Archive for March, 2010

Laundry 101

If there is a hell, then this is it. I mean, the only way doing laundry could be worse here was if someone were to blast rachera music while I was doing it, which sometimes happens. So I’d thought I’d share with you how I do my laundry so you folks at home can be grateful for the greatest invention, the washing machine.

Hondurans have what is called a pila (pronounced pee-la). It is basically a giant utility sink filled with water with a washboard cemented to the top of it. It’s pretty brilliant, actually. Every volunteer I have talked to wants to build one in their backyards when they go back to the states. It’s a place to put your dirty mops, filthy rags, wash your dog, clean 16 lb turkeys, pot plants, retrive water for a buket-bath when your water system isn’t working, and unfortunately wash clothes. One drawback is that mosquitoes love the stagnant water so it is often a war zone when washing. However, at the Centro de Salud, one can pick up a tan, sand-like substance in a plastic baggie called abate (they pronounce it ah-bah-tay). Poke holes in the bag, drop it into the water, and it kills mosquito larvae. I actually have no idea what it is, although I think it is a pesticide. I don’t ask. All I know is that I don’t want dengue fever (aka break-bone fever).

So, back to washing clothes. I cannot lie to you. There is a drop-off laundromat in my fresa town. However, I use it only for washing sheets and towels. If I didn’t, I think I would buy new towels every time mine was dirty and probably would NEVER change my sheets. They charge 100 lemps for 5 lbs, which isn’t bad. Drop off your clothes, give ’em your number, they call when you it’s ready. So why don’t I use them regularly, you ask? Because there is a Honduran man there that likes to steal my phone number and call me and send me inappropriate text messages, that’s why. *Sigh*,  I can’t  win down here. I digress.

How to wash clothes by hand:

Step 1. Procrastinate doing your laundry until you have an obscene amount of dirty clothes on your floor and you are out of underwear.

Step 2. Swear, then gather up your clothes and your Ipod.

Step 3. Place clothes in a large bucket with water and laundry detergent to soak.

Step 4. Place hands in bucket and swish clothes around like a washing machine would (it looks like a really bad dance move).

Step 5. Pick an article of clothing out of the bucket and place onto the washboard. Roll what is called a jabon stick over article of clothing to add extra soap if necessary.

Step 6. Scrub the shit out of your clothing on the wash board (mine is made of concrete, which is why I have holes in everything I wear).

Step 7. Rinse off said article of clothing with a bowl (called a pana) of water from the pila until suds are gone.

Step 8. Wring out and hang up to dry on the clothesline.

Step 9. Repeat until finished.

And somehow, all of my clothes still end up dirty and soapy when dry. And I end up wet and angry and tired.

I want you all to now go down into your basements, laundry rooms, or your local laundromat, and give your washing machine a pat on the back, maybe even a hug.

March 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm 3 comments

Spectacular spectacles

March 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

A year and counting. . .

So yes, I know it has been a very long time (again) since I have written a blog. Fortunately, I have been in contact with the only person who reads it (my mom), since the last entry.

To be honest, I have been waiting for something spectacular (read: positive and exciting) to write about. But then I realized, every day here is spectacular: Of the nature of a spectacle; impressive or sensational. Something that is spectacular, as:

a. A single dramatic production of unusual length or lavishness.

b. An elaborate display.

Everything is a damn spectacle here!

So what have I been up to for that past few months, other than trying out new baking recipes, reading copious amounts of Bill Bryson books, and downloading the dance moves to Soldier Boy (yes I did that)? Well I have been working of course! Shocking, I know.

My first spectacle includes attending a water system inauguration in a local community. I didn’t have anything to do with their design, as it was done before I came, but I am currently training their Junta de Agua. They have named their water system “El Milagro” because it is, well, a miracle they have water. They live atop a mountain, and therefore had no water source for a gravity-fed system. The women fetched the water every day abajo, and now all the viejitas are about 4 feet tall with perfectly curved backs. With foreign money, the community drilled a 100+ meter well and then bought a pump to pump water up to a holding tank. So in true Honduran fashion, they had an elaborate celebration, which included prayers and thanks to God, diploma-giving to local officials (a favorite pastime of Hondurans), tortillas and fried chicken, coke and banana flavored soda, music, and inappropriate dancing by 6th graders who can shake their hips better than I can (tried to upload that video, check on Facebook). All these festivities started about 2 hours late and lasted 3 hours long (again, in true Honduran fashion). I was accompanied by the engineer in my office, Marquez, who by the end of the party was taking tequila shots with the local mayors. I was invited to the “man’s circle” for beers and shots, but politely declined because the women were glaring at me. Ok, well I drank a beer. Ok I drank two. Why were the women staring at me, you ask? Well first, I am perceived as a potential “threat” in terms of their not-so-faithful husbands. Second, women drinking beer Honduran culture is frowned upon and often times associated with, well, less-than-holy behavior. But when the mayor of the town is giving me free beer, what is a girl to do? Needless to say, it was a spectacle. And a great experience. The community is so very grateful for water, and every time I go to give a training, they all come out in full force. Nothing like community participation to prove that water is not taken for granted here.

On the theme of community participation, I recently visited another community located on top of a mountain to see about a water system. El Conal is located in my municipalidad, but to access it you must drive through another municpalidad, San Jose. It has recently been blessed with electricity and all of the hardware is installed, but of course, due to political and bureaucratic reasons, the electricity has not arrived due to its unfortunate location. They would like to be connected to electricity grid from San Jose because it is so much closer, but because it is part of Santa Rosa, there are issues. Sigh. Anyhoo, I went to visit the community with Marquez on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon. We met in their school house, and as soon as the cow-bell was rung, hordes of people filed into the room. Practically all of the community showed up and crammed in. The patronato (head of the community) explained the predicament. The community currently has 3 sources of water, all of which are located about .5 to 2 kilometers away and 100 meters below. Women and children make the schlep every day and carry buckets of water on their heads up to their houses for drinking, cooking, and bathing. “Can we see these sources?” I inquired. “Vamonos!” he exclaimed. And with that, all 30+ men, women, and children set off on foot to show us their water. What a spectacle that was! “Todos tienen ganas de agua,” I heard one campesino say with a chuckle. The community hiked down the hill, then back up, then back down, over creeks, under barbed wire fences, through cow pastures, and managed to accompany us the whole way. After 2 hours of hiking through the woods wearing my sandles, carrying my GPS, notebook, camera, with children and ticks all over me, we carefully documented all of their sources, and managed to catch a beautiful sunset. So, in summary, this is what we are looking at. Obstacle #1, they do not own the land where the sources are located or the land they live on for that matter. Obstacle #2, the do not have electricity (yet) to operate and maintain a pump. Obstacle #3, the water sources are probably less than a gallon/minute, which negates the use of a pump. What to do? Well, we asked the community to search for another feasible water source and secure their electricity first. In the meantime, I am mapping out the community. Let’s hope for the best

Next spectacle (or maybe cluster-f is a better word). So the Mayor of Corquin, a local municipalidad where my dear friend Hannah resides (she stars in many previous blogs involving topo studies and insects), has asked us to figure out why one of their conduction lines is not providing the amount of water according to the 1995 design. Although forensic work is usually fun, in Honduras it is a bit more difficult. You know the project will inevitably be an uphill battle when the muni takes a week to locate their water system design, in which half of the plans missing. Guess it wasn’t really that important? Anyways, Hannah and I pieced together what we had and concluded that the future growth for her town was underestimated. Next step took us to the water source itself, located in Parque Nacional Celaque. The fontanero (plumber, literally, but the keeper of the system) Melvin kept telling us to expect a grueling, long hike for at least half the day. Fortunately for us most Hondurans exaggerate, so when we drove the furthest we could up a logging road, we walked maybe 15 minutes to the caja toma. Ha! All seemed to be working well, except for a little leaf clogage. We walked down the system a bit and were then informed that none of the air valves worked in the system. We then noticed the rompecarga overflow was abnormally high. A trip to the 15,000 gallon distribution tank revealed only 4 inches of water at the bottom! What is going on? Our next step is to aforar (taking flow measurements) at each inlet/outlet of the system; the dam, pressure breakers, distribution boxes, and tanks in order to figure out where exactly the low flow originates. Of course, the past 2 times we have tried to go, we were fijese que’ed with excuses, some true, some not. And I wasn’t even mad this time! I skipped my usual tantrum of spanglish swear words and just laughed. This means I am fully integrated into Honduran culture, or maybe just stopped caring.

So while I was in Corquin getting fijese que’ed, Hannah and I celebrated our 1 year-in- country date, February 25th. Can you believe it? I am sure all of you jerks at home forgot I was gone, but I sure haven’t! We were well equipped with a kiddie pool, a trash-rap playlist on our Ipod, 11 lemp beers (about 50 cents a pop), homemade cookies, and a bottle of the bubbly. Of course, Murhpy’s law struck and a cold front came, the water went, and so did the electricity. So no kiddie pool, no showers, but of course everything else was consumed.  To reflect on the past year, here are some of the life lessons/things I have learned:

1)      Have no expectations

2)      Be patient, (or be less impatient in my case)

3)      Be flexible

4)      Be content with what ya’ got

5)      You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need (thanks Mick Jagger)

6)      True friends are hard to come by

7)      True friends are easy to keep

8)      It’s ok to say no

9)      How to bake bread

10)  How to speak Spanish (kind of)

If those ten things are all that I get out this whole experience, well then, I will be quite happy. Until next time!

March 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm 2 comments


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