Hello to all of my loyal readers. This will be my last blog about/related to Honduras. I officially ended my Peace Corps service of two YEARS Thursday, April 14th. I absolutely cannot believe I have made it this far without a) leaving early b) punching a cat-calling Honduran man in the face, thus sending me to Honduran prison, or c) contracting dengue fever. I spent the last week in the breathtaking (cough cough) capital of Tegucigalpa doing Peace Corps things like giving stool samples 3 days in a row, writing reports, and filling out mountain of forms to exit the US government. Oh, and I also got hit by a tinted-out Toyota FJ SUV I was there too. The driver apparently was probably too busy texting to realize I was crossing the street while he was trying to pull out onto the main street. Needless to say, I will not miss this city in the least.
The last month has been a whirl wind of finishing my pila and stove project , packing, and attending many goodbye parties, brunches and celebrations. Sometimes I cry of happiness, sadness, or just plain confusion about what the hell comes next. But, all in all, it was worth it. What a long strange trip it has been, to quote the Dead. I am grateful for the rich pile of mess of both good and bad I have experienced and the amazing friends I have met. Thank you to all of my family and friends, both American and Honduran, who have supported me and my mental health along the way. Also, I want to future thank all the people in America that will host me on your couch in the next coming months.
Eating elote in a Guatemalan market with such grace
I am off to Colombia and Peru for a month of travel, and will likely not be blogging from there, so I will post pictures when I return.
I have proof that I am working! Check out the video I posted on thirdgoal.org. The website is for current and former PC volunteers to post articles, photos, and videos of their experiences to share with folks back home.
I just found out today that my video won for the week, so I get a $27 gift-certificate to REI. $27 at REI = GOLD.
PS: Sorry for the terrible spanglish in the video, I look like an idiot.
These were on the wall of the house I shot the video in. The owner said they were tasty.
With my pilas behind me, I enthusiastically charged into the campo this week to implement phase 2 of my project. . . . and then Honduran work ethic got in the way.
Monday: Plan on leaving for the campo. Tito calls and says that fijese que he is busy until tomorrow.
Tuesday: Plan on leaving for the campo. Tito calls and says that fijese que he is busy until tomorrow.
Wednesday: Tito is not busy today. Travel early to La Entrada (dirty thru-town that is hot, dusty, and run by drug-lords) to withdraw money from our (me and Tito’s) joint saving account to buy more materials. Tito forgets the libreta for out account. After showing bank people 3 forms of my identity, they finally let us take out money. Walk to ferreteria to purchase materials and talk with Doña Gloria (the owner of the ferreteria) for a better part of an hour. Walk around La Entrada for the rest of the day so Tito can 1) open a new bank account 2) deposit money into another account at a different bank where I sat watching a flat -screen TV showing skiers in Chile for half an hour 3) buy sandals for his kids and Crocs for himself and 4) saunter into the TIGO cell phone store to look at the phones that Tito wants but can’t afford. Travel back to his desvio in a busito. Wait 3 hours for a jalon that will take us back to his community. The walk only takes an hour. Arrive in time for dinner.
Thursday: Tito and I plan on building the first fogón with the town mason, Adelso. However, Tito expresses that he must first tend to his bees and change out honeycombs with his friend. His friend attempts to guess my weight and I become violently angry at his estimate. I tell him that Honduran men are not attractive.
Tito assures me that he will return at lunch so we can start the fogón. Read for half of the day in the sun, pick ticks off of my body, play with his 5-day-old baby goat, and harvest some radishes from his garden. Tito returns at 4:30. I eat some fresh honey then ask Tito to call Adelso to tell him we will start tomorrow. Adelso informs Tito that he has already finished his fogón because he knew Tito would be late. Walk over to Adelso’s house to see his beautiful fogón. Try to hide my frustration by taking it out on Adelso’s disobedient children in the form of wrestling.
I would insert a picture of the fogón here; however, my camera has since been robbed by a Honduran. Instead, I will insert a photo of the unruly children (Note: these pictures were from my last visit)
Friday: Tito informs me that the beneficiaries of the fogónes have not built their mesas (adobe tables) on which they will place their fogónes. However, says that Adelso will come over today to work on his own pila. I help 5 of Tito’s children carry river sand in sacos up a hill to his house. End up moving 200 paladitas (shovel-fulls) of sand. Adelso does not come over. Tito decides we should go fishing instead. Walk to his tilapia pond and fish with lead-weighted nets. Teaches me the correct “form” of net fishing: Place the left hand on the bottom of the net, right hand on the end string, and a lead-weight in your mouth, and toss like an umbrella into the pond. I inform him that lead in your mouth is not ideal for one’s health. He does not believe me. Eat fried fish for lunch and dinner, and wash it down with warm, sugary goat’s milk.
Saturday: Wake up at 6:30 to make sure I am awake when Adelso comes over to start the last pila. Realize I am the first one up. Adleso comes over at 7:30 and has to wake up Tito. Adelso proceeds to demo his existing pila while everyone watches. I screen river sand for most of the morning while people stare at the gringa working. Leave the community mid-day and walk to the desvio with Tito because he wants to pasear with the gente. Adelso works on the pila with the help of Tito’s children. Tell Tito to advance with the fogónes in the following week while I take vacation in Guatemala.
This is what the fogones will look like:
Will update after Guatemala!
I told you my next blog would be work related, so it will be informative and not too funny or sarcastic. I have been hard at work *cough* the past month getting this project up and running. Thanks to my awesome community partner, Tito, it has been a success. Turns out he knows more that I do, and they really only needed the gringa for her money (go figure). Tito is every NGOs dream: an enthusiastic, forward-thinking, innovative host-country national ready to learn and then train his fellow citizens. I have been staying at his modest adobe house while working on the project. Aside from being terrified of getting bit by a chinche picuda bug and contracting the Chagas disease (google that), it has been wonderful. I get fed every 2 hours, then work on some pilas, harvest sweet potatoes in Tito’s garden, consume unimaginable amounts of sugary coffee every day, make tamales, and al fin, lay in his hammock.
The idea of the project was to provide the community with most of the construction materials, and then train them on how to build their own pilas. Of course, it didn’t really work like that, as they chose to hire a local mason, but no matter. The beneficiaries provided sand, gravel, rock, and manual labor as their contribution. Sustainable? Not really. But at least these families don’t have to bend over and wash their clothes on rocks and wood.
Below I will demonstrate the steps of building a pila. It takes a total of 2 days to complete one.
This is what a woman was using to wash her clothes before. Hug your washing machines right now
Adelso, the local mason, placing the PVC pipe for drainage
His brother mixing the concrete
Making the foundation
Starting the masonry
This kid was mad
Finishing the 10th layer of bricks
Repellar(you actually throw a sand/water/cement mixture on the walls to make it stick)
Me looking like an idiot attempting to work. Yes they did laugh at me
Finished repellando 2
Day 2, Pulir (makes a water-tight seal with a cement/water mixture)
Make-shift form for the lavadora
Placing rebar on the lavadora
Placing the washboard and filling the sides
Smoothing the pulir job out using a sponge
Finished product, with Tito and daughter Sumy pretending to wash clothes
Another washing area complete with rocks to wash your clothes on
Tune in next time for Phase 2: Improved stoves. We will be replacing these stoves with ones that are more energy efficient and have chimneys, so that people’s lungs don’t look like this ceiling. . .
I’d like to first apologize to my devout readers (all 4 of you) for my absence the past few months. My computer has been out of commission for quite some time, which required me to, 1) leave my apartment and actually go to my office, 2) try to convince out-of-office coworkers to let me use their virus-laced computers, and 3), figure out Microsoft Xcel commands in Spanish. And so, that is how my work has been completed in the past 6 months. However, it is amazing what you can distract yourself with once you have technology involuntarily removed from your life. Like reading! I have read more books here than I have in my whole life (embarrassing, I know).
But, I couldn’t hide for long, as technology has entered my life again. I have just returned from an invigorating and refreshing trip from the United States of ‘Merica, where I was immediately engulfed by I-phones, I-pads, Blackberries, Droids, and talking GPSs in cars. However, I was grateful that my laptop fan was replaced for free by a friendly Sony repairman, and so now I write on my own computer in an English operating system.
After my American experience, I was quite surprised to see that some Honduran-isms are also shared in my own country. So in this blog, I would like shed some light on some of the similarities and differences between the two.
THINGS I THOUGHT WERE HONDURAN BUT ARE ALSO AMERICAN:
CUTTING IN LINES – Ask a Honduran what it means to wait in a line, and you will you receive a blank stare. Down here, it’s everyone for themselves; men shoving pregnant women aside to get on the bus, tercer edad (senior citizens) getting first dibs to buy bus tickets, and the notorious woman at the supermercado that has one item, and is allowed to cut in front of every customer who is waiting patiently. Obviously, she cannot wait in line because it is a very important purchase: one 3-liter bottle of Pepsi. I usually flush red with violent anger, and say something sarcastic, but sarcasm does not exist in this culture (see below on sarcasm), so she just stares at me and usually tries to touch my hair.
In America, everyone follows lines in military-type fashion and is usually vocal about line-cutters, with the exception of 2 things: Black Friday (some unlucky fellow got trampled inside of Target this year) and NFL football games. I went to a Steelers game while at home and was flabbergasted at the mob pushing to get into Gate A. My brother nearly had a panic attack as the mass of black-and-gold drunken fans moved as one unit, crushing plants, beer cans and trash, and maybe even some Patriots fans in their path.
This leads to my next similarity:
TRASH – (Yes, Patriots fans are trash too, but I am referring to actual garbage) I heard my brother exclaim before entering the stadium “Wow, look at how much trash these f@*%ers threw on the ground, disgusting!” If he hadn’t of said anything, I wouldn’t have even noticed. I am that integrated into Honduran culture, where trash is thrown anywhere and everywhere BUT a trash can or is burned to produce a combination of smells resembling skunk and burnt hair. However, I realize, Honduras lacks environmental education and municipal support for trash collection, but that’s why Peace Corps is here. However, I’d like to point out that there is no Peace Corps in America, because we are educated. I mean really, guys. I also witnessed this while going on one of my Dad’s daily walks around my suburb. He is known to my neighbors as the “trash man”, because he literally picks up trash off the ground on his walks. He even stashes an extra plastic bag in his jacket pocket just in case he encounters more than one trash item. Why, I ask, in white suburbia, where we are all well educated, would there be any trash on the ground at all? I applaud my Dad and his efforts, and encourage people to follow in his actions.
BLOOD-THIRSTY SPORTS FANS AND FRANCHISES – It occurred to me while at this NFL game that American football fans are not unlike Honduran soccer fans (or any soccer fan outside of the US for that matter). Abundant alcohol + sports = fights and riots. I remember when the Red Sox won the World Series a few years ago; I witnessed on the news belligerent fans setting couches on fire, fighting in the streets, and scaling buildings and signs, with one unfortunate fan falling to his death.
Here in Honduras it is much the same, which is why most of the time PCVs are banned from attending soccer matches here. There is a national futbol league, much like ours, which pits cities against cities. Fences are usually torn down at the stadiums and a gun fight is sure to ensue after the game.
Also, I’d like to point out the big business of sports. Entering Heinz stadium would have been hell if I was epileptic. All of the flashy lights, advertisements, music, commercials, and the God-sized Heinz Ketchup bottles that flowed into the huge screen when the Steelers were within scoring distance set me up for a perfect migraine. Yes, I get it. All sports make lots and lots and lots of money for the owners and advertisers and of course the celebrity players.
Honduras mimics the same shenanigans, only on a smaller scale. The players are celebrities here too and appear in cell phone ads and bottled water commercials (remember you can’t drink the water here). The stadiums, however, are lack luster, as the one in Tegucigalpa half-collapsed last month. Or should I mention the slight scandal in which Honduran government officials claimed to “misplace” some of the FIFA money it was given to cover the costs to send the team to the World Cup last year. Needless to say, the government managed to fly the president over for most of the games. I rest my case.
BUG INFESTATIONS – With my on-going war against cockroaches in my kitchen (the ants have since left), the situation had gotten out of control when I surprised a 3-inch cockroach gnawing on a raw onion in my kitchen. The next day, I sprayed industrial Raid into every orifice of my kitchen, waited in the haze of toxic fumes for about 10 minutes, and then smashed them with my sandal when they emerged from the darkness. I counted 25 carcasses, although I know some of them survived and are getting stronger by the day. . .
I had naively thought that only large, grotesque, annoying insects thrive in hot, tropical climates. I was wrong. My poor newly-wed friends were greeted with bedbugs when they arrived home to their apartment after their wedding weekend. What a wedding gift! I, of course, offered my Honduran advice to put the mattress out in the sun (they live in Cleveland), pour bleach on everything, and then put all of your clothes in buckets of boiling water. Fortunately in America there are professional exterminators and steam cleaners.
“JEGGINGS” + BOOTS – I am no fashionista, as you know. My friend actually wants to put me on “What Not to Wear” when I get back to the States. However, I have noticed in my almost 2 years here that Honduran fashion is quite dazzling, in an entertaining sort of way. No matter if you have money or not, you dress to the nines anytime you leave the house. How you present yourself is of the utmost importance here (Americans should take note: ditch the track suits at the airports, please). The shoes must match the belt, the bag, be-dazzled blouse, and eye shadow. Ruffles abound from necklines. Feather headbands look as if a bird has nested in someone’s head. And of course, there are leggings and scrunchy suede boots.
So, to my surprise upon entering America, I saw this same phenomenon: leggings and boots! A parallel universe! Of course, I was then corrected by a GAP employee that they are called “jeggings” (jeans + leggings). I, personally, think the style is hideous. However, I remind you that I may be the next contestant on “What Not to Wear” when I return home.
THINGS THAT ARE ONLY AMERICAN THAT DO NOT EXIST IN HONDURAS:
SARCASM –Sarcasm was the only form language I knew back in the states. Here, unfortunately, no one uses it or understands it. I try to explain it, but how do you? Like telling the line-cutting lady that “Of course you can cut in line, you are probably in a HUGE hurry with that bottle of soda. I am sure your 2-year-old is super thirsty!” . . . . Blank stare.
Or staring. Hondurans would win the Olympic gold medal for staring contests. At first I thought it was rude, now I think it is funny. Young, old, male, female, it doesn’t matter. I have had many a staring contest with all of them. And now I have found myself staring too, as if it were socially acceptable. I was staring at people left and right at MIA airport. I have regressed.
EXTRA-SHARP VERMONT CHEDDAR CHEESE – Which explains the extra 5 pounds I am carrying around down here. My co-workers were quick to point it out when I went into the office the other day.
BUS SCHEDULES THAT ARE ON-TIME AND WORK EFFICIENTLY – Yes, the PAT buses are a bit old in Pittsburgh, but at least they are on time, clean, and not recycled,yellow school buses.
NICELY PAVED ROADS AND HIGHWAYS – Honduras makes the DOT look like rockstars.
THINGS THAT ARE HONDURAN THAT DO NO EXIST IN AMERICA:
FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THAT DO NOT TASTE LIKE CARDBOARD – Americans need to start buying local, in-season produce. I will save that rant for later.
TWO HOUR LUNCH BREAKS THAT INCLUDE A NAP – Need I say more?
NOT GOING TO WORK BECAUSE IT IS RAINING – Great idea!
RIDING IN THE BACK OF PICK-UP TRUCK IS PERFECTLY LEGAL – If you can survive down here, you can survive anywhere! So much fun!
FOOD ITEMS IN BAGS – Ketchup, water, refried beans, oil, mayonnaise, all very convenient.
SODA MADE WITH CANE SUGAR IN GLASS BOTTLES – Classic and delicious, without corn syrup.
These lists could go on and on. And so, this concludes my compare and contrast essay on Honduras vs the United States.
On a happy note, my SPA grant just was approved, so I will be working very hard the next few months building improved stoves and pilas in one of my favorite communities. So I promise my next blog will solely be work related, and I will try to post it before I leave my service! Peace and Happy Holidays to all!
Happy Independence day to my beautiful, clean, efficient nation! I hope you all are celebrating with good beer, burgers, bacon, bratwurst, potato salad, watermelon, and of course, fireworks. Of course, Hondurans don’t need an excuse for fireworks, and today was the only day that I was actually grateful to hear them exploding in the morning.
I celebrated the fourth this morning with a friend, drinking a bottle of champagne while watching Bill Mahr berating religion in his documentary “Religulous”. I ended the day to all-american Johnny Cash’s “America: A 200 year Salute in Story and Song”. I have to say, I got a little emotional. To sum is all up in one photo, this is why I miss my country so much:
Yes, this photo was on the cover of the Honduras map that I had bought before I came down here. I should have known what I was getting myself into. They couldn’t have picked ANY other picture? The serene Bay Islands? Copán Mayan Ruins? A colorful macaw? No, instead they chose a machete-wielding campesino on a horse, sporting a ropa Americana muscle tee with a dead chicken in hand. The truth is that this picture pretty much sums up Honduras. I wondered if all of Central America was like that, I asked. So I decided to do some research.
My partner in crime, Hannah, and I cruised down to El Salvador for a long weekend. Conveniently located about a 2 ½ hour bus ride south of us, we left early in the morning and found ourselves in San Salvador a little after lunch time, amazed by the efficiency of the bus system! As soon as we crossed the border, we were whisked away by a colorfully painted school bus, complete with a route number and a schedule. It felt as if we had crossed into the states, literally, as Salvadorans use the American dollar as their currency. I whipped out my little bag of quarters and threw the ayudante some change for our fare. Nobody threw trash out the window. There was no trash on the streets. There were brightly painted murals on walls and light posts. No piropos from dirty men. Where were we, we asked? Hondurans still think the world is their trash can, and haven’t really harnessed their potential creativity. After hopping off one bus and getting on another in the capital, we arrived at the famous black sand beaches of the pacific coast in 45 minutes. 45 minutes! I couldn’t believe it. Our little hippie bungalow was right on the beach, complete with hammocks and a bar. We were happy.
The beach was gorgeous; fine black sand and scattered with perfectly round volcanic rocks. Added bonus was the rather attractive tattooed Salvadoran surfers. I was in heaven. We met interesting folks, drank the local beer, ate ceviche and coconut shrimp and whole fish until we passed out, literally. One night we slept from 7pm to 7am.
After gallivanting at the beach for a few days, we headed back up to San Salvador for some culture. We treated ourselves to a museum and an art gallery, and managed to find an Irish pub. Somehow they were out of Guinness, but we drank good dark German beer, and all was right with the world.
Honduras and El Salvador are incomparable. El Salvador appears to be light years ahead, having less poverty, more industry, arts, education, environmental awareness, and superb infrastructure. There exists a huge rivalry between the two countries, stemming back to a four-day war in 1969 over a soccer match, but really had to do with Salvadoran immigrants working over the border in Honduras. In addition, El Salvador had a violent civil war from 1980 to 1992, pushing more refugees over the border. Every Honduran or Salvadoran that I have spoken to never had anything nice to say about the other.
Some say that El Salvador’s civil war was a catalyst for their recent success. Another interesting fact is every country in Central America with the exception of Honduras has had a civil war. Salvadorans seem to have a passion for life and work that moves people to do things. When the Honduran coup happened last year, although CNN was reporting riots in the capital, the rest of the country went about their daily lives as if nothing happened. Most were apathetic to the political situation, complaining but not acting. No one has faith in the politicians, believing all are the same and corrupt. They don’t think change is possible. They are OK with the ways things are here and don’t see their potential, or see it and don’t care to realize it. They are used to foreign handouts and money, and NGOs and volunteers coming in and telling them what is the “right” way to do things, so why bother to think for themselves?
And so, that is why a campesino with a dead chicken debuts on the front cover of the Honduras map.
Is it possible to be bitten/stung by 6 different insects in one day? Why yes! Just come to Honduras and traipse around the jungle for the day.
Hannah and I, once again, took to the forest to complete a topographic study for a potential agua potable project. After getting fijese qued on Monday, we headed for the hills early on Tuesday. It went as a typical study would go, campesinos frolicking up near vertical mountain sides in mere seconds, while 2 gringas hold on to roots and branches for dear life, trying not to twist our ankles. And of course, many of the branches had thorns. Ouch. The topo study started in the depths of jungle, everything green and bright, teeming with insects. It is terrifying to know that the jungles of Central America have n times more species of plants and insects than the US, and I bet there are still many species yet to be identified. Our first encounter happened to be mosquitoes and those damn moscos (see previous blog entry). Unfortunatel , moscos are unaffected by DEET, so my arms and hands were swollen by 10 am. As if that wasn’t enough, I had an epic battled with a large bee when I was precariously balanced on a rotten tree trunk, needless to say, the bee won.
After lunch, biting ants SOMEHOW managed to crawl into my pants and bite me on my inner thighs (I know what you all are thinking, ants in my pants. ha.ha.). Severe burning near my crotchal region is never a good thing. The campesinos laughed and laughed and laughed when I started jumping up and down, smacking my legs, swearing.
“We are learning English!” they exclaimed.
“No, just maldiciónes, “ Hannah corrected.
At the end of the day, I found several ticks on me, which were about the size of a pin-head. They look like specs of dirt. Luckily for me, there is no lyme disease down here. And courtesy of Hannah’s oh-so-cute hound, Bourbon, I got a few flea bites that night, too.
So there is your 6. Oh, but wait, there is more! As if my insect troubles weren’t bad enough. Before bed that night, I went to fill up my water bottle from Hannah’s 5 gallon water jug. To my surprise, a large cockroach-type insect was floating around inside. A true anomaly because the cap only had 2 holes poked in it the size of button. How the hell does that big of a bug get into a hole that small? We decided to take the cap off, and let it free. As soon as it crawled out, that damn bug flew directly into my face and crawled up in my hair. The next thing I knew, I was shirtless running through her kitchen screaming and flailing my arms.
In the end, I think karma has finally come full circle. In response to my ongoing war in my apartment on sugar ants, the insect gods unleashed their unmerciful vengeance that day in the wild. Point taken.