Saturday, October 27, 2012

Let the Culture Shock Begin

It's official. I've entered into the "culture shock" phase of my experience here in La Ceiba. I'm able to recognize this change because I am aware of the 4 different stages of one's experience abroad in a culture  with which they are unfamiliar, including:

- the "honeymoon" stage: where everything is new, exciting and overall great
- the "culture shock" stage: where everything isn't as great as it first seemed, you start to notice little (or big) things that are not "normal" in your own culture, or that you're not used to having to deal with back home
- the "negotiation" stage: where you start to accept the differences in your new culture and try to embrace them as contributing to your unique experience, while starting to create a new niche for yourself
- the "mastery" stage: where you've finally gotten into your "groove," you feel like you know your new home quite well and are confident enough to get by without requiring other people to help you along the way

Going back to my current stage, the second week at work has been overwhelming. We had a group of more than 50 students come to CREDIA with a one-day advanced notice, for which the interns had to prepare a list of questions related to the "Story of Stuff" video (in Spanish) by Annie Leonard we had shown them. I wasn't expecting to have to be prepared to facilitate a discussion on consumerism and its environmental, social and economic impacts in a language I'm not fluent in but sometimes the best way to learn is to be thrown into something and figure out how to make it work, which it did in the end.

It's never a dull day at the office. Just when you think you have your work under control, some last-minute commitment is thrown your way and it is expected that you deal with the more pressing issue above all else. It can be frustrating because there is definitely a different sense of time here. Ahora means "at some point in the future," ahorita means "at some point in the near future" and ahora mismo means "right now," but that doesn't always tend to be the case. Our maid, Dona M, doesn't come when she says she will and shows up when we're not expecting her. She's a sweet lady but I haven't (yet) been able to embrace the casual attitude she and most other people have here towards time.

One of this week's highlights was going out with a couple of coworkers to eat baleadas, flour tortilla with refried beans with cheese, at a street stall parked on the old railway tracks that Standard fruit used to come in and out of the city. It was neat to sit at a picnic table in the middle of the street, surrounding my oncoming traffic in both directions, while the local woman who sat next to me asked if I could pass her the chile, as if we were all part of a big family.

After eating, we went to the Jaguar, a bar set right on the beach with a vew of the ocean.  Under this large beach hut there were hammocks and a main centre-piece of mosaic flooring which reminded me of the artwork in the ASOPROLA community in the Amistad National Park in Costa Rica. The owner, Roberto, served us Giffity, an herbal liquor traditionally brewed by the Garifuna people Cayos Cochinos Islands. Behind the bar were shelves stacked with jars each containing a special drink that had been concocted on-site. It looked like a series of science experiments. Out of one of these jars came a delicious juice made of roses, which I had never tried. From the long menu's selection, we could also choose: mango, passion fruit, starfruit, guanabana, and so many more.

Even though I was happy that we'd finally left the house the other night, which was exactly what I'd wanted, I still have this feeling that there's something missing, like I haven't quite figured out what it is that's so great about La Ceiba or Honduras for that matter. I didn't feel motivated or excited to do much of anything on this beautiful Saturday morning. After reading several chapters of Pablo Coelho's Once Minutos, or "Eleven Minutes," a story about Maria, the young adult who leaves her small hometown in search of a "better" life but soon realizes that it is much harder to be away from home than she expected, I was inspired by the author's message that life is what you make of it.

In order to get myself out of the house, I resolved to sign myself up at the Nautilus gym, where they offer dance, zumba and spinning lessons. Best of all, they have an outdoor pool! The feeling of my 15 minutes of freedom outside the house, and not in a cab or some other vehicle that was taking me "safely" to my next destination, was glorious. I really dislike the feeling of being locked-in and unable to walk around on my own. Even though the gym is only one manzana, or block (newly-learned word which does not mean apple in this context), away, it's nice to know I have somewhere to go to burn off some energy and/or tension. Baby steps...

P.S. For those who enjoy books like Coelho's that encourage self-reflection, I also recommend his novel Veronika Decides to Die. It's more uplifting than it is gloomy, I promise!


  1. Hope you enter the negotiation stage soon to briskly move on to the mastery stage, they are much more fun.

  2. I loved your analysis of adapting to a new place, its a challange for sure but it holds tremendous valuable lessons that enrich our life and teach us more than any class or course, You read a book about taking our life and "squeezing the lemons" well you doing it in the same time, very few have the privilege of enduring and prevailing the quests you embark on, Gym is a great way to improve self confidence and feel better, its true that a healthy peaceful soul can only reside in a healthy body :)

    keep Baby stepping up that hill, because you must breath trail dust to enjoy the peaks uplifting breeze.

    1. Thanks Roi, I love your comments and inspirational words :-)