I really hate icebreakers. I can never find a good answer for “what kind of cereal would you be and why?” My usual answer: “Uh, I’d probably be Cheerios because they’re delicious.” Clever, Paroma. Luckily, after spring semester, all groups pose the same question: “What did you do over break?” Last year my answer involved a couch, Netflix, and a metric ton of Nutella. This year I got to say something a little more interesting: “Hi, I’m Paroma and I went to Honduras for winter break.”
Besides the jealous looks from my peers (why yes I did get a tan, thanks for noticing), Honduras also gave me so much to talk about upon returning. My sentences started with what sounded like ohmygoshwesaweverythingandwaterissoimportantandraftingandwoah and ended with, “and now all I want to do is go back.” My caffeine and nostalgia fueled monologues have mostly resulted in the other people slowly backing away as I tried to communicate just how much this trip influenced my life. This post is an attempt to mold that borderline insane speech into a comprehensible piece about why everyone should go on this trip.
When we first landed back on American soil, I resisted turning my phone back on. I know, I know, how can someone of my generation resist checking their email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all at once when they have been deprived of it for two whole weeks. Well, I did resist. I did not want to see what had been happening on campus or back home because I was still trying to process what had happened in Honduras. Did I really get to climb Mayan ruins? Did I really zip line across Honduran hills and see the beauty of the country from the top of a tree? Did I really eat my weight in baleadas?
The answer to all of that and more is a resounding yes. Beyond being an opportunity to tour water treatment plants, this trip was packed with moments of adventure and beauty that can only be found abroad. One such moment for me occurred on a raft in the middle of the Cangrejal River. I had never been rafting before and the prospect of it terrified me. When the option to either jump in a boat and ride down the river or take a hike in a mosquito ridden forest appeared, I strapped on a helmet and forced myself to row. After the first fifteen minutes in the boat and some quick safety training, I felt pretty confident about the activity. The guides did not seem too concerned and the water was slow moving. But then we hit our first rapid. Somehow our boat buckled and Diana, our guide, and I were all thrown from the raft. I know how to swim (passed the Cornell swim test, woo!), but I still started to panic and forgot all the training I had just received. Annie and Caitlin were luckily still in the boat and were able to pull me in once we reached a quieter part of the river. Everyone was a little shaken, so we pulled over to a bank and caught our breaths. As our breathing slowed down and I could hear past the panic in my head, the jungle sounds surrounding us slowly filtered in. Slowly, we all broke out in nervous, and then unabated laughter. Pure adrenaline pushed us back on the river to finish the run and do another. A few more people fell into the water, but everyone made it through the day safely. That night at dinner I stuffed myself with more baleadas and told everyone who would listen an increasingly epic version of our rafting mishap.
Our group after rafting.
I still have not stopped telling that story and I don’t think I ever will. It was the most daring thing I’ve ever done. The feeling of accomplishment at the end of that day propelled me to seek out more adventurous activities back on campus, like applying for a year long study abroad program and taking a Spanish class.
Besides giving me a new sense of adventure, Honduras has become an immense source of inspiration. On weeks where I have two prelims, a presentation, and a problem set due, I sometimes want to put AguaClara on the back burner. After exploring the communities that APP works with and playing with kids who sometimes suffer from medical problems resulting from turbid water, I just can not allow myself to do that. Monroe always mentions how connected AguaClara is to international communities, but it does not always feel that way when I am waiting for Mathcad to load in a lab in Ithaca. Actually seeing our plants and talking to operators and the community has made our connection so much clearer to me. We are an integral part of this effort to bring clean water to the people of Honduras. The trip made me realize something Monroe has been saying all along: our work matters.
A few of the kids from a village we visited in Honduras.
Confucius once said, “wherever you go, go with all your heart.” I think we did exactly that in Honduras. Between the incessant eating, picture taking, and treatment plant exploring, our group launched ourselves into the fabric of the country to experience as much as we could in our limited time. This post was just my personal experience, but I think Honduras has inspired all of us to further AguaClara’s work and know that it influences people beyond this campus. So, if you are thinking about whether to go to Honduras or not, stop thinking. Just go. Adventure is out there; you just have to sign up to find it.