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. 


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.


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.


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 :)