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…

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