May 25, 2009

First week down…103ish or so to go…wow. I don’t want to seem like I’m counting the weeks because I’m not…right? I don’t even know what I would be counting down for…sleeping in my own bed (even though it is smaller, it’s mine)? having a home cooked meal with my family (a salad would be just fine, as long as I’m with them)? being a tour guide in San Francisco (I miss you, Louise, Hannah, Bo, and every stranger I have yet to meet)? I don’t know…it’s weird. I was talking to a PCV homie about it last night. We have similar sentiments about the whole thing: we want to live each day to the fullest and enjoy every minute BUT we also don’t want to forget to keep the big picture in mind and what this experience means for our futures. It is relieving to hear that I’m not the only one having these mixed feelings, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still tough to have…

Work...there’s a lot of it…and that’s good. I just want make sure that I manage myself well enough that I’m able to meet my counterparts’ goals as well as fulfilling my own. For the Vivero, my main and immediate task is to design a curriculum covering basic accounting concepts and administrative controls (i.e. sales register, cash flow statement, etc.) to teach the students from the Escuela Taller. For OCH, I am supposed to assist with the creation of several proposals so that the organization can continue with their plans of renovating the municipal market. The designs are done and the team is ready, but the money has yet to come. (Story of every dream, right?) My main involvement in this process will be designing and detailing a business curriculum to be included in the proposal that shows how the vendors will obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to form a cooperative. I think that most of my time right now will be dedicated to the Vivero since the students only have six months left before they are released into the business world to hopefully manage their own companies. (I really cannot tell how much the students have actually been taught to date about business administration and am thus preparing myself for the unknown.) The research and work that I’m preparing now for the Vivero will hopefully be applicable to my work in OCH. My “normal” work day thus far has been spent doing research in the Escuela office from 8am until 3:30pm with an hour break for lunch. I am hoping/sure that this will change/fluctuate as I become involved in other side projects. Right now, I (and other volunteers as I learned after several conversations last night) am so unsure as to how to do this right: taking care of others while taking care of myself. It’s quite a daunting task, and I don’t want to fail on either end.

Family…ya, I definitely got the hookup, and I was initially stoked about that…but then my feelings changed. I am living in probably one of the nicest houses in Gracias. It has unoccupied rooms, a huge backyard, a washer and dryer, electro-duchas in every bedroom, internet, and a live-in muchacha. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer; I don’t deserve to stay in a place like this. I am in no way put out by my lodgings. Shouldn’t I feel a bit like I need to suck it up? Isn’t that part of the learning process? On that note and for the fact that I am not given keys to the house and thus must live by someone else’s schedule, can’t make my own coffee in the morning but instead must wait until dinner (I’m sorry but this became a necessity during long days of FBT), and got scolded by my mom c/o the muchacha for taping pictures of family and friends on the wall, I am ready to live on my own. Three months was enough for me.

Health…could be better. I am eating well as the muchacha is a monster over the wood burning oven and with the blender. I am not able to counteract the food, however, with a plentiful amount of exercise. I do not have enough room in my room or any of the others to do my strength training exercises (dang my big bed! I knew it was too good to be true…) nor am I able to run on my own as the streets are cobblestone and clustered with construction. The only place to run is on the main highway out to La Esperanza, and it is probably not recommended to traverse alone. The one thing I did find a spot for was jumping rope on the side of the house. I got a workout routine from a friend during FBT and am hoping that I can start doing it every morning. I guess if I am able to combine that with yoga three times a week, I should feel better. I think that I am just going stir crazy because I can’t run. You all know how obsessed I am with it! I am in the process of trying to coerce the other female PCVs in town to go with me…

Spanish…sigh. Good and bad, like the rest of the story. I think I will always need to work on it. Siempre.

Highlights of the week…yoga, rain, milk and cookies, a cocktail, Skype, aguas termales, PCV chats…

Master of disaster with chocolate: Kalin

Bar of goodness

You can pretty much dip anything in chocolate and it will be good

Hopeful highlights of this week…jump rope, yoga, rain, Tilapia, a baby shower, aguas termales, pizza…

Overall, I’m very happy and very sad. Just thought I should write it down…


May 18, 2009

I fully agree with the statement that too much of a good thing is wonderful. Let’s see why…

Mango face = Happy face

As you already knew, we made it back safely to Zarabanda Saturday afternoon. (Minus the frustration of having to once again repack my life, I was very happy to move out of my house in Ojojona. I have tried not to express ill sentiments about my experience in past writings, but to tell you the truth, the last few weeks have not been the most enjoyable at home. I felt like my host mother was just plain over me. Now, I understand that she was probably preoccupied with her pregnancy and tending to the rest of the family, but unfortunately I did not have the option to leave. Additionally, since the beginning of FBT, my father has continued to mock my speech and ask me about money, specifically about how much PC is giving me and if I receive money from my father on a regular basis. As you can imagine, as FBT came to a close, I was ready to get out of dodge.) After unpacking as little as possible, I went on a walk with the old PCT neighbors, and chatted it up with the old fam until night fell and I crashed hard. Sunday I hit up Valle with the majority of the PCTs to Skype it up, grub on some pupusas, and revel in the completion of 10 weeks of training. That night, I received my first haircut from a mother of a neighboring PCT. Although her combination of more than fifteen years of experience and less than ten minutes of haircutting didn’t seem to add up to me, I came out of it with a smile and a style. Classy.

A solid simulation partner: Rebecca and Me

The majority of the week in Zarabanda went by extremely (and somewhat painfully) slow with bastante administrative sessions, Spanish projects, and final language interviews. Some good times were had in the in between time (and helped such pain subside) such as running in the campo with the ladies, reuniting after class to enjoy my host mother’s paletas (which I never knew that she made on the daily until last week!), and feasting on anafres (which I equate to Honduran fondue: fried tortillas accompanied by a steaming bowl of beans, cheese, and/or meat) at a nearby restaurant. Overall, Friday’s activities took the cake for the week. We met our counterparts for the first time in the morning at the PC office, swore-in mid-day at the Embassy (Did I forget to mention that? I AM OFFICIALLY A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER! HOLLER H14.), and spent the rest of the afternoon in Zarabanda with our counterparts sharing expectations, developing responsibilities, and creating a work plan for the upcoming month. The evening was spent saying goodbye to friends, host families, and to any fears that remained about living life as a PCV.

Thank you, families!

My host mother and sister: Marina and Gabriela

At it once again: Rebecca and Me

The happy couple: Moses and Rachel

A rad volunteer visit roommate: Me and Reggie

The illest: Iljeen

Good guys and other cribbage fanatics: JP and Harrison

Some Zara ladies relaxin: Rachel, Katherine, Reggie

First homie I encountered in DC: Me and Annie

Honduran fondue ~ Anafre

Bring on the words of wisdom

Over 40 years working for sustainable development


I had my cake (and ate it, too!)

Saturday marked the first day of the rest of my life. (That may come off as a lame statement, but it probably holds more truth than lie.) Fortunately, my counterpart brought a truck out to Zarabanda, so I was able to take advantage of safely transporting my belongings, shortening my travel time, and avoiding paying hefty bus fares. Unfortunately, that meant leaving at 4AM to travel in a packed truck for six hours on mostly unpaved roads. Upon arrival into Gracias, I met my mom (who seems super nice), entered one of the nicest houses that I have ever encountered in Honduras (rivaling some in the states), and went straight for the outdoor hammock (ahhhh-mazing). After a quick power nap, I met the rest of and lunched with the fam, visited the oldest house in town (now a museum, Casa Galeano) and watched a video on the city’s history, and met the owner of a local shop that sells fruit wine (Hello, long lost friend. I know that you are laughing right now, Hannah.) I came back to the house early evening to unpack and enjoy my first movie sola (Super Bad) on the biggest bed that I have ever owned (a double!!). Needless to say, sweet dreams were had. (I have a cavity. Ja. Lame. )

Bed #3

Room #3

Bathroom #1!

Sunday was stellar as my bounce off the wall energy returned in full effect. I slept in until 9AM (which is unheard of here as most PCTs were considered ill by their host families if they slept anywhere past 8AM), finished up with unpacking, and went to the local Chinese restaurant to lunch with and meet the other PCVs in town and in the outlying aldeas. Not including the couple that came with me from Wat/San, there are three girls and one guy that all seem to be unique and solid people. I am especially stoked on one girl who played volleyball in college and is currently working on getting a team together at one of the local high schools. (How friggin fun would it be to coach a team IN SPANISH!) She is also down to run with me and may be moving into the house down the street from me. (Tig.) After snagging another paleta (they are addicting) we checked out the local markets, chatted about the life of a PCV, and meet some of the many internationals that are living here. (I am so amazed how many there are yet so friggin excited to meet them all. I think that the majority work in one of the two bilingual schools in Gracias.) As evening fell, I hit up the Hotel Guancasco (a PC fav) to take advantage of their free wireless internet, enjoy the second best view of town (next to atop Fort Saint Christopher), and take a yoga class put on by a yoga instructor from the states (who is working out here with another organization on a two year project). What a day.

View of Gracias from Hotel Guancasco

Today was friggin awesome and gives me so much hope for my next two years here. I met up with my counterpart from the Escuela Taller COLOSUCA in the morning. She introduced me to the employees in the office, the teachers of the current groups of students (albañilería, soldadura, and carpintería), and the mayor of Gracias. We walked around various parts of the city to see what projects the students are currently working on and to show me where the major points of interest are (i.e. post office, police station, health center, telephone company, etc). Afterwards, I ran a few errands in town, returned home to lunch (I am trying out the host family’s grub for a week to see if I want to stick with it before trying out my cooking skills…ya…skills), and brushed up on some Spanish practice. This afternoon I met my other counterpart from the Oficina de Conjuntos Históricos (OCH). She has worked with a PCV before and thus seemed to have a better idea of the information I would initially be seeking as a newbie in town. She explained to me the redevelopment projects that are currently going on in town, what type of support her office provides, and what assistance the Mancomunidad (a collaboration of five of the six surrounding municipalities in Lempira) is hoping that I provide (as mentioned in my last blog). She also explained the link between the Escuela and the OCH: the office sometimes contracts the students to work on the redevelopment projects to promote the success and sustainability of Gracias and its citizens. We walked around town a bit more to check out the three historic churches, to hike up to Fuente San Cristobal, and to give me a little more insight about what this town is really about. We ended the afternoon at the outdoor restaurant at Hotel Guancasco sharing our stories and dreams over a Salva Vida while the sun disappeared behind the mountains. What another fabulous day.

Painted sky

Fort Saint Christopher

Sun explosion

From everything that I have learned thus far from host family members, counterparts, and acquaintances, Gracias is a seriously fabulous town. Crime is almost nonexistent. There is a strong mix of local, indigenous, and international cultures. Habitants are pleasant and friendly. There are hot springs to bathe in after a long two-day hike up the tallest mountain in Honduras. Malaria is not a problem here. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, markets, and internet centers to meet your everyday needs. Best of all, life is tranquil. I don’t think I’ve ever lived such a life. Maybe it will be a challenge for me. Maybe it will be a blessing. Maybe I should just stop worrying about it and just start living it.

View from my window

Color play

What dreams may come…


May 9, 2009

FBT is officially over…weird. The time in Ojojona passed twice as fast as the time in Zarabanda. Those first three weeks felt like three months and these last seven weeks felt like seven days. (What’s up with that?) Our Country Director told us that our two years of service will go by in the same manner— in the blink of an eye. That seems completely impossible to fathom as the daunting and exciting task of moving and settling into a site is only a week away. Wow…

This last week of FBT has been inundated with work, play, and every emotion imaginable. After a solid last weekend with two nights of movies (Wedding Crashers and Anchorman) and meals (nachos and pasta) c/o Richard as well as another electricity free day in Ojo and Santa Ana, we prepared our charla and dinámica materials for a week-long Business Simulation activity in the local high school. The activity is actually quite interesting and informative for both the PCTs and the kids. The students receive lectures on Marketing, Production, and Accounting for two days (each day lasts about three to four hours), select and produce a product the third day (which includes creating marketing material), sell the product on the fourth day (which includes keeping solid accounting records), and prepare a presentation on what was learned to present to all groups on the fifth day (which must include the distribution of diplomas). At the same time, the PCTs learn how to teach high school students, to speak Spanish more fluidly, and how to manage a classroom and week-long activity.

Well, when Monday arrived, fijase que teachers nationwide went on strike. They have purported that the government has squandered their retirement funds on, among other things, la cuarta urna. (This inference is based off an article from El Heraldo, a local Honduran newspaper.) Let’s break this situation down. (The following insights are based on conversations with community members from Zarabanda and Ojojona. Please do not rely on their precise accuracy.) First, you should know that teachers and doctors are the two groups that appear to have the most bargaining power in Honduras. They strike frequently and with force. On Monday, the teachers blocked main streets and lit tires on fire in Teguc. Last year, these street blockages led to the spoilage of thousands of produce items that were in transit. Almost one hundred school days were lost last year from the strikes. It seems that the population is somewhat torn on this situation. On one hand, the teachers are not receiving funds that were promised to them, and they have every right to be compensated for their word. On the other hand, students should probably not be left to suffer the consequences of these strikes while the country is in dire need of more education, nor should they be exposed to rebellious tactics that negatively impact the nation’s economy. This has and continues to be a very sensitive predicament for Hondurans.

Secondly (and what scares me the most about living in Honduras right now), la cuarta urna is going up for vote at the end of June. The cuarta urna is a proposal supported by the current administration that, if passed, would amend the constitution to allow the President to run for reelection. (Presently, politicians are limited to four-year terms without the possibility of reelection.) From my conversation with a mother of another PCT, it seems that much of the population is uneducated, especially in the political sector, and may thus allow this amendment to pass without understanding the consequences. (For example, my host mother in Ojo had heard of the proposal, never understood what it was, and never followed up on it.) This situation is deeply precarious because the current administration (from everything that I have read and been taught until this point) appears to not be intently focused on the well-being of the nation or in eliminating the poverty spread throughout Honduras.

Back to Monday…because we were not able to start the simulation in the high school, we instead began earlier with site announcements. (YES. This specific day has taken F O R E V E R to come. Until this day, we exhausted ourselves with building up the suspense of the process, developing theories on potential matches, asking questions and responding to questions from our directors, initiating discussions with PCTs in the Business and other groups, and releasing heavy and mixed emotions.) We began the process by drawing a map of the border of the country and each of the departments within Honduras, continued by placing city names on the map and explaining the work within each of the sites, and finished the process with the distribution of site information books with a PCTs name on the front. (I will not lie; I think I lost blood flow in my hands during this process from squeezing them so hard in prayer. Come to find out, it was unnecessary.) HEY!!! I AM GOING TO GRACIAS!! WHOOHOO! What does that mean? Lots actually; it means lots and lots of fabulous things.

Mapping out our futures…literally

Gracias for Gracias!

Here are the basics on the spot: Gracias is a medium-sized town in the department of Lempira with a population of about 8,100 citizens in Gracias proper and about 44,000 in total when combined with the inhabitants of the outlying aldeas. The weather is cool with an average temperature of about 59 degrees Fahrenheit, receives rain from May through October, and lacks humidity. The terrain is mountainous with tropical forests in some parts and pine trees in others. It sits at the base of mountain (Montaña Celaque) that has the highest peak in the country and is home to natural hot springs. (Do you want to come visit now?) The main work that I will be doing includes working with an Escuela Taller (vocational school) and its Vivero de Empresas (business incubator) as well as with the Oficina de Conjuntos Históricos (office working to preserve the history of the city). With the Escuela Taller, I will be assisting in the development and documentation of a business curriculum that will cover basic bookkeeping and accounting, price quoting, cost analysis and calculation, and marketing. With the Oficina, I will be helping with the restoration of the Mercado Municipal (municipal market) to accommodate 250 producers and artisans, promoting the creation of a cooperative, and assisting in the creation of a training curriculum for the members of the cooperative to increase productivity, process and commercialize crops, develop business plans, and understand basic accounting and marketing concepts. As site mates, I will have a couple from training from the Water and Sanitation group, a Youth Development male volunteer, and a Heath female volunteer. Crime is fairly low in the city with the most common incidents involving petty theft by children and young teens. Buses run daily to San Pedro Sula (my closest airport), La Esperanza (where I would need to transfer to get to Teguc), and Santa Rosa de Copan (where Bryan, my LMU homie, will be living). The most common illnesses are intestinal parasites and skin infections. (FYI…TMI?)

Staying close in every way we can

Here are the digs on my new fam: My mother is a kindergarten teacher at a local school and a recent widow of a well-respected politician. She has a seventeen year old daughter attending a university in Teguc who sometimes visits on weekends and a fourteen year old son attending high school who lives at home. She has a twenty-eight year old housekeeper that has a one year old daughter, both of whom are treated like family. I will have my own room, share the bathroom that has an electroducha (awesome!), and be able to either eat food prepared by the family or purchase and cook my own food (oh, how we have all waited so long for this opportunity to come!!).

(Wow, Monday was intense! My fingers are tired.) Classes began again on Tuesday and lasted through the end of the week. On Tuesday, we gave charlas on the different business functions and played our last game of volleyball in the training center (I pray that I can get a team together in Gracias. I would love to coach!) On Wednesday, our group of students produced for the simulation. (Their product was dope because it was simple to make and cheap to prepare. They gathered empty glass bottles from the community, covered them in different designs with masking tape, scrubbed them with shoe polish, and decorated them with ribbon and artificial flowers.) On Thursday, the students sold their products, and we had a quick despedida to thank our families for their hospitality. On Friday, we watched City of God in Spanish class, watched the students give their own charlas on the week’s activities, and danced the night away at PCT’s going away shindig.

Diplomas for all!

Moving: Bryan and his host mom

Groovin: Harrison and his host mom

Celebrating our last night of FBT: Bryan, Liz, Me, and Harrison

Today has been another…long…day. I woke up early to finish packing and then spent most of the morning sitting in my living room waiting for the bus to arrive. After a retraso of about two hours, we packed it up in Santa Ana and Ojojona, said goodbye to our second fams, and cruised back to Zarabanda with the Perspire kids. We had a lovely lunch at McDonald’s in Teguc on the way (hey man, the Twix McFlurry was money) and made it back to our first fams mid-afternoon. Since then, I have unpacked as little as possible, took a walk with some neighboring PCTs, and chatted it up with the ladies of the house. I feel strangely nicer here than I did before. Maybe I am more accustomed to the land and/or the language; maybe I am relieved to shower indoors instead of facing the wrath of Ojo’s mosquitoes; maybe I just happy to get a good night’s sleep in a bed where I can sleep in the sheets, on real pillow, and in a room where the walls touch the ceiling and I can’t hear every movement in the house. Maybe it’s just nice that I don’t feel like a stranger anymore…


April 29, 2009

Happy hump day!! That’s right, it’s Wednesday! Almost time for another weekend of… (fill in the blank).

So ya, last Friday’s HIV/AIDS Training of Trainers (TOTs) went relatively well. All of the PCTs were split into groups of four to five people to deliver charlas to middle school classes of about twenty students. The morning’s presentation lasted about two and a half hours (and as a reminder was completely in Spanish) which is truly not enough time to 1) break the ice between the students and trainers, 2) build trust between the students and the trainers, 3) identify street words of the various body parts that are involved, 4) discuss myths and facts surrounding sexual relations and the transmission of HIV/AIDS, 5) explain the difference between HIV and AIDS, 6) have a merienda (we have been advised that this is a requirement of any charla as it tends to be the reason for most in attendance), and 7) (lucky number 7) teach each student how to put on a condom with the help of a plátano. (I definitely don’t remember learning this in sixth grade but do contest that this is essential for the youth of Honduras to learn as half – yes, half –of the population is under the age of 18.)

Three letters will help describe Saturday’s situation and sentiments: D-M-V. (I know we all just felt a chill run down our spines. My bad.) All of the PCTs from each of the three groups bussed it out to the Immigration Office in Teguc bright and early on Saturday morning to get our Honduran identification cards. Well, fijase que one of the two processing computers broke the day before so what was to last until about noon ended up lasting until 4pm. After waiting out the first three hours of processing, we had to call a lunch break. Lucky for us, we were in Teguc and had the opportunity to once again indulge in major grubbage…at Pizza Hut. (Who would have imagined the day when that would be a treat? I know all of the Friscans are shaking their heads in disdain. Sorry, Gaspares!) I actually was all over the salad bar and was stoked to fill my belly with the colors of the rainbow. (So yum.) After lunch we had the pleasure of learning about each aspirante’s life story for about another four hours before departure. (Patience really is a virtue.)

Sunday was an improvement (to say the least). My entire family went with their church to the beach and thus left the house to me. (Holy crap, it was awesome.) I busted out some hardcore Pilates in the room, blasted music while I took a shower, and watched CNN (in English yayer) as I ate breakfast and lunch. (Soooo nice.) The rest of the day was spent at the Internet getting ish done and at Richard’s relaxing. It was a good day.

I don’t have much to report on this week except for that we had our third and final technical interviews yesterday and today. Everyone’s seemed to go well and had a similar theme: verifying the information that we expressed in our questionnaires and describing three possible sites of placement. I am pretty much set to work in a Business Incubation program (Google it, kinda hard to explain) and have the potential to couple that with tourism, a marketing project for a NGO, and eco-tourism. I have no idea where any of these sites are located and thus am very much looking forward to Monday. We are all. It has been quite an emotionally charged past few weeks, and I think it has taken a lot out of us. Most of us have been getting sick with the cold or flu. (Great timing on the flu symptoms.)

On that note, I wanted to let you know that the PC is very aware of and taking necessary precautions to protect PCVs and staff against this new swine flu. From talking to my host sister this afternoon, I only know of one case reported in Honduras to date (although that number could be drastically different now). The PC recently released correspondence informing us that there have not been any reports of any PCVs affected. We are told that there is a plan of action in place if the situation escalates. I will keep you updated if anything changes, and please do the same for me as I don’t come by national news frequently. (The text message service works most of the time, so please let me know if there is something that I am majorly missing! Although, I did want to give a shot out to Manders as I didn’t get your text but did get your email. Miss you and love you! Also, holler to Fred as your text message was the first one that I received!! Hope that DT is still treating you well!)

I think I am out of updates so will instead leave you with some random thoughts (I miss Jack Handy):

It has been cooling down here and even raining on occasion. I woke up a couple nights ago to the rain beating on my tin roof, and it made me smile. This town doesn’t do so well in the rain, however, as there is a massive amount of dust on the roads which quickly turns into mud. There are plans to pave the roads, but they are a long way off. The rain is good for Teguc, however. Apparently there are a massive amount of locals getting seriously sick from the amount of pollution and contamination there. It is a very sad situation as many of the residents don’t have the financial ability to leave the city and are thus stuck in the smog.

Another cause of sickness and another needed change in this country

The mangos here are money and are pretty much the only other fruit besides plátanos that are consumed daily. They are not like the mangos in the states as they are smaller and much easier to consume by hand. (They are also insanely cheap as compared to the states.) The mangos in Ojojona come from all around the area although the best are rumored to be from Perspire. I have tried a slice of a huge mango from Comayagua (c/o my rad neighbor and DC roommate) and thus beg to differ. (Insert Homer drooling here.) The mangos from Perspire, however, are delicious and do make the skin worth eating. The skins of the other mangos, mostly the rosados, are bitter and sometimes not worth eating as they tend to make the trips the toilet a little more frequent. (‘Tis the life of a PCV.)

I have never eaten so many baked goods than I have during my time in Honduras. Coffee is a necessity here and is normally accompanied by a sweet bread or cookie that really isn’t worth eating (/has no taste) without the coffee. Thus, each of my breakfasts and most of our breaks are accompanied by a different shape and the same taste of flour. (I now want to thank my parents for sending me a box filled with all types of candy and snacks from the states as they bring variation to my life and my digestion system. THANK YOU.)

Also, I have never had so many mosquito bites than I have on me now. When I first came to Ojojona I was seriously petrified of the large amount of bugs flying and crawling around my room as well as in the outside shower and bathroom. After these past seven weeks, however, I have become accustomed to scars on my legs, cockroaches in my walls, and fruit flies on my mangos. (I am finally a Honduran. I have my ID card to prove it.)