Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Update Letter

Dear Friends and Family,
I hope that you all had a wonderful Easter! I was able to spend my spring break getting to know my new niece Scout Jeannette Wooten! She is a beautiful little one with tons of dark hair. It was truly a blessing to be able to hold her and love on her during my week off.
I am now back in Honduras and ready to take on the last quarter of my time here. I have moments everyday where I find myself smiling from ear to ear, or laughing till I cry with the girls or my friends here, and I almost always end these moments with a little thought of how hard it will be to leave this country and this experience.
As always these experiences have their ups and downs. I went through some typical culture shock when I arrived, and actually again after six months. Following my experience in Argentina, as soon as I started to understand and be comfortable with Honduran culture it is near time for me to say goodbye. I do feel sad that my time is coming to a close but I also feel really good about what I have done here. I will do my best to enjoy every moment I have with my students, the girls in the home, and my dear Honduran friends.
I have a very special place in my heart for Honduras. It has a dirty history and a dark future. The people I know here though, are trying their best to make do. Given a pretty ugly hand, they pull through everyday just barely making it. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given by solely being born as an American citizen. No matter where you land on the political spectrum you should feel grateful to be an American. This was a lesson I needed to learn, and have learned it well here in Honduras. If you find yourself doubting this I encourage you to think about a trip to a third world country and you will also see the light!
This past quarter of school, January to April, was very difficult. I think it was a mixture of many things. I had no break, no jaunt to the sea for a couple days, and it wore on me! Teaching is hard for me; I’ve overcome the everyday challenges, but nine weeks straight with no break and the only fun day at school was Valentine’s Day. I often compared it to the third lap in the mile race of four laps, its often the hardest lap, seems like everything in my life can relate back to running philosophy somehow.
I do have exciting news though! My plans for when I come home have really come together. In March I was accepted to The New School in New York City. I will be studying Non-Profit Management. I also got a job as a resident advisor so I will be living in the financial district of the city. I feel very blessed that this opportunity has become available to me. Thanks to the wonderful support I received from staff and faculty at Rockford I am now able to start making my dreams realities.
Being in New York City in the middle of all of the non-profit and international organizations will be a huge benefit to making connections in the non-profit world. I already feel a bit nervous about my ability to do graduate school. I’m telling myself everyone feels like this before graduate school; don’t tell me if it’s not true! ;-) I am going to push myself outside of my comfort zone there and really learn how to network.
Thank you for making this experience possible for me, and helping me to be a role model for these girls who are so wonderful. The following is a brief introduction of one of the girls from the home that I have had an extra special connection with and that I think will really make it someday.


Riccy is a ten year old smiley student in my second grade classroom. She is always one of the first girls from the home to welcome the visitors and is almost always in a happy mood. She loves to practice her English with the visitors and treats all the tias and teachers with respect. She is very affectionate and loves to dance!
Riccy tries very hard in school, though she struggles quite a bit. She is always asking me to help her study more over the weekends or after she finishes her homework. She seems to be very aware that she is lucky to be in the home and go to a bilingual school.
Riccy has two sisters who also live in the home with her. The three of them are always together. Please pray for Riccy as she finished second grade that she will continue to take her school work seriously and continue at Holy Family.

April 30th

April 30, 2010

It’s five o’clock on a Friday afternoon and I just woke up from a nap. A very hot sweaty nap because my air conditioning doesn’t work but nonetheless I caught some zzzzs. I have to apologize for not writing in quite a while. My life has become quite routine lately, seems like the weeks fly by, the weekends creep by and then suddenly another month has passed.
I know the girls better and better everyday. I feel as if it is really important that I continue to show them I love them without expecting anything in return. I am constantly reminded of this when I think of all the volunteers they have experienced relationships with in the past. I’m just another one of many, but I doubt I will ever have to chance to love 60 girls again. I hope to use these last six weeks to really drill into them how beautiful, how intelligent, and how funny they are. I am here for their future, to make their future a reality and not a dream. It seems insignificant now but I know it will be a huge difference as they move out of the home and start lives that are not on the street or stuck in a home with an abusive husband.

My time here is not wasted!

Today I was overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness. Yesterday, on of the cooks and housekeepers of the home was screaming and crying in the school. Later on in the afternoon one of the girls, a sixth grader, said “they killed her son”. Just like that Leily from the home told me the awful awful truth of her country. As a coping mechanism I prayed for her, put Chavela in my heart and continued to tutor the girls. Then today at school I was in the teacher’s lounge speaking with some of the other teachers. They were talking about how horrible it was. Apparently he was shot ten times. (I know that often Hondurans tend to exaggerate things, unfortunately though I don’t think this is far from the truth).
This topic seemed to get everyone talking as each one of the teachers started sharing their own stories with me. One coworkers friend was kid napped in the fall, one coworkers husband was kidnapped and then left on the side of the road outside of the city, and another coworkers house was broken into last week. Odilia the second grade teacher, lives just a block from my apartment. She said, “o no one told you? My house was broken into last week.” This was shocking to me, as I have felt like I live in a pretty safe area. I never thought someone might actually break into my house.
Anyway, as everyone started sharing their stories I checked out for a bit. I looked off into the distance only half listening to all their stories. I said to myself… Hannah, get your act together. You can handle this… but the truth is I can’t. My best friend and fifth grade teacher Dirian notice my “exit” and said stop telling these stories or you will make Hannah cry. Well that snapped me back into attention and then I just lost it. All these people that I love live in such a dangerous place. I asked them “How do you go on everyday knowing that it could be you?” Miss Odilia, who has two children a preschool aged son and a fourth grade daughter said, “I leave everyday knowing I might not make it back.”

O it’s just terrible. I told them that usually if someone dies from a crime I always assume in the states that they were part of something not safe, like maybe a gang, an unhealthy relationship, a drug war… But here people will kill for a cell phone. That’s what they have always said, and I now know it to be true.
I’m surprised that I don’t feel a crippling fear from the conversations I had today but more sadness. I feel so sad that all these people I love live in danger everyday. I suppose maybe they don’t know any better, but after seeing so many people walk down the street in NYC with their Iphone glued to their ear and not run into any problems make me feel so sad that this is how they live.
My friend Dirian consoled me as I got myself back together. We were headed to a all staff meeting with administration and I had to get in there. But I just hugged her and said, “Dirian, come home with me where you wont be in any danger, I love you too much to leave you here in this dangerous city.” Later I worried that she might have taken offense to that. I really hope I didn’t offend any of them, I care about them so much I want them to be safe, and I wish it wasn’t like this here. I hope they know that I’m just sad about the danger not judging their culture or their country.

The only answer I can find in this shock and fear and sadness and confusion is to pray. I pray for the people I have come to love here in Honduras, but I also pray for the young boys in this country who do not have parents and feel loved by gang members. I pray that children in this country will live different lives and be cared for and not need to rob or kill people for love and/or money. I pray that God is present to everyone in Honduras in some way. I pray that they will come to understand the beauty of life.

Tonight I pray especially for Chavela, her daughter, and all the girls at the home. I know they will be mourning the death of Chavela’s son and I am well aware that I will never be able to relate to what it is like to be from this country. Dear Lord, thank you for protecting the girls of the home, and please be present this night in the lives of all.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Birthday!

Hi family and friends!
Well I am now officially 23! Seems like a weird age, I guess it just feels like it symbolizes the fact that the younger college goer in me has now grown up. My birthday was really great yesterday. I’m gonna go through it detail by detail in order to cover all the beautiful little things that made my day so wonderful.
I woke up early and peeked outside my door. Emily had decorated for my birthday and Brenda had wrapped my gifts from my family and set them outside my door. I had a nice little time by myself opening my gifts and talking to my mama on facebook chat.
I got beautiful gifts that I have already put to good use. I will be much more occupied at home these days as I now have Grey’s Anatomy Season five to keep me busy! I had sweet cards from the family and reading them just set my day off right. While I was reading my cards and opening my gifts my friend Dirian called me to wish me a Happy Birthday.
As I walked into the school/home grounds all the girls from the orphanage were on their way to their other schools. They all greeted me so sweetly and it was so fun to see how their faces lit up when they remembered it was my birthday. The majority of the kids in the school knew it was my birthday and I got hugs galore all day.
At chapel we did our normal deal and then they asked me to come up front. They all sang happy birthday, thanked me for my work here, and prayed for me. The prayer was very sweet and I felt very special.
When I went into first grade they all sang Las Mananitas, which is a beautiful birthday song that I had to learn in my Spanish class once. It was fun to hear it again and sweet with little first grade voices.
For lunch I had yummy pupusas, which are a Honduran treat. It is mostly just a small circle of dough really, but it has some cheese mixed in…. it’s delicious.
In second grade in the afternoon we danced the hokey pokey (learning vocabulary of course)!
Then I went to the home to help tutor. I helped Sihan and Riccy with English and just encouraged Mauda to keep going on her school work. We laughed, several girls gave me sweet homemade cards, and at 3:30 I headed home.
I was going to take a nap but I checked my email first. In my email I had a response from the Residence Life program I am applying to at the New School. They have already finished the group interviews but because of my experience they would still like to have an interview with me over the phone. The director is supposed to get in touch with me in March.
I also got an email from one of my recommenders for graduate school at The New School. He emailed me my letter of recommendation. Of course most letters of recommendation make you feel good but this one was extra special. What a perfect day to receive it. Now my application is complete and in the process. I hope to hear from them within the next month or so.
I spoke with ever member of my family on skype, Emmanuel sang happy birthday really sweet, and I got to show off my Birthday “look”. I then went out to dinner with my housemates and things got to be a little strange. 
We were sitting at the restaurant I like waiting for my other friends to show up (yes Hondurans always arrive at least thirty minutes late) and a huge wind started blowing around. Dust in our eyes, leaves and seeds in our hair, and a swaying patio on the restaurant led us to move downstairs to continue waiting. The restaurant next door suffered some major damage because a huge tree feel on the roof and cut out the electricity. I hope that no one was hurt! Then the power to the whole city went out. I heard later they turned it off to avoid electrical fires. We decided we needed to call a taxi and get out of there quick. Finally the taxi came and we made it home safe and sound. When we got home, Yara and Emily gave me their birthday gift.
This was a great ending to a very nice day. They gave me a notebook that they had gotten signed by all my students, the other teachers and staff, and all the girls at the home. It was so sweet. I cried and cried and cried. I was so overwhelmed by emotion! It isn’t just signed though, people wrote really sweet heart felt notes in it. I will have this to treasure the rest of my life as a memory to what this whole experience means.
I ended up making Mac and Cheese, talked with Nelleke and papa on Skype and then watched the first episode of Grey’s Anatomy with Yara. All in all it was a good day.
I feel so overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment. I think this is one of my favorite birthdays so far. It is hard to be away from family but I got to talk to everybody and with Skype it makes it a little better since we can see each other. I felt so loved by everyone in this organization. Hondurans really know how to make someone feel special on their birthday.
I do not love Honduras, by any stretch of the imagination, but the comfort of knowing that I am where I am supposed to be and doing what God has asked of me, is a wonderful feeling. I will make it through. I will never forget this experience I will forever feel blessed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 16th

February 16th, 2010
Its four o’clock and I have just arrived back at my house after teaching and tutoring. Today wasn’t an extra special day for any reason but I feel like I need to write a blog. School is going much better these days. The kids seem to know what to expect of me and I’m learning that when I am rested and positive my days are much easier. The students respond to happy but disciplined teachers. I’m proud to be that for them.
Anyway, after school I go tutor the girls in the home. I always dread it, after a long day at school I just want to go home, wash my hands, and take a nap ;-). I always think come on Hannah, an hour isn’t that long and I get started. As I spend more time with the girls I love being with them more. I haven’t written about how loved I feel by them yet, and that is crazy. I feel so loved by these girls. And I am amazed at how unconditionally they do it.
I worked so so SO hard to break through to these girls, and now I can say I honestly have. I had good moments with them of course before but nothing like I do now. Before on any given day the girls could be in a bad mood and be short with me, but now I can say what the heck? Snap out of your mood and they laugh and we hug and move on. Today I horsed around with Riccy, Mauda, Tania, and Abby. Its been a challenge determining how my relationship with Riccy and Mauda should go in the home since I have them both in class but even though I have had to punish them sometimes they still love me when I visit their home. Tania and Abby are both older and its nice to have them as friends. I am thankful that I work in the school and not as a tia because it gives me a little bit more freedom to be their friend and not their disciplinarian.
I love these girls, and the only thing I can think now is how hard it will be to say goodbye to them all. I am not in love with Honduras and eager to move on with my life, but these girls and their smiles will always hold a special spot in my heart.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 18b

January 18, 2010
I’ve been thinking about this entry for a week now and I think its just time I sit down and write it! It was terrible to leave my family in the states when I flew back to Honduras on the 10th. I cried like no grown man or woman should cry, and felt as if my insides were being torn out when I stopped hugging my mom to go into the airport. I said to my mom very strongly, “don’t let me do anything like this again!” There was some truth to it obviously, but also I think I was just emotionally overwhelmed with the task at hand.
When I arrived in San Pedro Sula at three o’clock in the morning I waited in line in customs and saw two smiling faces peering through the window… Yara and Emily had come to meet me at the airport. What a way to be welcomed back to Honduras! I had to wait in a long torturous line but finally I got to see them. It was so wonderful to have them arrive. They already had a taxi and we headed back to the house. Of course we had to catch up so I didn’t sleep until 5:30 AM! I slept till about noon and then around 2:30 when we get out of school, Dirian and Erika, my friends from Holy Family, came to the house to see me. It was so great to see them. We just sat in the living room chatting about the past three weeks.
Then later on I saw my neighbor friend again, went to the pulperia where they asked me about my vacation and where I’d been… I went to a restaurant on Tuesday and a friend of mine happened to be there… It was just all too wonderful. Excuse the Christian”y” lingo for a minute but God knew that coming back to Honduras was going to be very difficult after my wonderful time at home. I have no doubt that he blessed me for the transition. I have family here, I have friends here, and I have people who care about me and will help me in any situation I come across.
I can do this five more months… piece of cake!

January 18

January 18, 2010
So this will be just a quick entry about a special moment. So I have been trying to make a habit of running at the home every evening when the sun starts going down… trying the key word. I haven’t quite got my rhythm down but I’m doing better than before ;-) Anyway, today I arrived to help Riccy study for her reading exam. We spent about an hour and a half studying… among other things. Then I went outside to start running. I got about two laps in and one of the older girls named Brenda started running with me. I have had a harder time getting to know the older girls not for any reason on their part, just overall anxiety about how to be “cool” to a teenager… that makes me sound really old but its harder than you think!
Anyway, I asked her a little bit while we ran she answered we laughed some. She didn’t talk much but I think it was because she was tired… I was trying to encourage her a little bit but not be too overbearing. I said things like we are almost done you can run this whole workout with me and lets finish quick. I think she liked it though. I was really nervous about finishing running cause I didn’t know what I was going to say to her. But we finished I put my arm around her and told her it goes so much faster with a running partner. She smiled and put her arm around me and we walked around the block again for a cool down. I told her from now on I’m gonna bug her every time I go. Hopefully she is interested in training with me some.
Now that I write this down it seems much less significant… but those of you who know me know that running is very important for me. And, I love to be with people, so to be running and getting to know one of the girls was just perfect for me. Brenda putting her arm around me and giggling about the fact she can’t believe she made it the whole time with me was wonderful. I’m so thankful for these moments.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13

January 13, 2010
Wow, I want to share with you what a wonderful Christmas I had. I can’t really put into words that you will believe but I will highlight a couple special moments here;
The Christmas Eve service at St. Claire’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor was just what I needed this Christmas. Beth, the priest, preached about Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. Both Mary and Joseph needed to be in a barn with the animals far away from home to be ready to welcome Jesus. After going into some detail about what this meant near the middle of her sermon Beth asked a rhetorical question that threw me for a loop. She asked, “Where is your Bethlehem?” Where do you need to be to Welcome Jesus? She mentioned that maybe it is at work, maybe in your quiet reflective space, maybe is at your favorite rock concert… (I’m doing a terrible job of covering everything in her wonderful sermon but hopefully I’ll express what was so great for me to hear.) Anyway, she also said, “Maybe you have had to travel very far to welcome Jesus.” I lost it, the tears came flowing. Now mind you they were happy tears! I suddenly had this huge realization that I was in my Bethlehem and ready and eager to welcome Jesus back into my life. The hard work of school in Honduras became a distraction to me where life had become a whirlwind of coping mechanisms. I needed to travel a long way home to be with the people who love me and know me for who I truly am. There in that ocean of love, I could welcome Jesus, and remind myself why what I am doing here in Honduras is soooo important. Since hearing this sermon I feel as if I was a young pop-eye cartoon that suddenly ate a lot of spinach and my muscles just popped (no pun intended) out of my arms! Unfortunately my muscles haven’t actually grown as big as pop-eyes but I do have this overwhelming sense of I can do this! Six months isn’t that long and Honduras isn’t that bad! I don’t know if Beth thought she had a good sermon or not this Christmas… But I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. And, I know its after Christmas but I think its worth asking you… Where is your Bethlehem?
Ok here are some wonderful moments I had with family;
~Every single moment with my new nephew Asher was unforgettable. He looks into my eyes and gives me this little grin that just makes my heart stop. What a beautiful happy baby he is!
~One early morning in pajamas, I was laying on the couch with Dash in my arms and we sang the alphabet and the Wheels on the Bus. It was a short-lived moment, but one that I truly cherish.
~Emmanuel and I gave a drum and guitar concert for Mama Xan and Mongi. It was a very special moment for me because it felt like the first time I was actually playing with Emmanuel rather than just entertaining. I had a blast!
~Xan and Kevin took Mongi and I to a Pistons game and we had an absolute blast. I told my dad later that it felt like Mongi and I were just going to a basketball game with College friends. I hardly even realized we had a two year old and a four month old along with us. I hardly felt like I was tagging along with my older sister and her family. I think maybe that is what love is, when babies feel like close friends and not just burdens. (That may sound rough but you know you have all thought it in your babysitting years right?)
~At Nelleke and Mike’s house we had a Christmas eve/Grandpa Rick’s Birthday dinner. They made absolutely delicious savory crepes. I could go on and on about the yummy crepes but that wasn’t what made this night so special. The most wonderful thing about it was to be sitting in a cheery Christmas beautifully lit room with so many of the people that I love. We had great conversation. I felt, and feel, so blessed to have a family that loves and appreciates each other so much.
~Another favorite time of mine was with Mongi at Xan and Kevin’s house. One of the first days of vacation we sat near the Christmas tree and drank tea. We didn’t talk about anything very noteworthy (to be honest I don’t even remember what we talked about) but I do know that after this sitting around the tree tea time, I felt like Christmas time had finally begun for me. I could start enjoying the season.
~The most relaxing and rejuvenating moments of my vacation happened and my father’s house. We saw two movies, did a jig-saw puzzle, and had one of my favorite meals, ENCHILADAS! It was wonderful to just completely shut off my mind and enjoy being free of responsibilities.
~The most inspiring moment of my whole vacation was being at my mama’s ordination. Wow! I didn’t know it was possible to have so many smiling people on one altar! The joy and delight in the room still chokes me up just thinking about it. It felt as if we all knew this should be happening and we were all so glad it was. I’m so proud of my mom and apparently so are a lot of other people. It was great to meet so many people at St. Paul’s that love her. I felt like a celebrity just being her daughter. She is in a great place, and they are lucky to have her.
These are only a few of the special moments I will not forget of this year’s Christmas. (Especially now that I documented them  ) I was able to see Tara and Audra also which was a great gift also! Thank you family and friends for being a part of these moments!