Also known as, what happens when you move family, country, culture, language, food... and everything else?
A few Sundays ago, my family showed me where our food comes from. I was led, open-mouthed and over-excited through patchwork of coffee, corn, bananas, potatoes, beans, carrots, and plenty more that I don´t know the English for - the ingredients which make up the fresh, satisfying and impressively varied food, lovingly made for me (in gluttonous quantities) for every meal. This trip made me have even more appreciation for mealtimes, which are my quality time with my family, sharing our days and comparing varied snapshots of life in Honduras and the UK.
As the go-to first conversations, university and school are some of the first I have with my parents. They are intrigued by my desire to study in Edinburgh from September. The idea of living in a different country, a passport and flight away is both fascinating and alien. As I have yet to work out how the many relatives passing through our house are related to our family, I can see why imagining moving away from their own tight-knit community seems daunting to them.
Three weeks in, the kids giggle hysterically as they peer behind my glasses to compare ´la muchacha´ with and without them on, and I suddenly realise that since we arrived I haven´t seen a single person wearing them. Whilst I wish I could bottle my Honduran little sisters' creativity anyway, their joy at this particular game makes a bit more sense now. It seems that sight problems must be less widespread here.
Another Sunday comes around and my family ask lots of questions about our upcoming visit to the next town´s waterfall. I chat about swimming in waterfalls in Scotland with my dad and ask if we can swim in this one - a definitive no, as my parents explain it´s much too dangerous. I absently wonder whether the waterfalls we’ll visit are much bigger than I've seen in Britain.
These were some of my first impressions. But with every conversation I'm gaining a fuller picture of my family's lives. The sense of community turns out to be only part of why my Honduran host parents can´t get their heads around my choosing to live a flight away from home when there are universities much closer. Pieces of the puzzle fall into place upon learning that there is only one public university in Honduras, and when my host dad´s sister emigrates to Spain to work and no one knows when they will see her again. None of my family (nor, I later find, the vast majority of our national volunteers) have ever left Honduras.
I remember my observations about glasses in a conversation over washing clothes in the 'pila' with my host mum. She asks me if my glasses were made just for me, and how much they cost, and reveals in answer to my questions that she cannot see things close up. As it turns out, glasses join doctor's appointments, let alone medication, on the list of unaffordable luxuries. It's particularly hard to get my head around conditions such as diabetes, which I think of as being easily manageable, here presenting a grave financial burden.
One initial impression which did prove pretty accurate was the waterfall. It was, in fact, even more dauntingly massive than I'd imagined. My family´s fear of waterfalls in general, though, I discover is actually rooted in the fact they've never learned to swim. There are no local pools, and they know that without swimming, being around water can be dangerous. A memory stirs of my own parents saying as much on our way to the swimming lessons I had from before I can remember.
I cannot imagine a better way to fully adjust to, and begin to understand a new culture than by being welcomed into our host families´ lives. I´ve had the chance to be struck by the freshness of the food, strength of community, and the self-sufficient aptitude and knowledge our national volunteers have, particularly in rural skills, to name just one area. By contrast us UK volunteers are, we've found, pretty useless at anything vaguely resembling manual labour, and the unnecessary amount we consume at home is uncomfortable to be faced with.
Over the past few weeks my ideas of every aspect of my life in Britain and my host community's life here have already been challenged and evolved which is refreshing. Replacing my invented mental picture with experiences of actual people's realities, it is hard not to feel the proximity of poverty to us all, in geography and humanity, which we often forget.
Taking this perspective with the topic of healthcare, my mind turns to the weakening National Health Service at home. It is painfully visible here the difference that lack of access to public healthcare makes, and to whom. I am glad of the chance to fight in the UK I feel we must use to keep what for so many is a scarcely-met right.
Most of all I'm excited to see what the rest of this programme brings, already feeling the impact it's having on all of us. I'm proud to be a tiny part of the hopefully lasting change it enables people to take pride in creating in their communities.
Written by ICS volunteer Gemma Welsh