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!