Every morning when I wake up, I hear girls from Our Little Roses outside laughing, yelling, and playing. Those sounds continue while I'm getting ready for the day teaching poetry at Holy Family Bilingual School, which is conveniently in the same building as my apartment. When I walk downstairs from the apartment terrace and around to the school side, the fairly idyllic atmosphere persists. Students neatly dressed in white and blue uniforms or the more casual PE version cross back and forth between the covered courtyard where they have recess, athletics, and dance, the cafeteria where some purchase snacks or drinks and others enjoy theirs from home, and the staircase that leads back up to the classrooms. Everyone I encounter - students, faculty, and staff members alike - greets me with a smile and, "Hello, Miss." The kids, even those for whom poetry is not a favorite, are always welcoming when I get to their rooms. Then, I get to spend hours geeking out on poetry, introducing the 9th graders to Robert Frost, listening to the unexpected spate of love poems written by the 7s, and exploring feelings through colors with 5th graders. By noon, my day has been full of wit and humor from students like the one I call "Louis Vuitton," hugs from many of the younger ones, and tricky, ironic, funny, beautiful language.
It's easy to forget that I am in a city that has been classified as "the most dangerous city in the world" on numerous lists and publications over the years. San Pedro Sula has only recently lost its distinction as "the murder capital of the world" to Caracas, Venezuela. The barbed wire atop the wall that encloses Our Little Roses, the school, and the courtyard is one of few reminders, as is the gate to the outside world that is manned by armed security day and night.
It wasn't until I was chatting with Mayra (program coordinator and guardian angel extraordinaire) about my hopes to go to the movies, though, that I remembered the reality of the world on the other side of the wall. When I told her that I would be fine taking a taxi at 9 pm to the mall where the theater is located, she gave me a look that anyone who has been or who has had a mother or mother-figure would understand. It's the look that is part concern, part disbelief, part pity, part laughter, and ALL, "Oh, my dear, is that what you think?" In minutes, Mayra arranged for the OLR driver to drop me off for the 4 pm show, and recommended that I take one of the older girls with me, as well.
I felt bad intruding on the evening of the two young women I invited to the movies, especially because I had not taken into account their evening responsibilities. As both girls graduated last week*, one from cosmetology school and the other from high school, they do not have studies to attend to, but - like all of the young women in the Transition Program - they do have jobs at the home such as assisting with the meals, monitoring and helping with homework completion, or riding herd on the little ones at bath and bedtime. However, they assured me that it was fine; they would take care of their tasks and be ready at 3:30 for our outing. I left them to it.
As I was telling my Spanish teacher that I would be leaving our lesson a little early to get to the show on time, I realized how excited I was. The feeling was not just because I was going to see Justice League or that it was a day ahead of it being released in the US. It was not even because I was going to see Jason Momoa (although that was a big part of it)! In my time here, my days have been full, and I haven't felt bereft of anything except my family. Nevertheless, as I talked about the upcoming trip to the movies, I sounded like I was talking about going to Disney World (which I do think is the happiest place on Earth) or Hamilton. For the first time, I considered that as much as this compound is an oasis that is fully dedicated to the safety and well-being of its people, its walls are also incredibly isolating. I have only been here two weeks. There are girls who have been here almost their entire lives. What would that feel like?
On the drive to the theater, I considered that question as I looked out the window. Soldiers with machine guns in front of stores and banks. Emaciated dogs picking through garbage along the road. Incredibly young girls with babies on their hips. I thought about the stories people have shared with me about getting robbed on the buses. I thought about the lives of the girls before being placed in the home.
Then, I thought about the ever-present sounds of laughter and playing.
*The Honduras school system runs from February-November. Holy Family Bilingual School runs on the American school timeline.