Lauren's Peace Corps Experience in Honduras

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed and experiences described in this travelogue are mine personally. Nothing written here should be interpreted as official or unofficial Peace Corps literature or as sanctioned by the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. I have chosen to write about my experience online in order to update family and friends; I am earning no money whatsoever from this endeavor. Please do not copy or forward any of these contents without my permission.

Monday, November 20, 2017

2017 Update of the Membreno family!

Just an update with my new information!

I still have such fond memories of my Peace Corps experience! We still go to Honduras every 2 years to see my husband Lester's mother and brother and their families :)

We have 3 little boys now and moved to Richmond, VA. There are a lot of Central Americans in this area so we are still able to buy good tortillas and make baleadas! I have my own business with Mary Kay now, and learned a lot of my confidence and independence from my Peace Corpos experience.

Thanks for reading my Peace Corps story...

Lauren Membreno
Richmond, VA

Sunday, September 07, 2008

2008 Update

Hi all -

I just thought I should give people an update if they still check this. I never really finished writing about the last few events of my service, such as my going away parties and thank yous, and I'm not going to try now, with so much time gone by.

Since finishing my Peace Corps service in June, 2007, I've visited Dulce Nombre twice. I'm still with Lester, and he stayed with us up in the states for a few months after I moved to Baltimore. Dulce Nombre and the Santa Rosa area had changed in many ways after a year of absence, although most things were still the same. About a month after I left, the new library of Dulce Nombre opened its doors. Here's its new website! I urge you to find ways to support this project and other similar projects - they always need school supplies, money, costumes, and ideas.

The library is beautiful. Every time I have dropped in it has been full of young people reading, engaging in group activities, a meeting to start a debate team, or workshops on various topics. They have accomplished a lot in the year since they opened. Thanks Riecken Foundation, and more importantly, a great dedicated group of townspeople.

Dulce Nombre also has had several of its main roads paved - it looks great! They are also working on paving the 7 km between the town and the highway, which will hopefully make a big difference in bringing more business, resources, and quick access to the hospital to the town, although hopefully not more pollution and trash.

The first time I visited, in May 2008, I surprised everyone except Lester. I had to show up at my closest friends' houses within a couple hours of arrival so that word wouldn't spread before I got there. Lester's mom almost had a heart attack, as did Efrain, and the Profe, although I had to surprise her over the phone. It was very fun to sneak up on everyone like that! I had lost weight since leaving so everyone had to comment on that, and they updated me on everything that has happened. A few friends were no longer there, a few projects were no longer going on, but the women's group was somehow continuing and several other long term projects, such as the teniasis project I had started with the nurse and the Profe were finally bearing fruit.

As for me, I have finished my first year at the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Over the past year I have learned so much about so many things that I feel very fortunate and excited for what is to come. One more year to go :) I am torn between working in a nonprofit, going abroad and having more adventures, or moving to DC and starting a safe but interesting career. Only time will tell. Peace Corps set me on my way to studying public policy, and attempting to figure out ways in which to approach, analyze, and solve public problems.

I miss so many things about Peace Corps! I most of all miss my other PCVs, whom I've only managed to see a few of since COS - Sarah, Kattrina, Lauren D., and I may see Mike soon when he comes to DC. I hope to see Justin, Jenn, and my other favorite people soon, and hope that there is a reunion sometime soon. I also miss the freedom, the rich experiences, the laughs, the adventures, the adoration, the humiliation, and everything that makes up a wonderful Peace Corps experience. If you are considering it - DO IT. I hope to do it again someday!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back in the States...

Hi all! Well I don't know if anyone will be reading this now that I am back home, but I felt like I should go back and talk about my last few days there and about how it's been since I got home.

I hope I haven't forgotten too many of the details since I waited so long to write, but my last few days in Honduras were incredible. I felt so loved and appreciated. I had several goodbye get togethers. The first one was in late May, as I may have written about earlier. The women's group threw me a birthday/goodbye party all in one. They had games, gave me a small jewelry box, said a few words about how much they appreciated the projects I had helped do, and of course, there was much dancing and they made chow mein (which may seem odd to some of you, but the Hondurans love it). After that I spent about a week in Teguc for COS, a bunch of beaurocratic stuff, papers to get signed, bank accounts to close, interviews, description of service reports, etc. Luckily I was there the same time as Justin, another Hondu 5, and many Hondu 6s from the West that I knew. I stayed with Lauren Dickson in her apartment with her weiner dogs, and had a great time. We got sushi one night, another night we went to a mexican restaurant with great margaritas. I officially finished my Peace Corps service on June was bizarre. It really really went super fast, although many may not believe me. I loved it and I already miss the laidback lifestyle, my Honduran friends and PCV friends, speaking Spanish...and many other things.

After Teguc I went back to Dulce Nombre for 3 or 4 days because I really missed Lester (it took Justin and I two days to get back because we missed the last bus out of San Pedro Sula). After that I met up with Lauren and Jenn (in from Austin) to go to Joe and Emily's wedding in Utila, one of the bay islands. There were both PCVs, Joe from Hondu 6 and Emily from Hondu 7. It was fun hanging out with many PCVs from the west that went out to the islands, and a couple RPCVs came back to celebrate. Utila was beautiful and very laidback. The wedding was small and intimate, and Lauren and I, not being officially invited, went to the party afterwards.

After Utila, I had about 10 more days to spend in Dulce Nombre. It was bittersweet...every day it seemed like I was doing something for the next to last time, then the last time, and it was sad. Lester and I took advantage of our last few days together...he came back to Dulce almost every day after class instead of staying in Santa Rosa. I spent a lot of time with Kito and her puppy was hard leaving her because I know she was worried. Kito and I went out to Last Caleras at the school for my going away, and it was very moving. These women were very poor and made my small stove project seem like a very big deal. Each woman, 10 in all, stood up and spoke, and almost all of them broke down and cried in the middle of their speech. Many brought me a gift, a small cheap item, lovingly wrapped, and I know each gift came from their houses and meant a lot to them. There were two cakes there, and all the kids in the one-room-school classroom were very very excited about the was obvious the cake was a huge and rare treat for them. Cake was divided with care so that everyone got a piece, and you should have seen those cake boxes afterwards....every single speck of icing was hunted down by little fingers afterwards. The experience made me wish I had started work in Las Caleras earlier...I only spent my last few months out there with one small stove project, but the women had gotten very attached and I felt very cared for and loved. I hope Kito keeps working there.

Ok I am tired for now, but soon I will write about my two other goodbye events and final thoughts...g'night.

Monday, June 18, 2007

El Salvador and COS in Teguc...

Well last Wednesday I left Santa Rosa for San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, with a PCV friend named Cynthia. The trip went ok, just a minor problem at the border that stopped us long enough for our bus to leave, so we caught another, luxury bus the last 2 hours to San Sal.

San Salvador is an amazing city. Obviously all central american countries are not the same. The city feels much safer than Teguc, the drivers don´t honk their horns, the bus system is amazing and efficient and cheap, there is a lot of culture - great live music, museums, art, ballet and symphony, there are great bohemian type restaurants and fancy ones. Cynthia and I got there around 2 and set off to a bohemian cafe to have lunch. I then realized that my bank card had expired - had a minor freak out, and then called my parents so that they could western union me money, which was a first for me. Luckily I have great parents, and they did it right away. El Salvador actually uses dollars, which is a weird change for me. It makes things pricier there than in Honduras, but it seems to be helping business in the big cities - life in the country I hear is the same, the poor stay poor. We used lots of quarters, nickels, dimes and lots of pennies. We went to the mall and I bought some cute shirts at a Spanish store called Zara, which has really great clothes. The first night we asked around and found a great cozy place called something like Luna Casa de Arte, it´s pretty famous and they are known for great live music and good food. We walked in and paid a small cover, choose a little table right off the little stage, and ordered mojitos and food. It was a dark room, the tables were lit by candles, and most people were sitting in couches with low tables and chatting quietly waiting for the performers. Not long after 2 guys, one older and one young, got up on their stools and started playing some excellent acoustic guitar and singing original songs. The older guy talked a lot about El Salvador´s revolution in the 90s and how it has formed the identity of the people. The younger guy talked a lot about love and how he got into writing music. They were both really talented. The second day we got up early and had breakfast and set off for the museums. The bus system is highly efficient, we used the city buses to go everywhere, and it´s a big city. It cost 25 cents a ride, but in comparison, taxis cost 3-5 dollars. The art museum was EXCELLENT. I don´t know that much about art, especially latin american art, but the museum was very nice. There are many famous El Salvadorian artists because during the cold war, many European artists fled to latin america and they left many influences. I took lots of pictures of the art. We spent a good 2 hours there and then went to the anthropology museum, which was nice, but not anything better than the ones I´ve seen in Copan and other places in Honduras. We then set off for the town center to see where the Jesuit priest was martyred during the revolution in ´89 and the huge cathedral. I wasn´t feeling too good because we hadn´t eaten and I had a stomach bug and it was hot, plus the first bank we went to wouldn´t give me my money transfer because the computer said Lauren Mohlie Mohlie, and that´s not what my passport said...ugh. So we had to go to the headquarters. We stopped by the mall to use internet, and it was like a little haven after a long day. We didn´t have much time because we wanted to get back to the room and shower and get to the free symphony at 7 pm that we had found out about at the art museum. We finally made it and thoroughly enjoyed the classical music...geez it was different from Honduras...people appreciating classical music, wow. They played Brahms and Beethoven, and I especially enjoyed one piece that they did with a classical guitarist and it sounded very latin, kinda like a classical piece from Zorro, just nice to feel the culture influencing the music. The director was a guest from Panama. So we really enjoyed San Salvador.

The second two days in El Sal we spent near La Libertad, the famous surfing beach about 45 minutes from the capital. We actually stayed about 15 minutes from La Libertad, a ´gringo´hangout called El Tunco. We were some of the only guests that didn´t go to surf but it was still nice. Good seafood, fun to hang out on the beach. It was a black beach, because of the volcanoes. I wanted to try surfing but they had had a big swell a few days before, eroding the beach and creating a big undertow and a bad environment for learning, so until next time for me. It was fun hanging out with travelers from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Europe.

From there we left on Sunday to go back to Teguc. To make a long long trip short, we spent 12 hours on the bus, changed buses 7 times, and only made it to La Paz, Honduras, because we chose a dirt road to come back to Honduras (to make Cynthia´s trip shorter, we thought). Big mistake. I had to leave at 5:30 the next morning to make it to Teguc by 9 to start Close of Service (COS), my official ending of my PC service. It was surreal, how quickly 2 and a half years have passed! I finally got to know the PC headquarters ironically, where everyone (including my manager´s) offices were. I live 8 hours from the central PC office so I have only gone a couple of times and don´t know my way around much like the volunteers who live close to Teguc do. COS was a long line of beaurocratic things to do to end your service. This included: medical stuff (urine and 3 stool samples, yay, pap smear, exams, blood tests, blah blah), closing bank accounts, signing waivers, writing reports (Description of Service document, my project evaluations, my 6 month report, my evaluation of my site), going to the dentist, my spanish language interview, interview with my boss and the country director, filling out surveys, etc etc. It was a lot of stuff. Everyone doing COS that week was as exhausted as I was. Luckily I was staying with Lauren instead of the hotel and it´s so much better because I can relax, use internet, watch tv with her, go out to eat, she has a car and gave me rides, got laundry done, and just basically chilled.

Thursday I finally finished and went back towards DNC, got stuck in San Pedro Sula with my traveling buddy Justin because the late bus left, and finally got back to Dulce Nombre on Friday and saw Lester. I was so so happy to be back, and just rested for like 2 days. I had planned to just stay in Teguc with Lauren and then go with her to Utila this Wednesday, but I decided to spend a couple days back home. It´s nice to be here for a few days. Tomorrow I am gonna spend the night in Santa Rosa and go out, and then Wednesday I´ll meet up with Lauren to pick up our friend Jenn from the airport and we will drive to Ceiba for the night. Thursday through Saturday we will be in Utila, one of the carribbean islands of Honduras. I am excited because I´ve never been, we went to Roatan. We are going because two of our PCV friends are getting married! Joe and Emily. We aren´t going to the actual wedding because it is intimate for just family (they have too many friends), but we will be around on the island for the celebration part! It is fun because lots of PCVs who have already returned to the states, like Jenn, are coming back for those days because they knew Joe or Emily and wanted to be here, so for me it´s nice to see people again and say goodbye to others. My last 10 or so days after Utila will be spent back in Dulce Nombre in packing, goodbye parties, and giving presents and making preparations for departure on July 5th! It´s so weird to be leaving...

Well, love to all, can´t wait to see you!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My 25th Birthday!

Birthdays here are pretty special. I spent my birthday last year in the states so I didn´t really get to experience it last time. I got so many calls and hugs and "congratulations!" here that it was really nice. On Saturday Lester and I drove to Copan Ruinas and had a nice relaxing time´s such a cute town and so close to Dulce Nombre and feels like another world! Lots of Americans and Europeans walking around, great restaurants, good music, fun shopping. We went to Via Via to say hi to my friend Eric who´s bartending there for 2 months before he leaves with Justin on a Central America trip, and then we went to a restaurant and got this huge shishkabob to share with all the sides, and I splurged on a piña colada with millions of calories. He gave me my present which was a nice pair of jeans - the "latest fashion" he said. Can you imagine an American guy daring to buy a pair of jeans for a girl? I can´t. But they are very cute. Sunday we had a great breakfast at Via Via and then I bought some souvenirs to take home with me - I want some stuff in my Baltimore place that remind me of Honduras. I got a pretty flower vase and two mugs and a colorful fabric. Sunday we just drove back and had a chill day...Kito and I spent several hours reading in my house and periodically playing with the pup.

Monday, which was my actual birthday, I got up imagining I had nothing to do but get ready for a workshop the next day. I got a phone call from a young woman up in Barrio Morazan asking if I was still planning to go to the kindergarten that day. I had completely forgotten I had agreed to go! So I called up Kito bc I wanted her to meet the kinder people and we went. It turned out to be a birthday party for me put on by the teacher and moms and kids. It was so cute! The kids are the most adorable things you could ever see. There was another little girl Cecilia turning 5 the same day so we shared the party. I got lots of hugs. They had a piñata, food, a cake, and goodie bags! It was really nice of them. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. Vita will be making me a birthday dinner later this week because she hasn´t had a night free.

Yesterday we had a workshop I had been looking forward to for a long time. Paul´s friend, Devana from Chile, agreed to come and talk to a group of 25 women about gender, women and work, gender differences, domestic violence, and how women can work together. It was a great workshop. The NGO Asanog helped us out with snacks and lunch for the women. The women really liked the topic I think and we had some good discussions. It got me fired up to work in that area, creating some kind of safe house in Dulce Nombre for women and setting up a Municipal office for women...but I am leaving. It´s up to Kito to keep it going if she decides to. I hope the group stays together....many women who came don´t usually attend workshops and aren´t used to working together...women from different statuses, political parties, religions. So it was incredible to see them doing skits together yesterday, playing cames, having discussions.

Well I gotta go. I just wanted to tell a little about my birthday week. Lots of love to you all!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hangin´out in Dulce Nombre...

Well hi to is feelin´good right now. It´s a breezy lazy Friday afternoon and I feel like I was very productive this week with wrapping up projects and feel like I almost am on a vacation, coasting through my last few weeks. It´s been fun showing Kito around and introducing her to people, hanging out with her and our puppy in the afternoons and being silly...did I write about our pup, Maní? She´s my niece, or better to say, I´m her aunt, and Kito´s her mom. I take her at night cuz Kito´s with a host family. It´s making my like dogs a lot more...I guess I just got used to having cats even though I like dogs, but now I am starting to get used to having a dog too.

Today we walked out to an aldea, Las Caleras, to supervise 10 stoves that the women made this was my last supervision and it went quick since there were so few. We walked there and back, no rides passed by...but as it´s the closest aldea, it was only an hour walk each way. It felt good, the weather was nice, and except for the occasional trucks passing by and lifting up a cloud of dust, Kito and I enjoyed our chatting. It´s weird walking around speaking English with someone...everyone looks at us funny, and rightly so. But yeah, I am finished with the stove project! We made 116 stoves with the money from my friends and family (a bit over $2000) and the $200 from the University of Maine. This little old lady who we visited today to see her new stove was sooo soo happy to see us and couldn´t stop thanking me. She kept saying how much she had needed a stove and had prayed for help from God, and He sent two little "gringitas" to help. She was so sincere I felt the tears coming on, she was just so cute and happy. She sent us away with some bananas for the road, a gift to show her gratitude. All I have left to do is write up the evaluation of the project and sent it to Peace Corps.

Other than that I have been enjoying my last few weeks here. I have helped some in the library, last night with a parents of the youth group meeting (they are trying to start bi-monthly adult meetings for fellowship, reading, activities and snacks). I have been planning a women´s workshop for next tuesday, the 29th, that I am excited about. It´ll be a workshop with 30 or so women, about gender and work, women and men, gender and self-esteem, etc. A woman from Chile I met while in Santa Rosa is coming to give the workshop - she travels all over Honduras talking to women. I just had to get the women there, a locale, find funds for the lunches and snacks, and find a projector. An NGO named ASANOG agreed to fund the food for the women. So that´s next week. I think this weekend I may go to Copan Ruinas with Lester to celebrate my birthday and just get away for a bit. Other news, there´s a new internet place in town! Which is where I am. It costs 15 Lps instead of 20 Lps like the other place, and the connection is a little bit faster, and more importantly, it´s right by the church, so much closer to me - although the walk to the other one was good for me. Kito is excited. It´s good to see a little bit of progress. Now what I would love to see are paved roads, trash cleanups, and a reliable water system. But good internet is a start.

One sad thing that has started up for me is now whenever I see friends or people I know in the street, the first thing they say is, "When are you leaving?" or "I thought you had left already!"...they look very concerned, but still, I´d like to enjoy my last time here instead of being constantly reminded! Denial is good :)

I have been using more internet lately looking on Craigslist for an apartment and looking at cars, and I think I may have an apartment in Baltimore. It looks nice and the girl I have been corresponding with went to visit it this week and liked it a lot. So that´s exciting :) I´ve been busy at that but it still seems unreal, to be living in the states and all that. It´s hard to imagine. I´m sure once I´m there I´ll adapt quickly, but sitting here in Dulce Nombre, in my little internet cafe with a fan blowing on me and hearing the roosters crow outside, it seems unreal.

Well lots of love to all...I´ll try to write more soon!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fun times...

Hi family and friends,

I have been busy the last couple weeks, what a change! Kitomile, or Kito as we all call her, arrived about 2 weeks ago and it´s been fun having a site mate for a bit. She is adapting really well so far I think. I have taken her to some of the aldeas for stove demonstrations, brick and supply transportations, stove supervisions, a health fair in Veracruz where we did charlas on dental hygiene, exercise, and hand washing to the kids. We went out to Oromilaca for stove supervisions and we found her a puppy there, whom we named Maní, which means peanut. Since Kito is living with a family I agreed to take care of the puppy at night, which has been more work than I imagined! She is just like a baby, crying when left alone and peeing all over the place. But she is cute at least.

Hey, I´ll have to write a bit more later cuz I have to go...Reina, the lady who helps me with projects here, is throwing me a birthday lunch here today I think (although she didn´t tell me what the event was she invited me to, but I suspect). The people are sweet to me here and I will miss them! I will write more later...sorry so short. Love to all!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Winding down...storms....other observations

Hi all! I feel like it´s been a while since I´ve written. Well, I just wanted to comment on a few things. One, it´s so weird to me that I only have a month of work left...May´s pretty much all I have, and then June I´ll still be here but traveling El Salvador, a week in Teguc for Close of Service, and then a few days in the islands for a PCV´s exciting but also disturbing about how fast two years have flown by.

I got stuck in this mini-hurricane about two weeks ago when I was walking back to Dulce Nombre from an aldea and I never did write about it online...I wrote about it in my journal though and since I´m feeling lazy I will add the story next time and bring my journal with me.

I have been mainly working on finishing the stove last demonstration is next week in Las Caleras and then I have to do supervision in Oromilaca, where I did the demonstration with my dad, and that´s it! The new volunteer Kito comes here in two days and I am very excited to work with her and introduce her to Dulce Nombre. It really has been a great place to work, with all it´s problems and frustrations, but compared to many other sites, it´s wonderful. it´s a small place that´s easy to get to know people in, but big enough for basic comforts and close to Santa Rosa. I liked being the only volunteer in my made me improve my Spanish and make some amazing Honduran friends. The other main thing I have been working on is getting the application ready to apply for funds to do an orchard project...I found 26 families and measured each of their yards with an engineer from the library committee and figured out that we can put in 927 fruit trees (mandarin, orance, avocado, lemon, nance (a disgusting fruit that they love here) amd some others). I am excited about it. The funds come from the Honduran government and USDA, so I am getting everything ready...the budget, history, and other parts, so that when Kito gets here we can send it together...she will be the one managing it. It´s been a good bit of work but fun visiting the families and talking up tree planting and improving the earth....if the funds get approved I will be responsible for almost a thousand more trees in the world :) Deforestation is a huge problem here...and it´s much better that the fruit will nourish the families and provide a small income as well.

I was running the other day and I started to reflect on how typical it is that running becomes a completely unique experience in Honduras...every few minutes a car passes and kicks up a huge cloud of dust, making my hold my breath and run with my eyes closed for about 15 seconds. Then there´s dodging the piles of manure in the streets, the kids waving and shouting "Lauren!" and the landmarks I look for...the soccer field, the huge rocky hill by the cementary, the fork in the road, the central park of Concepcion, the house where the old man always throws me a cat call. I will surprisingly miss much of this, when I am running on the boring clean streets of my neighborhood in Baltimore in relative anonymity. Or maybe I will cherish the experience in the states as well. We shall see.

Well I gotta sign out...Lester is waiting for me right now to go get something to eat. We came into Santa Rosa to pay the light bill at the bank, buy groceries, pick up his passport from the visa office (he got it renewed!) , use internet (as we speak), pick up the tops of the stove chimneys, and get my silver necklace cleaned...a full day :) Btw, I made some delicious calzones last night...I was very proud of myself!! Lots of love to all.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dad´s Visit to Honduras in March

Here is a blog entry written by my dad about his visit a couple weeks ago! Enjoy...

Honduras Travelogue, by Lauren's Dad

OK, no more procrastination!!! Here are the highlights of my 11-day visit to Dulce Nombre and elsewhere last month.
Unlike last year, the planes ran on time and I made it to San Pedro Sula without losing a day. And there to meet me was my lovely daughter. Who could ask for more?
Instead of a practical car for Honduras roads like an SUV, we rented a Chevrolet Corsa subcompact which hit bottom every time we went over a rock or hump. Miraculously, we didn't lose our muffler, but did need to have an auto body shop touch up some scratches before we could return the car.
Driving to Dulce Nombre, I found the countryside more beautiful than I had remembered it, especially the brilliantly green hills and mountains you see on finally entering the Lauren's town. It was supposed to be the warm season, but we were fortunate to have unseasonably comfortable weather the whole trip. That night and almost every other night we had a delicious Honduran dinner at Vita's house with corn tortillas, home made salsa, beans, chicken, plantains, coffee and some other foods I can't remember.
If Lauren was trying to impress me, it really worked because the next day had a packed schedule. We went to the temporary library to deliver the DVDs donated by girl scout troop 205, which were very much appreciated by the kids and librarian. Then we met Glen Evans, who had brought a cornucopia of treasures with him in his SUV. He had a sewing machine to be used to alter a bunch of donated clothes he had brought earlier, a computer, and some children's shoes (which are a mandatory for any child wishing to attend school). Next, we went with Glen to the Profe's house for coffee and to discuss Glen's different projects in Honduras. Glen is an inspiration, first devoting his life to helping immigrants in Northern Virginia, then later making regular trips to Honduras to help their families and other needy people in the country. His strategy for helping Hondurans consists of supporting local artists and small businesses with seed money and then finding a market for their goods in Honduras or the US. He had paid a Honduras shoemaker to produce the children's shoes he brought. After using the sewing machine to alter the clothes he brought, the clothes will be sold to fund other projects. We all had a great far-ranging discussing of how to tackle the peoples' most pressing problems.
The next day Lauren and I walked to Oromilaca to help build 2 stoves there and thereby to teach a new group of women how this is done. Oromilaca is 2 hours away by foot, with some steep climbs up and down. The walk took us past some beautiful mountain views and we crossed a pretty river on a footbridge. We went with Reina and Leti, 2 women whom Lauren had helped to build stoves previously in their own homes. I had thought that Dulce Nombre was small, with all dirt roads and only one cobblestone road. However, we walked through progressively smaller villages before reaching Oromilaca, which has only deeply rutted paths between a couple of dozen adobe brick huts. A few months ago, the hamlet was cut off, when the only road to the outside world was buried by a landslide. Now the only way in or out is by foot or on horseback.
Lauren supervised the stove building in one of the homes, while Reina and Leti supervised building the other stove. The husband in each home had already built platform of bricks sealed together with adobe. The husbands then kept preparing more adobe from mud in the yard to keep the women builders supplied while the women did the rest of the building. Lauren made sure that all the women she was working with dug in and got their hands dirty. After about 2 hours both stoves were finished and the new owners were extremely pleased. One of the women fixed us a nice lunch and loaned us the family's horse for Lauren and me to take turns riding home.
Before we left, Lauren asked if anyone wanted to see the doctor, and soon there was a small crowd. Fortunately, I had Lauren to translate. The main complaint of the children I saw was chronic chest congestion and cough, which turned out to be asthma in every instance. Many of these cases probably would never have developed, had the families had proper stoves to direct smoke outside of their homes. None of the children had ever been diagnosed correctly or given an inhaler. Several of the women had been prescribed medicines for various problems, whereas their real trouble was anxiety. After a few patients, Lauren knew the whole spiels about asthma and anxiety, so I could just tell her to give the spiel and she was off and running.
Later, I checked Leti's father who had been prescribed several breathing medicines for his shortness of breath. True, he always was getting short of breath after walking 50-100 meters uphill, but this was associated with chest pain, pain in both arms and profuse sweating. I prescribed some nitroglycerine pills to take for his angina pectoris before walking up the hill. Lauren is going to try to get him seen the next time a medical brigade from the US comes to the country.
I listened to the heart of Reina's daughter, because she was getting short of breath with only minor exertion. Unfortunately, she has atrial fibrillation and a heart murmur from congenital heart disease or rheumatic fever. Lauren is going to try to get the girl seen by a pediatric heart brigade to arrange for surgery at the proper time.
Vita's 84-year-old mother had to come and stay with her because she was tired and sleeping all the time. It turns out she was on excessive doses of anxiety medicines, which she probably didn't even need. She also had a letter from an eye doctor recommending a cornea transplant for bad vision that she has in one eye. She has a bad cornea due to previous botched cataract surgery. Cornea transplants are highly specialized procedures and would not normally be recommended for someone of such advanced age even in the US. Doing it in Honduras would have been extremely risky and would have used the family's life savings as well. Fortunately, the mother has good vision in the other eye and copes quite well. She was really relieved when I told her she didn't need the surgery.
The people in outlying villages have great difficulty getting access to medical care. In many cases, seeing a doctor requires a long walk and taking a bus for several hours into a larger town. Many of the people are unable to afford the bus ride. Then, if they do see a doctor, they are unable to afford their prescriptions. However, there is an ever bigger problem. Of all the people I examined on my trip, not a single one had been diagnosed correctly or given the right medicines. The patients and families do not receive even rudimentary education about their illnesses or the reasons for taking their medications. There is obviously a need for better medical training in Honduras.
After these two action-packed days everything really slowed down to a pace that is apparently more typical of peace corps life. We took several walks through the Dulce Nombre and Lauren introduced me to some of the other players in the town. One of these was Luis, a former alcoholic, who now runs the AA program on a volunteer basis. In addition to preaching sobriety, he is encouraging the men to be more responsible husbands. He also goes to the schools to talk to the kids about alcohol abuse. Luis's real job is repairing shoes. When the children's shoes that Glen brought need resoling, Luis will be available to do this. One day Lauren, Vita and I drove to a pretty village named La Campa where they have a nice museum devoted to Lenca pottery and several shops where we could buy some pottery for ourselves. One night Lauren, Lester, Jairo (Lester's brother), Vita and I drove to a nice park and soaked for a few hours in the hot springs there.
On day 5 of the trip, Lauren and I met her boy friend Lester and drove into Santa Rosa for the 2nd annual Peace Corps Volunteer Cantina Crawl. Lauren's friend, Lauren Dickson had arrived from Tegucigalpa earlier for the occasion. I enjoyed meeting some of the other volunteers and was impressed with all of them. I've never met a group of young people with such promising futures. Inside the Peace Corps House was a copy of Alli no mas, sort of a year book for all the PCVs in Honduras (note by Lauren: it´s a quarterly publication written by PCVs). It was a joy to read, especially a very funny article by Lauren Mohlie on the interpretation of dreams. Lauren also had a more serious article on how Honduran nationals can successfully get approved for visas to visit the US, based on her experiences helping Lester with his visa. Lauren was given her own copy of "Justin and Eric's Greatest Hits, the Collector's Edition," which had some great instrumentals, lousy singing by Justin and Eric, and two fabulous songs with Lauren as soloist.
The cantina crawl had 10 planned stops with points awarded for answering trivia questions and hard drinking. I'm embarrassed to say that I only made to 2 stops before I called it quits and walked back to our hotel for the night. The good news is that I was probably the only one without a hangover the next day.
The next day Lauren and I dropped Lauren Dickson off in San Pedro Sula to catch a bus back home to Tegucigalpa. Lauren and I then drove 4-5 hours further to a hotel in La Ceiba. This is Honduras's 3rd largest city and has lots of American retirees. We had a nice dinner surrounded by other Americans at place called Expatriates.
Next morning (day 7 of the trip), we drove about 1 hour and met Mark Merritt so he could drive us the rest of the way to his hospital in Balfate. He has an SUV, which crossed and couple of small streams on the way without problems. After heavy rains, the streams become rivers and no one is able to cross until the water goes down. After an hour, we came to the gates of the hospital, Loma de Luz.
The hospital is one of only 2 accredited hospitals in the country and provides the only medical care between Balfate and La Ceiba. The facilities are modern, with outpatient exam rooms, operating rooms and hospital beds. Besides Mark, there are 3 or 4 other physicians, including a cardiologist and a surgeon. Heidi, Mark's wife, is a trained xray tech and is responsible for running the xray department. Despite the excellent facilities and doctors, they have been having trouble finding quality nurses and staff. Also, the patients frequently cannot afford to buy the medicines they need. Heidi made us a delicious lunch and we got to see the nice house where the Merritts will soon move. Mark gave me some nitroglycerine pills for Leti's father and later I bought some inhalers in La Ceiba for the asthmatic kids we had seen.
The final 3 days of the trip seemed as if Lauren and I had magically been transported to another world. We stayed in the lap of luxury at the Pico Bonito Lodge in the rain forest of Pico Bonito National Park. Highlights included delicious food, white water rafting, hikes to swim in mountain waterfalls and pools and sightings of beautiful tropical birds, mixed in with and lots of relaxing. And, just like that, the trip was over and I was on the way home.
The best part of the whole trip was getting to spend so much time with Lauren. With her about to continue her education and then start her career, this may be most quality time we'll ever have together. No matter what the future holds, I'll always treasure this special time we had.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back to reality!

Hi all!

So I am back from a great trip with my was awesome. He came on Monday the 12th and left this past Friday...about 11 days in all. I will let him tell you about it (he´ll be posting about what he thought of the whole thing), but I´ll just say that I was glad to have him see more of Honduras than he did the last time he was here. He is also the only visitor I have actually taken out to the villages to work - he went with me on a two hour hike out to this tiny remote town to do a stove demonstration and he took some doctor stuff and examined about 15 people out there, which they were really appreciative of because doctors never go out there. We had a luxurious time out at the Lodge at Pico Bonito, which I HIGHLY recommend! Great hiking, swimming in pristine rivers, awesome food...Chris Cole can attest to the fact, cuz he is the only other person who has taken me there! It´s a great place. I think dad really liked the hikes, did some bird watching, and we met some interesting travelers.

Now that I am back I have to dispel all the rumors that I had left for good - this always happens whenever I leave town. People see me and they are super surprised - "YOU´re still here??" they say. Yes, thanks, I am still here. Today we gave out the shoes that Glen Evans from Arlington had brought, and let me say, it was priceless to see the kids´happy faces. They were sooo content to have a pair of new shoes for school. Glen is doing great work here (I think dad will write about him because he got to meet him). If you are looking for a great cause to support, go to and donate. This time he brought 57 pairs of shoes for kids attending schools, last time he brought 13 sacks of use clothes for the women´s group to sell to start their co-op tree growing business, and he has also brought 2 computers for the library, and paint.

Next week is Semana Santa - holy week. The only week of the year most Hondurans have off. I also get vacation but I am so nice that I offered to give up 3 days of it to help with training the new group of health volunteers in the town of La Paz. I am going to teach them how to make the stoves and also talk to them during a session with my counterpart the Profesora about counterpart relations and how to work with NGOs in their sites. The rest of the week I am hoping to go somewhere with Lester´s family and go swimming...that´s the tradition here. Everyone asks you during Semana Santa - "Have you gone swimming yet?". They go to rivers, water parks, lakes, the beach, hot springs, whatever they can get. They take food, blankets, music, and family and friends.

I have to choose my grad school in the next week or two. It´s turned out to be a tough decision. I will let you know :)

Well hopefully dad will not procrastinate too long and will write about our trip soon! Thanks to all the Girl Scout Troop 205 for the DVDs for the library, and Blanca also (your movies found some fans here!), and Patty Prout as well! We have a full shelf of some great family movies to show at the library - they´ve already had one showing, of Lil Rascals. Thanks to Grandma for her memoirs, and mom for all the yummy food and special things you sent down with dad! I will be home before you know it...