(Re)Learning to Drive

Any ride to and from Amigos begins and ends on this road. Check out this quick video to see what drivers like Mr. Zack pass each time they are on a trip. 

My name is Zack and I’m approximately halfway through my second year as a volunteer at Amigos de Jesús. I’m grateful to be reflecting on the older boys at Amigos, the jóvenes, with whom I´ve spent a lot of time.

Coming to Amigos has been a very humbling experience for me. I´ve had to relearn to do many of the basics in life that were second nature to me in the United States. A couple include learning to talk again (a new language - Spanish) and how to drive again (using an extra pedal with my left foot - manual transmission). The jóvenes at Amigos have been nothing but support for me in these areas; not just saying ‘yes’ but ´yes’ with enthusiasm every time I ask them for help. That´s one of the things I love most about Hondurans; their willingness to always help someone no matter what the circumstance is or if it´s an inconvenience for them.

I began learning to drive stick shift in my second year which definitely wasn´t an easy process. The car I was learning in was one of Amigos’ first cars and is probably around 15 years old. Additionally, due to the conditions of the roads around Amigos, the ‘wear and tear’ on the car is a little more than what you would find on average in the United States. Nevertheless, the car still runs well and takes us from Point A to Point B. I remember being so excited the day I knew one of the jóvenes was going to teach me how to drive stick. I felt really nervous, not wanting to embarrass myself or accidentally break the car. But time after time, when I would stall the car and I would express my frustration or apologize, whichever joven I was with would treat it as if nothing happened. He would always say to not worry about it, that it didn´t matter and that I had to stop overthinking everything. I slowly got the hang of being able to get the car running in 1st gear (not super well) but not too much more than that.

Dec 8 2016 graduation Keka.JPG
May 21 2017 Tela retreat Miguel.JPG

Mr. Zack and two of the 'jovenes' that helped teach him to drive.

Even though I didn’t feel confident to start helping with driving trips outside of Amigos, the jóvenes encouraged and convinced me that I was capable of doing it. So I soon began going on morning trips with one of the jóvenes in one of our small buses, or busitos, to take 15 of our teenagers to school in the nearby town. The busito has a different feel for its clutch than the car I learned on, so that naturally made me even more nervous about stalling the car. Being down here in Honduras, you have to be able to laugh at yourself… and what I would soon learn… to keep a light mood when you have a car of 15 kids laughing at you when you feel humiliated.

One morning, we crossed the river heading into town and had just finished up going a steeper hill. We hadn’t gotten to the top quite yet when we saw a herd of cows heading towards us and taking up the entire road. I stopped the car and put it in neutral, already worrying about how I would have to get the car into 1st gear without rolling down the hill backwards. First attempt to quickly get the car going… stalled the car. Second attempt… stalled again. Now the kids are starting to laugh and make fun of me (but hey, at least I was entertaining them right?). Third time is a charm. Except this time it wasn’t. Yet again, I stalled the car. The super cool thing about this time was that the car battery died and the starter stopped working. I ended up having to get out of the car and the joven who was with me took over the wheel. The part that scarred me most was when, as he came to the driver’s seat, he said, “Well this is interesting, I’ve never seen the battery die on the busito before.” We all got out and pushed the busito so the joven could start up the engine again. I sat in the back of the busito with the kids for the rest of the ride which was a moment at Amigos I won’t forget. It was enough to scare me out of driving for about a month or so.

The jóvenes, however, always continued to encourage me. The fact that they kept bothering me to keep on practicing, even though I was scared I was going to break one of the cars, is probably the reason why I’m driving today. They were always willing to go out of their way so I could get an extra practice in, and I thank them a lot for that. Now, because of them, I can say that I´m “fluent” in driving stick, a long-time dream come true. I don’t stall the car, and I’ve become the new driver who helps out with the trash chore on Saturdays. I drive the car around Amigos, accompanied by another joven and group of enthusiastic boys, to empty all the trash bins on the property. But there is still always room to improve. I´ve realized that my Spanish speaking ability quickly plumets while driving because I put almost all of my concentration on the road and shifting gears. One of the jóvenes that usually helps me with the trash always makes fun of me in the car if he tries talking to me and I have trouble responding. “Ah, come on man! You never understand or speak well when you’re driving!” I just laugh when he gets mad at me because it’s completely true. All I can do is continue practicing with the jóvenes’ help and one day I’ll get there.

Mr. Zack (pictured in the red shirt) and one of the 'jovenes' driving around the 'hogar' one morning helping with trash duty. 

Mr. Zack (pictured in the red shirt) and one of the 'jovenes' driving around the 'hogar' one morning helping with trash duty. 

 

 

- Zack Fier, 2016-2018 ADJ Volunteer