I am writing as I’m sitting here. On the second story of a cute, but warm little house in the village of El Lagartillo. There is a door open and my legs are out, my feet dangling over the edge. I am looking through the two trees on either side of the door, out, onto the not very big but always bustling main road that runs through the community. A very close but independent community. A community that falls asleep early, but arises even earlier. There are constantly children chasing after each other, young men riding around on motorcycles, some even on horses, and parents working hard.
And so here I sit, reflecting on the past two weeks. Today is Saturday, which to most individuals reading this, means you are enjoying your first day off after a long, tedious, but productive week. But to me, and my six other group members, this Saturday marks the last full day and the last night of the homestay portion of our trip. For the past two weeks, my fellow group members and I have been living with a family in El Lagartillo. We have been sleeping in the house, eating meals with the family, and even participating in community activities as well as taking four hours of Spanish class a day.
Coming into this trip. I had no idea what the experience was going to be like, and I was nervous about this portion of the trip. With that being said, I never could have imagined the impact that the homestay would have on me. It has been two weeks already, which is mind blowing to me, as it has felt like two days. I remember arriving here on my birthday, two weeks agotomorrow, just as if it were yesterday. I was introduced to my homestay mother, a woman named Erika. She lived with her husband, Juan, and her three young children, Marcelo, Cairo, and Sinthia. I was lead to her house and shown my bedroom, a very tiny, compressed space but at the same time, very warm and homey. The family did not speak any English, and upon arriving I was very worried, but any worries quickly went away as I realized my Spanish speaking skills were much better than I had originally thought. And so here I was; thrown into a situation I had to make the best of, even though it wasn’t bad at all.
I am going to cry when we have to say goodbye to the community of El Lagartillo. In two weeks, it has felt like a second home to me. It has been home for me. I felt accepted, loved, and most importantly, I felt like a part of the community. Everyone here has been so kind and hospitable. The sense of community here is amazing and extremely unique. There is something special about small communities, and El Lagartillo is the prime example of this. Everyone knows everyone, it is like one big family. On numerous occasions I would arrive home from Spanish class or from a group activity and upon walking through the front door, there would be two or three different people in the house that were not in direct relation to my homestay family. I would be eating a meal and the gate would open in the kitchen and somebody new would walk in and a conversation would strike up instantly. My mother made 80 tortillas a day, and people would be in and out with plates and servings full of hot, homemade tortillas. It was a lot to get used to, the amount of people that would come in and out of the house on a regular basis. At first it was super weird and sometimes it was irritating, but that’s just how it is in a community that is just one big family and keeps the front doors to their homes open all day. Another amazing thing about El Lagartillo is how hard each individual works. For example, my homestay mother wakes up at five every morning and begins making her tortillas. The children go to school all day, and the fathers work from the crack of dawn until sun down. There is a very strong sense of culture.
The final, but also biggest thing I want to speak on is this. It was eye opening and life changing to see and experience first hand how these people live. There is no running hot water, some families get water only every two days. I had to teach myself how to bucket shower, which is basically exactly like what it sounds. Taking a bucket of water and dumping it on yourself. There were no inside bathrooms, I had to use a “latrina,” which is a big, less flattering version of a port a potty. After pooping, I had to put my toilet paper in an assigned basket, and then I had to grab some sand from a nearby bucket and pour it on top of my waste. This way of life is so different, barely any electricity, barely any water, no cold air, let alone phone service; but the people who inhabit this community are just as happy, if not happier, than someone living in a place with all of those accessibilities and accommodations. They remain smiling, positive, and most importantly, they are the most kindhearted and warm group of people I have ever met. They went out of their way to make sure that my group members and I could have the best, most influential experience possible. As I mentioned in my previous entry, the family of five I am staying with are all sleeping crammed in one room in their already super small house, just so I could have a peaceful room to myself.
They gave me a jersey that is a representation of this community and their history to me, someone who has done absolutely nothing for them, but take up space in their home, because they were sad for my loss. I have learned to never complain about the littlest things and make due with what you have. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how expensive your taste is. As long as you have family and a sense of community, you will prosper.