A couple weeks ago, I was playing accordion in the central park here in Copan Ruinas as part of a little "feria gastronomica" that was showcasing the foods that some of the women sell in the streets around here. A young teacher happened by and asked if I would play accordion at the Mother's Day festivities at his school on May 13. Sure, I told him, giving him my phone number so he could call with the details.
I didn't hear anything more until the night of May 12, when the teacher showed up at my door at 7 p.m. and asked if I could catch a moto-taxi - a three-wheeled golf-cart-like thing that they use for cabs here in Copan - to his school the following night. I have no idea how he knew where I lived.
Anyway, he scribbled down the name of the school and the community it was in. The name didn't ring any bells, but that wasn't surprising - there are dozens of teeny-tiny communities in the hills around Copan, each with their own teeny-tiny one-room schools, and at this point I might know the names of maybe six of them. I gave him my phone number again, even though no one I have given my number to in Honduras has ever called me back, and agreed to come just before 7 p.m.
It all seemed like a good idea in the moment, of course. But then reality hit at about 6:30 p.m. last night, as I stood in the rain and the pitch-black with my accordion on my back and a music stand and folding stool clutched in my hands, trying to hail a moto-taxi to a town I'd never heard of.
When I finally got one of the cabs to stop, the driver looked blank initially when I told him the name of the place, and then told me he thought he knew where it was but that the trip would cost 100 lempiras each way. That's $10 all in, a significant sum that indicated just how far out of town this place was.
I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to risk, but I admit to feeling dread as I reluctantly got into the moto-taxi. Hadn't all we Cuso International volunteers been cautioned against this very thing - getting into taxis hailed on the street headed for places we weren't familiar with? In the pitch black, after having confirmed to the stranger behind the wheel that I had at least 200 lempiras in my bag and quite a nice accordion on my back?
Still, what were the options at that point? I'd told the teacher I'd be there, and figured I couldn't just "pull a gringo" and not show up. So off we went, driving up and up and up into the hills above Copan.
The town lights disappeared from sight, and we drove 20 long minutes along a completely dark, isolated road so terrible that in Canada we would probably call it a wilderness trail and caution users to bring water and an emergency blanket before embarking on it. I didn't see a single vehicle or pedestrian as we bumped along. I did my best to keep up a small conversation (I like to think that somebody's less likely to kill you if you engage them in friendly conversation, although I've never had to put that theory to the test) as I desperately clung to my accordion to keep it from bouncing out of the side of the moto-taxi.
And all of a sudden, we arrived - pueblo Carrizalito Uno, home of Escuela Jose Ernesto Castejon. The moto-taxi pulled up to a one-room school so lit up that you had to know there was a party going on inside, and within seconds a little girl dressed in the typical navy skirt and white blouse that all the students wear here came bursting out to welcome me. People were everywhere, spilling out of the school house and jostling for a spot outside near an open window now that the place was too full to pack in even one more person.
The girl ushered me into a room decked out in hearts, balloons and declarations of love for Mother, with pine needles strewn across the floor to give the place kind of a country-dance feel. I was led to a wooden stage at the front of the room that looked out on rows of chairs packed with smiling parents. A clutch of young students beamed at me from one side of the stage, completely excited to have me there. On the other side stood the young teacher, looking relieved to see me.
I hadn't known the plan, but it turned out to involve me playing songs on the accordion in between various groupings of students performing recitations, songs and dances. It was like every school recital I've ever been to - sweetly heartwarming with occasional moments of chaos and misunderstanding that just added to the fun. I don't know if the big gringa in the corner with the accordion added much to the event, but the kids sure did seem to like having me there.
And then my new buddy Pablo returned in his moto-taxi to take me back to town, and we slammed down that terrible road one more time, me trying to balance a plate of food that the teacher gave me to take home.
This time Pablo brought his girlfriend along for the ride, who perched up front with him on a seat built for one. This time I relaxed and just tried to enjoy the trip, or as much as was possible while still fearing for my life with each glimpse of a new pothole or boulder looming out of the dark. Pablo took me right to my door.
There's Honduras for you. Confusing, unnerving, a place that feels like anything could happen, and yet for the most part what actually happens is that people are kind, kids are happy to see you, and all is well. I guess it's a country for optimists.