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Life As A Single Gringa in Rural
An Interview by Nathalie
Nathalie: What was your introduction to Honduran culture?
Anna: I was being trained as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Siguatepeque, and
Gracias, Lempira for three months before moving to the village where I'd be
working for the rest of my two-year stay.
During my training, I stayed with two host families--a nice transition into the
culture, which I better understood later. Host families need to adhere to
certain living standards, such as a private bedroom with a door for the
volunteer. That is by no means something you can expect in every home in Central
During these three months, we also had intensive language training. My Spanish
was not fluent, despite my straight A's during a total of two years of Spanish
classes in college. I will admit that I wasn't very motivated at the time, not
knowing for what I would use the language.
Although the on-site language classes helped, I learned the most from
interacting with my host families and our counterparts.
Nathalie: Can you share a few stories from your life in the village?
Anna: Sure, I'd be happy to. First I went to Olancho to visit the place
where I would live. Several families offered to host me. What I hadn't realized
until then was that the concept of privacy was completely foreign to the
Honduran villagers. Large families share a house that only has a few rooms, and
there are no doors between the rooms! I was able to fend off the generous offers
by telling the families that I wanted to plant my own garden and would need more
Luckily I found a family willing to rent me their son's house. He was working in
the U.S. at the time and wasn't expected back for a while. The house actually
has a fence around it
However, a single woman living in a house by herself was quite a novelty for the
people in the village. Who would protect me? Who would look after me? Did I just
want to be alone to indulge in promiscuity?
That's when it dawned on me that the only image of Americans available to the
village people were from Hollywood movies. Add in a few anecdotes related by
fellow Hondurans who had traveled to the U.S., and here's what an "American" is
- A blonde Caucasian. Anybody whose skin color is not white can't be a REAL
- Promiscuous. American women are seen as loose (this is more a thing with
people in the cities and outsiders coming to visit my village, not the villagers
in my community).
- Influential. I clearly was the person who could write a letter of introduction
to a senator to get someone a working visa to the U.S. (also being American I
must be rich).
- The Expert on Life. I was approached with medical issues ranging from
gallbladder troubles to high blood pressure, financial questions, and, most of
all, questions about American politics and foreign affairs. I had to explain
over again and over that I didn't in fact have a personal relationship with the
After a while, the villagers came to like their eccentric American visitor. They
learned that I didn't fit the stereotype and they tolerated my ways.
Privacy was non-existent, even in my own house. There are no glass windows in
the houses there, so either you open your door and shutters to let light in, or
it's dark inside the house. The moment you open your door, you invite everyone
in, like it or not.
People were very curious as to how I lived, what kind of matches I bought, what
I ate, how I slept and how I bathed. All I had in the living room was a hammock
and a table. My bedroom was separated by a curtain. It didn't deter people from
looking behind the curtain if they didn't see me in the living room.
Water was sometimes available beside the house in the pila (basin; sink). There
was a roofless multipurpose structure which contained an outhouse, a makeshift
bathing area and a place to wash clothes. I had put up a shower curtain that
granted me privacy most of the time. I think growing up on a farm helped me be
more relaxed about this than other volunteers who were more used to city life!
Fortunately, my neighbors understood that I would lock my gate after dark, since
I was living by myself. Night time was the only time I could actually read a
book and have time to myself. Some families offered to send their children to
come live with me, which I kindly declined. I was also offered pistols and
rifles to defend myself just in case a need should arise. That's actually not
allowed as a Peace Corps Volunteer! My neighbors told me to holler if I needed
help. One night, I almost did.
I was awakened by a loud racket coming from the roof. Roofs are made of loose
tiles that aren't cemented to the rafters, so it's easy for someone to displace
them and jump inside the house. I had been warned about this by other volunteers
and found myself in fight-or-flight mode. I decided to go see what was going on.
I went into the other room to look up at the roof and saw two eyes glaring at me
in the dark. Was it a thief? No, it was an opossum!
Nathalie: Which aspect of your experience has had the most impact on you?
Anna: What impressed me most was that everyone genuinely cared about
people around them. No matter how poor they were, I would always be offered food
and drink, and they would give me the best they had. They cared about how I was
doing, would bring over soup when I was sick, picked up a broom to clean, and
did anything to be helpful.
The children had none of the modern entertainment that we know in the U.S. and
were excited to help me in the garden, collect bits of wood for baking, explore,
or look through my pictures.
Hondurans truly understand the important things in life, family and friends.
They would always take in children who needed a home. They care and respect
their elders. They made time to celebrate life. Life in the U.S. is so
fast-paced and commercialized that it's easy to loose sight of human
connections. I remember the wonderful chats I had with families on their front
porch, watching burros, cows and infrequent cars go by. I still talk to many of
them on the phone even though I left almost two years ago.
I have two god-daughters in school who are inspired by my example and will
hopefully continue on to high school. I will always feel that my village in El
Carbonal, Silca is my second home.
I think that we mostly assume that people would have the same kinds of ideas
about life that we do, and that's not true at all. My mind was opened as to how
life is for other people around the world. Living in a culture that has such
different expectations from my own makes me appreciate what I have, especially
the freedom I have as an American.
© 2009 Nathalie V. Fairbanks
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