We ended last week by learning another new skill. The afternoon before, our parting conversation ended with an instruction, which nicely contrasts our cultures, being that it would sound downright disturbing in the UK: ‘Okay cool, so meet at 8am tomorrow at the school with your machetes and sacks ready.’
We were to help tidy the school grounds in preparation for school starting on this Monday by mowing the lawn. Well, mowing was our term; we learned Honduran-style includes a lot less mower and a lot more elbow grease, hence the machetes.
For me there's a certain beauty in how utterly unpractised (read: incompetent) we are at so many skills, which are essential to self-sufficiency here. Given that most of Britain’s history has, to heinously understate the issue, consisted of us deciding that the way we do things is much better, I'm enjoying the fantastic irony of every task we undertake, which proves in some small way how ridiculous this ideology is and was.
We are of course finding things where we are able to exchange roles of patient guides with our national volunteers, too. I'm glad to find we’re also able to bring useful skills - which predominantly relate to computers, soft skills and language learning - to the team, as well as to attempt to salvage the remnants of our self-esteem.
You could, rightly, say that the value of this exchange is that we gain an equality, a sharing of learning and resources, and a better understanding of another’s lives. However, more immediately, there is an equally valuable and essential product. A good bit of frustration!
If anyone in ICS tells you that in their international team, immersed in another culture and a language only varyingly understood, and reports 100% flawless communication from the off, they're lying. Most likely it will be the most seemingly simple of tasks, and the most mundane of words, which you just cannot translate, but at some point or another there will be a time where you just feel utterly frustrated. This is part of the fun.
Before we went I remember being told, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it’ which - whilst primarily a convenient ego boost - in moments where we’re feeling challenged, is a placating and galvanising thought. It helps us (or at least me) remember that being challenged is exactly the point of being here. It feels so much more satisfying, and we’ve learned so much more by broaching gaps of tense misunderstanding than we would have with seamless sentence-worths of easy communication. Even if sometimes it's only in abstract things like patience, creativity and lateral thinking.
With the intentionally integrated nature of this programme, we’re finding that challenge and learning are intrinsically embedded throughout. There are much easier ways of starting a café or building a library than the way that we’re doing it. We could be given all of the funds and divide into national volunteers carrying out training with the community, whilst international volunteers set up social media accounts and do the paperwork. But what would we leave behind?
I am glad that the integration of our groups should ensure that everything we materially achieve within the community translates into learning and capacities for them, as well as for us as volunteers.
However, I hope it's not just the learning which stays with us. The challenges we've shared and the resultant in-jokes, shared superstitions, nicknames and phrases will be the memories, which - along with the practical skills and blisters - I will take back from ICS.
I'm thinking of one in particular this week. On a tour of our friends’ house a while ago, when the oven (rare in El Carrizal) was pointed out, our hosts asked us if we could teach them how to make pizzas. Dusting off my favourite (Jamie Oliver) dough recipe, I was excited to get cooking, which I've definitely missed whilst being here, and pizza night was on.
Something tells me Jamie hasn't cooked pizzas quite like this, though. If he has attempted to mastermind pizza for 15 in someone else's kitchen in rural Honduras, he'll have experienced the utter triumph we felt on Monday as we devoured our steaming dinner, fresh from the oven.
From the moment we set our hearts on pizza we adapted at every turn: foraging first for Wi-Fi to check the recipe and then for the ingredients themselves; finding the need to substitute both these and equipment; lighting a camping stove to boil the water whilst simultaneously instructing fellow chefs in a broken (though rapidly expanding) second language; racing to fill a rapidly cooling wood oven and ensure we had enough pizzas to feed everyone.
It was far from easy and as the one who supposedly knew what they were doing I was probably the most stressed. But when it all came together, nothing could beat sharing this achievement (and damn good pizza) with our new friends. Exhausted from a perfect evening of joking, dancing, learning and laughing, I knew during the contented beaming silence as we carried ourselves home, along with tasters for our families, that this was a night I know I will remember… And all completed to a curfew.
Written by ICS volunteer Gemma Welsh. Photos by Christian and Gemma.