Thursday, February 09, 2012
Just because they call it a homestay doesn't make it homey
The primary focus for much of the screening, assessments and training my partner and I went through during our Cuso International preparations was whether we were flexible and adaptable enough for this work.
I felt certain then and now that we would be well-suited to being thrust into unfamiliar settings and largely left to our own devices to figure things out. But this homestay business is definitely proving to be an early test of our abilities to go with the flow.
The warm and friendly sound of a homestay never did tempt me. I don’t like the idea of staying with a houseful of strangers in my own culture, let alone in a foreign country with a considerably lower standard of living. But a nice hotel with a pool wasn’t an option when Cuso booked us in for a month-long homestay in Copan Ruinas while we attend a Spanish-language school that’s preparing us for placements here in Honduras.
We’re now in Week 3, and eagerly - maybe even desperately - counting down the days until we move into our own place next week. I’ve never looked for housing with such fervor. My instinctive wariness of homestays has now been confirmed, and I plan to do anything in my power from this point on to avoid ever staying in one again.
I get the concept: That if you’re fully immersed into the culture, language and family life of your new country, you’ll have no choice but to adapt rapidly and start picking up the language. In a romantic (but misguided) moment, you might even picture how nice it’s going to be sitting down for traditional meals with a friendly family who will gently ask you about your day and encourage you to test your fragile language skills.
But I’m just too freakin’ old to get stuffed into a run-down little back bedroom in a house overrun by what seems to be a thousand small children and assorted passers-by. As for those family meals, they don’t seem to have such a thing in this house; dinner last night, for instance, consisted of the two of us gulping down our beans and tortillas at the plastic table while a baby bumped into our legs in his walker, the TV blared a bad action movie dubbed in Spanish, and a man we’d never seen before sat on the couch with another baby while his wife got her hair tinted next door.
There’s not a sound we could make in this 10x10-foot space that wouldn’t be completely audible to everyone just outside our (screen) door. And I can assure you that there isn’t a sound they make that isn’t completely audible to us. At least I’ve learned to fall asleep to the sound of water running, running, running into the seemingly bottomless stone pila just outside our (screen) window. The five-year-olds who chase each other around and around, the three-year-old diva who spends most of her days here, the dyspeptic baby and the endless teenage girls who lug him around - all of it was charming for a week or so, but how much flexibility can one person muster? One night of that is an amusing travel anecdote. Seventeen nights and counting is an endurance test.
Still, the days tick by. And there are warm and fuzzy moments when we find ourselves having fun with the family, like last week when I played accordion at 5 a.m. for the man of the house so he could mark his birthday in typical Honduran fashion with a firecracker-and-music wakeup call. The family is endearing in its own way and I expect we’ll stay connected during our time here. I just don’t want to live with them.
Of course, Cuso’s emphasis on flexibility and adaptability is actually about doing well in my placement with the Comision de Social Accion Menonita, which I don’t even start until Feb. 20. But I’ve got no worries about that. After this homestay, it’s going to be a piece of cake. Six more sleeps....