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

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

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(Photo borrowed from Naomi Hattaway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photo borrowed from Society of Biology)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love That Whispers Smiles Through Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 have been doing a lot of thinking about my travels this past year as it is almost my one year anniversary after leaving my job in the states to start a new path within my life journey. I wrote this poem before my travels contemplating the duality and complexity we create as humans that makes everything so muddy. Clarity seems to come when we finally decide to sit still and let the mud settle to the bottom, an image I will always remember from meditations at Dzogchen Beara in Ireland. I have come back to daily yoga and meditation practice, and it is amazing how much it helps me focus myself in such a way that life just flows easier allowing me to see things as they come together instead of separate. In life, humans are constantly defining and categorizing things, myself included, all in an attempt to better understand them, but it is interesting how this black and white way of looking at the world that is supposed to provide clarity only actually does if things fit into the black and white mold. When they don’t, people get upset because they don’t feel they have the tools to understand these foreign models of life that don’t mirror what life is supposed to look like. As a result, instead of reaching beyond the black and white, people have a tendency to dismiss what they can’t understand based on their standards of right and wrong. Whether the standards of black and white and right or wrong are religious, race related, familial, cultural, political, or superstitious, they very apparently separate people from understanding the truth and beauty in those people and things they cannot understand or define. It becomes very clear to me that desire to have everything fit into a mold is one of the biggest factors in our suffering as human beings.

The Obvious Choice

“He was unacceptable to the infinite bright blankness, the clarity without edge which only selfishness fears.” ~ Lanark

Restless in calm stability
Confused amongst endless possibility
Is freedom to choose
Only a barrier to simple truth
Is the obvious choice
Really the right one
What makes it obvious?

If I am restless,
It is obvious I must free myself from that which holds me back.
If I am confused,
It is obvious I must ground myself.

Perhaps, I should do the opposite
Obvious choice is subjective to situation
Will going against the flow
Choosing what appears less obvious
Bring peace.
Hold answers.
Will the less obvious become obvious once the path is chosen?

Perhaps, I am restless because I am confused
I am confused because I am restless
The dissatisfaction comes from the desire to be satisfied
Are they not all one
How do I choose an obvious path when indeed it is not obvious?

Laughable this life we try to lead
The complexity we create out of simplicity
The grass is always greener.

The beauty will be found when it can be seen in the ugly
Peace will find us when we can see it waiting amongst the war within
Destiny is found when choice becomes fate
The obvious choice becomes the less obvious.

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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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