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ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the tag “US Foreign Service”

Why I Can’t Quite Bring Myself to Visit My Favorite Village

We have lived in Honduras for a little over one year now and we have visited some truly gorgeous places. Honduras, as I’ve written before, gets a bit of a bad rap, but it’s a country I’ve come to love. To me Honduras doesn’t represent violence and poverty. It represents natural beauty, warm people, fascinating history, and friendship — here are a few places we’ve been that I will always associate with those things.

Lago Yojoa, which we visited for the first time this past January, is a place we immediately fell in love with.

Lake Yojoa Jan 2015

Lago Yajoa is stunning and one of the things we love about it is that there are Lenca ruins, and a eco-park with beautiful hiking, right next to it. The only thing wrong with the first trip we took there was that it was very rainy every day of our visit, except for the day we left (of course).

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So we decided we needed to go back and see the lake when it wasn’t fogged in.

Lake Yajoa, Part 2

What a difference the sun makes!

My dad and our youngest walking through the eco-park

My dad and our youngest walking through the eco-park

We discovered there are more Lenca ruins at a Finca near the lodge where we stayed

This is an old Lenca ball court. Archaeologists believe, because the Lenca pre-date the Maya, that the Lenca actually invented the infamous ball games the Maya played.

This is an old Lenca ball court. Archaeologists believe, because the Lenca pre-date the Maya, that the Lenca actually invented the infamous ball games the Maya played.

We climbed a nearby mountain called Las Nalgas or, The Buttcheeks. It’s self-explanatory

Las Nalgas

Las Nalgas

Lake Yajoa, Part 2

Climbing up the mountain

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The view from the top

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Our youngest walking back to our lodge with our fantastic guide

There was much silliness from the kids

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“When I say ‘no, you can’t take my picture’ I mean ‘no, you can’t take my picture.'”

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Even at 14 he still wants to be an explorer

Lake Yajoa, Part 2

“I know you said it was too cold to go swimming, mom, but I did it and I’M FREEZING!”

And, there was beer. Because the lodge where we stayed is also a Brewery

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The other place we really enjoyed was Tela, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.

A good time was had by all, though Firu made it quite clear that he had no intention of entering the water.

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Tela March 2015

Tela

Racing on the beach

Racing on the beach

A face that just screams WHEEEEEE!

A face that just screams WHEEEEEE!

She makes a floaty out of her rash guard.

She makes a floaty out of her rash guard. Every. Time.

Chasing the man selling coconuts

Chasing the man selling coconuts

Sunset on Tela

Sunset on Tela

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There’s one more place very close to home that I’ve come to love, a small Colonial village called Valle de Angeles, about a half hour drive from our home. Valle has two things — the village and the entrance to a lush national park where there is fantastic hiking. This is a place I can’t wait to get back to.

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Valle de Angeles

My kids are goofballs

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Seriously, goofballs

Then there is the town of Valle de Angeles, or Valley of the Angels.

Valle de Angeles

Valle de Angeles

Where you can buy fresh papusas — a little slice of heaven.

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Have coffee in this very cool coffe house, Cafe Las Estancia.

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Have lunch at Las Abuelas restaurant

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Or just wander through the lovely central square.

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Valle de Angeles represents friendship to me. And I can’t bring myself to go there right now. Because everything about it hurts a little — the cool coffee house, Las Abuelas restaurant, the central square, even the damn papusas. And please don’t mention iron because I’ll probably burst into tears. Trust me on this. It all stings because it was the place that was “the place” my closest friend here and I would go. We’d frequently message each other “Valle this week?” and the other would always respond with an enthusiastic “YES!” Always through messaging because she knows I hate to talk on the phone and she respects my quirks. She gets my quirks. It’s one of the reasons she’s an amazing friend. And everything there, everything, reminds me of her. There is so much to love about being a nomad — but saying goodbye to friends blows. It’s the friendships that are, all at once, beautiful and painful. I am an introvert, a shy introvert, a shy introvert who isn’t crazy about being around people I don’t know. But from the very first moment I met my friend I knew I’d met someone I would adore. The second time we met up I knew I’d found a soulmate. In part because she told me the story about how she’d used a wildly raunchy Spanish word, thinking it meant something else, for about her first year in Honduras. And the fact that she could say that word to me, in English, without even breaking a blush told me, “yep, this woman is part of my tribe.” She became, over the course of a year, a soul sister.

She and her family moved, on to their next post, while we were home in the U.S this summer. As much as I was looking forward to coming home to Honduras I was dreading them not being here. Her oldest and our youngest were inseparable, and I knew the loss, when he saw that his friend really was gone, was going to hit him hard. And it has.

And me? Most of the time I’m okay — though yesterday I had a million things I wanted to tell her and had to stop myself from messaging her every five minutes. But sometimes, I’m not okay. Sometimes I think of her and burst into tears. And I know, for now, I’m not quite ready to walk the cobblestone streets of Valle without her.

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The Pros and Cons of Life in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

It’s that time again — bidding season. Not for us, thank GAWD, but for many others (you have my sympathies). I know some folks love bidding season, for me whatever patina bidding season once had is gone and I just dread the researching and the waiting. And waiting. And waiting …

I’ve decided to do my Foreign Service blogger duty and write out my list of pros and cons of life in Tegucigalpa, I hope it helps folks. Plus, if I don’t blog about something besides PETA Imma lose my damn mind.

So, here is my list. I’ll start with the cons first so we finish on a high note.

The Cons of Teguc:

1. Not being able to go out on foot. This is, by far, my biggest issue with living in Teguc — to the point that I really had to scrounge around for the others because they’re so minor to me. But there is potential for violent crime and post states that going out and about on foot is a no no. This is a quality of life issue, it’s a major quality of life issue for a runner, especially since Teguc has some really nice straight aways for running and all I can do it look at them longingly while we drive past. Now, having said that, once you leave the city you are good to go — walk around (or run) to your heart’s content. I’ll write more about that in the pros section. Also, in contrast to what we’d heard before we moved here, driving at night is fine, just know where you’re going and don’t wander into areas that are not safe.

2. The security situation. Loads of narcos out there, folks, and they don’t play. But let’s keep things in perspective. Our major cities have hot spots for violent crimes, and they have all the things that cause it, and Teguc is no different. Be smart, stay out of the areas you’re not supposed to be in, practice safe driving techniques, pay attention to your OPSEC — you should be fine. I don’t dwell much on the security situation, I think folks blow it out of proportion. Bad stuff can happen no matter where you are but you choose whether or not to live in fear (which is different than just being cautious). So don’t let this prevent you bidding Teguc.

3. Traffic. It sucks. ‘Nuff said.

4. The air quality can get obscenely bad at the end of the dry season but it’s temporary so not a huge deal.

5. I’m thinking … I’m thinking …

The Pros of Teguc:

1. Post morale. While I realize this is fluid I wanted to list it here because it’s pretty awesome. Local staff are fantastic, knowledgeable, responsive, and friendly. And our Ambassador? He’s like the Old Spice guy of Ambos — you wish your Ambo was as cool as our Ambo is. Seriously.

2. Loads of fun weekend trips. There is a huge national park with lots of hiking (La Tigra), a very large park up in the hills of Teguc (El Picacho — where you can RUN), and there are beautiful colonial villages to visit (Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia to name just two). There are also other activities I’ve heard about but not yet done, like the children’s museum, which I’m told is fantastic. Farther afield there are fun and completely manageable, even with kids, weekend trips. Our favorite so far is Lago Yajoa, where we’ve gone so many times that we have yet to visit other places because sometimes when you travel so much you just need spots that are comfy and familiar, right? We’ll branch out soon. If you do visit Yajoa, make sure to stay at the D & D Brewery and Lodge, it’s not only lots of fun but the people are some of the nicest you’ll meet and they have fantastic guides who can take you around to all the best spots in the area. D & D is also within walking (or RUNNING) distance from Lenca ruins, which are very cool to explore, and the national park they’re in is large enough that you can spend the whole day hiking. The beach is, in my opinion, too far for a weekend trip, it took us about five hours to get to Tela, but I’ve been told the beaches of El Salvador are much closer and very nice (they’re on our list).

3. Proximity to the rest of the Mayan world. The Ruta Maya is at your fingertips here, and it’s awesome! We recently took a trip to Tikal, Guatemala. It’s a long haul, it took us two days to get there, but it is so worth it. We stayed on the beautiful island of Flores, which is incredibly charming, (another hotel recommendation, Hotel Isla de Flores is inexpensive and very sweet, also has great food). We’re planning what we’re referring to as our epic adventure for this winter, where we will visit as much of the Ruta Maya as we can squeeze into a few weeks — Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

4. The Honduran people. They are warm, welcoming, and very down to earth. And they don’t mind gringos in the slightest, which is a plus. The folks I’ve met not only tolerate my awful Spanish but are very patient when I can’t seem to spit the right words out or when I look at them with that awkward deer in the headlights look I get when I don’t understand something. And they have a real pride when it comes to their country, which they should, because it’s an absolute gem.

5. Discovery School. It’s small, which is important to us, and the teachers, administration, and staff are fantastic. They’ve got an open door policy — which I appreciate because, while I’m not a helicopter mom, I do like to pop in and say hi to my babies now and again. Our kiddos are pretty scary smart and I feel that their teachers at Discovery picked up very quickly on their strengths, and they provide them with the avenues to move forward and be challenged. The teachers also recognize the areas where our kids need extra assistance (or where they’re just being a bit more lax than they should be — yea, I’m talkin’ to you, kids).

6. Bonus Pro: The cost of living and availability of stuff. You can get just about anything here and it’s relatively inexpensive. Imports are pricey, of course, but that’s to be expected. Travel is not expensive and that’s a huge bonus for a family of 5. You can make it expensive, of course, but you don’t need to pay big bucks to stay somewhere decent or to have fun while traveling.

So there you have it, my list of pros and cons. I was very hesitant to green light Honduras because of the whole “Murder Capitol of the World” headline but I am so glad that we did. We bid Honduras for the job, which we’ve never done before, but we’ve ended up loving it because it’s a fantastic country. Bid Teguc — know what its limitations are but don’t let them stand in your way because they pale in comparison to what makes this a special country.

The Space Between AKA Crap, I’m Bored

The last few months have been chaotic, stressful, fun, and full of change. I’ve been so busy that it was all I could do to just squeeze everything in, and sometimes I didn’t. Now we’re at post, in our temporary house, living out of our welcome kit (who buys those damn comforters anyway, clearly someone without any nerve function in their skin because those bad boys are like sandpaper!), which means the house is pretty much empty. I feel kind of like a little ball of fur rolling along the tile floors, looking for stuff to do. For the first time in months I have time on my hands. Gobs and gobs of time, in fact. You’d think I’d be happy about this. And I’m not unhappy, I’m just bored. I haven’t reached the level of boredom where I do stupid shit because, as Eric just wrote to me “uh-oh, a bored Heather is like a curious cat!” I’ll force myself to be un-bored before I reach that level but, for now, meh, not so much. Ordinarily I’d set out on foot to explore our new city but that’s a no no in Tegucigalpa–going out would be filed under “stupid shit Heather does when she’s so bored that she’s going to start beating her head against the wall for stimulation”–so that’s out. And we have shiny new maps on our GPS so I can start driving when I work up the courage (I’m the only person I know who can get lost driving around a block so a GPS is a must). My desire to run, even if it has to be on the treadmill, will soon outweigh my cowardice about getting behind the wheel. But, for now I’m here.

This is what I think of as the space between. Between the insanity of an international move, the whirlwind of DC training and home leave, the mad rush of getting settled at post, and truly making this new city our home there exists a no man’s land for me. This is the space where I do a lot of wandering around the house, straightening things that aren’t crooked, talking to our dogs even more then usual, staring off in to space, and writing down all the things I can bake in the one loaf pan I have. I seem to have zero motivation to actually be productive, I’m not sure why and, honestly, I’m not even sure if I care that much. See? No motivation, I tell ya! The kids have started school, Eric has started at the embassy, I keep things rolling along at home and, right now, that doesn’t take much.

This is the part of the roller coaster where you’ve done all the fun twists and turns, felt like you we’re going to hurl a couple of time, maybe screamed a bit, thought “why the hell am I on this thing????” and then BOOM! That hard brake at the end before you pull back onto the platform, moving slowly to the spot where you get off the ride and figure out which one you want to conquer next. For now, I’m just coasting, sitting in my little roller coaster car, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the next bit.

Maybe I’ll read a magazine. Maybe I’ll brush a cat. Oh, look, it’s 11:27, only 6 more hours till I can get dinner started. Maybe I’ll take a nap …

SEAS, a Tiny but Mighty School

Every nomadic family knows that one of the hardest things about moving every few years is finding the right school for the kids. So many questions go with this search, so much stress and worry. Will they be academically challenged? Will they fit in? Will the staff nurture them emotionally? Will they be safe? Will they be expected to stuff themselves into a box or will they be allowed to find their own path? It weighs on a momma.

We have three children, each with their own special gifts and qualities, all operate above grade level in many subjects, one operates well above grade level in all subjects, and they have vibrant personalities that need to be allowed to fly free. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not trouble makers, each of them has always been the kids that teachers want in their classroom–they’re leaders, thoughtful and respectful to their peers and their teachers. But they all have large personalities and one of my priorities is to find a school where they will not be expected to minimize themselves in order to fit in.

Our first school here was very mixed for us. Our daughter was badly bullied (which I blogged about here) by a girl in our neighborhood who also went to the same school as our kids. Long story short, months of trying to get the behavior dealt with on the bus and in school was fruitless and we knew our only option was to find a different school. I was having coffee with a friend, talking to her about the bullying, and she suggested that I check out the tiny school her kids went to, so one morning our daughter and I paid SEAS a visit, after five minutes I said to myself “this is it, this is the school for her.” Our daughter, who had been so emotionally bruised and battered, had transformed from an incredibly extroverted, vibrant, joyful child into a shy child, mistrustful of strangers. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she wanted to spend the day at the school, when I picked her up that afternoon she bounded up to me and said “Momma! I made 20 friends today!”  This was the girl who, only the week before, I’d seen wandering the perimeter of the playground of her (now) old school, head down, earphones in–that was a sight that tore at my heart because it just was not who she was. Two days after starting at SEAS, her new school, she was back to hula hooping around the house and chattering non-stop. Academically she’d struggled, for the first time ever, at the first school, her grades were plummeting. She was so lost in the emotional turmoil of the bullying that she couldn’t soar academically. At SEAS she took off like a shot, making such rapid improvement that it was almost shocking to her teachers. We’d gotten our daughter back, SEAS gave us our daughter back. As a mother I have found very few things more painful than watching one of my children suffer, SEAS put an end to that suffering and showed Aisleen that she could trust again, that she was safe again, that she didn’t have to shrink into the background anymore, she could soar and be her colorful, imaginative, dynamic self. I really will never be able to put into words how grateful I am for such an profound gift, the gift of helping to bring our child back to herself.

Our youngest did well academically (though he was operating at a higher level than the other kids in his class and I was frustrated by what I saw as him having to sit in a box that he’d outgrown), fit into his classroom, had lots of friends, but I began to suspect that the kids were allowed to be very rough on the playground when the first words we heard him speak in Spanish were “ayuda me,” help me! And my gentle boy, who at his school in Virginia we’d been told was the most well-mannered and respectful child they’d ever had, became very rough and tumble, beyond what I would consider to just be part of growing up, and kind of rude which, if you’ve ever met Riley, you know is the opposite of who he is. Yep, time to switch him.

Then there was our oldest, who is now 13. When we moved here he was given a series of standardized tests and he scored pretty much off the charts so the school recommended he skip fifth grade and go right into sixth. We thought long and hard, sought advice, weighed pros and cons, and decided to go ahead and do it. He’s always been mature for his age, never has had problems making friends, and school was a breeze for him from day one so, sure, let’s challenge him more. Worst. Mistake. Ever. During our first parent teacher meetings his math teacher told us he was really struggling, which we knew because doing homework with him was a hair-pulling nightmare. We told her that we felt it was probably because he’d missed out on some pretty fundamental stuff since he skipped a grade, her response was “he skipped a grade?” I looked at my husband with my “are you freaking kidding me???” face. The school had never told his teachers that he’d skipped fifth grade, his math teacher had no idea he’d never been taught division. Sixth grade was a struggle but he ended up getting good grades and really rising to the occasion. He’d also made a lot of friends and was enjoying playing oboe in the school band so, cool, we decided he should stay where he was. Second. Worst. Mistake. Ever.

Seventh grade was an absolute bust that ended up in a crisis meeting with his teachers and the director of the middle school, the theme of which is “how can we stop Liam from tanking?” The most frustrating thing to us as parents was that he’d been tanking for a good couple of weeks and until I got a call from his science teacher expressing her concern at his rapid downhill movement I had no idea. His grades were still good but over the course of about three weeks he’d gone into a freefall–utterly overwhelmed academically and clueless how to fix it and, for the first time ever, he didn’t come to one of us about it because, he later told us, he felt like a failure. We decided he needed a smaller school, one that could tailor a learning plan to help him excel in the areas he was strongest in and teach him some of the fundamentals he missed out on when he skipped fifth grade, and one that would help him rediscover his love of learning; he needed SEAS. The school wouldn’t refund his tuition in order to allow us to switch him immediately so we hired a tutor who would work with him on organizational skills and help make sure things were getting done. Luckily, the tutor was his wonderful science teacher who he really liked and who was someone I trusted completely to help him. He ended up pulling his fat out of the fire and, in fact, finishing quite strong in the subjects he’d been struggling with the most. Now, at SEAS, his academic needs are nurtured, and the boy who could barely write a research paper last year is, in social science, history, and English, working at a college level. And far above grade level in math, a subject he came close to failing last year. It’s kind of incredible. And I kind of want to drive over to his old school and shout at the top of my lungs “IN YOUR FACE!”

So, all three kids together in the same tiny school. This school really is more like an extended family, it’s a place where I know my children are safe and loved, challenged and driven, and a place where they are held to the highest of standards academically and behaviorally. No excuses accepted, ever. Consequently, each of our children has learned to take so much responsibility for their own education, I’m kind of blown away. At SEAS our older children have been taught all the fundamentals they need to move on–Aisleen to middle school and Liam to high school. How to research and write a paper, and properly document the research? Not a problem. Math at grade level? Pfffft, too easy, they’re way beyond it. Science? Aisleen was asked by her teacher last year to teach the kids Newton’s laws of physics because, after having been taught the first one, she’d come home and learned and researched them all. Complete with an experiment made up of her little brother and a swinging hammock, luckily nobody was hurt. Also, don’t ask them about chemistry unless you’re prepared to sit for a good, long while. And did you know that Pachelbel’s Canon and Green Day’s song “Basket Case” do this … yea, neither did I until my kids told me (they learned it in Music Appreciation).

Our youngest came back from being kind of angry and rough (like he had to live on the defensive) to his incredibly sweet, loving, thoughtful self in no time once he started at SEAS. This is the child who always greets me with a resounding “Mommy!” and a huge hug, who will always apologize to our dogs if he bumps into them while tearing around the house (complete with that winning hug), who can charm the socks off even the hardest of hearts, and who is just plain old fun to be around. Some of that had been lost at his old school, SEAS let him be himself again, he no longer had to play a child’s version of “survival of the fittest.” Just like the other two, he excels academically, that box he was forced into in his old school fell away immediately. He is in second grade but reads at least at a fourth grade level, can do complicated addition and subtraction in his head (he often comes up to me and says “mommy, write down a hard math problem for me, please!” I haven’t been able to stump him yet), and recently finished a research paper on Leif Erikson. He has also started speaking Spanish at home, this crazy mix of one sentence in English, the next in Spanish, back to English, then Spanish. I love it! His teachers at SEAS recognized immediately what he needed academically, over the past two years I haven’t spent a day worrying about having his needs met. And each one of them, pretty soon after they started teaching him, came up to me with this melty look on their faces saying “oh my gosh, Riley is so sweet …” I know, my face looks like that when I talk about him too. Or when I’m around him. Or when I’m thinking of him. Yes, the child has me tightly wound round his finger.

So, I have been at an absolute loss for how to say thank you to SEAS for being exactly what my children need, for reinvigorating in each of them their natural love for learning, for giving me so much peace of mind. The short answer is that I can’t. I can never say thank you enough, I can never properly put into words my deep gratitude, or express how utterly blessed we have been to be part of this amazing, special school for 2 1/2 years. I will never be able to say how much we are going to miss them, or how devoted we are to this tiny school. This was the only way I could think of to come close to expressing my thanks and to putting into words how much SEAS has meant to our family. We love you, SEAS!

ps. If you check out the website for the school, on the homepage, that’s our oldest with the youngest son of the school’s director/owners on his back (one of the things we love about SEAS is the vast age range of the students because it gives the older ones a chance to mentor and the younger ones a chance to connect with older kids), our youngest with his face buried in a book, and our beautiful daughter in the blue shirt, looking at the camera.

pps. If anyone would like to know which school was the one our kids went to initially, please feel free to contact me. I didn’t name them because I didn’t want this to be about them, I wanted it to be about SEAS.

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