22 December 2011

What now for Honduras?

As I write this, I am sitting on a train traveling between DC and Baltimore.  It is very different from travel in Honduras.  Foremost in my mind right now is my ability to pull out my laptop in public and not be afraid of being robbed in the next 5 minutes.  It’s also very quiet, the only noise being soft muted conversation and the occasional click-clack of the rails.  No blaring reggeton, and I kind of miss it.   The reggeton makes the trip go by faster.  Also, no one wants to sit next to a stranger.  There are rows of three seats, only two people are sitting in them, and no one is standing.  No chickens, no ayudante, no dust, and it is winter outside the window.

We will be in the States until early January, then we will be back in Honduras for about a week before we leave, possibly for good.  There has been a lot of turmoil in Honduras recently, and Peace Corps is taking strong action.  The crime rate has been steadily rising for years now, with the murder rate currently at 86 per 100,000.  For comparison, the United States is around 5 per 100,000.  This rise in the murder rate has been fueled mostly by drug traffickers.  I’ve seen estimates that upwards of $80 billion in cocaine pass through Honduras every year.  In a country with a GDP of about $15 billion, that is a HUGE amount.   In June, Peace Corps Honduras moved 7 volunteers out of eastern Olancho, the department we live in, due to sky rocking violence and the potential for a Volunteer to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.   There was an almost incident where a PCV was inside a pulperia when some guys standing outside got shot up in a drive by.  A few weeks after that incident, they were all moved to sites in safer parts of the country.

But the violence has continued.  In September, an American tourist was gang raped in a ‘safe’ part of the country.  Peace Corps notified us about it and reminded us to follow all security recommendations to reduce our risk exposure.  I feel that Peace Corps Honduras staff has done a tremendous job in a dangerous country to let us know what the risks are and how we can best avoid them, from pickpockets to armed bus robberies, and how to best respond if we find ourselves involved in a situation.  Unfortunately, the wrong place at the wrong time has become more often in more of the country.   A few weeks ago a volunteer was shot.  She was riding what had been a safe, direct bus line, and was traveling for PC training.  During the ride, a few guys stood up, pulled out guns, and demanded phones.  Halfway though, a passenger pulled out his own gun, said no, killed one of the robbers and injured another before they killed him.  In the gunfight, a few other passengers were caught in the crossfire, including the PCV.  Her leg was broken, but she is safely in DC and recovering well.  You can read a Honduran newspaper article about the attack in Spanish here: http://laprensa.hn/Secciones-Principales/Sucesos/Un-muerto-en-atraco-a-bus-de-SPS-La-Esperanza  Or, in Google translated English, click here.
This was another case of wrong place wrong time, but it got a lot of Volunteers wondering if all of Honduras is the wrong place wrong time right now.  It generated a huge amount of chatter among the volunteer networks.   PC was going to make changes in the wake of this accident, and many Volunteers took the time to talk with PC about their concerns and to provide suggestions.  Peace Corps has decided to slow down and do an intensive examination of security risk in Honduras, and Central America.  They canceled the next incoming training groups for Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador so that staff in country could spend time not on training but reviewing the security situation and policies to ensure Volunteer safety.   Honduras is going a step further as the security situation is a bit worse.  PC Honduras has put all Volunteers on standfast for the next month, which means you are not allowed to leave your site.  The majority of Volunteers feel safe in their site where they know their community and are well integrated.  Then, sometime in January, PC Honduras is going to have an all Volunteer meeting where we will learn more about what has been decided, after which we all be sent to the US for 30 days on an administrative hold.  PC/H staff will be using that time without volunteers to conduct intensive site visits and determine what sites are still safe and who will be allowed back.  It seems likely that PC Honduras will be a much smaller post after this.  We are at 158 Volunteers now, and the best guess amongst Volunteers is that there will be less than 50 to return, if any return at all.  You can read the official Peace Corps announcement here: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.media.press.view&news_id=1932

So where does that leave us?  We don’t know anything yet, so we can only speculate.   We expect that our site will be deemed too dangerous and closed.  After that, we don’t really know.  We might be able to get a different site in Honduras.  We might be able to transfer to a different country.  We might just be done with Peace Corps and looking for work elsewhere.  We just don’t know yet.

Vamos a ver.

01 December 2011

Business taller 2011

In November, all volunteers from H-18 business were invited to bring their counterparts to Valle de Angeles for a taller (workshop) on planning and administration of projects. Because my official counterpart isn't who I actually work with, I invited our vice-mayor to come with me. She is awesome and works really hard, but doesn't have a university education (though her husband went to comm college in Massachusetts). I was surprised when she readily said yes, even before I told her PC was paying for it. Unfortunate, she has a 10-month-old who is still breast feeding, and needed to bring her too, but volunteered to pay for he mom to come to take care of the baby! How awesome is that? Obviously, she cared a lot about coming with me, and that really meant a lot to me.

We met eachother at the hotel in Valle de Angeles, and attended the two-day taller together. We we super productive because, for all the examples, we used the water-system-improvement project we are working on. At the end of the taller we pretty much had a skeleton project proposal to take home to COSAUN (comite social ambiental de la Unión).

Some interesting things that happened: we did an activity where the PCVs and Honduran counterparts form separate groups and talk about the difficulties of working with one another. One thing we wrote is the prominence of "fijese que" excuses and constantly changing dates/times. "Fijese que" or "fijate que" (in the informal form) is what people say before making an excuse, and it pretty much means the other person can't complain or call them out on a bullshit excuse. However, it is also used to make polite excuses and is socially required when refusing things. For example, the counterparts wrote that PCVs are often rude in situations when they refuse food or drink, because we tend to say "No, gracias" or "A mi no me gusta" (no thank you, or I don't like it). In fact, culturally speaking we should be making up some excuse/lie for why we can't/don't want to eat/drink said item. Like, I'd really like that cup of (over sugared and gross) coffee, but it gives me a stomach ache. "Me gustaría, pero me hace daño". This is something that many of us have issues with since it's pretty much lying, and we feel like no thank you should be good enough. We aren't used to coming up with reasons not to eat things we don't like. However, I'm trying harder to be observant of how what I'm saying appears to people here and mitigate my "rudeness".

Here's some photos from the taller: we went to lunch at a place with a "zoo". There were lots of unsheared sheep, birds, a hedgehog, and the national animal of Honduras, the Cola Blanca. Extra points if you can guess what that is. We also gave presentations of some of the goals and objectives we created for our various projects. Also included: a photo of the other two Olanchanos! Viva Olancho!

07 November 2011

Gardening in Yamaranguila

Last week went took a trip out west. We spent a day in Jesus de Otoro visiting with a bunch of other volunteers for the feria there. We had planned to do hand washing education as part of the feria, but fiesje que, it didn't happen. So we had a relaxing day eating meat-on-a-stick and hanging out with a bunch of friends.
After that, we got on a bus to heard another hour west to Yamaranguila. Lauren and Jacob live there, and are working with biointensive gardening at a daycare. Since we like to garden, Sam wrote her master's thesis on biointensive gardening and poverty alleviation, and Lauren and Jacob are great people, we jumped at the chance to visit and work with them.

Lauren wrote a great blog post about the day gardening, and I'll just link to that here: http://robertsx2.blogspot.com/2011/11/transplanting-day-at-daycare.html

24 October 2011

Busy with Trips

Things have been pretty busy down here these last couple of weeks. As Jeff already wrote, we went around town to the various schools for World Handwashing Day, and even though most of the plan fell through, we capacitar-ed a couple hundred kids in how to wash their hands! We've also been traveling a little bit for fun (mostly), and are about to be traveling a bit for work. A few weeks ago we headed down to Salamá and Campamento for the Olancho Pueblo Crawl, one of the first officially approved gatherings of more than 10 volunteers. We want to give a shout out to our country director Emily for letting that continue. Those of us still here in Olancho after the removal of volunteers from the Catacamas area wanted to put Olancho back on the map, and show everyone that we can be visited (safely, and within the rules), and nothing bad will happen to them. And guess what? Nothing bad DID happen, people were responsible, and we had a ton of fun!

Last Thursday one of the Honduran league teams, Motagua, played against the LA Galaxy (you know, that team David Beckham and Landon Donovan are on?) in Teguz. Jeff and I decided that attending would be great fun, since one of Jeff's favourite pasttimes is belligerently yelling obnoxious things at fútbolistas. One of our almost-neighbors, Emily from Guaimaca, coordinated an official trip, complete with a busito to transport us and Juan Carlos, our S&S coordinator to escort us. A great time was had by all. Unfortunately, Jeff got robbed.

---

Well, technically, I didn't get robbed, but I did have an official security incident. More on that later. We had an uneventful trip to Teguz, and got some business done at the office, then met up with the 30ish other Volunteers going to the game and took a busito there. We had nice seats, but I never used one, of course. Tickets here are for a section, not for a seat, and our section was behind the benches. I spent the game hanging out with some new Honduran friends on the fence 10 meters from the Galaxy bench. I wore my DC United shirt and got some double takes from the Galaxy players when they looked over at my English, and then snapping their head back at the United jersey and additional provocative English. The game was a fun one to watch, even with only one goal, but it was a delightful strike from distance. I enjoyed yelling at Bruce Arena a lot, and I know he heard me.

***Edit***
Found a ESPN article about the Honduran love of Beckham and coverage of the game. While not identified by name, it quotes me without quoting. My 15 seconds of fame are most of the way through the article. Read the article here: http://espn.go.com/blog/los-angeles/soccer/post/_/id/11698/galaxy-adoring-hondurans-stun-l-a
*** ***

After the game, the bus dropped a few people off at the hotel and picked up a few more and headed to a club for dancing. It was awesome to be able to dance. Unfortunately, I ran into a pickpocket there. She danced with me a bit, then when she left I noticed that my front pockets were empty! Good thing I'm a compulsive pocket checker. My phone, my cash, and my ID and bank card were gone. I quickly snagged her, as she wasn't far away, and asked her where my phone was. She said she didn't have it. I didn't believe, grabbed her pockets and took my cash out of one of them. She went into the bathroom, and I asked two Honduran guys waiting to not let her leave because she robbed me. I went and got a PCV that is a native Spanish speaker to help, and then a bouncer. She came out, the bouncer took her outside, and other staff found my cards in the trash can, but no phone. She continued to deny having my phone, so the police were called. They sat her in the back of their pickup truck and questioned her, she denied everything. They told me they couldn't search her because they were all male, and there wasn't much they could do. At this point, half of my phone was found between the cab and the bed of the truck. I had a slider phone, and the screen half magically showed up! Still didn't find the other half, but after that the police took her and put her in jail for 24 hours. Juan Carlos talked with the police in the morning after and they found the other half in the truck after searching in daylight, so I'll get that back, with my memory card and game photos, eventually. So all in all, not a terrible encounter with a pickpocket.

I feel that this could have happened to me anywhere, not just here in Honduras, and the outcome was good because I wasn't fall down drunk and have good awareness habits. I didn't have more than I needed which reduced the amount of stuff I could have lost, even though everything was recovered, albeit in more pieces than it was taken, and that was only because she was angry and spiteful. Technically, I was only the victim of theft, as a robbery is taking with the use or threat of force while theft covers pickpocketing and taking laptops left on tables.

In a bit, I have another trip to Teguz for a medical appointment and then I'm headed further west from there to do a bit of work and visiting with friends. In between, I've got classes to give at the high school and elementary school to keep me busy.

After a month of not much, the past three weeks have been chock-a-block with stuff, and it's been awesome!

14 October 2011

Lavarse Las Manos!

The 15th of October is World Handwashing Day.  Since we received a dozen emails about it from Peace Corps, we decided to do something for it.  Sam did some thinking and drew up the basic plan: we would give charlas to the schools on Friday the 14th and have a contest where the kids would present skits or songs in groups on Saturday the 15th.  There was a stage set up in the central park for our town feria, which just ended, and we were going to use that.  We also put a song, called appropriately enough, Lavarse Las Manos, on the radio for the week.  It was recorded by a PCV a few years ago and is ridiculously catchy.  Doctor Octavio loves it.

We whipped this plan up in two weeks, presented it to the centro de salud, made a few changes, then wrote a solicitud for funding from the municipality.  We had a health promoter to go around presenting with us, and I had found a truck to borrow to get us everywhere in time. We talked with several of the schools and everyone involved was excited and things looked awesome.  Then as this week went on, almost the entire plan fell apart.

Wednesday we found out that the health promoter had a meeting on Friday, so he couldn't go, and without him we couldn't use the truck.  There is a lot of paperwork involved for a PCV to get permission to drive, and it wasn't happening in two days.  That was a loss, but after our 6th grade sex ed class we talked with the sub director (vice principal) at the big elementary school and confirmed our plans for Friday.  He even promised to have the night watchman turn the water on to fill the pilla Thursday night.  However, between him and the Directora at the highschool, we decided to cut the Saturday contest because they had run out of time to create skits.  Thursday, we found out that the municipality wasn't able to fund the things we asked for, which wasn't much.  Soap and bowls and a few prizes for the competition, which was fine because it wasn't happening anymore.  I also went to the smaller elementary school and talked to the teacher there about presenting on Friday, but they were not going to have class, it was going to be a four day holiday weekend!  So I made plans to go present the charlita at 0800 Tuesday morning.  We also make our charla papers to be ready.

Friday rolls around, and unsure if the night watchman actually turned the water on, Sam rode over to the school at 0730 to check if we would need to haul the water we need for handwashing demonstrations.  There was water, the pilla was full!  Awesome!  However, there were suspiciously few kids around, and no teachers.  Sam talked to them and found out there was no class today!  They were having a four day weekend too!  We were very surprised, sometimes things change but to have confirmed on Wednesday for a presentation TWO days later on a Friday, and to show up to find there was a holiday was a bit much, even for Honduras.

All was not lost, however.  We confirmed with the high school that they did indeed have classes, and we were still on track for our original 1330 time.  We went over, and gave 3 short presentations to a total of 78 high school kids about the importance of handwashing, shared the song with them, and then we all washed our hands properly.  Success! AND we have plans for Tuesday.  Not all that we had originally planned for, but with only two weeks notice and Honduras, I think we did pretty well for World Handwashing Day.

And because I was asked, here is the song we taught them.


¡Lavarse las manos!    
                                       
*Lavarse, lavarse las manos
 C       C      F     C
Lavarse, lavarse para su salud
 C       C      F     G
Antes de comer y después del baño
 C       C      F        C
Combatimos los microbios
 C    F    G    C
Combatimos los microbios
C    F    G    C


Los microbios no se miran (pero)
     C            F
Hay muchos en el cuerpo
     C            F
Si no se mantiene limpio
     C            F
Tendrá muchos microbios (¡Qué feo!)
     G            C

* Repetir


Wash, wash your hands
Wash, wash for your health.
Before you eat and after the bathroom
Combating microbes
Combating microbes

You can't see microbes (but)
You have lots on your body
If you don't keep it clean
You will have lots of microbes.  (How ugly!)

26 September 2011

The light side.

So, after what was probably the dark side of Peace Corps in those last two posts, I decided that I should bring us back to the lighter side of Peace Corps: actually successful work.  Of course, success depends on your own definitions, but right now success in my book means having work to do!

As I wrote about a month ago, my Alcaldeza (female mayor, or in this case, vice mayor) came to me because she wanted to start a micro-empresas class for women.  I suggested to her that we work in conjunction with the Women's Office for our municipality.  We set up a meeting for the following monday, and promptly sat down, went through names of needy women, thought about how large a class I could do, and right then and there wrote a proposal to take to the Mayor.  The following day it was typed, the Alcaldeza and I signed it, and it went to his desk.  It was approved before the end of the week.  Sometimes it is awesome to work with the vice-mayor.

However, that was the end of the awesome efficiency we had going and we promptly waited a month for funds to be released.  We had timed the class to end right before reconnect, but in reality, we started the week before reconnect, and I did three of the scheduled six classes on a thursday, friday, and the following monday.  The very first day there were 25 women who attended--some of whom walked an hour to come.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, as my class got smaller), there are about 14 who stayed on, and I had a regular attendance of about 12, not including the Alcaldeza, women's office director, and librarian (classes were at the library).

The class concluded last week with the women being in three groups, and preparing business plans for three businesses (a cafe, a restaurant, and artisan jewelry).  However, in my attempt to bring some start-up funds from the government, the women realized they needed a group of at least 10 to get the seed capital and promptly decided to give up their plans in favor of one big panadería (bakery).  I think this is extremely unfortunate, because they could have formed a group of ten or more, obtained their small business loans, and still started three businesses.  One large panadería is a terrible idea here, because there is no way a business of a size large enough to support 10 families can be successful or sustainable here.  I mean, I haven't even SEEN a business with more than 5 employees who aren't related to one another.  So, I'm still trying to talk them out of it.  I was happy, however, when one of the best students was like "Even if we don't decide to be a part of this group and get the loans, now we have the capacidad to start our own businesses", and one of the students even called me yesterday to see if I could continue advising them.

So, it's not all a wash.  After seeing Carrie's presentation at Reconnect on her class "Mi Vida Empresarial", I'd really like to adopt that format, though I have doubts about how to obtain the funding for that.  Jeff might be starting (read: the doctor wants him to start) a pregnant teens support group, and this might be the next step for them toward income generation as well.

P.S.  I'm sorry that our blog lacks photos.  This is because until recently we only had iPhones to take photos with, and those are likely to get stolen if we take them in public.  We have a digital camera now, but are waiting on a connection cable and battery charger for it.

25 September 2011

Reconnect and S&S

So I know that I promised the next post would be about family vacation.  I lied.  Well, it's not my fault really.  You see, mom and Mariah just started school again and John.... well he doesn't really have any excuse.  Anyway, I'm going to write about other things instead.



The 7th-10th of September was our Reconnect.  Reconnect is where everyone of the same project gets together to share about their work, sit through some boring-but-occasionally-useful lectures, and remember how great friends we were during training (or not).  This year, due to the budget situation, PC-H decided to hold Business, Health, and Wat-San reconnects all at the same place.  Not only was our entire training group there, but also the H-16ers--most of whom we hadn't met before.  All in all, most volunteers treated it like a giant party, and sometimes it was. 

Reconnect was hard for me.  It's difficult to sit and listen to other people talk about their work--especially when they are working in Food Security and neither asked for that, nor wanted to.  I was (and probably still am) angry at my project staff for building up my expectation of my counterpart which have turned out to be all false.  I think I could have handled not getting a FS project much better if they hadn't mislead my beliefs about what I was getting.  Disappointment is a harder emotion to get over than the others.  We also sat through several lectures about the new Acceso program from USAID which we don't qualify for in the east.  That was an awesome kick in the ass, especially since my project team is well aware that I sent them an email about what is up with my counterpart, and they haven't acknowledged it.

Anyway, I talked a while about it with TJ who lives south of us here and is my closest BZ neighbor.  He told me when he got to Salama, it was none of the things he asked for.  He pretty much spent a year not really having work, and feeling bitter about his assignment.  It was only recently that he started to have work again, and now he's happier.  The conclusion that I came to from all of this is that I want to try to love La Union for what it is, instead of hating it for what it's not.  And that, I suppose, can apply to all areas of my life. 


----------------------------------

On that note, safety and security has been much a concern here in Honduras lately.  Some new rules have come down restricting volunteer travel and get-togethers, mostly aimed at curbing public-drunkenness and the dangers that possesses.  It frustrates me a lot that Peace Corps has to put policies like that in place, since especially here in Olancho, we get together for nights of safe fun on a regular basis, and I feel like if we didn't we might all go insane.  There is no social life to speak of for many of us in our own towns.  Jeff and I are in by 6 (7 at the latest, but it's already dark by then), and we don't go out after dark.

Honduras has a lot of security problems unrelated to volunteer stupidity as well.  The murder rate here is the highest in the world (more dangerous than Afghanistan), and rising due to increasing drug violence.  Every month we get more disturbing updates about things like violence outside of Trujillo (there's an ongoing land dispute), or someone getting jumped in the woods by men with masks and then raped.  Thankfully neither of those things are near us, but the potential for violence everywhere in this country is very high.  Jeff and I are constantly asking ourselves if we can be effective here with all the limitations these security problems impose.  I think if asking to be relocated to a safer post was an option, we would be seriously considering that.  Unfortunately married couples do not really have the option, like single people, to not accept their first invitation to the Peace Corps.  We are told that "Very rarely does any couple get a second placement consideration", which means there's only one shot.

If you are considering joining the Peace Corps, think very hard about what is most important to you.  If safety and security is important, make that known to your placement officer.  However, if you had asked me if safety and security was important to me last year, I would probably have said that it wasn't any more important to me than the next person.  However, now I feel like it really restricts our ability to be effective volunteers while not breaking all of the safety and security rules.  

26 August 2011

The Blues

Sorry its been so long!  I know some people are very good about updating every week.  We obviously are not.  Mostly because there's been very little going on for us to write about.  This is a post I wrote about two weeks ago now, but was too busy to type up (read: to lazy to type up).  Next up, vacation with my family.

From 28/7/11:

I know we've tried hard to keep this blog upbeat and lighthearted about how amazing Peace Corps is, but the reality this week is that sometimes it is really hard--and really boring.  Community integration is really hard even when you have a daily routine or an office, and we have neither.  I try to note at least one small success each day (today it was making a date with our vice-mayor for monday to discuss forming microemprezas, yesterday it was playing "bananagrams" with our neighbors, 5 & 7).  Some days, though, that is really the only thing I can say was accomplished, and some days it is coupled with finding out the baleada lady has a black eye and didn't work yesterday or that the people we say hi to every day kick their dogs.

Still, we are living a relaxed life, full of new experiences, great (and sometimes terrible) food, and new friends.  However, sometimes it is just hard, and lonely, and I miss feeling effective.

From Today:

I'm ashamed to admit that we've become a bit reclusive.  Our house is kind of a walk from the main town and Peace Corps won't approve our bicycle request because my form isn't signed by my counterpart (who I haven't seen in nearly a month), so we spend many days just in our house or our neighborhood.  It's too easy to become absorbed in a book or training manual, dreaming about the counterparts or projects we could have.  I've been really at a loss, since neither of my counterparts really wants to work with me.  I had that meeting with the vice-mayor, and we got funding from the municipality to run a taller for single mothers about how to start a business.  Now we are (still) waiting for the funds to be released.  I'm tempted to just front the money myself and get reimbursed, but that sets a bad precedent.  At least then I'd have something to do.  When we get together in two weeks for reconnect I'd really like to be able to say I've done something, but it sure doesn't feel like that right now.  I'm frustrated with my job and our location (I really really wanted to work with food security, and made that clear to my project team.  USAID just started a huge new FS program here called Feed the Future.  Guess where they work?  The West.  That's right, they absolutely do not give any funding in this entire half of the country.), my counterparts, and my general lack of activity, and its making me short with Jeff.  At least he has opportunities (and when he doesn't want to follow all his job leads it make me even more frustrated that I have none.  Not his fault, but my fuse is short right now).  All that coupled with the security stuff and I just don't feel like leaving my house. 

Sorry this was a down post.  Next one will be happier, I'm sure.

14 July 2011

Mi casa es su casa!

We have a house! Yay!

Some of you have heard about our troubles finding a house here in La Union. In a town this size you just kinda have to know somebody who knows somebody who has a house (there aren't any "For Rent" signs). There were only a few options and only really two of them were good options, both owned by profesoras from the colegio. While we were waiting for my boss to come so we could get his opinion, the one I wanted to rent got rented to someone else, without the owners saying anything to us. I was very upset, because the other option (while it did have water all the time) had almost no solar (yard) for a garden! I really want to do garden projects here, and where better to start than my own backyard?

Anyway, the day my boss (read: project director) came to visit Jeff was asking some people about a vacant house next to theirs, and they said that it was under contract, but hey! They had a family member with a house available! It actually turns out that this house is right across the street from the one we lost, and is better! My boss thought it was a great choice, and it has actual tiled floors, and INDOOR pila, and sink in the kitchen. As well as lots of outdoor space where there is already corn, beans, and yucca planted. AND....

....

....

....a mango tree! Awesome! We're super excited--we signed a lease and got keys yesterday and are going to start moving things over there this afternoon!

29 June 2011

Dear H19


Dear H19,

Hi, welcome to Honduras (almost)! We are excited to have you (and by that I mean we are excited to no longer be the new kids on the block)!

I imagine that some of you are probably freaking out about what to pack, like I was. There is a great post from one of the H16 volunteers on what to pack and not to pack, and I have a few things to add of my own.

-You all are in a different position than we were. As you know the housing policies have changed and you all will be living with host families for the entire two years. I’m sure it will be as rewarding as it will be challenging. In my case, when we packed to come to Honduras, I put back half of my clothes and instead brought things like knitting supplies, tea, spices, and household items that we would want over the next two years. You all won’t have to decide there because your host family will likely provide everything you need in terms of household items. Don’t bring them (unless you, like me, have a special magical can-opener that you never go anywhere without). You can buy almost anything you would want housewares wise here, but likely your host family will already have it.

-Jeff says about clothes: I brought too much. Without a washing machine, if you wait more than 5 days to do laundry you are going to be spending hours doing it, so you will get to do it more often. I brought enough clothes to go two weeks without changing, and there was no need. Two pairs jeans, one pair khaki, 1 ‘traveling’ (lightweight quickdry), one pair nicer shorts, two sports shorts(doubles as pajamas). Handful of tshirts, 5 or so button up shirts, sports coat, 1 tie. Done. Don’t be afraid to not bring enough, ropa American stores are plentiful and cheap- Sam bought two pairs of jeans for less than $8 here in site.

-Hobby stuff: If you are a knitter, then please for the love of God, bring your own yarn. They only have terrible scratchy awful acrylic stuff here. Not even the good acrylic, just the terrible pill-y kind. If you don’t know what I am talking about, feel free to disregard this section. If you have another hobby, you will have a lot of free time to do whatever you do, bring your stuff you need for it.

-Sports: Some people in our group brought things like hacky-sacks, soccer balls, etc. Jeff brought a soccer ball (futbol), and a rugby ball, which has proved to be a lot of fun not just between fellow trainees (more than 10% of our group had played rugby), but also in the community. The kids here still haven’t mastered that whole passing backwards part of rugby.

-Games: Small games are highly recommended! Lots of people brought card games like Set or the card version of Scrabble—we brought Bananagrams in both English and Spanish. Lots of fun with the host families and gives you something to do during lunch or other waiting times.

-Headlamp: Bring one of these! You will be happy you did when the power goes out. I recommend one that takes AA batteries, not funny button batteries. You can find AA and AAA batteries here, though batteries are expensive, so bring a bunch or have someone send you some. In our site, the power has been out about 20% of our time here. One week we only had power half the time.

-A clipboard! I know that sounds ridiculous, but you will seriously use this all the time. I wish I had one.

-Ladies: bring some flats. I did a silly thing in having only practical shoes (tennis shoes, Birkenstocks, flipflops, hiking boots), and apparently the thing here is to wear flats, and they are expensive to get good ones that don’t fall apart. Flip-flops are not ok for work (and hence, no ok for training), but “decorative sandals,” which are flipflops with crap on them, are ok. Honduran business wear is jeans or skirt, nice shirt/blouse, so consider that when you are packing.

-Jeans: It is totally acceptable here to wear jeans all day every day. Skinny jeans are really in, but capris are nice too when it is hot. I only brought one pair with me, and have since bought 2 more so that I don’t have to wash them so often. Go read Kristi’s post and listen to what she says about cotton/poly blends! We have plenty of cotton stuff, but the polyester helps. I have some sturdy oxford shirts from LLBean that are holding up well, but other than that the 100% cotton wears a lot faster.

-If you have a non-smart phone, or you have an older phone that works but you just don’t use anymore, get it unlocked and bring it. You need a GSM phone, one that takes a SIM card, and need to go to the company you bought it from (ATT/T-Mobile, ect.) and have them unlock it. The cheap phones here are cheap, but will cost you around 11 days of trainee income--save that for beer money.

-Bring a computer and an external hard drive. You will use your computer for work, and you will want the external hard drive to back things up. Honduras is hard on electronics, make sure you back things like documents and pictures up regularly. A larger external lets you store more movies, music, and pictures. We have a terabyte external, and it only has 100gb left. Peace Corps probably told you not to bring a computer. Do. You can always choose not to use it, but you will find them prohibitively expensive once you get here.

-GET INSURANCE. We are spending $200ish a year, and have our electronics and stuff covered. It’s pricey, but completely worth it, especially since just replacing your clothes would probably cost more that what you are going to make in a year. If our laptop or something is stolen, we wouldn’t be able to afford to replace it otherwise.

Along those lines, don’t bring anything irreplaceable. You will likely go through service with no problems, but every year people get robbed. If you have a family heirloom or something else one of a kind, the likelihood of it getting lost, stolen or damaged here is high.

If you have any questions, post a comment or email us.

Goodluck! Training will likely be long and at times boring, but stick with it!

27 June 2011

Honduras Knits

As some of you may know, I worked at my LYS before becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.  What’s an LYS, you ask?  Why, it’s a Local Yarn Store.  But Sam, you ask, Don’t you have a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science?  Yes, yes I do.  As it so happens, being an international school approved by the Department of Education to receive FAFSA funds does not actually mean that the government will believe that the quality of your education is as high as in US institutions. 

I always knew I wanted to work in the public sector, because consulting felt a little bit too much like selling my soul.  Government has inefficiencies, but so do private companies, and at least in the government there is such thing as salary caps.  I know that this creates an economic incentive that leads better-qualified people to take private sector jobs over public sector ones, but I think that the economics fails to account for values (as usual).  Many of the people I know who work for the federal government do so because they believe in serving their country and giving back to/improving the system we live in.  I also very much believe in collectivism (one of the reasons I like Honduran culture, despite its often ineffective government), which means I believe the public should be providing certain services with its tax dollars and those should be available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.  Enough of that, Peace Corps doesn’t want me to talk politics.

What all of this really means is that while my Master’s degree was awarded in December 2009, I wasn’t “qualified” to apply for government jobs requiring a master’s degree until the summer of 2010—after we’d applied for the Peace Corps and been accepted.  Since we had a tentative leave date of February 2011 (it was August at that time), I decided to walk across the street from our house to the LYS and beg them to give me a job through the holidays.  It turns out they had just posted on the interwebs asking for someone, and it all worked out beautifully.  While the customers didn’t know about PC until it was official in November, Fibre Space employees were amazing and supportive through our whole lengthy and frustrating medical process, and the long waiting for our invitation.
Sweater I finished during training

Now to get to the entire point of this post:  I thought it would be cool to show you all some of the things I’ve made since coming to Honduras.  I realize its absolutely ridiculous to knit with wool when it’s 85 degrees outside everyday with no AC.  I’m doing it anyway.  I was at Fibre Space through winter season, so most of what I have in my yarn stash is wool…. Though I’m not opposed to receiving some surprise packages of lighter weight fibres. 


I started a sweater before we left for Honduras, and finished it here in week 2 of training.  Then I made a sock to complete a pair.  Then I made my host sister some bracelets, and some placemats for the host family.  Next, I started the second pair of socks (finished two weeks ago), and the other night I started on this hat:
Through-the-woods hat in Neighborhood Fiber Company's Rock Creek Park

They look better on, right?
Alana Socks in bdg confetti?
People in Honduras think that knitting socks in hilarious, and why wouldn't they?  It's hot.  It is normally 85 here daily.  But, what they don't know, is that wool is a naturally wicking and fungus-resistant fibre, which makes it perfect for hiking socks (SmartWool, anyone?).  These socks are mostly wool with some elastic and nylon thrown in for good measure.  I also finished a pair in FBT from Louet GEMS (100% wool superwash).

Next, I'll be making Andrea's Shawl by Kirsten Kapur out of two colors of Bugga! by The Sanguine Gryphon.  If that means nothing to you, don't worry.  It just means you are not a yarn snob like me.  Also, for those of you who doubt the usefulness of knitted items in Honduras, talk to some of those volunteers from the West!  It's cold there! I have worn my sweater here in our site on some of the colder evenings, too, and I wear my socks all the time (as often as I wear socks.... which isn't very often).

23 June 2011

Civilization? And more....

We spent this sunday-tuesday in Tegucigalpa, paid for partially by Peace Corps.  It was a great trip!  Normally we are not allowed to travel overnight outside of our E-zone (emergency zones) before our two-month travel restriction is up, but I was able to go with special permission, since Jeff had to go to the office.  It isn't possible for us to get to the Peace Corps office in one day, since we get in about 10:30, and the last bus back leaves at 12.  Most of the time the E-zones have a welcome party for new volunteers, but since ours got cut in half two weeks after we got here, we haven't really gotten together to see people yet (and there are now only 6 of us).  So, this was a really awesome opportunity to see some people, since our visit just happened to coincide with the VAC (volunteer advisory committee) meeting.  We got to see some friends from training (Hi Andrea's mom!), and meet some new volunteers too!  We had delicious food variety and lots of luxuries we don't normally have--like showers.  And, more importantly, now we have our own internet modem to use whenever we want!  If you have our US phone numbers, we can now send and recieve txt messages on them for free through Google Voice.

In the job department, things are... going.  I guess.  We got back from the city and promptly ran into one of my compañeros in the park, and he invited me to go to a protected areas charla next week.  Also, they just got a bunch of new equipment for the office that I've been invited to share.  I hadn't really been over to the office until today, since I'm the only person who would be in it, but I found it quite a productive place for me to be.  Today I created a facebook page for the national park, La Muralla, that I'm working with.  If you are reading this and have facebook (or, if you are reading this and don't have facebook, get it!), please go 'like' La Muralla so that I can get a registered username (need 25 likes).  I'm also working on editing the wikipedia page for the park in English and creating it in Spanish.  Who knew wikipedia was so complicated?

Also, now that we're somewhat settled (still looking for a house, but probably going to make that decision this week), I'm going to create a Wishlist page of things that would be awesome to have sent to us.  If you've sent us stuff already we haven't gotten it, and that might be my fault.  Apparently I had a superfluous '2' in the address that Jeff rectified a few days ago. 

Sam

P.S.  Any H19ers that are reading this, I plan to write a post of advice for you if you want it.  I have a habit of forgetting to do things like that, but feel free to hustle me along through comments.

17 June 2011

Honduras and Cell Phones

I wrote a three page, convoluted post about phones here, and realized I could do better. The basics are that there are two major providers here, incoming calls are free, everyone is prepaid, the majority of internet access here is via USB cell modem (usually not 3G), and they have various promotions that can make it cheaper to do things. Like most promotions, if you don’t pay attention they wind up being more expensive. Now for a bit more detail about the Honduran cell phone system.

Tigo is the largest cell company in Honduras, followed by Claro, which is in the process of absorbing the third, Digicel. Sam and I use Tigo, which has strong coverage in our town. One of the major differences between the US and Honduran phone systems is that the caller pays all the costs of a call or text. That means when you call or text me, it is free for me! This makes calls look more expensive, but the whole cost is just shifted to the caller. This is great because I’ve got Facebook set up to text me when certain things happen, and they don’t cost me anything to receive. You do need to be careful though, there are many services that charge you when they send you a text and can be difficult to cancel.

The other main difference here is that (almost) everyone here has a prepaid phone, rather than getting a bill every month. You put credit on your phone, called saldo and then you use that saldo to make calls and send texts. When you run out of saldo, you need to buy more. You go to your local pulperia, buy a card with a scratch off hidden number that you send in a text, your saldo is automatically updated and you can make calls again! It is a really simple and easy system, no need to worry about going over your minutes for the month, you pay as you go.

However. If you want the best deal, you have the play the promotions game. It isn’t very difficult; it is just a bit confusing. The biggest one here is “Triple Days”, where you get triple the value of your saldo when you load your phone that day, but you don’t get regular saldo, you get in-network credit. Say I buy L10 of saldo on my triple day (which happens to be Thursday because my number ends in a 6). I get L10 of saldo, and the L20 worth of talk time that is used when I call other Tigo phones. To compound matters, this bonus time expires every week unless you get more while your regular saldo doesn’t expire. Sam forgot her day once and had over 4 hours of bonus time expire. This bonus time is why we have Tigo, because all the other PCVs have Tigo and no one wants to call outside the network, so everyone has Tigo to call the other PCVs.

The other two promotions that I use are Tigo Amigo and the International packet. Sam and I have Tigo Amigo, which is a friend plan. For L250, Sam can call me unlimited for a year, the catch being that only the first 10 minutes are free, after that it takes from our saldo. So if we want to talk for a long time, we hang up at 9 minutes and she calls me back. It is annoying, but WAY cheaper. The international packet I use lets me call the US for L0.5 a minute, or about 2.5 US cents. That is way cheaper than the 18 cents a minute Skype wants, or the about 4L a minute to call without the packet. The catch here is I buy 60 minutes of talk time for L30, but when that time runs out, they automatically switch over to the regular rate of L4 a minute.

It also seems that most people get their internet via the cell networks. Here in La Unión, it is the ONLY option for internet. We have a Claro modem, but the Claro network here only runs on GPRS (so slow Gmail doesn’t work) while the Tigo network runs on EDGE (what you have in the US if you are not on 3G). The internet plans do have an option for a postpaid, but it has been tricky for PCVs to get, due to a lack of Honduran credit and other things, but it is cheaper that way. Next time I am in Teguz I am going to attempt to get a Tigo modem on a postpaid plan, which oddly enough are priced in US dollars, not lempiras. They want all sorts of information, and I hope my Spanish will be up to the task of arguing business so they give me the modem with the plan I want.

Well, those are the basics (and then some) of the cell phones here. Hopefully that makes sense, it took me about a month of living here to be able to make sense of it all.

14 June 2011

Another day, another book

So it is now late at night (almost 2200) and Sam is laying in bed under the mosquito net reading, and I am writing a blog post after finishing the most recent book I was reading. It was Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer and a seemed a bit more preachy/view point pushing than his other books I remember, but it was an alright read, but definitely different than the other book I’ve read this week, Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger. I managed to never read Catcher in the Rye during high school, and having read it now I’m glad I didn’t. Holden Caulfield is a self absorbed little prick, and I didn’t need any encouragement (and I doubt any teenage boy) needs any encouragement in thinking they are great judges of everything. Boy was old Holden crumby!

Anyway, we went to visit our friend Brett in Campamento last Thursday, spent the night and had a great time. Brett also has a blog, you can read it here: http://brettbeckner.blogspot.com/ Campamento is still in Olancho, but about 2.5 hours away to the southwest, assuming we get a direct bus or the connecting bus comes along quickly. It is a much larger town then La Unión, with about 25,000 people living there. We met up with Brett early after taking the 0500 bus. We saw a tremendous view on the way out as the sun was coming up, but wasn’t let over the ridge of the mountains. The sky was a soft red/orange in watercolors, the hills were just dark shapes, but a line of trees along the ridge stood in dark relief against the soft red of the sky. That sunrise made me understand why someone invented watercolors.
We arrived in Campamento in time to join Brett for breakfast at his house, and it was awesome. Thanks Brett’s mom! We ran around most of the day with a medical brigade from Atlanta, then met some of Brett’s work counterparts, one of whom seems like she might be helpful for Sam’s work here in La Unión. We closed the night with street food (hot dogs and baleadas), and then talked over wine with one of the brigade members until after 0100 in the morning. That is by far the latest we have been up in country, and were fortunate that we were staying in the church with the brigade. They had set up two mattresses for us on the floor in a room, and we were very happy there. The next day we did a bit of shopping, used the bank, and unsuccessfully looked for a flea collar. Brett also showed us his sweet new pad that he is going to move into, and I’m jealous of the comforts that city folk get, like second story apartments. We then went with a RPVC that isn’t very returned, but working for the municipality of Campamento, to an experimental coffee farm 10 minutes down the road. It was interesting to learn about coffee and its production.

Since we’ve been back, we’ve been looking for a place of our own and have a few leads, but nothing really compelling yet. Over the weekend we traveled to Esquipulas del Norte with one of Sam’s counterparts for her work, it is a neighbouring town about an hour north of us, and still in Olancho. It was real pretty out that way. I had another radio show today about malaria. I had a 30 minute show last Monday about diarrhea which I guess wasn’t too bad because they asked me back for malaria. To be honest, I didn’t do most of the talking today, I was only told about the show today 3 hours before broadcast, so I asked a coworker from the centro, a health promoter that normally does these things, to lead. Poco a poco, yo estoy aprendiendo español. (Little by little, I am learning Spanish.)

So much for writing shorter posts, I start writing and get on a roll. It’s now 2230, and time for bed, but I will leave you with a picture I took of a picture that Brett took while with the brigade outside Campamento.



-Jeff

08 June 2011

Brigades and Pancakes

So, it is Wednesday morning, 1030 and 81F here in La Unión. It has been like this the past two weeks or so, low to mid 80s during the day, low to mid 70s at night, very pleasant and nicer weather than I’ve been hearing about back in DC. I am enjoying town, becoming comfortable here. The medical brigade that came last week was helpful in that process.

When I say medical brigade, I don’t mean anything military, it is just a group of (usually) gringos that comes for a few days to do medical work. Ours had 2 Honduran doctors, a Honduran dentist, and a US pediatric nurse practitioner, and a half dozen assorted others to see humans, and a vet team for animals. Sam worked with the vet team and wrote about it in her blog post. I stayed in the church where the human medical team set up, and spent most of my time translating medication instructions. Patients came in and went to “triage”, or registration, where they got a form that served as their chart and had their name, blood pressure and chief complaint written on it. Then they waited for one of the doctors to become available, and after the doctor saw them, if they were prescribed any medications they came to the pharmacy, which is where I was for three days. Cindy, the team leader, worked the pharmacy with two others to fill the scripts, and then I gave the medications to the patients and explained what they were for and when to use it. It was certainly the most intensive, and important to get correct, uses of my Spanish yet. It was very helpful though, in that I was using basically the same language over and over, and the repetition was great. I was able to handle most everything, and only had to go get help to understand a question a few times, and most of those it appeared that the patient had a mental issue, and it wasn’t me not able to understand, they really didn’t make sense. I think I did really well with my Spanish for only being in country 3.5 months!

I also explained the cell phone system here to them, and set them up with a phone so they could call home. This particular brigade tries to come to Honduras every year, so they are going to be able to use the phone on their next trip. We also introduced them to baleadas, which they had somehow not had yet. They had gone to a grocery store in La Ceiba before coming to La Unión and had several US style meals. They invited Sam and I to eat with them, and we really enjoyed the food. Pancakes with syrup, spaghetti with a meat sauce that wasn’t baloney, pan-fried chicken breast (no bones!) and toast with butter were some highlights. Don’t get me wrong, I like Honduran food, but a taste of home and the variety was delightful.

The brigade was in La Unión and saw patients on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. These were full days of work from 0800-1800, which is not the standard day here. Let me briefly cover the rest of the week. Wednesday, the brigade left but we hung out with them most of the morning. We stopped by the centro de salud, where they were finishing installing a new dentist chair in the front room. I guess we had misunderstood the previous week as it seems we are going to get a full time dentist here, who is very needed. (The dentist with the brigade didn’t do fillings, if teeth were rotted they got pulled. In three days the dentist pulled around 120 teeth, mostly from children.) In the afternoon, we went to a meeting of escuela para padres y madres, which is kind of like a PTA, and gave a brief charlita about VIH/SIDA (HIV/AIDS) to 25 parents. Sam did a great job facilitating and I filled in with the technical health information.

Thursday, I went to the centro in the morning. There are two health promoters that only work in the morning on a malaria and dengue campaign, and I went with them to a house that had a pit in their backyard that has the dankest most mosquito ridden water I have ever seen. We took some samples of the water to show the doctor and use in charlas, and then put abate (larvacide) in the water to eliminate it as a mosquito source. After that, we sat around the centro and talked about things. Water cooler chat stuff, great Spanish practice but not really work. Sam had finally met one of her counterparts, and we went to the next door municipality of Yocon to meet some people. After lunch and a meeting, we were back home after 2 hours and done for the day.

Friday, I went to the centro again in the morning and made a plan for the next week. Then in the afternoon Dario, the fulltime health promoter, drove me out to the municipal cremetorio, or landfill/trash burning field/pit that is about a mile outside town. There is no collection though, so many people just burn their trash outside their house in town. After that, we climbed a hill at one end of town to get a view down on town, and that was my work Friday. Sam and I then went to Rosario (another town about 10km away) with Letty, my counterpart at the centro, to visit her family there for a bit, and after we got home Sam and I had dinner and watched Hancock and Charlie St Cloud. This was a busy and full day! (You can click on any of the pictures for larger sizes of them.)


Picture of the trash pit, yes it is smoldering.

View of La Unión from halfway up a mountain.

Saturday, we did laundry, read (I started and finished We Are All The Same, by Jim Wooten), had lunch out (fried chicken), and found Sam two pairs of jeans.

So there was a week in the life of me as a Peace Corps Honduras Volunteer. It was a busy one! A lot of current volunteers have told us not to get frustrated if we don’t do any work for the first month or so, but it turned out we don’t have to worry about that! In addition to all that, this Monday I was on the radio to talk about diarrhea for 30 minutes, gave a brief charlita to the waiting room at the centro about the same on Tuesday, and think I will be on the radio again this afternoon to talk about malaria.

I’ve had busy days and I’ve had slow days, and my money is on busy days being more common. That is good, because there are not a lot of things to occupy free time here in La Unión outside of soccer. We will be reading a lot, and you can look at our Books page to see how much and what we are reading.

I suppose that two pages of text is plenty for one post, I’ll try to post shorter and more often.


-Jeff

Tl;dr: A medical team came to town, we helped them translate. The rest of the week was not as busy, but still full. I had a 30 minute radio show about diarrhea. I’m going to try and post shorter and more often.

05 June 2011

The real work begins

This week turned out to be an extremely productive one for us.  About our second day here when we were going around with Jeff's counterpart Leti and meeting people in the community, she took us to meet her pastor, Mauricio.  Pretty much the first thing he said after "Mucho Gusto" was, are you going to help with the brigade?  And we were like, "What brigade?"  So that's how we found out that there was going to be a group of gringos here for a medical brigade starting on the 28th.  So, we hung around this weekend, in the hopes of doing some real work. 

The brigade arrived on Saturday night late, so we didn't meet them until Sunday morning.  We were walking up the street and they just kinda looked at us and said "You guys must speak English!" and, of course, we did.  It was all downhill from there.  It turns out that the brigade of a dentist, 2 doctors, 2 nurse practitioners, several other health-related professionals and a veterinary team was here having a clinic for people in Pastor Mauricio's church.  We quickly discovered that 3 bilingual people in their group of 20 wasn't going to be enough and offered our services. 

I went out with the veterinary team to the campo to help vaccinate dogs, cats, horses and pigs against rabies and treat their intestinal worms.  The first day I went with them I was the only bilingual speaker (we had a guy from the community with us helping, but he only speaks spanish).  I got to know some parts of the town I hadn't seen before, and some of the little towns around here.  The other two days we went up into aldeas of our neighboring municipality of Yocon to small towns where Pastor Mauricio knows the preachers.

Team leader holding a 22-day-old baby

Piñatas that were brought for the local children
Reading about Jesus in English and Spanish before piñatas


Panorama of the church set up as a clinic

Cool view from the edge of town

Boys with piñatas
Sorry I don't have any pictures of the work with animals.  It seemed like a bad idea to take pictures when I was covered in manure and pig.  Maybe the team will email me some (*hint hint, wink wink*).  I had a really fun time, and learned all about vaccinating animals, including how to hold down pigs.  It turns out (i just learned) that I incorrectly told them the anti-worm medication was for fleas, but all the same it won't hurt the animals and will get rid of their intestinal parasites.  Oh well.  It was a great experience for us to practice spanish and to get to know the members of our community.

As an added bonus we made some super awesome friends who did their best to leave us with everything they could.  It was like Christmas all over again!  We are very lucky to have met them, and the timing couldn't have been better.  I don't think we'll ever be able to come up with a big enough way to say thanks for treating us like family.  It means a lot. (Many volunteers are lucky enough to be close to people who are about to end their service and get a lot of hand-me-down things to furnish a house with.  Peace Corps gives us L5000 for moving out, but that's about enough to buy a decent bed and a table.  Unfortunately, we are 3 hours from the closest volunteer, and not anywhere close to anyone who could pass stuff our way--so it makes even more difference to us!).  Jeff will post sometime about his experience training as a bilingual pharmacist some other time :)

Cheers,
Sam

27 May 2011

Week 2

Well, it’s nearing the end of our second week here at site, and I still only know one of my official counterparts.  Unfortunately, it’s the most informal one that doesn’t actually have paid staff.  They have an office in someone’s house that is never opened.  So, still waiting for work.  I’ve been hanging out with Jeff a lot at the Centro de Salud and trying to help him get things started with his work there, but I don’t want to do that too much—I don’t want them to create expectations of having me around all the time. 
The woman who came to pick me up on counterpart day isn’t actually one of my counterparts.  She works for the ICF (institucion de Conservacion Forestal), which all of my counterpart agencies work with directly and indirectly.  She’s the one who introduced me to the counterpart I do know, and is working on the other in her spare time.  

Our host mom is the assistant principal at the Colegio (high school), and it looks like we'll be able to start doing work there pretty soon, but as many of you know teaching is NOT what I like to do.  Vamos a ver.

We are trying not to spend all day in our house, but since we don’t really have work it’s kind of hard.  We got some disheartening news this week—Peace Corps Honduras has decided to close the sites in eastern Olancho (that’s our department).  This means that six people will be relocated, several of them are friends of ours from the volunteer visit.  We are still waiting to hear what this means for us.  As much as we like this site, we’d rather move now than be relocated in 8 months.  Also, one of the things I liked most about this particular site was the network of volunteers that exists in Olancho, and now half of that is gone--including our friends from Santa Maria de Real.

21 May 2011

In Site

Day 3 in Site

So we are now in La Unión, Olancho, our home for the next two years. Today we met the staff at the colegio (high school), watched the school soccer team play against another school, and attended a fashion show/fiesta – all at the colegio. I had planned to meet people at the Centro de Salud but the jeffe Dr (boss man) wasn’t in today and my counterpart RN was way busy picking up the slack. I shall try again tomorrow. A big success we had today was meeting a local small business owner who studied in the States and volunteered his truck if we ever need it! Knowing people with vehicles seems to be an important thing here where we are a 3+ hour bus ride from the nearest full grocery store.
On the plan for tomorrow is to meet the mayor and the local police, and sometime this week travel the 3+ hours to Juticalpa to use an ATM, since the agente in La Unión left. I’m not sure exactly what was said about why they left, but I heard something about mismanagement and 100,000 lempiras, which is a huge chunk of change here!

We have a tiny room, the smallest room that Sam and I have ever shared, but the rest of the house is pretty big. It will be a challenge to keep our things organized in our room, especially since we have no place to store or hang our clothes. Suitcase living for two months, alright! Our host mom is really nice and helping to introduce us to people around town. She is well known and well respected as the Vice Principal at the colegio.

La Unión seems like a bigger town, it is definitely bigger than Villa San Antonio and Yuscarón, but much further from a big city. Our modem works here, but it only runs on GPRS. Gmail refuses to load on it, so I’m not quite sure how or if I will be able to use email here, but Facebook loads, albeit slowly. Send me messages through FB and I should be checking that daily. Still don’t have a very good feel for the town, having only been here since noon on Saturday, but I have seen three different cows being harassed by dogs in the street. Additionally, yesterday we were at a restaurant watching the Olimpia-Motagua soccer game, which happened to be the championship game of the season, when Motagua scored. A guy standing near the door stepped outside, pointed his pistola in the air, and emptied the clip. Olancho has a reputation as the “Wild West” of Honduras, and I am beginning to see why.

Vamos a ver que va a pasar.


Addition: It is now Saturday, a week after we arrived. Our Claro modem on GPRS refuses to load any google thing requiring a login, and I don’t know why. But we are now using a borrowed Tigo modem which gets EDGE here and lets me login to Blogger.

12 April 2011

Time Spent in San Antonio

Sorry it's been awhile, I've been busy! Villa San Antonio is rather hot, but I've adjusted. I never thought I would want to put on long pants in the upper 70s, but that feels rather chilly now.

The health group is getting settled here. Comayagua is only a 25 minute bus ride away, and we've taken to going there on the weekends to have some change of scenery. Last saturday a group of us took the 1000 bus (at 1030) and spent the better part of the day in Comayagua. We ran into another group of aspirantes and some of us went to La Colonia, which is a decently stocked American style grocery store, got some lunch and had a picnic in the parque central in Comayagua. I had a baguette and ham and grape juice, and it was delicious. We sat in the shade watching the world go by with the occasional creeper walking to about 10 feet away, stare at us for a few minutes, then shuffle on. Not that different from any major city around the world, life goes on.

Sunday, I went on a trip with my family to a river in Otoro de Jesus in the department of Intibuca. It was about an hour by car. We left just before 8am and drove first to Siguatepeque where my host uncle and his family lives. (Siguatepeque is notable as the halfway point between Teguz and San Pedro Sula, a major transit route in Honduras, and most of the buses stop there for a break.) I met the whole family. They have two boys that are 9 and 11, I think. We played a bit of basketball in their yard, which was a nice break from soccer all the time. After a bit we all piled into two cars and drove to the river.

The river was gorgeous. Clear water, shade trees alongside it, a picnic area, it was delightful. They had built a wall in the river out of large river stones and used a bit of concrete across the top to make a walking path as well has help them stay in place. The water was able to flow through the rocks under the concrete, but it was enough of a dam to make a deeper pool than was there before. Beside the river amoung the trees was a picnic site. Concrete slab with cover, wooden bench and grill. We did carne asada on the grill, and had rice, beans, chismol and tortillas. Nomnomnom.
Unfortunately, the sun is strong here in Honduras. I currently have shoulders that are lobster red and are hurt just by wearing a shirt. It sucks. A lot. I had a difficult time sleeping last night. It will get better! Eventually.

Training is continuing, at times very slowly. My Spanish continues to improve, poco a poco. I am now ranked at Intermediate Low, and need to reach Intermediate Mid to be able to swear in in May. I know I can make that, but my goal is Intermediate High. I know I can do it, I just need to spend time studying the past preterit and past indicative, or whatever the two past tenses are called. Today in training we covered the reporting tool that we will use to record and report our activities. It didn´t take nearly enough time, so we covered ¨games to play with kids without much equipment¨ It turned into our class playing soccer for an hour, which was fun. The rest of the week we are going to learn the Ya Te Diste Cuenta initiative, which is a teenage sex education class, and on Saturday I get to go back to Yuscaran to visit Sam again.

Busy busy busy! Updates should be more frequent when I am with Sam, as she has the computer.

Regards
Jeff

06 April 2011

Volunteer Visit

Jeff and I were out of town this week visiting two awesome volunteers in the field.  We were lucky enough to go to the same place, where there are already a health and business volunteer so we can see what they do and what the typical pcv actually does.  We visited Sarah and Julian in Santa Maria de Real just outside of Catacamas, Olancho.  I have to admit I was a bit terrified of this volunteer visit.  It was 104 degrees F in Olancho last week, and I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't find common interest with Julian's work.

Lucky for us it rained like hell the night before we arrived and managed to only be about 98 degrees F during the hottest parts of the day.  I got extremely lucky and Julian ended up doing work on a recycling project which is super awesome.  He has one of the best counterparts in Peace Corps, and we spent several hours working on designing signs to put up at local pulperias for recycling collection.  A pulperia is like a convenience store, except they are everywhere.  There are tiny ones in people's houses, huge ones with their own buildings, everywhere.  And people go to them all the time.  It's not like you go there for an emergency stick of butter of something--people depend on the pulperia.

Anyway, we had a super time, and we got to meet a bunch of volunteers from Olancho, mostly in Catacamas.  We also got some new books and games and, get this, cloth napkins/pot holders from a volunteer who is COS-ing.  (close of service)  Anyway, Sarah and Julian were totally awesome, gave us a bed to sleep in, fed us, and showed us all around.  We loved Olancho and despite the safety situation there we felt safe with integrated volunteers.  I don't think I would mind being placed there (so long as no one expects me to do anything but nap between 11 and 2 when it is too hot to do anything.)


XOXOXOX
Sam