Thursday, July 21, 2011

count your blessings...

People- Hondurans and gringos alike- often ask me why I decided to do Peace Corps. Believe it or not, it isn’t that alluring $200 and change monthly salary. That question always puts me in a semi-bind because there’s no single answer, rather a hodge-podge of reasons and principles and things I even struggle to identify at times. And if it’s people from my community doing the asking, I always feel uncomfortable throwing out an answer along the lines of “to help people in need”. While that reply may fly when talking to fellow gringos back home in gringolandia, here I can’t help but feel that a response like that is akin to pointing at said person and being like “Yo, look. You’re poor, and that’s whack and I’m here to help because I’m white and have all the answers.” Let’s not lie; Honduras (and the developing world in general) has had beyond enough of that paternalistic bullshit shoved down their throats over the course of history. Being down here you don’t have to look far to see the repercussions that has had, so why perpetuate it, right?

But, at the same time, sharing what I have is a big part of why I’m here. As a United Statesian (just coined that term), I often overlook how fortunate I am to have been born in the country I did and grown up under the circumstances that I did with the amenities and opportunities I had. Quick anecdote- before coming to Hondu, I volunteered with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) at an after school program for recently arrived refugee students from over thirteen countries. One day, I sat down with a new student, a 17 year-old Somali girl named Sahara, to try and begin the reading process in English (as sounds and the alphabet are different than her native Somali and Arabic). At one point she was practicing pronunciation of an English word and I consulted a Somali-English dictionary we had there to show her the word in her own language so she could attach some meaning to it and as I pointed to it, she just stared blankly for a while and looked up at me expressionless. Another Somali girl that was watching us interrupted and started talking to the girl in Somali and after a while told me that, at seventeen, Sahara had never learned to read. She hadn’t so much as set foot inside of a classroom. That hit me hard. I had always viewed things like learning to read and going to school as a given, a definite part of reality, if I even thought about it at all. And all that day all I could think about is how damn fortunate I am in so many ways, many of which I will never fully be conscious of, and how infrequently I step back and truly recognize that fortune and embrace it. Being here makes me do that. It makes me so grateful that I went to school in institutions where (most of) my teachers were genuinely interested in my education and didn’t strike for 110 of the 200 days that they were supposed to give classes (actual statistic from 2009 school year in Honduras), where I didn’t have to drop out of school because my family couldn’t afford to buy the uniform and school supplies required to go, where my mom told me that one day I would have a period instead of it just coming and me thinking I was going to bleed out and die at the tender age of thirteen, where diligence and a strong work ethic are highly regarded and not every single thing in life was exclusively up to God’s will, where I can sit in a meeting full of men and be considered their equal and not some gringa there to serve solely as eye candy and the root of remarks that make me want to strangle all in attendance (truth be told, after three seasons of Dexter I feel entirely capable of doing away with them in a much more unique, personally fulfilling, and discrete fashion than run-of-the-mill strangulation).

Sometimes I find myself thinking that perhaps I could be making a more tangible, sustainable difference in these people’s lives if I had, say, years of teaching under my belt or a Masters in Public Health or a degree in Civil Engineering complete with years of experience designing water systems. But I don’t, and that's cool. What I do have, in addition to a couple of degrees in fields that I probably wouldn’t choose to study if I had to do it all over again, is this wonderfully chaotic fusion of the opportunities and experiences that have made up my life, qualities of the people who have been a part of it, and the acknowledgement that, to borrow from the words of Sheryl WuDunn, I have “won the lottery of life” and have a personal responsibility to share that, in some way, with people that have not been dealt an equally favorable hand. This is how I am currently fulfilling that responsibility. For now....


  1. girl, i love reading your about your experiences. keep them coming!!!! call me asap too!

  2. My dearest Jenna, I came upon your blog in one way or another-any who, I am glad that I did, I love said above keep pumping it out!