It’s morning, roughly five-thirty. The chirping of the birds and the yapping of the neighborhood dogs shake sleep from my body. I wake up, turn on the coffee, and step outside into the yard. Outside, I can see my fellow roommates sip their drinks and nibble their breakfasts on the brown picnic table that we have spent hours all hunched over, sharing stories and drinking each other’s company. Farther into the yard, shaded by towering mango trees, drooping from the weight of their ripe and ready-to-pluck harvest, stands the pilla. It’s a large concrete basin of water that we use to shower with. It feels good to shower outside; it’s been very hot recently. I shower, letting the water drip off myself, and dress and finish my coffee. I snatch some peanut butter toast, pop in my earphones, and march to school, ready for another day of teaching third grade.
That’s been my morning routine for the last three months. And shortly, this will not be my morning routine any longer. I will be back in the United States, in my hometown, attempting to fill time and reflecting on the adventure I just had.
Living in Honduras for three months has revealed many secrets to how different people can live differently. And yes, I know that’s obvious, teetering on cliché, but it’s nevertheless true. From watching kids climb large trees to pluck their bursting fruits, to witnessing tuk-tuks weave skillfully between and around pedestrians, to street dogs taking their daily roam in search for food; there is a different buzz to life here. It’s hum that’s unlike anything I can experience state-side. Then again, maybe it’s not a hum at all, even. Maybe it’s a low-sung song.
I reach school a good half an hour before classes start. I pray that another volunteer has put on additional coffee. Yes, there is? Fantastic. I’m an addict and that’s okay, okay? No judgement here please. I prep all the copies I will need for my first half of the day, look at my lesson plans, and chug another cup of that sweet, delicious brew. Remember, no judging. The bell rings and I walk up the stairs to meet my class. I can see a bunch of jostling arms waving, sticking through the bars of the classroom window. They’re yelling my name, “Mr. Matt! Mr. Matt!” I can’t help but smile -- it’s not a bad way to start your day. I’m then swarmed. If you like getting dive-bombed by dozens of huggy children, look no further. Honduras hits that quota. I get them all to settle down, sit, and focus their white-bright bundles of energy into something productive, the reason I’m here: English. “Good morning class!” I howl. They echo, “Good morning Mr. Matt.” Hey look, I taught them that.
I would be lying if I said that teaching English to a group of twenty-two third graders is easy. It’s not; it’s difficult. I would also be lying if I said that it is boring and unsatisfying. Teaching English is an opportunity that native speakers are mostly blind to. It’s a genetic roll of the dice that we were born in countries that speak English. It’s also an historical roll of the dice by which other countries see the utility in learning our language. It’s an opportunity, maybe even a luxury, that we don’t consider. From normal people, to businesses, to foreign governments, all of who desire to learn English to take their careers or lives to new horizons. And we’re born with it. We have a leg up. Sometimes when the kids are failing to grasp a difficult concept in English, I remind myself that sometimes all that matters is me just being here. That’s crazy. When was the last time you had a job and you realized that all that matters is you being there and trying? That’s the luxury I’m getting at. Sometimes it’s difficult to wrap my brain around.
I finish the day. It’s been long. I teach my third graders, English, Social Studies, Art, P.E., and Science – there’s no shortage of classes to prepare for. I find my way to the teacher’s office and fall into the green couch, relax, and reflect on the day. I taught them prepositions and sentence structure! I attempted to teach them about Hinduism, too, but… You pick your battles and relish your victories. In art class we water-painted bunny rabbits. The kids were bouncing with joy. I had never seen that level of excitement before in my life. They were dancing and singing and cheering -- you would have thought they had a religious experience. But after I set their blank canvasses in front of them, a level of distilled intensity filled their eyes. Their brushes were unwavering, their strokes were true, and by God, those were some of the most beautiful damn bunny rabbits I’d ever seen. I return to reality and pack up my things. I exit school and head back down the baked brown road. The sun’s rays beat down on my body, a red-hot hand pressing against the uncovered skin. I see the flittering of green trees as I trundle. Much of the neighborhood is out and about after their day of work.
I stop at my favorite pulperia and grab a couple of bananas and a lemonade, its sweet contents hydrating my throat. I pass the kind, old lady under her expansive umbrella. She has few teeth but always smiles. I pass the shoemaker. He’s the father of one of my students. We wave and he kisses his younger daughter bouncing on his knee. I’m approaching the soccer field now. I can hear the jeers of heated competition. They’re all so good, no wonder why though, they play every day. I reach the gates of the volunteer house and push through. My lemonade is empty but the pilla isn’t. I plop my belongings in the house and grab my towel. After a thorough rinsing and drying I’m cool again. I grab my book and nestle into the hammock gently swinging next to the brown picnic table. I read a couple of pages before I drift off to slee…
Honduras can teach you many things. Honduras can teach you gratefulness. Honduras can teach you patience. Honduras’ poverty can deflate you but its people’s resilience can gobsmack. The generosity demonstrated towards me from a people who, to my westernized eyes, have so little, will always astound me. They’re very grateful to volunteer teachers taking the time to help their kids, to help the future of their families -- of their country. However, the praise feels unearned. How can I accept their food when sometimes all that mattered is me showing up to class? No other job is like that. Like I said it’s difficult to comprehend.
If anything, I feel more like the student and less like the teacher, swapping my dressed down everyday clothes for the professionalism of my students’ school uniforms. Switching seats, my students are standing in front of the board and I’m scratching my name in the small, rickety desk. They’re teaching me a lesson that I can’t understand. They’ve drawn it on the board but I’m not wearing my glasses. Why did I choose to sit in the back of the classroom? They’re now humming a tune, or maybe it’s a low-sung song…hopefully I’ll learn it before I wak--