My Experiences in Honduras: A Triad of Life Lessons
By Kynai Johnson
I had been in Honduras for less than 2 weeks before the adventures were in full effect. Cumulatively, the experience proved to be one of the best I’ve ever have had, thus far!
As an adventurous spirit double majoring in Spanish and Communications, I was always looking for an opportunity to explore the world around me and garner life experience. During the summer of 2005 I received more than I had asked for when I lived in La Ceiba, Honduras, working for a newspaper called La Prensa. La Prensa is the Honduran equivalent of the Washington Post. It is a very well known and prestigious paper, so I was thrilled that they allowed me to hangout in the office and learn from them. Imagine my surprise when they actually allowed me to write a story on my FIRST DAY on the job!!! I would later look back and appreciate their confidence in me, but at the time, it just made me terribly nervous and pressured!!!! They gave me information about a Festival that would be held the following Sunday and allowed me to write (in spanish, of course) a little blurb about it.
In hindsight, I suppose I did well enough on that assignment, because less than a week later, I was given another story to cover. This time, the article centered on how the Border Police had arrested a group of men charged with the trafficking of illegal materials. Granted I got a lot of help when I wrote my stories, but it was still exciting to have my name printed below an article which was read by people all over the city!!
When I was not writing my own stories, I followed other reporters around as they did interviews and wrote articles. On another occasion, for example, I went out on a run to the hospital, where a man had recently been injured when police performed a drug bust. After shadowing the news team as they went to the hospital to snap some shots and get interviews, we rushed to the actual scene of the crime, where the police were still in the process of handcuffing the drug traders and doing a search. The police confiscated 10 kilograms of cocaine from the bust.
The day before, I went with another reporter to the police station where two notorious gang bangers had just been brought into the station. One of the two men was the leader of the gang! This interview was VERY exciting because we entered a small room (not a cell) where the two detainees were, although they were not restrained in any manner (handcuffs, etc). Furthermore, the materials which had been confiscated from them when they were taken in, (three cell phones, a wallet full of cash, a large bag of marijuana, two gold chains, two revolvers and 40 bullets) were sitting on a small table in the center of the room, less than 3 feet away from where the two were standing. On top of all this, when they were not talking to the police, they were whispering quietly to one another in the corner. The door of the small room was often time left open, as reporters and police walked in and out. To me, it seemed as though the police were TEMPTING them to try and grab the guns and make a run for it. Not to mention that my friend Judy (the photographer for the paper) and I were the only two females. (which seemed more attention getting). I shadowed her as she tentatively and wordlessly approached them to snap a few pictures for the paper.
The reporter who was covering the story had discredited all of Judy’s fears before we walked into the room. “If you’re scared, give me the camera and I’LL take the pictures,” I remember him telling her emphatically. Since he was so laid back, (although he whispered these sentiments, since we were just outside the door preparing to enter the room), I didn’t see it as a dangerous situation. Then, just before we walked in, he pulled out his notepad and wrote to us: “Go in, take the pictures and dont say anything,! ANYTHING!!! It will be a bit dangerous inside.” No sooner did I have the realization that my life was ACTUALLY in peril, than we were escorted inside. Thankfully, the gangbangers were very calm and didn’t try anything. Even better, since I made it out safely – it made a great story to share later!!!
In other news, one day, while waiting in line at the bank, I ran into another America who owned and operated a tour company and hostel called Jungle River/Banana Republic. While waiting in line, I helped her toddler son get a cup of water from the cooler beside where I was standing, and she and I began chatting. Before I knew it, I was working with her and her tour company in the evenings after the paper closed for the day. This was one of the best jobs I ever had. That summer I had an “in” on all the amazing activities the tour company offered. I went on countless hikes, learned to zip-line canopy, went white water rafting, and even (momentarily) conquered my fear of heights with a heroic cliff dive.
Over all, my experience in Honduras was more than worthwhile. I also learned a lot about myself that summer. For one thing, I discovered that I didn’t truly have a passion for journalism. During the same summer, I also stumbled across a children’s group home and orphanage, called “La Casa del Nino,” where I began volunteering all of my free time. I acted as a mentor and playmate, and also gave computation classes to the children living there. The irony is that, on paper, this adventure doesn’t seem to compare to the aforementioned. But somehow, for me, even with my adventurous spirit, my days with those kids was the greatest part of the summer. I began to split my time – working with La Prensa in the morning, working at La Case del Nino in the evenings, and working with Jungle River/Banana Republic at night. On my weekends, I would ride with the tour company out of the city, to the jungle, spending the day relaxing in the bungalows or playing in the river.
My experience with the tour company gave me a rush of excitement, and showed me to face my fears head on (such as with the cliff dive). It also emphasized the serenity of our natural environment, and showed me how much I loved to be so close to nature. La Prensa taught me to have confidence in myself, and to step outside of familiarity and try new things (like writing articles in a foreign language, about a foreign culture!). Finally, La Casa del Nino showed me my life passion. I am currently completing a graduate degree in Social Work, directly as a result of this experience. My professional life goal is to become a bilingual licensed social worker, specializing in therapy for trauma survivors in foster care. My summer in Honduras helped to shape me, and I will be eternally grateful for everyone who played a part in that chapter of my life.
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