When you are called to go out of your comfort zone and to another country.
(This is Part 2 of a series, you can read Part 1 here.)
So, I did it. I decided to teach in Honduras. This photo is me on the bus. I hardly ever take selfies, but I needed to on this day. It was August 3, 2016, and I was just picked up at the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The bus was taking me to what would become my home for the next two years. In this picture, I remember being excited about the possibilities and also very afraid. I remember thinking, what did I do? I have moved almost every 2-3 years for the last 13 years, and at first, this seemed like just another move, until I got on that bus.
The weeks leading up to my departure date were filled with work, moving logistics, and a few visitors who came for my last weeks in New Orleans. The day finally arrived and I went to the airport. I honestly don’t remember how I was feeling except that I was probably anxious, as I always am when traveling. My first flight went great. I had a layover in Houston, and I ordered a Starbucks coffee. I remember thinking that I didn’t want or need coffee, but this might be my last chance at Starbucks for five months, so I got it. I didn’t realize it then, but there was a good chance my “Starbucks” coffee was actually from Honduras.
Three hours later, we landed in Honduras. Before this trip, I had never traveled abroad (unless you count that time I drove to Canada with a friend during the late 90’s when you didn’t even need a passport). I got off the airplane (because they made me); and, decided to ignore my mother’s advice from my teen years and follow the crowd. There were roped off lines and everyone seemed to know which one to go. The lady directing us was speaking Spanish. She could have been speaking Swahili for all I knew. I was like a deer in headlights. She must have noticed my face because she told me in English where to go. The customs agent I had to deal with did not speak English to me. I had never felt like this before. This feeling that I was in a cloud, and could hear but could not perceive anything around me.
You could see the baggage claim area from the lines in customs; so, as soon as I finished in customs, I headed in that direction. Still anxious. I had to brush off a few men in matching blue-green shirts with the airport logo on them. They tried to help me, but I just shook my head (mostly out of fear and because I didn’t exactly know what they would do or want from me). Later, I found out they are there to help but expect a large tip, primarily from North Americans. I found both of my suitcases; and then, noticed a bench, so I sat down. I tried to see if my phone worked or if the wifi in the airport worked so that I could send a message to the person picking me up. The wifi did not work, but AT&T sent me a text saying that I could use my phone internationally. I don’t remember how much it said, but I did not care. I used it to contact Katharine who was picking me up. She told me I had to go through another set of scanners which I found and made my way out of baggage claim. I saw Katherine in her white “La Providencia” shirt and breathed a sigh of relief. She told me we were waiting for another flight which would land soon and would have the three remaining English teachers. This was the last time I would be this scared to come to Honduras.
In the next few weeks, I would move into my apartment, meet my landlady who would become my Spanish teacher and friend, get into my classroom, and meet the Honduran teachers who I would love long before I could have a conversation with them. Within the first month of school, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave this place as easily as I thought. By Christmas, I was absolutely sure that I would not be moving back to the US in June 2017. I committed to a second year in January 2017 when I came back from Christmas break. I had fallen in love with my fifth graders and knew without question that I needed to be their sixth-grade teacher. That was confirmed when I told them that I would be back and would be their teacher. As they cried and hugged me, the students told me none of their teachers had every stayed the same amount of time. They were so happy. They asked me, “what if you change your mind?” I told them it would take an act of God to keep me away. I think telling them this in February did something to our relationship. It strengthened it; and, before I knew it, I started to wonder how I was ever going to be able to leave them at all.
But, all good things come to an end, and by Christmas 2017, despite the fact that I loved them more than ever, and I had never felt as “right” as I did when I was their teacher, I began to feel as if my time was nearing an end. In February 2018, I told the director that I did not think I’d be back and that I was still praying about it. I had felt conflicted before, but somehow telling her that, I was sure that I would not be back. I told her, “for sure, sometime in March,” and then told my students. I ended class 10 minutes early so I could tell them and we could talk about it. They cried and sobbed; and, we ended up being 15 minutes late for lunch—it broke my heart. But, we ended the year very well and made sure we had fun as much as we could.
Now, I’m back in the U.S., and everyone wants to know “if I am glad to be back,” “how many times I went to Starbucks,” “if I’m so glad I have air conditioning,” and things like that. The truth is that I am glad to be back in the sense that I felt God’s call to be back and with that comes a certain peace that cannot be explained. But, I’m not glad to be back because we have Starbucks and air conditioning. I’m not even happy to be back because I can flush toilet paper down the toilet; go to sleep knowing I won’t wake up with bug bites; drink the water; or, go places where everyone understands me. Those are all great things, but those are not, and never were, my reasons for leaving. So, they can’t be the reasons I’m glad to be back. In fact, ever since I’ve been back, I’ve been struggling to reacclimate myself – to not scoff at the entire aisle in the grocery store dedicated to the 25 different varieties of peanut butter; to not roll my eyes at the half-ripe mangos; or, to not complain about the quiet, safe neighborhoods where no one knows or talks to their neighbors. I’ve been struggling to keep up with the Spanish I learned in the two years I was there. I don’t know what God has for me on the next journey, but I hope it has something to do with taking me back to a land where I lacked comforts but had all the love.
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