07
Jul
13

A Field of Dreams

I shifted schools and neighborhoods throughout my childhood.  Whenever I became too much trouble, my family or the state transfered me with a new hope that the change would change me. I learned to find consistency within myself and comfort in anonymity, relishing the chance to blend into a new town. Now, I question whether I am running towards something or if I am escaping the ghosts of my past?  Regardless, this wanderlust led me to Honduras, a country I knew little about.  Specifically, I wandered to Roatan, a 30-mile island that until the 1990’s had no electricity.  The islanders still used lanterns and candles twenty-five years after we put a man on the moon.

An hour after disembarkation, I was snorkeling in the clear blue and green water surrounding me.  In town, everyone seemed to size up the new guy and the contents of his wallet. Salespeople catcalled me, offering useless trinkets and questionable trades.  The west end had one main street along the water. Shops, restaurants, hostels and inns, including mine, lined the island; along the ocean, worn wood docks reached out into the Caribbean. From one of these docks, I swam out four hundred yards only to float in the subdued quiet of a salty expanse. The water was completely clear. Underneath the surface, Wrasse and Tangs and a sea turtle made their routine commute from reef to sand. It was exhilarating, this solitude, where fear and excitement mirrored the ebb and flow of the tide. My grandmother taught me to swim this way off of Avalon NJ, far out and alone, and I thought of her as I dove under the water.  I reflected on the magnificence of nature, of how big the world is, of how small I am compared.

A view from the water, my first swim.

A view from the water, my first swim.

I got settled in and by the second day had made a few friends.  Ricardo was twenty-seven and from Venice, Italy.  A captain of a fishing boat, he planned on staying on the island for four months.  With his friends that were mostly Euros, and a few from mainland Honduras, he took me for a three-hour snorkel. When we got back, we laid on the dock and let the last of the Carribean sun dry us while we swapped stories in many different languages.  I was me again, all my stories fresh, and my new friends and I sat there talking until darkness came.

In the mornings, I was downstairs by 6 a.m. at an outside table overlooking the water and working on my book.  At 7 a.m. the staff would arrive and I would eat my breakfast at 8:30.  The staff at my inn began to take pride in keeping my tea hot and my table clear, as if now they too were helping me write.  I told them that if it sells, I would come to Roatan every year to finish another one.  We all smiled at this with an honest hope in our hearts and our eyes.

The sweet staff of the Splash Inn

The sweet staff of the Splash Inn

My mornings

My mornings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the morning was spent in the water and exploring the different beaches along the coastline.  In the afternoons I would take a shared taxi the four miles up the road to Sandy Bay, to the school I was volunteering at.  This ride was always beautiful and heartbreaking; Mango trees and tropical flowers adorned a land peppered with broken shacks and peopled with mothers carrying babies.  I would pass a school, one of the thirty-five on Roatan and the children would be dressed in their school clothes, blue skirts and white-collared shirts for the girls, the boys wearing pants.  They looked so dignified, but I soon learned how horrible the school system was. I was dropped off at the end of a long stone driveway and walked down the rocky path; Iguanas (the islands main dish) scattering from their sunny spots into the bushes as I passed.  The school was more of an after school study compound that was converted from a dive resort by two Americans. Cam O’brien and her husband built the PIER School and library to supplement the fragmented education the children often got.  I was immediately put to work and if I had arrived hoping to find any praise about how good I was to volunteer my time, I had come to the wrong place.  Cam was dealing with a lot of problems.

empty roadside stands

A coastline view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the kids being hit by their teachers, to the lack of electricity and no clean water, there were many obstacles to overcome.  Although it was half way through the school year, none of the kids on the island had any books yet.  The two ocean containers full of them had been stuck in the port with no one willing to pay the small fees to have them released.  I taught a creative writing class everyday from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and then I played baseball with the kids for rest of the day.  They were shy at first but they warmed up quickly when they found out I was still a bit of a kid myself.  They liked to hear about Philadelphia and about my journey out of my neighborhood.  These kids lacked hope and reminded me of how I felt sometimes growing up, trapped, unwanted.  There were no jobs on the island, no future, and most of the kids did not believe they could ever make it better. Seventy-five percent of the island had less than a sixth grade education.  There was no reason to do better, nothing to strive for, no open roads.  The first day of class I had eight boys ranging from six to fourteen.  I told them we were going to write a poem for class and all of them giggled.   I then told them that writing poems got you pretty girls, and how pretty girls always liked the sad, romantic poets and wouldn’t you know it, the room went silent and I had eight new Shakespeares on my hands.  I had never been a teacher but I have always been a student, and maybe, just maybe I offered these kids some spark.

Future bards

Future bards

As the week went on, word got out that a gringo was teaching poetry and giving away free hats, and my class size grew.  We worked slowly through my creative writing lessons, in a tiny room with wooden floors and donated supplies, the windows and doors pushed wide open, the sweat dripping from every part of my body.  I wanted them to think and create, have them not just recite but invent, imagine.  I adored these kids, I craved their success. Even the bad ones, the ones that reminded me the most of myself, weren’t really bad but just didn’t get any attention at home and were crying out for it.

After class we headed outside to a long skinny baseball field surrounded by coconut and mango trees.  Our bases palm leaves, I  recruited the smaller ones for my team.  We played for two hours in the hot sun.  As the day wore on, I would look out and most of the team in the field would be far from their positions, standing somewhere in the shade.  The gloves we had were old and torn, the bats too small for some of the older boys, but, man, did we play.  I had to review some simple rules with them, like if a batter hits the ball and is running to first base, you have to tag him or throw it to first.   You cannot hit him with the hard ball as he runs by.  The kids became my favorite part of the day and a little girl named Alicia, who couldn’t speak English and became my sidekick, melted my heart as she followed me around the field.  When she batted, I would race out and hold the boys so she could get to base safely.  Afterwards, sweaty and hot, the kids showed me how to get hammonds, mangos and coconuts down. We smashed the coconuts on the tree and drank the fresh coconut water.  Where the hell was I?  I will always remember these baseball games, standing in a sort of centerfield, looking across to these kids on the brown clumps of grass and sand with the waters and clouds passing us by behind home plate. They had so little but they made it so much and their laughter in the late afternoon will echo inside me.

My favorite Alicia who is single handedly responsible for making me want to have girls.

My favorite Alicia who is single handedly responsible for making me want to have girls.

snacking on mango

snacking on mango

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I gave the children all I could by the time I had left: books and hats and footballs.  I left them my magazines, T-shirts and my favorite pair of running shoes.  I wanted to give them more for spending the time with me, and sharing these afternoons on their field of dreams.  Or was it their field, and dreams that I had brought with me to share with them?  I knew whatever it was I was not the same after each afternoon.  I was a little freer, a little clearer.  I thought about my grandfather looking down on us running those bases, all the anger and pain I once harbored evaporating like the sweat underneath our caps.  I could feel him. “Now that’s my boy, there’s the boy I always knew was in there.”

On my last day on Roatan, two Canadian girls asked me to join them for dinner.  I was tanned now, dark from a week in the water, unshaven and sad to be going home.  The three of us walked along the water, and far off to the north, lightning threatened behind big grey cumulous clouds.  At a small outside restaurant, we washed down roasted chicken with wine.  One was twenty-two and one was twenty-nine and we talked until the place closed and then took another bottle down a long dock.  We drank the cold white wine in the warm air, watching as the storm approached.  I told them about the kids and the school.  I would reach out to Cam and suggested they should stop by the next morning.  We walked home and said our goodbyes.

twilight

twilight

The next morning, the girls arrived and were happy to hear they would be welcome to volunteer.  I thought they were both even prettier in the daylight and was happy they would be going to the school on Monday.  We hugged goodbye. “Tell the boys I send a present for all my poets.”  One last gift I could give to the boys.

I said my goodbyes to the staff at the Splash Inn as my taxi waited and a light rain fell out on the water.  A waiter Keith shook my hand. “Sell the book my man,” he said in his Garafina accent.  “We want you back soon, you good man, you good.” He carried my bag down the four wooden steps and handed it to the cab driver.

I arrived in Houston to find that Kim Kardashian had had a baby.  I was sad to be home, empty and exhausted.

 

 

 

As of today the PIER website is down but if you are interested in the school or volunteering please contact me and I can point you in the right direction.  I know there are a lot of kids in need, at home and abroad, and that makes me sad.  I know Katherine and I will never be able to solve this problem, but every little bit helps, and if I can make one kid laugh their ass off for an afternoon, well, it is better then doing nothing.

Partners in Education – Roatan (PIER) www.PierRoatan.org
>>> Honduras Cell: +1 (504) 9657-9457
>>> VOIP: 484-653-5346

>>> USA MAILING ADDRESS
>>> PIER
>>> 191 Ferguson Beach Road
>>> Oswego, NY 13126
>>> PIER is a non-profit Honduran NGO. For tax deductible donations in the US, Brain Spaces, a 501c3 organization, accepts donations to fund PIER projects

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