In the middle of the trip, the 26 AguaClara students ventured to Western Honduras to the town of San Nicolás, Santa Barbara, where the latest AguaClara treatment plant is almost complete. A number of kind Honduran families hosted pairs of students for the four nights the team was in San Nicolas. With only a handful of Spanish speakers in the group, many of the students initially struggled to communicate with their hosts. For most, miming took over as the primary form of communication, with the exception of a few staple Spanish terms like “gracias” and “baño”.
Though many of us were tentative in our new surroundings, the people of San Nicolas made us feel at home the first night of our stay. They welcomed the team with a magnificent cultural celebration at the town’s school, which also served as a meeting hall, where our host families and many of the town’s people had gathered. The town’s mayor thanked us all, especially Monroe, for the work we perform back in Ithaca and for coming to visit her town, knowing we had so much to learn and share with the people here. As a token of the entire town’s hospitality and openness, we were each given gifts, small woven baskets holding either a doll for the girls or a set of coasters for the boys. A group of students from the high school danced traditional dances and even taught a few of us the simplest of dance steps so we could join in. A traditional Honduran band played music after the dancers were done while we attempted to keep a beat to the entertainment of our new companions. Both the band and the dancers were beautiful to watch, and we hope they can one day travel to the States to share their talents with the rest of Cornell.
During our short stay, the town of San Nicolás was witness to a three part soccer battle not soon to be equaled. Our first day in town, we played a soccer match on the full-sized pitch against the local team. Though we had valiant efforts by Jorge and Antonio, two of our guides for the trip, and even traded two of our players for Olivo and Miguel, all-stars from the opposing team, we came up short. By the end of the game, everyone was sweaty and exhausted, either from playing or laughing at our attempt to play “the beautiful game”. The second and third nights we played on a smaller artificial turf field in an indoor type of atmosphere. The female students played some of the local girls, followed by a game where our male students played against some of the plant operators and others associated with the plant’s construction. Thanks to some expert play by Maya, our women’s team fared well, but the same could not be said for the men’s team. Whatever the outcome, we became better friends with those we played against and made sure everyone exited the games smiling.
Our gracious hosts sent us off in style with a barbecue chicken dinner provided by the host family of Luke and Jon. All our Honduran families were invited to join us and celebrate our last night together with many thanks, and of course even more music. We managed to coerce everyone in our group to dance, and thanks to the DJ, our highlight of the night was witnessing Chris lead the group in a dance to Gangam Style.
"Luke and I had a great family. The parents are teachers, and the kids were in university but home for the holiday. Their 21 year-old son Isaac was one of the candidates to be a plant operator. They made us an awesome dessert the second to last night, similar to french toast with a sweet sauce and raisins on top, and cooked the goodbye meal we all ate the last night. The chicken was roasted in a big wood fire oven in their backyard, and Luke is sure he heard distinctly fewer chickens outside our window the next morning. They were gracious, generous, and patient hosts, despite only communicating little fragments of meaning to them in our broken Spanish." - Jon Christensen
"I was extremely fortunate to be around the same age as my hosts. Even with my limited Spanish, we were able to connect in many parts of our lives. Dania just graduated from law school and is working as a lawyer in the next town over. We would stay up late chatting about school, TV, friends, family, and everything in between using a combination of Spanglish, Google Translate, and wild charades. It was a pleasure hearing about her life in San Nicolás! Now we are Facebook friends, and communicate often about how things back in our respective daily life. She even called when I first arrived back in New Jersey to make sure my flight went well!" - Melissa Shinbein
For many students, the sudden shift to homestays was the most difficult part of the trip, but it was also a very meaningful time for all of us, and is an experience for which we are extremely grateful.Though we only stayed in San Nicolás four nights, we were sad to part with our families. We know we have made good friends in a place where we will have connections for many years to come. It takes a lot of trust to open one’s house to complete strangers who don’t even speak the language. It is a kindness we don’t see too often and we feel so much gratitude to the people who took us in and showed us their beautiful town.