March 24, 2009

Helloooo, Ojo! That's right. Welcome to Ojojona; a colonial town of about 6,000 people, many of whom specialize in the finer crafts such as pottery, ceramics, and the like; these persons are known as artesaneos. Since we arrived on Sunday afternoon, we have all fallen in love with this rustic little town and its humble big-hearted inhabitants.

Catholic church in Ojo

Jello Ojo: Kyle, Katie, David, José, and Bryan

Let the games begin: Ashley, Liz, and Me

I personally have been placed with a lovely host family that has two sons, or varones, and one daughter. The nine-year old boy and eleven-year old girl are pretty shy but very polite. The five-year old is a bit more talkative and as curious as can be. (For example, I just had a spectator for a session with my electric toothbrush. The boy was seriously enchanted and did not leave until I had finished spitting out my last drop of mouthwash. Next time I am gonna charge him for making me awkwardly stand by the pila while I cleansed my palette.) The mother is a total sweetheart (only four years older than me...I cannot imagine myself with four kids already...I think I should start working on the other half of the kid equation before I worry about young-ins if you get my drift) and quite a trooper taking care of the family with another baby due in June. The father also seems to be quite caring of each member of the family and spends almost all of his time giving mass in the Evangelical church, in the homes of those that cannot attend, and in the outlying aldeas of Ojojona. He also owns an artesaneo shop that has been in his family for years. I am the first aspirante that the family has ever had, but even without prior experience they are treating this girl (alright, woman) right. They continue to tell me that I am part of the family and that they want me to feel at home. They are completely accommodating to my morning and afternoon exercises, to my preference for a warm water shower, and to my desire to lessen the amount of sugar, azucar, and sour cream, mantequilla, in my meals. The meals (....well) are definitely proving to be plato tipico if nothing else. My breakfast and dinners have consisted of red beans (whole or mashed), white cheese (queso or quesillo, hard to explain but I'm sure Google can), chicken eggs (scrambled, fried, or sunny-side up), meat (chorizo, sausage links, or salami), and the infamous tortillas (of course, made with harina de maíz). The lunches are a nice change normally consisting of a type of meat, rice with peppers, and a vegetable of some sort. It seems I am on my own to get all of my fruit needs filled, however. (What’s a girl gotta do for an apple!)

Bed #2

Room #2

This is where the magic happens

Training here has also been going well. We are getting into the technical side of things (finally) and working intently on improving our Spanish. About half of each day is dedicated to each type of training. I am getting to know my Biz homies better and completely loving it. We have our own characters in the group but seem to be meshing well. Already we have had volleyball and indoor soccer games, enjoyed chocolate covered bananas together, and have a sweet barbeque planned for the weekend. On that note, I am off to (hopefully) dream about the good old days of summer in the city...oh how I miss SF.

Training center/volleyball court/soccer arena

Oh how I missed you…

March 21, 2009

What up! Sorry for the delay in the updates. We have been preparing to jump ship tomorrow to our new Field-Based Training (FBT) sites. For business, we will be in Ojojona, a colonial, clean, and relatively clear of trouble town about 30 minutes south of Teguc. I digress....let's first talk about the volunteer visit (a.k.a. reality check).

Last Sunday, another business PCT and myself trekked it out (including 3 buses and 2 taxis) to Orocuina. It is a pretty simple town located about 15 kilometers outside of Choluteca. It is extremely toasty, as it is located in the south, and seriously off the beaten path. The road to get there is not paved and one of the bumpiest rides I have taken yet. When we arrived on Sunday in Choluteca, we had the pleasure of sampling local fare both there and once we made it into Orocuina (that's right, we hit a Wendy's and a Chinese restaurant). Monday was a bit more culturally fitting as we got to see what our PCV actually does. We hiked (kid you not walked forever) to two outlying communities, or aldeas, to talk to some locals about ongoing projects. The first aldea that we visited was currently working with the PCV and Engineers Without Borders to complete a water system project that would bring water up from the local river to the 33 homes located throughout the mountainside. This community has been trying to get a water system in place for the last 24 years (please take a moment to appreciate the reality of this), so the completion of this project is both a huge success for the PCV and an enormous increase in the quality of life for these families. We spent our visit to the second aldea observing our PCV meet with a group of women that were in the process of figuring out how to best market and sell their homemade hammocks. The hammocks that these women sell are friggin awesome; they are colorful, comfortable, and make for a great cama. (Let me know if you are interested in purchasing a hammock. They are sold just about everywhere hereand are affordable. I plan to buy one at some point in my service and would be happy to snag you one.) The rest of the visit was pretty low key spent in transit or in the apartment of the PCV. On Tuesday, we met up with several other PCTs and PCVs to relax in the sun (with sunscreen of course, Mom) and (somewhat) celebrate St. Patty’s Day together. Wednesday we made it back to Zarabanda to debrief, and, sadly, no crazy stories remain.

What an average apartment of a PCV may resemble

The rest of the week was chill and mainly spent packing, doing laundry, and finishing up with the general training. (I have def learned to appreciate the time and effort that is the pila. You should all go hug your washer and dryer now to let them know how much you love them.) The majority of today was spent on the internet trying to update and check all my ish as well as Skype it up with fam and a soon-to-be masters student. (Thanks, guys!!)

Other than the details, all is well. I continue to remain happy and healthy. My dreams continue to be completely vivid and out of control. (Ya, sorry I forgot to mention that earlier. After the first night of the malaria meds, there has not been one uneventful night in the dark.) We are all anxious for FBT to begin and to move in with our new host families. I will be living with a family that has a five and nine-year old boy as well as an eleven-year girl. The wife is pregnant and due in June, and the father is an Evangelical pastor. (I will let you insert your own comments here. I need say no more.) All my best to you and yours.


March 14, 2009

Jello. So the trip to Teguc was enjoyable (and luckily uneventful). We checked out one of the smaller markets in town, and it's pretty much like the auction (shout out to Denios!) back in the states. Because we had some extra time, we also made it to one of the local malls which, again, are much like those in the states. (Oh, and by the by, I found a Payless! Holler!! I wonder what size I am in Hondu...probablemente muy grande.) We also checked out the PC office...which happens to be in a shady part of town. (That's fun.) Before heading back to the training center, we made a stop off at Burger King (I personally would chosen Wendy's for a frosty and some fries. Oh how I miss those late nights at Mel's!). I have never seen such excited PCTs; everyone definitely had their share of some type of fried delight that day.

The biz group also made a trip out to Valle to interview some of the small business owners this week. My group interviewed an owner of an internet café and, including the information gleaned from the reports of the other groups, it seems that the critical functions missing from the businesses are accounting, marketing, and management control. The businesses are run in a very simple fashion, including making expenditures and collecting revenue without a register, and normally owned/operated by family members. There is little to no marketing because funds are not superfluous, and having internet access around here is a privilege. It was def rad to have this experience as it showed us where some of our experiences and skills can be put to use.

Friday the 13th...well I learned a few things about the gangs that day (such as that they like to take some people down on that day) that I thought would be interesting to pass along. Here is a quick run-down on the gang sitch here. There are two Mara Salvatrucha gangs that sport the numbers 13 and 18; these are thought to be the dates when the gangs were actually started. Anyway, I learned from my teacher that many of these gang members are Hondurans that went to the U.S. illegally to find work to support their families. When they are in the states, they join these same gangs as their forces in America seem to be comparable to those in Honduras (without the police intervention, of course, as that is not existent here). So when these Hondurans are deported, they join back with the gangs to continue to earn (/steal) money to support themselves and their families. The heads of these gangs are actually living in the U.S., and the regional leaders (kinda like the VPs) are running the show in Hondu. It was pretty interesting to learn about these peeps because they capture a great deal of attention both locally and abroad. (I actually just finished and gave a report on the crime sitch here. I will share it with you in a bit as it requires thoughtful explanation which I don't really have right now. You will find out why soon.)

Today was both and upper and downer. We had a great day at training learning about the various support groups available to PCVs and also a bit about each other. Afterwards, a group of about 15 of us hit the soccer field to battle some locals. I guess I can't really call it a battle (as they definitely whopped our asses) but instead a friendly interaction that involved a round object and lasted about an hour and a half. The guys that we played were absolutely amazing and showed us (truly) how it is done. (I can finally say I played fútbol in one of the homelands.) After the game, I made it back to my house and finally had "one of those days." Yep, this was the first time that I found myself in my room with nothing pressing to do and tears in my eyes. I am not sad to be here but had a bit of homesickness overwhelm me for the evening. Luckily, I was able to talk to my dad and mom to sort out some of the feelings. They both knew how to make this girl feel loved. (Thanks, guys.) Now, I am taking a break from the emotional side of me and working on recovering my chi (pronounced "chee", hey LMU VB).

Tomorrow I will be heading to Orocuina with another PCT to visit a current business PCV. We are gonna check out her life as a PCV and apparently (word on the street) hit the beach with other PCVs and PCTs. I am stoked! Let the games (/real life) begin.

March 9, 2009

Hey hey! Hope you enjoyed the postings! Like I said, many a sorry about the lack of pics. They really make the story. In time...LIKE NOW!

Anyway, wanted to let ya'll know that the weekend was fab (like the four oh!). On Saturday we had a Cultural Day at the training site (just like the good old days at St. Rose) where all of the instructors dressed in garb, prepared local food and beverages, and presented the history on the eight major pueblos of Honduras. Many of the trainees (including myself) had such a solid time enjoying the variety of tastes that our stomachs were screaming at us by that night. Regardless, it was good times all round, and I got to learn a bit more about my country (now, my home). Afterwards, a bunch of PCTs hit Valle to use the net, and now here we are (full circle).

The most adorable Hondurans I have encountered to date

Taste testing group: Me, Randy, Jen, Derrick, Harrison, Erika, Jill, and Karina

You know you’re a nerd when…

Sunday was DOPE. The family across the street owns a panadaría, and they taught about ten of the aspirantes how to make pineapple cookies (which are basically empanadas with a pineapple jelly filling) and what I have termed “double dough” (kind of like a sweet bread within another bread). The way that these pastries were made was the coolest part: by hand. That’s right, all of it. I am talking about from measuring the ingredients to stirring the dough (including eggs, milk, sugar, flour, etc.) to shaping the cookies (with those oh so cute ridges). You have not truly baked until you have stirred an egg by hand. So rad. After the messy sesh, we walked to another town, Santa Lucia, to check out the digs and the view of Teguc. The town was quaint but did have some solid paddle boats that I wish we had the time to hit up. Sunday night was filled with mucha tarea.

Tomorrow we are headed to Teguc in groups to figure out the local way of life. We need to check out the digs of the town, try to barter for fruits and veggies, and research the prices and quality of the local fare. We are also hitting the PC office for a tour and most likely scoring a Frosty from Wendy’s. That may sound lame to you but it sounds money to me. Hope you are all enjoying your milkshake. (From what I hear it brings the boys to the yard.) Hasta mañana.


March 5, 2009

Host cuz/personal stylist: Anna (Am I lookin like Nicki now or what?)

Well, hello there. It has been quite an intensive but enjoyable week thus far with activities ranging from intensive language training to a session on how to properly prepare food to an in-depth introduction to the Honduras Business Project. Check it.

(High five!) I found out that I have been ranked as an Intermediate Mid in my Spanish proficiency. That is the minimum level a PCT must attain to become a PCV! So basically, unless I do my best not to learn anything in the next 10 weeks while living/eating/breathing Spanish, I am golden. (That's a relief. Maybe I will be the next poster child, just like Michael Phelps...right?) The classes are actually quite fun and intimate. I am with three other trainees with a licensed instructor practicing everything from vocabulary to grammar to local phrases and contexts using dialogues, role plays, and presentations.

Zarabanda Spanish class: Jen, Randy, Instructora Liz, Me, and David

The food prep sesh was also fantastically rad. (You will understand why in a moment.) Hello, fruits and vegetables!! After learning how to properly prepare the food, all of the PCTs had a massive grub down as there seems to be a solid lack of fruits and vegetables in the daily Honduran diet. (Don't get me wrong. I normally get two bananas a day but still miss the sweet taste of strawberries daily. In addition, oranges here are a crap shoot, and apples are so ridiculously overpriced.) I wish I had pictures of this event, but it will instead have to remain a solid mental photo. (Just imagine how excited I used to get about my Raisin Bran in the morning.)

I just finished reading up on the Hondu Business Project and am a bit more informed of and encouraged with the potential for change. For the past several years, Honduras has been considered the third poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, behind Haiti and Nicaragua. Several issues have been the main causes of such impoverishment including Hurricane Mitch, civil society and social discontent over the political and economic status quo, and the recent global recession. The Business Program is currently working with community partners, local non-governmental organizations, host country agencies, etc. to address such issues by assisting in the development of the financial, information technology, and tourism sectors of the economy. Within these sectors and also participating in secondary projects are about twenty-five current PCVs. (The PC is planning to average about thirty to thirty-five PCVs over the next two years.) Although this situation seems dangerously dire with a limited level of response, I truly see that I have "my work cut out for me" here and am thus encouraged.

This bus has it work cut out for it…it is presently rolling down the hill

Besides the formal ish, I have continued to keep up with my runs three times a week and yoga twice a week following classes. I am happy, healthy, and living life the best I know how. Until next time, que le vaya bien.

March 2, 2009

Holler! or ¡Buenas!

Well, the last time we were together I was expectant of some crazy dreams. Unfortunately, I have nothing to report on that end, but I have been busy the past two days during my conscious hours. Allow me to elaborate.

My first Saturday here was fabulous. I spent the first part of the morning doing team building activities with a portion of my training group. I know that sounds corny on paper, but trust me, these activities are much needed as these are the people that we will be relying on for support (for oh, I don't know, maybe the next two years or so). After the good times, I went to Tegucigalpa (Teguc) with my host fam for the first time. (We are not allowed to go there without our fams as it is a dangerous place because of the violent gang activity. Basically, tattoos are bad news bears here.) The city was much like I expected: very overcrowded with traffic and jaywalkers, extremely dirty with people carelessly throwing trash out of their bus or car windows, and noticeably divided into class systems. Although I mention the negative aspects of the city, it is where all of the commerce is handled for the country and is thus vital to the survival of the country. While there, I enjoyed a coffee with my mother, my sister, and what I guess would be my cousin (mother's niece). We talked about the city and also got into deep discussion about some family members that seem to be battling with mental health issues. I mentioned my work on the crisis hotline and inquired if it would be a useful tool for Honduras. My host mother loved the idea, so hopefully I can follow up with my project managers on it once we start Field Based Training in a couple weeks. After the coffee, we hit what was probably the biggest supermarket in the city. It is exactly like those in the states which surprised me a lot. To end the evening fabulously, we retuned home and all the families in my specific training area threw the trainees a welcome party that included tradish American and Honduran food (pizza and tortillas), standard sodas, and a bit of Spanish dance. (Trust me, I am dying to practice my Latin dance moves I picked up from Spain as soon as possible!)

Running mates/Zarabanda neighbors and host families at the welcome party: Kevin and Xiah

Sunday was another pleasant day and learning experience. I learned how to do my laundry a.k.a. to use the pila. It is a pretty simple process but does a number on your clothes and on your hands. (Basically, the process is as follows. You soak clothes in water with detergent, and then remove them piece by piece to wash them. To wash, you rub a bar of special soap onto the item, and then work the soap into the item by rubbing your hands on the item that is lying on a serrated cement block. You use a bucket and running water to repeat the process for the inner and outer parts of the item. After you have finished getting the soap out of the item with water, you hang to dry. I already scrubbed away part of my skin on my right hand.) This was useful to learn as I will need to do it on my own for the next two years. I was also able to start to try to gain some brownie points with the dog as he watched me talk to the family and work in the backyard. (We will be BFFs when all this is over. I just know it.) After that, I caught the bus to Valle de los Angeles, a standard tourist town, with some other trainees that live in my same city. (I am so hardcore about traveling in pairs here. I think I may have already annoyed some trainees with my overzealous insistence on traveling in groups, but OH WELL. Safety never takes a day off, right Roseville!) We hopped on the net for a bit, tasted some standard fare pupusas (SO YUM! Google 'em.), and hiked to a local park. We didn't actually go into the park as we were told by our families that the not-so-stellar folk from Teguc hang there during the weekends. That night I returned home for a fabulous night with my girls. We watched Toy Story in Spanish while my sister did my hair and my cousin gave me a manicure. These girls are so cute and hilarious. They keep telling me I look like Nicki Hilton. No thanks! Anyway, they want to do my makeup this coming weekend. I think we are just going to have a full-on fashion show. (I will say, though, I am enjoying the younger sister/cousin good times -- ahem, Christa! -- and not having a man in the house. No offense guys, but it is one less thing I need to think about while I am at home.)

¡Oye for Valle!

Enjoying the comida and the company (left to right): Katherine, Mauné, Jill, Liz, and José

This ish is bananas

Welcome…you should really go now

Relaxin roadside: Ashley and her little host ones

Honorable mention: I will be getting a cell phone this coming Wednesday and am able to receive calls for no cost! If anyone has a phone card that they are just tired of carrying around, have a joke they are itchin to tell, or think calling collect is cool, you just let me know. ;)

February 27, 2009

¡Bienvenido a mi primer escrito de Honduras! Les estoy escribiendo a Ustedes de mi cuarto en una casa donde vivo con una familia Hondureña. Sólo he estado en Honduras por dos dias pero ya me siento que yo he vivido aquí por mucho tiempo.


To Honduras!

Welcome to my first writing from Honduras! I am writing to you from my room in a house where I live with my Honduran family. I have only been in Honduras for two days but already I feel like I have lived here for a long time.

Room #1

Bed #1

Honduras...so ya, what a place. We arrived in the country on Wednesday afternoon completely jet lagged (from being woken up at 2AM after an hour of sleep and goodbyes for a 7AM flight that morning) and, after a quick welcome at the training site, were thrown into the arms of our host families (literally as they are very affectionate people), all of which I have heard from other Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) to be completely fabulous. (On that note, I should elaborate that everyone's family situation differs dramatically from one another. For example, some houses have plasma TVs, washer and dryers, and hot water while others have walls that do not connect to roofs, water delivered twice a week, and a family of six that is sharing a room to accommodate a trainee. Meals are modest, simple, and normally include white bread, bananas and coffee...so many and so much, tortillas, and rice.) I actually surprised myself the first night I was with my host family as I seemed to know more Spanish than I originally thought. (I think that I was delirious, but anyway, thanks, Rosetta Stone!) My mother here is fantastic (so welcoming, very independent, and completely accommodating) and lives within walking distance to our training site. She has one daughter and two nieces, all of which live with her and attend high school. Her daughter is currently (as we speak) practicing the flute. They have a parrot (almost an exact replica of Andy but a bit sweeter on the ears) as well as a dog that will attack anyone but the family and thus needs to be caged when I am home. (We have been told that most dogs in the area are vicious because they serve as guards instead of companions. They are taught to behave this way at a very young age.) My mother is very interested and asks questions frequently about my family in the states, what I plan to do in the Peace Corps (PC), and how to best live in Honduras. Normally, there is not much else going on the house except for my mom tending to her girls or the house and the girls doing their homework or watching television, so much of the time is spent conversing and explaining. My daily routine thus far has been waking up in comfortable room at 6AM to shower with a bucket of warm water (so lucky to have warm water!), walking to training with other PCTs (while trying not to get run over by speeding cars or phased by honks and comments), training on everything for eight to nine hours (which displeases the rear), and then returning home to read more about policies (so many) or go on a run with friends (which I did for the first time today yayer!). Sometimes...although I really have only been here two days...it is tough to come home from a long day of training and speak about my day, life, and dreams in Spanish. (Honestly, sometimes my brain just wants to fart.)

Delirious at the buttcrack of dawn: Liz and Me

Wondering what they got themselves into: Bryan and Kevin

Flight mates: Iljeen and Kyle

Ridin the bus

Training has been going well thus far. We are currently working on intensive language instruction and learning more about medical, safety, health, and other PC policies specific to Honduras. We have spent some time learning about local customs (visit your neighbors/family and don't drink the water), the host family experience (you are part of the family and accommodate always), the dangers of Honduras (theft, assault, rape, malaria, dengue, rabies, etc.), and what we can expect that our specific (for me, business) projects will entail. We had a medical interview today to determine which additional vaccines we need and received our health kits which, among other things, contained a mosquito net, bug spray, malaria pills, and supplements for dehydration. We also had a language interview that will be used to separate us into different levels for training purposes. We need to reach a certain language level in order to be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). Right now, we are only PCTs, or aspirantes. (Wish me luck!)

Back to school, back to school

To prove to myself, just what I can do

What we bring to the table

Expectations of the students

Expectations of the trainers

All the aspirantes seem to be pretty rad and with all types of backgrounds from straight out of college to years of experience in the field to spouses that have (reluctantly for some it seems) joined their significant other to share in their desire to make a change. They are from around the country and split pretty evenly between males and females. They range in age from early twenties to late fifties. There are forty nine of us in total and four couples.

First day of class, Camera 1

First day of class, Camera 2

Well team, that's all I have for you today! Sorry I can't elaborate more on some gnarly experience. Those have yet to be had, and I am positive that they will be. For now, I leave you with the wonderment on what tonight will bring me in my dreams. We took our first weekly supplement of malaria medicine, and it is supposed to cause some seriously freaky dreams, potentially night terrors. (Are you afraid of the dark? I will be by tomorrow...)

This is what I will be running for in a few hours

Buenas noches.


Hello from Hondu!

Hey, team! Just wanted to let you know that we arrived safely in Honduras on Wednesday afternoon. We are currently training about eight to nine hours per day on everything from culture to language to the Peace Corps program, living with a host family and learning about daily life, and beginning to safely explore the area. Unfortunately, I don't have my laptop with me, but I wanted to let you know that the stories will be coming shortly! It is a bit unsafe and unwise to travel around with our laptops, so I will have to post a ginormous blog (yes, it is a word!) once I get access in a safe area. Until then, I wish you all the best and cannot wait to speak or write to you again soon! All my love to ya'll!