Friday, December 30, 2005

Deep Thoughts for the New Year

They can't all be light and funny people...
(click pictures to see them bigger.)

In Color

I have always dreamt in color. Clear, vivid, full dreams that I can feel. Literally feel. My senses are overwhelmed as I walk through these lifelike paintings of my mind. Sometimes the dreams are a complete fabrication of my imagination. They take place in situations and places I’ve never actually experienced, and yet I can still feel every aspect of them. Then there are the dreams that take me back to situations and places I have actually lived. I tend to enjoy these more. They are like interactive photo albums that always come to life just when I need them.

It has been a month since I’ve returned from my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Honduras. It seems so far away, yet sometimes it seems as though I can still see it, hear it, feel it. Mostly this happens in my dreams. I have dreamt frequently of being back there, either as if I never left or as if we’ve all returned for another trip. I find that I usually have these dreams when my waking life becomes too stressful. My dreams take me back to Honduras, to a time when I was able to "unclench", as I wrote in one of my journal entries. For the duration of the dream I am relaxed. And I’m also covered in mud.

In my dreams there is never any real explanation as to why I am suddenly back in Honduras. And yet it seems perfectly logical that I am there. Which is how real life went as well. None of my friends and family could completely understand why I had decided to spend my vacation digging ditches and building houses instead of laying on a beach and sipping frozen margaritas. My stock answer was that I was, "Going to save the world." But the truth was I didn’t really know why I was going. I knew I wanted to get out of this country for a little while, wanted to experience something different and I wanted to do something positive. Habitat’s Global Village seemed like a good fit.

When I arrived in Honduras I found that most of my teammates didn’t really know what to expect from our trip either. Now when I dream of Honduras these teammates are always there. Every one of them. Because my dream is about recreating the colors and the feeling I had in Honduras. And those colors wouldn’t have been nearly as vibrant without the other 17 people on our team. In any other place, on any other day we would have all be strangers, the paths of our lives way too different to ever cross. But on this day we were all sitting in an airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. We ranged in age from 27 to 70 years old. We lived on the east coast, on the west coast, in the middle, in Canada and in RV’s which wandered. We were doctors, we were firefighters, we were designers, we were poker dealers, we were retirees, we were grandparents, we were single, we were married, we were divorced, we were widowed and we were all sitting in an airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. And so maybe we weren’t that different after all.

One of our first R&R days took us to a waterfall about two hours away from where we were staying in Honduras. We were told by our Honduras Habitat representative, Luis, that we would have the opportunity to go down into the waterfall if we wanted to. He told us that we would get wet. We all figured Luis’ English wasn’t that great and by "into the waterfall" he actually meant "really close to the waterfall" and by "wet" he actually meant "a little misty". It turns out his English was fine, it was just our comprehension that was a bit rusty.

When we got down to the waterfall one of our teammates, Elisa, stopped to roll up her jeans, thinking that "you are going to have to get in the water" actually meant "you are going to be wading through the water". When our Honduran Waterfall Guide jumped off a rock into the water, fully submerging himself in the process, I looked back to the jean roller and said, "Uh, you are going to have to roll those up pretty high to avoid getting them wet." She looked up to see our guide’s face barely peaking out from the roaring rapids and she shook her head, "I’m not going in there." I tried to convince her to come, but she wasn’t budging. I made my way to the edge of the rock, looked down into the white water, shrugged a little and then jumped in.

When I looked back I was followed by Linda, who was wearing a poncho. You know, to keep her dry. The poncho floated on top of the water, occasionally whipping itself around her neck. As the water rushed by us and the spray from the waterfall littered our faces I asked Linda a wonderful question to ask once you are already neck-deep in water, "Is this sanitary?" She looked around at the water and tried to draw on her memory of her "do’s and don’t’s" list regarding water in foreign countries, "Well, at least it’s not stagnant."

That seemed like a good enough answer to me and I followed the Honduran Waterfall Guide into the waterfall. And by "into" I mean "into". As in the waterfall was literally beating down on us. It was kind of like that romantic scene in ‘Cocktail’, except instead of trying to be sexy we were all trying not to drown. Our vision was eliminated by the splattering waterfall and so all we had to guide us were the hands of our fellow teammates. We formed a line, hands clinched, blindly counting on the one in front of us to lead and trying our best to guide the one behind us. At one point, in a brief moment of vision, I looked back to see who I was leading. It was Elisa. Failing miserably at the "If Everyone Else Jumped Into a Waterfall, Would You?" Test Elisa had decided to join us.

As we made our way into the waterfall we had to stop several times to allow people to catch up. During these times I could see some teammates hunkering near rocks while other teammates did their best to shield them from the pummeling water. Rick, our firefighter from Canada, stayed at the end of the line the whole time, making sure everyone was safe, his firefighter instinct still alive and well even in Honduras. At one point we all huddled around a rock, holding on for dear life, trying to breathe without inhaling a lung full of Honduras water. We were nervous and scared and wondering about our choice of afternoon activities. Then someone screamed, "What the hell are we doing?!" And we all burst into laughter, the fear and reservations melting away with the knowledge that at least everyone else was scared as well.

After we made it safely out of the waterfall and back to solid ground our guide took us up to some higher rocks and showed us how we could jump off of them into the raging river below. Having barely escaped with their lives from the waterfall most of the group decided to stay on the solid ground. But a few of us ventured to the rock’s edge and peered down into the water. It was high, it was questionable water, it was scary. So I decided I might as well do it. I took the leap.

This was our first full day together as a team. We were all taking the leap.

From that very first day all 18 of us just seemed to click. We all got along and not just in that polite way you get along with people you happen to be spending time with. We really clicked. Everyone kept talking about how weird it was that such a diverse group of people came together so well. Yet, this never seemed weird to me. I think we are all the same type of person. In our souls, in the center of our hearts we are driven by the same things. These similarities overpower any sort of perceived difference age or circumstances create.

Our group of 18 was split in half to work at two different build sites. There was Team 1 and Team 2 (otherwise known as The Best Team). As luck would have it I was a part of Team 2. On the first day of building we dropped Team 1 off at their site and found that their site already had several ditches dug before we even arrived. When Team 2 arrived at our site we found only dirt. And lots of it. We then proceeded to spend the next several hours waist-deep in said dirt. By the end of the day we were muddy from head to toe, we were tired, we were sore and we were quite bitter when Team 1 got on the bus and was barely even dusty. And so began the rivalry between the two teams. While it was quite obvious that Team 2 was superior Team 1 continued to proclaim their proficiency, "We actually had the whole house built, but we decided to take it down before you guys came to pick us up, so you wouldn’t feel bad."

But we didn’t feel bad. While Team 1 had a mason and a few family members helping them Team 2 had an entire fire department helping us. While Team 1 had a yappy dog who barked all day Team 2 had adorable children who brought us fruit and sang songs. While Team 1 had lunch breaks and nap time Team 2 was actually busy building a house. The bus ride home every night brimmed with a mixture of sharing and taunting. Physically exhausted we would prop ourselves up against the bus windows and detail our day for each other. There would be laughter and groans and laughter and boasting and laughter. God did we laugh. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Which made the other muscle aches just fade away.

People have asked me if I was ready to come home at the end of our trip. Because sometimes vacations, no matter how great they are, really make you ready to return home at the end. If for no other reason than to sleep in your own bed. But that wasn’t the case with our trip. It wasn’t as if I was dreading coming home, but it also wasn’t as if I was eager to return either. For ten days we were surrounded by only good things. In a time in the world when simply turning on the news can give you a panic attack we were free for 10 days. We were surrounded by good people, doing good things, in a good country. We didn’t make much of an effort to obtain outside news. For 10 days we were oblivious to anything outside of our little world. And it was amazing.

Most amazing of all were the people of Honduras. I went to Honduras because I wanted to help people worse off than myself, but the most important thing I learned during my time was that the people of Honduras should not be pitied. They have the things that matter and they are living their lives. Sure they want more, but we all want more. It’s just to what degree.

The husband of the family we were building with is a fireman. His name is Henry. One day Henry invited us all to the fire station to see where he and his friends worked. We arrived to find an amazing new fire station that the men had built with funds they raised themselves. The government did not own their fire station, the firemen did. While we were there the firemen did several fire drills to show us their skills. I so enjoyed being able to see these men at work and to see how proud they were of their job and themselves and the work they do.

The feeling I got from these men and from all of the people in Honduras was that they are very proud. They do not have a lot of money, but they are far from poor. They don’t have all of the things we have, but they have the things we value: our health, our family, our love. These things are universal and these are the things that matter.

I think people come back from these kinds of trips feeling as though they live in excess, but not solely because they feel guilty for having too much when others don’t have enough. I think they also realize that we do not need so much to survive. That perhaps we are missing the whole point by chasing money and success and all of those things. Perhaps the things worth chasing aren’t really elusive after all. Happiness is in all the different parts of life - not just the ones we chase after so hard.

I asked other people on the trip what had brought them to Honduras and none of them really had an answer beyond, “It just felt right.” It’s an impossible feeling to explain, but I hardly think it’s a unique one. I do not think those of us on this trip were unique in our desire to do something. But I do think that we were unique in actually acting on that desire. It seems almost too idealistic to imagine what this world would be like if everyone who had the inclination simply took that one little step.

Personally, I have been moving so fast for so long that it did me well to slow down for a little while and really breathe on this trip . Things tend to take on a different shape when they are not moving at a hundred miles an hour. I unclenched for the first time in months. I just absorbed and moved and didn’t plan or worry or stress. Who would have thought that manual labor would be a good way to unwind? But it was. And it has also served me well back at home. To be refueled a little, with a little perspective on things; on life, on people, on me. In the end it seems as though it wasn’t about me saving the world so much as it was about the world saving me.

And now instead of saying, “I’d really like to do that someday.” I can say, “I did that.” And that’s what living is - checking things off the list, instead of just adding things all the time. Now instead of saying, “I want to do that again.” I can say with confidence, “I will do that again.” And it’s that statement that helps me when I’m stressed and wondering what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It’s that statement that reassures me that I am not just dreaming of who I’ll someday become, but I’m already becoming her. And I like her a lot.

Did Honduras change me? I don’t think so. I think Honduras just showed me who I already was. Instead of just dreaming in color I’m now a person who lives in color as well. And I can’t wait to see what canvas I choose next.

Happy New Year everyone...

(more pics)


Lynn said...

That was a great post. Thanks.

Chunks said...

I love that post! Good luck on your quest of saving the world. Oprah better get out of the way, methinks she might have some competition in the "opening your heart and giving of yourself" area!

You're a good egg, Dawn!

Patricia said...

your life, your words, your experiences. not only in color, but saturated in it. and i love being able to get these kinds of glimpses. your deep thoughts would do jack handy proud. i can't wait to read more of them.

dawn said...

I would LOVE to rival Oprah for giving. Cause that would mean I've got a billion dollars to give. How much fun would that be?

Jenn said...

It's nice to know that there are still people in this world who are really truly good at heart. Now if only I were one of them....

teri said...

Dawn this was an amazing post. You brought a tear to my eye....seriously. I'm proud of you and to know you. I's sappy!

lynn said...

Just wanted you to know you have been nominated for the Most Humerous Weblog 2005.

Daisy Duke said...

Ok, so once I laughed, smiled and blubbered, I bristled. Or ranted is more like it and vowed to defend the integrity and work ethic of Team 1. But then I thought what is the point. #1 we were out numbered. #2 we know how much more difficult our job site was to work at. Not only was the entire site the size of my livingroom there was 2 ft of water and mud in the envied predug trenches that had to be removed bucket by bucket before any actual construction could begin. Four, four foot high piles of muddy dirt that had to be moved from on side of the ditch to the other, when obviously they could have very easily been put on that side in the first place slowed things down. Dodging smelly green dog piles became more than a spectators sport. What we did accomplish was how to sing, tell stories (while still working I may add)and have a great time. As luck would have it, I was a part of the dynamic, some times raunchy, humble, hilariously funny, hardworking, loveable Team 1. GO TEAM!

dawn said...

Do you want to know why she is called "Daisy Dukes"? Cause she wore short shorts every day to her job site. At our job site, where we were actually WORKING it wouldn't have been safe to wear shorts.

But when you are just napping all day shorts are okay.

Daisy Duke said...

I have decided to take the moral high ground and call a truce in the hopes of world peace and harmony (without conceding to these slanderous accusations....of course).
And let this be a lesson to you my children: Never try to match wits with the witmaster.
Sending my love back at ya.