I participated in a Buck-I-SERV Farm to Cup trip to Honduras over winter break. While abroad, we visited coffee farmers and learned about the coffee growing process, as well as the struggles and concerns of entrepreneurs. We also collaborated with Serve Hope to build a house for a farmer in need and assemble water filter with local residents.
Change came about in a few different aspects for me on this trip. First, I gained a better appreciation for bilingualism and how difficult it can be to be new to a language. Thrown into a Spanish speaking country with little knowledge of Spanish, I truly understood how scary and disorienting it can be to not be able to navigate or interact with anyone well. Similarly, I’ve learned how important conversation can be in bridging cultures. There was a lot I didn’t know about Honduran culture, and my first few days were quite confusing as a result. But as I talked to farmers and locals and eventual friends throughout the trip, I learned so much about their history and way of life. That shed much light on their culture, and I left a more knowledgeable and well-rounded person due to those conversations.
Spending time in a country where I did not speak much of the native language, I was faced with a rather significant language barrier. Right after our plane landed in Honduras, me and another girl headed for the first coffee shop in sight to recharge. I had practiced a few words that would help me, like “café au lait” and “grande”, so I felt confident enough to try to make the transaction. All went well until the cashier asked me a word I didn’t know, and I froze in a panic. Do I say yes? No? What would I be getting myself into by doing so? Seeing my confused, frozen look for a few seconds, the cashier grabbed a packet of sugar to indicate what she was saying, “azúcar”. That feeling of panic and embarrassment continued to be my companion throughout the trip. I was excited to meet new people, but terrified to start a conversation with them in the fear that I wouldn’t be able to hold my end of the conversation. After a day or so, I made an important connection that would make an impact on my future interactions, both on the trip and after. I remembered the face that I had to have been making that day at the coffee shop and realized that I had been on the other side of that counter and that conversation before. Since I serve at a coffee shop that many international students frequent, the confusion over a few words had happened multiple times before. I realized that, for some of these students, just having a conversation can be an exhausting thing to do some days. But also, I knew that I had wanted to help them in those situations but didn’t always know how to. By going to a new country, I was able to put myself in the shoes of people that I saw often and better understand what they were going through, and how I might lend a hand in little ways. This understanding doesn’t just apply to international students at OSU, but to immigrants and visitors to the US in general.
Cultural differences between the US and Honduras made themselves clear rather quickly. The slower pace of life in Central America was significantly different from the rushed and quick pace of the States. I had to remind myself many times that I didn’t need to constantly be engaged and working on something. When I allowed myself time to relax and mingle more in our free time, it became apparent why this calmer pace is such a prominent way of living. When we slowed down between events and project, me and my group had a chance to talk to each other and to locals. The resulting conversations shed light on the differences (and similarities!) between our cultures, and we got to learn much more about the lives of the farmers and Hondurans in general. We learned their perspective and struggles, and we also got to discuss our own perspectives and clear up any misconceptions that existed. While the hands-on service was satisfying and left a physical structure to benefit the farmers in the long run, the conversations we had made quite an impact on me and will stick with me for years to come.
Something that I had to be vigilant about is not succumbing to the savior complex on my service trip. It can be so easy to think that, if only I could come in with the right skills and resources and enough time, I can fix problems that are plaguing people in developing parts of the world. It’s a well-meaning but ultimately condescending and unsustainable point of view. My role on the trip was a supporter, rather than a provider, and throughout this trip I was reminded time and time again of just how proud and self-supporting Hondurans could be. For example, we spend an hour one day helping a group of local women create water filters for their households. The instructions were in English, but most of the women only spoke Spanish, so my group served as helpers and facilitators. Rather than putting the filters together ourselves and giving them to this group of locals, we worked to convey they instructions as they assembled the filters. They were able to assemble these filters by themselves, and therefore provide clean water for their families for decades to come. Another proposed project on this trip was to construct a chicken coop for a coffee farmer. Upon arriving in Honduras, we learned that we would no longer be working on the coop. The farmer, Kenya, had decided that she had enough materials and help to build her own coop, and she wanted Serve Hope to use their resources to help another family in need. Instead, we visited Kenya’s farm and she taught us how to pick coffee cherries (which was a much more difficult task than I had been anticipating). Rather than accepting help that she did not ultimately need, Kenya taught us more about her story and farm, and the difficulties she faces as a small farmer and entrepreneur.
In my current job at a coffee shop, I have coworkers and customers who have English as a second language, so I understand their struggles better now. I’ll keep my uncomfortable experience at the coffee shop in Honduras in mind as I interact with my own customers in the future. Taking a few seconds to pause and help someone understand something better will help them feel more comfortable, and it’s a genuine effort to bridge any gaps between us.
Similarly, I’m going to need to bridge differences and find compromises in the future. Whether it be between different interest groups as I work with natural resources, or personal conflicts that may arise through my life, I’m going to encounter people with a range of backgrounds and experiences and I’ll need to find some middle ground. Through my time in Honduras, I met quite a few people who had lived very different lives from me, and despite this we could find common ground and chat over coffee or a meal together. I got to know these people better in spite of, and honestly because of, our differences.