Apenas. Redactar. tibia. friolente. arco iris.
I’ll admit, I still haven’t gotten used to it. I was sitting in the “ciber café” (internet café) in the small community of Honduras where I’ve been living, minding my own business as the words of Gutmann lazily moved down my fluorescent screen. I was trying to finish my readings before tomorrow’s class with Professor Kleinman. Argenis walked in. “¡Hola!” I said, averting my eyes from Gutmann for a moment. We had parted ways after clinic hours had ended and he had clearly returned home to freshen up; I could smell the shampoo as he trailed into the room and came to stand behind my shoulder. I had noted that his face was rather close to mine, but assumed that he was just leaning over to see what I was doing. He lingered for a moment and then crooned in his characteristically goofy way “bésame, bésame, bésame” or “kiss me, kiss me, kiss me.” Oops! I had forgotten. I gave him a quick peck on the cheek as a smile broadened across my face. I couldn’t help but laugh softly to myself.
Now, before you get any ideas, a quick on-the-cheek kiss is the traditional way of greeting someone here—whether you’ve just walked into a room or just woken up in the morning. What a beautiful way to begin the day. And I’ve slipped up (that is, forgotten to reciprocate the gesture) more than a few times now—let’s blame it on the typical “I’m American; I’m going to assume I have a personal space bubble” trope. I’ve learned over time that this concept generally doesn’t exist in the other countries I’ve visited—and Mexico is no exception. Needless to say, the lesson is this: if a Mexican approaches you and leans in, just assume that you’re supposed to give him (or her) a kiss.
The community of Honduras has surprised me in many ways. Sure, you have the momentary shocks of surprise when you see a speedy internet connection juxtaposed with traditional stone hearths and mothers patiently making tortillas from hand-ground corn. But more generally, I’ve been surprised by how easily I’ve been able to slip into life here. Though I once spent a summer in Tanzania, working and traveling throughout the country, it is here in Mexico that I’ve had my first true “homestay experience,” as they call it in all those glossy study abroad brochures. One colloquialism I’ve learned recently is particularly apt here—qué fancy. Yes, how fancy indeed. But the reality is far more simple, and the experience about far more than simply “staying in a home.” In the home of Doña Lori, where I’ve been living, I didn’t come to see it as the “homestay” that those brochures had promised on my first night.
The home of Doña Lori and Ciro
When the young Fernanda (Doña Lori’s youngest daughter) led me to my room on the night I arrived, I pushed open the tin metal door to be greeted by well…nothing. I was content to see, though, that this stone-walled room still had the few basics I would have requested anyway: a lightbulb, a mosquito net, and an outlet (my macbook would be happy). The rest was for me to fill in. Plopping my Thermarest sleeping pad on the ground along with my Armadillo pillow, I pushed my suitcase to the side and settled in for the night. Simple, yet comfortable. I could get used to this. There wasn’t a proper wall separating my room from the kitchen and so I could still hear Doña’s pots and pans and perhaps the last few thuds of a few of her glorious tortillas hitting the top of the stone oven as I drifted off to sleep. It was 9:30pm. Qué fancy. I would be sleeping like a queen tonight, and it only took a sleeping pad to do it.
The next day I would be meeting Argenis at the clinic to begin my day. He’s the pasante (social service year physician) who works in the community clinic here. Since meeting him at orientation back at the CES office, I had sensed that this quiet, yet funny and always kind new doctor could be a friend. I’ve been so grateful for his guidance as I navigate a community that he’s lived in for the past six months. And so, in so many words, that’s how I’ve come to begin life here—in a new community and in a new home.
And one last thing before I sign off— today was a typical day at the clinic by most measures, though there were more patients than usual on account of the many salesmen who were in town today. It was something like a small-town fair in the community. Argenis and I were sitting in the nurse’s office at the clinic. It was near closing time and all was quiet. Suddenly, Argenis heard a soft pelting from above. “It’s raining?” he said, his question mark hanging in the air. I shrugged it off—it couldn’t be. I could see the strong rays of Mexican sun streaming outside from where I sat.
Argenis got up suddenly and bolted outside to check anyway. Yes, indeed, it was raining on this beautiful town tucked within the mountains. I ran outside too, knowing that this combination of rain and sunlight could only mean one thing.
And so, there we were, two hopeful people standing in front of the clinic and gazing wistfully at the sky. We were looking for the arco iris—it would be my very first Mexican rainbow.