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Living in two countries that are so starkly different, I have found it difficult to really put into words how having a life between the two feels. I love both Honduras and the United States for different reasons, but each time I leave one for the other, I feel like it is a betrayal. When I go to the United States, I feel a huge sense of guilt that I can go there and back to Honduras so easily when so many in Honduras want to do the same and cannot. When I leave the United States for Honduras, I don’t know how to explain to my friends and family in the states who love me so much that something about the American system and bureaucracy stifles me and makes me feel like an outsider. It is hard to see the repercussions of American government and businesses in Honduras and not feel nauseous about how rich Americans live at the cost of other countries living in poverty. I have had the education and the opportunities to do the things I do because of being an American. I feel so blessed, but at the same time, I feel guilty that someone else in the world did not have my education and opportunities. In a lot of ways, my knowledge about American foreign policy has made me hate, not only my country, but myself for belonging to it. When I travel, I try to adapt to the countries I go, pretending I am not American, or that I am somehow different than other Americans. I have an embarrassment for the privilege I have had and for how my fellow countryman act when they do travel to other countries. I am not the only one; I read in an article by Business Insider that American tourists are repeatedly voted the worst in the world, not only by other countries, but by other Americans. These thoughts have consumed me for years now, to the point they unhealthily seep into my interactions with other Americans who I judge and condemn. I find myself wanting to detach completely from this country, to forge a new identity, and yet, I am drawn back to it because it is my home. It is hard to explain this feeling of being outside, not really fitting in anywhere as a native.

Several times I have asked others about my sense of guilt. How to deal with it, what it means, what I should do, etc. I recently received the answer from a stranger leading a women’s discussion group on sacred silence who responded to my question without me even asking it. This stunning women with beautiful curly white/blonde hair framing a heart shaped face of wisdom saw inside me a struggle and dissolved the pain it was causing me in only a few minutes. Her words made me see that we are all beautiful and unique in our individual worlds, that it is appreciating privilege that is important, not whether you have it or not, that Honduras is a place for me to find satisfaction and joy in what I am doing, and the United States is a place to refill doing the things I love I am unable to do there, like dancing, so I can go back. Each country provides what I need so that I can feel full. I do not have to choose one over the other or feel bad when I am in the states. Living two different lives is a blessing that I can be grateful for. I am American, and I can be proud of the American I have become, a woman who enjoys traveling and loving others all over the world.

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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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This past week I visited a clinic under construction in San Jose, an isolated, impoverished community in Guatemala 30 minutes from Copan Ruinas via unpaved roads. A few years ago, the people there didn’t have running water, kids were crammed into a dirty, dark building to attend school, and to go to a doctor could be an hour or more drive. Project School Supplies of Copan Ruinas is working with the Guatemalan government to build this clinic and staff it with permanent doctors and nurses. Project School Supplies also assisted in the construction of a water system, new school, and a bakery that will help create a more sustainable area for these people to thrive in who rely on farming for sustenance. The most beautiful thing about this project is that it is building a sense of community amongst those in San Jose. Although these people are being provided the resources to complete these projects, they are responsible for the actual development of the new village. Men from San Jose work on the construction every day in addition to their normal work. One can see a sense of pride in their faces as their own hands make their dreams realities. These people do not need hand-outs, but the tools to do what they are capable of. Everyone in the world has the power to create something beautiful, but sometimes it seems impossible to do so without the proper resources. To create something from nothing is overwhelming to even contemplate. What amazes me every day about life in Honduras is just how little people really need here to create something beautiful. In America, people have so much. They take for granted their ability to make their every dream a reality, but for those here, just a little can motivate people to build a whole new village.

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