One night this week, whilst trying to get to sleep, which, by the way, is no easy task in El Carrizal when the chickens living in your garden wake up before you’ve even settled under the covers and the dogs of the town compete every night for who can be the loudest, I started to think about the new world I’d been thrown into. When visions of a toilet that requires a bucket to flush and a shower that only feels warm after standing in a blizzard for three hours began to invade my head, beauty wasn’t the first word that came to mind. 

The mountains as seen from the hotel in Santa Lucia

However, as I drifted images of a very different nature surfaced. My sleep addled brain took me back to our first real journey in Honduras: the drive from the idyllic town of Santa Lucia and the hotel that was our home for the last four days, through the capital Tegucigalpa and finally to the small town of El Carrizal. I saw again the sprawling city, the endless farmland of rural Honduras and the imposing green mountains of Intibucá, as we got closer to El Carrizal. Whilst pondering as a spectator to this mental journey I recognised the wonder that this country has to offer. I also realised that what I’d previously thought as scary and daunting needed only a more open and positive outlook to suddenly become a thing of peerless beauty. 

My view every morning as I walk to work

When I arrived at my house in El Carrizal I took one look at the facilities and decided this was going to be three months of holding my nose and trying not to look too hard at the smudges on the wall, but after two and a half weeks in my new home, I have begun to see beauty in the small details of life here in Honduras. It’s these small things that keep me looking forward to my next day here and that make the ICS programme so rewarding for me: the way my host mother makes every meal incredibly delicious and with love despite having none of the modern conveniences we consider normal in Britain, that my host sister fights me every day to wash my dishes, the genuine friendships people have here that they go out of their way to help others and the rural surroundings that, while at first seemed remote, now fill me with happiness every day when I walk out the front gate to the sound of birds and the smell of fresh fruit.

It’s the simplicity of life here that makes it so interesting to me and, in my opinion, so beautiful. There is no access to internet in my home and only one small television in the central room: a far cry from my home in England where everyone is constantly online and the mention of “family time” is a cringe-worthy offense. However, this creates an atmosphere where the family is always together and the sight of an eighteen-month old girl playing with her eight-year-old cousin, as well as her four-year-old uncle, strikes me as more beautiful than any piece of artwork.

The evening sky in EL Carrizal

One particular example that I remember very clearly was as I was walking home one day after saying goodbye to the other volunteers. I was almost home when a man swinging a large machete came round the corner, looked me in the eye and headed straight for me. I panicked and looked around to see if anyone was close to help and as I looked back at the man and I was preparing to defend myself he was stood a few metres away with his hand outstretched and an incredibly warm smile on his face. It felt like we stared at each other for a few seconds before he repeated “Buenas tardes” and I came to my senses and realised he was simply saying hello with a friendly gesture of a handshake and that in my panic I had missed his original greeting. I had immediately assumed the worst and decided he was dangerous, however this man was just another show of the nature of life here in El Carrizal and the beauty of that man’s smile is mirrored in almost every aspect of the small town. 

More and more as our faces have become known here and I’ve discovered that pretty much every child is related to me somehow through my host family, I’ve started to exchange greetings with people I pass on the street and found out the reason volunteers in previous cycles have loved life here so much. 

The central park in the nearby town of Yamaranguila

When I came to Honduras I had two things in mind: to improve my Spanish and to do something good for other people, and whilst I’ve certainly gotten more fluent in my language, I’m feeling more and more that this place and its people are doing something good for me and not the other way round. I have begun to look at the negative side of things less and I try to see the beauty in what’s around me. The more this is true the more also I hope that our project is a success and we can make this beautiful town a place of success for its young people. I only hope that as I become more accustomed to life here it will not lose its beauty for me and that it continues to amaze and astound us every day.

Written by ICS volunteer Owain Hughes