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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Our Little Roses

Christmas in Honduras

I’m having a wonderful time sharing Christmas with the girls at Our Little Roses home for girls. Here are some of my observations about Christmas here (as opposed to Europe/USA).

1. Christmas is celebrated on midnight of the 24th, not on the 25th

2. People set off so many homemade fireworks you might think it’s World War III

3. Santa comes at midnight to give presents

 

ImageSpecial Christmas church service.

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More photos to follow!

 

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3 Weeks in Honduras. What have I learned?

1. Traffic lights and stop signs are not actually essential for road usage. All those years of playing Tetris pay off when you are slowly easing a car through a crossroads where everyone seems to be going at once, very slowly…

2. Lots of people still use horses as a mode of transport for heavy goods.

3. Insects see me as an all-you-can-eat buffet (no change there then)

4. The password to getting absolutely anyone to do anything in this organisation is to say: “Dona Diana said…”

5. To say “how’s it hanging?” you say “Que pedo?” (lit. “What fart?)

6. Every meal comes with rice and beans. And some come with rice and frijoles, just for variation.

7. Most things I say in Spain Spanish are either rude or unintelligible here.

8. Hot weather makes me really tired and cranky, like a grumpy baby that needs a nap (also not news).

9. Ambassadors are dick heads. We bent over backwards to accommodate the US Ambassador, changing the date of the concert to the only night she could come, and now she has pulled out of coming to the show, saying that she CAN come to “have pictures taken with the girls”. (Good publicity for free? Yeah sure. Why don’t you just take the food out of their mouths and the clothes off their backs, you upper class, over paid, trumped up… POLITICIAN. That was one of Shakespeare’s favourite insults. Y.O.U. S.T.I.N.K.)

10. Although the girls here are happy, wonderful, bubbly children, adolescents, and young women, scratch the surface and you will get a sense of the vast pool of sadness here. Born to parents who were murdered, or who abandoned them as they were unable to take care of them for whatever reason, they are given a lot of opportunities. They receive an excellent education in as positive and safe an environment as circumstances allow, yet read any of their poems and you get a sense of the deep pain caused by the socioeconomic fabric here being pulled apart by violence and instability. I get the sense that the girls see the home as both a blessing and a curse.

Cabin Fever vs Safety Concerns

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If you come to San Pedro Sula, you can go anywhere you want as long as you go:

>in an official taxi with a trusted driver

>to places that have armed guards

The places that have armed guards are described as “middle class”, but that strata of society is so small that they are few and far between. Supermarkets, or any kind of shop in a building, will have at least one visible armed guard in front, and a large van filled with heavily armed men. When I pass them, I am probably in the safest place I could be, yet the sight of their huge guns makes my stomach lurch.

If you like going for walks and dropping into random coffee shops, then… don’t. A lot of local people don’t travel far after dark, as a precaution to avoid problems on the roads from gang members. A wrong turn can lead you into dangerous territory, where gangs shoot at any car that they don’t recognise; although it is said that this area is “OK”, and that you would probably “only get mugged here, and nothing else would happen”.

The past week, I’ve started to experience “cabin fever”. Seeing the same people every day, trying to make conversation, chatting to my coworkers about work… The “honeymoon period” is wearing off and I stare at the gate with longing, thinking about how nice it might be to walk around the block to the shop, or gazing out the window of a taxi, watching the regular people hanging out at the blue collar bars that look like little shacks lining the road. I don’t feel like a “real person” here yet. I feel like a monkey in a golden cage.

Even though Honduras is statistically terribly unsafe, I don’t feel that unsafe when I’m pottering around the supermarket or eating in a restaurant. In Madrid, I never really accepted the way that people ranted and raved constantly, or complete strangers stared you in the eye for far too long and had no qualms about entering your personal space. So far, I find Honduran body language and way of speaking more inline with my ingrained idea of “good manners”. No one has laughed at my Spanish, tried to belittle me, ridiculed or mocked my accent, or told me that I am “x” because of who I am or where I come from. That makes a refreshing change.

Accomodation

My Mum often asks to see these kinds of photos when I’m travelling, so this one is for you, Mummykins!

This is my bed. There are 10 beds in the room, but usually there’s only me in there.

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This is the living room of the apartment. There is air con here but not anywhere else in the home.

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This is one of the 3 bathrooms. The accommodation can fit 40 people, as visitors are a source of revenue for the home.

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Fragile Frisbees and Broken Promises

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When I accepted the role of Production Manager on this project, I was under the assumption that I would be working as the music teacher’s minion, assisting him with props, staging, lighting, audio etc. From now on, I will assume nothing.

One of the first things I did when I arrived here was to go to Francisco (the music teacher) and ask him for his script. Here’s a diary of events as they unfolded:

Friday 1st

I meet Francisco for the first time.

Monday 4th

I mention to Francisco that doing a play that he has written doesn’t comply with the objectives for the show (to showcase the work from the girls and students from the school), and that I don’t think it’s a good idea. Francisco tells me that if we don’t do his play, he will get very angry and not work on the event.He tells me the script is in his notebook that he will bring it the following day. He also says that he will come to the home after school, but he doesn’t show. 

Tuesday 5th

Francisco gives me his notebook with half of the script, telling me he will give me the rest the next day as he has forgotten it. 

He announces that we should go and see the girls at the school and see their dance. I say “Have you asked them and told them you are coming?”. He said yes. So down we went.

The girls were sitting in the TV room, chilling after school. He marches over to them and barks orders at them. They tell him no, they can’t, because not all of them are there. He asks them 4 or 5 times, so they get up, looking grumpy and irritated.

They do the dance in the too small room, doing each step lacklustrely in the warm air of the TV room, bumping in to each other, looking awkward. When they finish, Francisco immediately starts to criticise them for “lack of happiness” (as the song is all about hope and joy). We precede to the concrete games area where the stage is, and the same thing happens. The girls hate him, because he tries to order them about as if they were his pupils. They are not, and they don’t respect him. 

Later, I type up what he has given me. It’s clear that he has written this in less than an hour. It’s mainly prose, without stage directions. There are a lot of mistakes in the grammar and accents. I type what he has given me and send it to Diana. 

Wednesday 6th

I get up at 6:00 am to go to school (which starts at 7 am) to be told by Francisco that “his brother had the other notebook and has now lost it”. I tell him that I’ll be speaking to the founder of the organisation at 9 am to let her know that we have no script, and he says that he has a free period from 9:45 until 10:30. 

I speak to Diana about my misgivings. She concurs that “my dog ate my homework” excuses are not what we need at this time. Francisco comes in halfway through our conversation and sits down in a chair, tapping his fingers impatiently as if irritated to be kept waiting.

At the end of the conversation we go to the table to talk. He gives me more lies, and more excuses, telling me that the reason things aren’t going well is because he wasn’t given clear objectives from either Diana, Brad (the film director) or Spencer (the anthology editor). He says that he had spent a lot of time writing something but that then they said that it wasn’t what they wanted. I asked to see that thing. Then he knew that I was calling his bluff. After 20 minutes of going around in circles, I said to him:

“I’m going to be direct now. You lied to me when you said you had a script. All this about your brother had it and now it is lost? I wasn’t born yesterday. You have wasted a lot of my time. I have come here to help you and I can’t do that if you lie to me. If you had told me on the first day that you were very confused about the objectives and so you hadn’t produced a script, then I would have understood. But you lied.”

He went on to say that the script was all in his head. There wasn’t lines because it would be mimed to music, and I told him:

“I haven’t read so many plays in Spanish, but even that needs to be scripted, with stage directions etc. I want a script now. It’s no good in your head. I can’t help you if it’s in your head.”

We ended up having an exchange where I ended up repeating and repeating “Get it out of your head” and poking the notebook for emphasis. So he sat there writing for twenty minutes, and then got up to leave, saying “I’m coming back”. I asked him what time, and he said “Today” as he stormed off. 

He promised me the script that day, and he also promised that he would come to the home at night to see the theatre workshops I was doing with the girls.

Later, I took all of the small girls out to the play area with the frisbees, as something fun to do, experimenting with taking them out and seeing how they worked together. But the frisbees cracked against the concrete floor, exposing razor sharp edges. I cut my hand catching one. It was a small disaster at the end of a disastrous day.

Thursday 7th

The next day, I was taking pictures of some wall displays in the school, when Francisco walked past and pointedly ignored me. “Good.”, I thought, “He can’t waste any more of my time if he’s ignoring me”.

Then, I was in the sewing room, hanging with the girls and fiddling about on my computer with the show plans, when someone tells me that Mayra (the founder’s assistant) wants me to go and see her. 

I head up to her office, wondering what was up, when I’m not lead to her office but to her meeting room. There sat Mayra, two women I didn’t know, and Francisco himself, with a typed and printed version of his script that he had done all by himself. He didn’t say hello to me, and I sat down across from him, turning my head so that he wasn’t in my line of vision.

Mayra asked me to explain where we were with the Espectáculo. And then, something really weird happened. I just got into the zone with Spanish and literally spoke the best Spanish of my life EVER. I explained that Spencer had sent me a list of items, things that the girls had performed throughout the year, and that I was working on collecting them. 

What have I learned from this experience?

1. Not everyone can write scripts.

2. Some people accept jobs, tooting their own horns and saying what skills they would like to have instead of what skills they actually have, and then are too proud to own up to get out of it.

3. Never play frisbee on concrete.

 

 

The View from Our Apartment

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First Days

As I descended the steps from my accommodation to be given a tour of the girls home, I was too tired to be nervous. I had gotten up at 3 am, to be in transit for 8 hours, but the hot air was clearing my flu symptoms and I felt oddly calm. I walked around the premises, trailing after the carer, hearing names I’d never heard before that slipped through my memory like flour through a sieve. Eduviges, Fernanda, Damari…

The girls wander about the compound, supervised by carers called “Tías”, the younger girls shouting and laughing, the older girls whispering their gossip from school. Music blares from handheld speakers in the shape of cars. Neighbourhood boys from the other side of the wall peak in where the concrete is not so high, trying to get the attention of the teenagers who live within, and the girls throw stones at them in response.

I sat on a bench with a bunch of teens, trying to follow their talk but feeling like someone who had gotten lost and stumbled into intruding in a semi-private conversation. The girl next to me is friendly, but the rest are eyeing me in a way that is making me a little uncomfortable. I think back to what I was like at that age, and how it felt when the teacher (aka enemy) sat with us and tried to make nice. This wasn’t the firs time that I was wishing that there was a word in Spanish for “awkward”.

Then it was time for dinner. I wandered into the courtyard, got a plate of baleadas (like thick tortillas), and plonked myself down with a group of girls. I was halfway through my meal when everything went dark; the electricity had cut out.

Not knowing my way around yet, I groped my way slowly back to my accommodation, praying that I hadn’t forgotten my hiking head torch. Luckily I had packed it, so I put it on and then hung it up at a picnic table in the main courtyard. Lots of the younger girls were crying and needed comforting as they are afraid of the dark, but the older girls sat them on their laps and they started to sing. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a myriad of Honduran kids sing Taylor Swift’s “Call Me Maybe” by torchlight.

When I first arrived in Madrid by accident (after being accepted by British Council to go to China but being sent to Spain instead), I knew within 3 months that I was where I was “supposed to be”. Things just started slipping into place (like finding a great apartment right near my job, or meeting NPR’s correspondent for Spain), with too many *coincidences*; as cheesy as it sounds, this was fate at work. That city that I moved to randomly is where I met Spencer Reece, the driving force behind this poetry project, and it’s that same feeling, like I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know the destination, but I know that I am on the right path, and I just need to trust that feeling and let go of The Future.

All of my misgivings about coming to this place were misplaced. The girls are amazing. Some are a little stand-offish at times, but most are very friendly, open, talented, beautiful and joyful. Now, I just need to study the board in my accommodation to learn a few names a day, and work on building relationships with these amazing young women.

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Arrived safely in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

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After getting up at 3 am this morning to catch a 7 am flight from Chicago O’hare, it feels good to have arrived at the girls home Our Little Roses without any incident at all.

What can I say about the journey? I flew on a mini plane from Miami to San Pedro. It was awesome to hear so many people speaking Spanish in Miami airport, although I used vosotros (which means “you all” but is only used in Spain) and the server in the bar didn’t understand me (“Tenéis café?” [blank stare]).

San Pedro airport was tiny, and after the immigration desk, we had to put our bags through another security check (for drugs and guns). I started sweating because I realised that I had a big tupperware box of white powder in my pack. I love to use bicarbonate of soda as a cheap eco-friendly shampoo and deodorant, but if the security had delayed me to investigate the fine white powder, then I would have been very embarrassed. Luckily I smuggled it through…

My first impressions of the city are that it is very green, and very humid. The buildings don’t seem to be more than two storeys, as if they are cowering under the shadow of the lush green mountains. I have seen a lot of shacks as shops by the side of the road. And I’ve learned that rule number one of car journeys in Honduras is: “Wear a bra”.

Fear of…Teenage Girls

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In 7 days, I’m headed to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, (dubbed by the media as “the murder capital of the world”), to work with the girls and young women at Our Little Roses. I have a lot of experience with under 11s, but working with the age bracket 15 and up scares me slightly.

I think the root of my fear of working with this age group is that I was a bit of a lost soul at that age myself. It was a dark time in my life, where I had a dim view of a system that I had seen fail me and many others, and I especially disliked people who I considered to be “do-gooders”. I was so desperate for peer recognition that I did every rebellious thing that I could, regardless of whether I enjoyed it or not, like smoking, drinking, and going to music festivals.

I made a point of associating with people older than me, and I had zero positive role models. Not that I wanted any anyway; as far as I was concerned, the world was broken, and I had completely lost faith in any force for good.
Although the girls at the home and I are from worlds apart, I know what it is like to feel alone and abandoned. Maybe these girls will be different from how I was; I had seen it all and I wasn’t interested in anything you had to tell me. I really hope that I don’t find anyone there who is as disillusioned as I was.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I’ve managed to make some peace with the past, rediscovering who I am and what I really like to do. I’m very aware that I am privileged to be involved in this project, and I want to be of as much use there as possible. I hope I have the confidence to be myself with these girls. Maybe they have more to teach me than I have to teach them.

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