders for record keeping, improving documentation, and giving vaccinations to babies. Yet, I feel like I am being more of a nurse here than I ever was in the United States. I don’t have well-hydrated patients screaming for their water because I didn’t bring it back to them in two minutes even though several of my patients here could be clinically diagnosed as dehydrated. Nor do I have patients asking why the whirlpool jets in the hospital aren’t strong enough; in fact, I am pretty sure none of these patients would ever think to ask such a thing and are just glad when they have running water. When I think of the ridiculous extravagance of hospitals in the US and then see the extreme opposite here, I am ashamed. A $10,000 optional surgery in the US would vastly improve the clinic here for a whole community, making necessary vaccinations and basic health care more available. I have spent the last four years as a nurse popping pills and pushing treatments instead of addressing the base problems, more afraid of getting sued and making money which is termed “patient satisfaction” than actually being honest with patients and empowering them to take control of their lives…more concerned with keeping people alive at any cost even when we should be helping them prepare to die. People in America want to live forever, and they expect to always have everything quicker, faster, NOW! The word death is something that happens to other people. Here death happens every day, and it has its place. For the first time, I feel like a nurse, and I can’t imagine returning to American medicine. Here people need me. And I need them. They remind me that true joy comes from simple pleasures, not filling a house full of things. That having fun doesn’t have to cost money, that it is playing Con Quien in the street. I eat pretty much the same thing every day, but it is wholesome and healthy, and I don’t tire of it…eggs, beans, fruits, vegetables, and corn tortillas…occasionally meat. I work out frequently, not in a gym, but watching the sun rise as I run along the path towards ancient ruins with a dear friend. I feel healthy and at peace here, and I have decided to call this place my home, to lay down roots. I no longer feel a restless need to leave, go somewhere else, do something else, be someone else; I am exactly where and who I should be at this time.

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I love the flowers here…I try to mirror my accesssories after them…the brighter and more colorful the better.

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The Parque de Aves is home to various plants and the endangered Scarlet Macaws amongst other birds.

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These birds move fast when they know what they want…ate the buttons off my shirt in only a couple of minutes.

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Yes, Mayans liked to dance too…

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Mayans used to play a ball game in this arena…the winner’s award was to be offered as a sacrifice to the gods…losing is looking pretty good right now.

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Watching the sunset in Copán Ruinas.

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My travel buddy, alma gemela, personal trainer, dance partner, and fellow dreamer…not quite sure how we lived in the same city in Oregon for four years and never met, but it was only a matter of time…glad it was in Copán.

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Mano de la tierra.

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Hitching a ride.

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Saying good-bye is the hardest part; I keep meeting amazing people here.

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Chilling out at the hot springs.

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The bridge to get to them…

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One of the many colorful streets of Antigua, Guatemala.

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Making smores with some volcano steam…

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Sunset on a volcano.

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A long, dirty hike…

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