Friday, July 8, 2011

Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá

Hello from Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá! I apologize for the lack of updates, I have now been living in my assigned site for about 6 weeks and have been incredibly busy! To start this update, we have to go back to when our training group, H-18, was officially sworn in and 53 volunteers came into service with Peace Corps Honduras on May 13th, 2011 at the U.S. Embassy. We had a beautiful ceremony with inspirational speeches by our country director, the US Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Lorens, and fellow volunteers. I was reminded of the perseverance and determination of getting to this point…the countless months of revising application essays, hours of volunteering, and finally waiting for my Peace Corps assignment. We were also encouraged to take the patience, adaptive skills, Spanish, and technical training we´d learned in the last 3 months to do our best to make a difference in our communities.

After a teary goodbye to my host family and especially my 6-year-old host sister, Andrea, I began my travels to my new site with my counterpart, Pablo, who is the director of the high school in my town. Jesús de Otoro is located in the central part of Honduras in the department of Intibucá, one of the poorest departments in all of Honduras. You can imagine my surprise as we turned off the main highway and drove the 30 kilometers to my new home through beautiful, lush greenery, rolling mountains, peaceful-looking fincas (agricultural plots) with equally peaceful animals roaming about. Intibucá is known for its cooler climate and also La Ruta Lenca which is a touristic route celebrating the traditional Lencan people and their artisanship and culture and way of life. It is common to see families on the sides of the road selling hand-crafted pots, hand-woven hammocks, freshly-harvested honey in bottles and the ever popular fruit stands with locally grown produce. Ironically, my new town also happens to be the rice capital of Honduras. I guess it´s a good thing rice has always been a large part of my diet.

I have since learned that while most of Intibucá enjoys un clima más fresco (cooler weather), Otoro, situated in a valley between mountain ranges, is actually quite hot. This makes for a great excuse to take a dip in one of the 3 balnearios (swimming pools) located in town, or to enjoy a charamusca or palita (popsicles) from the many vendors and pulperias (family-run markets). My site of 15,000-30,000 people (there´s no official census) is a medium-large site that boasts 8 schools, 2 of which are bilingual, 3 parks, 2 hotels and a Chinese restaurant. While I don´t live in the typical small village as one might envision of a ¨Peace Corps site¨, my town is a sleepy pueblo with dirt roads, the evermore familiar sight of oxen carts mingling amongst 4x4 trucks, and most of all, a humble and welcoming population that have taught me to slow down my days and take the time to tomar una taza de café (have a cup of coffee) and spend time visiting with family and neighbors. (This is my pitch for you to come visit me, Spirit Airlines has cheap flights in and out of Honduras and the South…)

My host parents are in their 60´s and are well respected in the community. My host mom, Doña Berta, a former Spanish professor, calls her husband, Don Jose, to meals every day by the endearing nickname ¨viejo¨, or ¨old man¨. Their love for each other after over 40 years of marriage is still incredibly strong and I already feel like part of their clan. I have developed a great relationship with them and my 5 new siblings and 19 cousins. My family´s house is the hub and home nest of the Rojas Reyes family and, at any given time, there´s bound to be someone eating, chatting, playing, sleeping, or simply hanging out at my house. We are required to live with host families for the first two months in site and then will get the chance to move out if we choose so. I am so happy here that I would love to stay with my family for my entire service. Thus, it was incredibly satisfying to find out recently that my host family actually has 2 apartments on their property, right next door to our house, that they are willing to rent out to myself and my site mate who is a Peace Corps Business volunteer. Not only will we have the benefit of living next door to this wonderful family, but we will also be able to enjoy our own living space and aprovechar (take advantage of) the coconut and mango trees in the backyard, the small plot to plant a future garden, and the well-constructed house complete with running shower and without the typical leaky clay-tile roof that is so common here. I am already excited thinking about painting my new apartment and finding items to decorate my house for the next 2 years. This will be the first time that I won´t be living out of a suitcase in over a year!

I have included some pictures so you can get a glimpse into my new life here in Otoro. Next post I´ll give you more details on what all I´ve been so busy with!

Peace Corps swearing-in ceremony at the American Embassy. From left: My counterpart at the colegio, Pablo Osorio, Ambassador Hugo Llorens, myself

My new host family—spanning 4 generations—celebrating the 67th birthday of my host mom. I was able to borrow a violin for a few weeks from the music school at the University in Tegucigalpa for a concert, hence the requisite Happy Birthday violin rendition. (More on this saga later)

My office in the colegio, where you´ll often find me making charla (lesson) plans and preparing materials.
This is the view that greets me every day when I leave my office in the colegio (high school). I am frequently overwhelmed by the beauty of these majestic mountains and have ventured on several hikes…I´ll hopefully be doing one of the 5-hr hikes to the peak soon.

A moto-taxi arriving at one of the Catholic churches in Otoro. These motos will take you anywhere in town for L.10 (about 50 cents) and are always honking at me to give me rides. I once tried to explain to my counterpart that for every journey that I make by foot, I could save myself at least L.20 per day, which would easily fund a vacation to the Bay Islands in a year (and help me exercise off the abundance of grasa (fat) in my diet). She has now taken on this mentality and is walking her way toward a future vacation as well. (Sorry local economy, I will support you in other ways.)
My future back yard, with mango tree in center. You can see the trunk of the coconut tree at the very left edge of the photo. We have decided that the trees are spaced a perfect distance apart to hang a hamáca (hammock) between them in the dry season. Our pila is to the right; this is where my site mate Andrea and I will be able to wash clothes by hand, simultaneously if we want, and keep a reservoir of water for when the indoor plumbing runs dry, which is almost every night after about 8pm. I know it doesn´t look like much yet, but can´t you see the potential? Space for a BBQ grill, herb garden, tiki torches lighting up our sanctuary at night…can´t wait to move in!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A MasterCard List...

Well it’s been 2 months in country, and I’ve managed to have more excitement in these past two months than perhaps in my whole life.

A short recap:

3 visits to the hospital (PC health system is phenomenal, I feel grateful to have this wonderful of coverage while I’m down here)
1 car accident (drunk drivers are never a good thing, thank goodness all my family escaped without a scratch—luck was definitely on our side)
1 crazy taxi driver that grazed me while fighting his way through traffic in the market
2 times I’ve been on TV, once in a news segment on Peace Corps volunteers in our town, once in a music video for a live band
16 the number of people my family was able to fit into a pickup truck to go to the bañario (pool)
2 clowns (yes, full dress and makeup) that asked for money on the bus
5 times I’ve cooked (or been allowed to cook) and help make food
4 cows that I’ve milked
6 charlas (lessons) that I’ve given in Spanish to Hondurans aged 6 to 30
15 hours (estimate) that I’ve spent hand-washing my clothes
52 mosquito bites that I currently have, and counting (if anyone has any remedies or suggestions, I’m all ears. I will rub garlic all over myself if that would help repel them!)
20+ the number of children in my town that regularly greet me as “profe”, short for “professor” or know my name and ask how I am/say “hello” in English
$3 a day, my current salary, soon to bump up to $7/day once I am finished with training. Think of me every time y’all get your chai or coffee for the day!
10 letters and cards I’ve received, keep ‘em coming!
Countless: number of times I’ve felt so grateful for the privileges I’ve had in my life and for this opportunity to mejorar (better) the lives of those here in Honduras

Great books I’ve finished/am reading

The Alchemist (fantastic book and wisdom on finding your path in life)
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters J.D. Salinger (great prose, lots of interesting connections to Asian literary influences and theater/arts)
Catch-22 (just started)

Awesome music I’ve been introduced to

Come Se Mata un Gusano – Grupo Santa Fe; one of the top songs from the past few years in Honduras, got to watch this band live and dance punta!
We No Speak Americano – the Spanish remixed rendition. Youtube it! It’s all the rage here :)
Amos Lee – awesome singer/songwriter
Digable Planets and Buena Vista Social Club – thanks to the awesome media sharing between PC volunteers, I’ve been introduced to lots of great new music. Suggestions are always appreciated! Or mixed CDs should you have time to make and send one ☺

As always, I’d love to hear about your lives and see pictures. Congrats on the many happy things coming up for people: graduation, college acceptances, engagements, new jobs…so proud of all my friends and family!

Hasta pronto,


Friday, April 15, 2011

7 weeks in Honduras!

My first time milking a cow, I drank some unpasteurized milk as well, so frothy and delicious! I have so much more appreciation for farmers (campesinos) and their livelihood, I definitely have a lot to learn here.

Washing clothes by hand in the pila (a concrete well/reservoir where we store water. We have no running water and the pila water needs to be rationed throughout the day). I've never encountered a better arm workout.

This is our health group! H-18 Salud has 17 people from all over the U.S., we range in age from 22-29 and have diverse work backgrounds. Here we are receiving the key to the town of Villa de San Antonio from the mayor. We have been doing field-based training in this town the last few weeks. We will spend 6 weeks here helping the community with various health projects and improving our Spanish and health knowledge.

One of the charlas (lessons) I gave about puberty and anatomical changes. The kids (boys aged 9-11) were so cute and bashful and we had fun making the drawing of "Mario" change as he hit puberty.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Peace Corps Training...Zarabanda, Honduras

I have been in the beautiful country of Honduras for almost a month now, and am just now making it to an internet cafe! Life here is relaxing, and I am definitely learning more about myself and how I adapt and react to challenges. A typical day for me is to wake up at 5:45am, make my bed, shower and get ready for the day, then have breakfast with my amazing host family around 6:15am. Breakfast often consists of beans, tortillas and cheese, or toast and beans, or fresh fruit, and I have even recently been allowed to use the kitchen to make eggs. There is also the infamous ¨mantequilla¨which is this white sauce similar to a mayonnaise/sour cream mix and it is put on EVERYTHING for EVERY MEAL. I´ve even seen people here put mantequilla on is definitely an acquired taste. After breakfast, I meet up with 4 other volunteers that live close to my house and we make the 10 minute walk to school, passing by people on horses, donkeys, children playing soccer, mothers cooking in outdoor ovens, dogs and cats and roosters every few steps. It is certainly rustic as we walk along paths and skirt around piles of horse dung and critters, meanwhile saying ¨Buenos Dias¨to every passerby.

Spanish classes begin at 7:30am, and I am in an intermediate level class, so we have been doing lots of practice talking and using the correct verb conjugations as well as learning tons of new vocabulary. I feel that every day, I learn 200 new words and probably retain about 10, so at this rate, I hope to be able to speak less broken Spanish in 2 years. :) We have lunch with all the other volunteers and it is always a fun hour, discovering what was packed for you by your host family. My lunches are always fantastic, usually including rice, some kind of meat and fruit as well as juice. Others aren´t as lucky and this has spawned a ¨Lunch finishers Club¨of hungry volunteers (usually guys that don´t get enough food) who will eat leftovers/unwanted food of other volunteers so that none of us throw any food away.

After lunch, we have project training which consists of learning about the health issues in Honduras and the various projects and initiatives Peace Corps has to address these health issues. We have just finished the Family Health unit where we learned how to lead charlas (lessons) in nutrition, common illnesses including diarrhea and pneumonia which are the leading causes of death in children under 5. We also planted a garden, helped build an improved stove, and learned to teach a healthy cooking class and also visited a local health center. Next week, we will move on to HIV/AIDS topics and move to a different site where we will be doing more hands on training.

I walk home after class around 5 and play with my 3 host sisters and 1 host brother...they are all under the age of 8, so you can imagine the fun we have with balls, games, frisbee, you name it. They are all in a bilingual private school so we also practice language and I ask them how to say words in Spanish and vice versa. We then have dinner around 6pm, do homework after, and go to bed around 8:30pm. It is nice to have a consistent schedule every week and not have to worry about bills or transportation or making meals. It is also frustrating to not have the freedom to go watch movies with new friends or choose what I eat for each meal. I am really loving my time so far though and have nothing to complain about, I am certainly excited for all the new possibilities of my life here.

As for some other interesting things that have happened here...I have gone to Catholic church every Sunday with my family, although I haven´t taken communion yet. My family also took me to La Tigra national park where I got to ride a horse and eat the famous ¨Mondongo¨soup which is a soup of vegetables and tripe, muy delicioso! I have attended 2 birthday parties, gone to a karoake night with all the other volunteers, and also taken the chicken bus to the capital and haggled for better prices for avocados and guavas (I could eat these two things every meal). I have already made some incredible relationships here and learned a lot about this country and I can´t wait to share more with you as time goes on. Please update me on your lives as you get a chance and keep in touch!

I will post pictures next time, hope you all have a wonderful rest of the month and Happy Spring Break!