Newsletter # 10 July 2011
At the heart of the Intercordia Experience is the special relationships that students make with the people of their host community, often the members of their host families. This edition of “Voices” will share with you some of the important people a few of our students have met during their placement and the effect that the relationship is having on their lives. One of the recurring themes in the student’s reflections over the years and evident in the following stories is the surprising, unsettling experience of being welcomed and loved by a stranger. Enjoy and be nourished. Joe.
My (host) sister M. is easily the most beautiful and smart girl I have had the absolute pleasure of knowing. She and I have created our own way of understanding each other, mixing words and phrases from all three languages to ensure we can talk about anything that is on our minds. She is only fifteen but I believe with all my heart that she has a stronger grip on life than I. When I am around her, everything makes perfect sense. She opens my eyes, brightens my world and makes me laugh, every day. We take walks, go shopping, cook, sing, go to festivals together, everything… as if I have known her my whole life. She tells me stories from the war, told by her parents, and handles all of it so maturely. Everything she knows, she shares with me. Everything she has, she wants me to use too. She helped me break the language barrier, to let go of my insecurities and introverted nature.
The first day that I arrived, I was taken to a graveyard by my host grandmother, D. I later found out that her son had passed away from cancer two months before I arrived. My grandmother has been visiting his grave each day since. I was unsure how to react when she tearfully recounted story after story about her son and told me how much she suffers since he has died. At this point I knew absolutely no Spanish but could understand from her body language how much anguish she was in. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met. I am constantly astounded by her generosity and kindness. Whether she is laughing or crying, she is always concerned for others. Her incredible strength has affected me deeply. It has allowed me to maintain perspective when I am facing challenges here and I am reminded and humbled by how incredibly blessed I am.
K. is a 16 year old in a 7 year olds body. The way she shakes and wiggles her hips when she walks is the same way she shook and wiggled her way into my heart. K is a very soft, yet fierce, little girl. She listens well to her parents, to her siblings and even to me and cares for babies as if they were her own. Her fierceness really shows when she desires to do something and to get it done right, as well as when she steps in front of a camera (I predict a future Tyra Banks). The way she cuddles me and sits on my lap completely puts out a long days worth of frustrations and grump. The way she smiles and laughs whenever I squeeze her tight brings a similar reaction out of me. She makes me feel happiness and love the way a child feels happiness and love towards most things in life. Her gentleness reminds me to view things and people with softness before closing them off too quickly. Hard times come and go, but with the love of a community and family they can be easily diminished. K. has a desire to grow and excel, which always brings out my competitive side. Although timid at times, K. is opening up to me more and more and lights up when I ask her to sit on my bed with me, when she teaches me a new Rwandan dance or when I ask to learn anything in particular from her. She desires to be loved and shows that it’s ok to have that desire. Forever she will be my one and only little sister, and forever she will be in my heart.
I gotta go prepare my boys for our first soccer match next week. The other schools are complaining because my school has “hired a foreign coach” they call me “Coachella.” I love these boys. At first they thought i was kidding when I told them the kind of training I want to put them through, but man you should see them now. I spent the first two weeks talking to them about team work, co-operation, and competition. i finally got them to understand that the root word of competition comes from a Greek word that means “to go together.” After I explained the importance of that to them they started to respect me and more importantly, they started to respect each other more. I explained to them that their rivals make them stronger, that they should leave rivalry on the field and off the field they should show nothing but respect for their opponents. They have now grown as a unit. We pray before games, together. We eat together. We train together. We struggle together, and we win together.
I was incredibly fortunate to meet M., a short, stalky, beautiful woman that welcomed me into her house, her family, and her heart with open arms. I’ve never seen M. raise her hand and the loudest thing out of her mouth is laughter. I’ve been certain since the first day I spent with my family that M. cares a lot about me. She touches me often with a hug, arm around my shoulder or holds my hand, and is constantly asking how I am. It wasn’t until a few days ago however, that I really understood the depths of that care.
It’s the end of May, which means rainy season in Honduras. Out of nowhere it started to rain. My host mother and I sprang up quickly and bolted to the lawn where all our clothes were hanging to dry. We both were slipping and sliding as we tried to rescue our laundry. With the stress and fluster of the situation my host mother took a hard tumble, bringing me down with her as she grabbed me in an attempt to catch her balance. We sent the clothes in our arms flying and the storm showed no mercy. We sat in shock and silence for about 10 seconds. Once we were sure there was no real damage we both looked up at each other, mud dripping from our faces, and started to laugh. My host mom rolled over and pushed me deeper into the mud with a huge hug. We were literally rolling around in the mud and my host mother kept repeating how much she loved me and how I wasn’t allowed to go back to Canada because I was her daughter. We stood for a while in an embrace of what I can only describe as pure, uninhibited love. I felt like I could be vulnerable. In fact, I felt like that was really the only thing I could do. At first I was scared and confused, but then I felt a sense of complete fulfillment and warmth. M. was teaching me how to open up; she was teaching me how to love.