Two years ago, I would not have thought that my life would take me where I am now. I am nursing, not as a career, but as a volunteer, writing professionally and creatively, living in Honduras, speaking in Spanish more than English, and all together, living a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. Want to learn how to quit your own job and travel the world for a year while pursuing your dreams? Check out the first of a series of my articles on traveling the world for a year without a job at Endless Trek Magazine.
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.
I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”
I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.
It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.
I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.
I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.
By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.
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.
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.
I love the flowers here…I try to mirror my accesssories after them…the brighter and more colorful the better.
The Parque de Aves is home to various plants and the endangered Scarlet Macaws amongst other birds.
These birds move fast when they know what they want…ate the buttons off my shirt in only a couple of minutes.
Yes, Mayans liked to dance too…
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.
Watching the sunset in Copán Ruinas.
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.
Mano de la tierra.
Hitching a ride.
Saying good-bye is the hardest part; I keep meeting amazing people here.
Chilling out at the hot springs.
The bridge to get to them…
One of the many colorful streets of Antigua, Guatemala.
Making smores with some volcano steam…
Sunset on a volcano.
A long, dirty hike…
I was so nervous coming to “the murder capital of the world,” but the walls I built around myself are quickly crumbling as I fumble through Spanish with my taxi driver, a man of patience and smiles. I want to throw all caution to the wind; hitchhike on dirt roads; ride in the back of a truck full of hard-working men, the dusty wind blowing in my hair; sit outside a mud home with a tin roof drinking a coke-a-cola with a friend as I watch the day go by; to experience Honduras fully, not as a gringa. I am missing out in my fancy hotel and air-conditioned bus. This country with all its instability is made of people no different than you or I. There is something appealing in the uncertainty; an acceptance of life as is despite the craziness. I want to embrace it and the simple life of its people where less is more.
Siestas are important in Copán. The heat prevents any heavy activity in the afternoons. Cansada is my favorite word in Spanish because it is okay to admit you are tired here, and I realize how tired I am. When I say I am tired, I am encouraged to do what is natural. So I sleep and relax and feel like a new person in my bed, the first I have been able to truly call my own in five months. I spend four hours a day in school speaking Spanish. In the afternoons, I do my homework and will soon be volunteering at the local clinic. My first day at school ended in salsa dancing and with fresh squeezed juice. Each meal I spend with two strong, beautiful women, one my host, and the other, an American volunteer who calls Copán her second home. Every morning I start my day with these empowering females, and I am inspired by their presence and blessed with their conversation. At school, I am surprised by how much I remember from my Spanish classes so long ago and frustrated by how much I want to say and cannot. But perhaps it is good I know only verb conjugations in the present because then I can only discuss the present and not the past. Yo quiero is how I discuss the future. I can only say what I want, not how I plan to get it. There is a sort of freedom in this lack of words for the past or future. My life consists of now and floating through dreams.
“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of the day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?…What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and me at least try to make a small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.” ~Mr. Stevens of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
While in Germany, a friend recommended the author, Kazuo Ishiguro, to me, and since then, his characters have been my companions as I travel, each person reflecting on their past, some memories more reliable than others. Their stories remind me that my own change over the years to adapt to my current feelings and experiences and are not necessarily accurate documentation of my life or those who pass through it. They are only ways for me to make sense of things I cannot understand. I find there is so much beauty to absorb in my new setting that there is little time to reflect on the past if I wish to take everything in. Each morning I wake to the music of tropical birds welcoming the sun’s return as it creeps up behind the lush greenery of the cloud forest. Here, in Copán, the remains of my day are spent in the company of new friends, whose experiences mirror my own, practicing Spanish and discussing life fantasies as the last burst of heat paints the sky pink.