I spent the beginning of my sixteenth summer settling into routine of living off cereal and watching reruns all day. However, I had a rude awakening when my youth pastor convinced my parents that I should go to Honduras and do something useful with my summer. Because I was irritated with my parents for forcing me out of my comfort zone, I acted completely unconcerned with the entire trip and refused to do any of the suggested research. I was so ignorant; I could not even find Honduras on a map.
My way of preparing for the trip was to lie on the roof tanning. As I baked myself to a crisp, I decided that my experience in Honduras would involve a nice tan, playing with children underneath palm trees, and eating a lot of tropical fruit.
The morning of departure, I had to be at the airport at the unholy hour of 4am, which got me off to a bad start. An entire day of flying with a group of rowdy teenagers did nothing to improve my spirits. As I stepped out of the airport to be hit by a wave of steamy, tropical air, my cynical attitude only increased. While we drove away from the airport, my visions of palm trees and fruit slipped away and were replaced with the reality of overcrowded streets and meager living conditions. Everything was dirty and a blanket of smog covered the city.
When we arrived at our destination, I was perturbed to see iron prison bars covering the doors and windows, and the high security wall topped with razor wire running around the property. “The razor wire must be there for more than just decoration,'” I reflected. The first night, I lay in my squeaky bed sweating until the sheets began to stick to my skin. In the bad humor I was in, every squeak of my bed only infuriated me more.
The morning after my team arrived, we were aroused at the crack of dawn to dive into our tasks. As we drove into the heart of Honduras, the roads became increasingly rough. By the time we arrived at the school we were working in, I had seen enough of the country side to make my mind reel with the injustice of any human having to live in such miserable conditions. I was shocked that such poverty actually existed outside of the discovery channel. Though my indifference had worn off, I was still uncomfortable with the work we were doing. Not only did I feel ridiculous when I tried to speak Spanish, I was paranoid about catching a disease.
Nevertheless, my icy attitude gradually began to thaw out. Though I battled it, I could not resist laughing with the children when they howled in amusement at my broken Spanish. Fight them as I tried, I could not stop the defiant tears that came to my eyes when I learned why many of the children under two years did not have names — the infant mortality rate was so high that their mothers would not name them, for fear of getting too attached to a child that may not survive.
I could not resist the compassion that tugged at my heart when I saw children drinking unclean water and itching their lice ridden scalps. With sweat trickling down my legs and mascara making grimy swirls down my face, I found myself feeling strangely at home. I felt sure that I had been born solely to hold grubby little hands and clean out filthy sores. As my stay in Honduras wore on, I begin to feel increasingly attached to the place. Every night I regretted having to waste so much time sleeping. By the end of the trip I was on the phone with my parents, begging them to let me stay another week.
When I got back to the United States, the compassion that I had felt in the countryside of Honduras overflowed to my daily American life. Rather than settling back into my lazy couch potato routine, I began looking for ways to help my brothers and sisters who struggle. I learned how to look past outward things that I may find repulsive, and see the need that every human has to be loved and accepted.
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