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.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Saturday fun

Well, I'm back. It's so nice I can just hop online whenever and I don't have to find someone to walk with me because I am only a block away! So I thought I'd drop in and write about my day.

As I said before, I went on a family outing today. I had a very nice time with my family. About 20 of us went in one pickup (I sat in the front) and drove the 15 minutes to the camp where the father works. It's sort of a fenced in community with a grocery store and cinema and restaurant and there's a pool for the employees. He is the supervisor of this place. Well we all unloaded our stuff and brought in the food and while the mother was cooking the rest of us went to see El Cajon. I had the wrong idea of what it is before. It is this huge dam sort of like the Hoover dam. According to my father it supplies most of Honduras with electricity. Now pardon my ignorance and untechnical language, but if I understood the father's Spanish, El Cajon was built from the 60s and finished in 1985. Several men died during the construction, including the cousin of my family. There are 7 tunnels that the water runs through to create the electrical power. The dam created a large lake (not Lake Yohoa, a different one). It was beautiful because we were so high up and a river runs into it and the other side is a huge lake surrounded by mountains. And get this, there were huge crocodiles swimming in the lake! I took lots of pictures. It definitely felt like an Indiana Jones moment. Well you will all see what I am talking about when I send my pictures home but it was really neat.

Afterwards we returned to the little cottage and had a great feast of carne asada (grilled steak), pico de gallo, tortillas, refried beans, avocado, queso, and salad. Then we walked off to the pool. I was a little worried about wearing a bathing suit because all the women were wearing shirts and shorts in the water. But I had worn a one-piece and I asked my family and they said what I had on was fine. So I stood out a little bit but it wasn't anything too out of the ordinary. There was a water slide and a diving board, and I raced my teenage host brother a few times (later finding out he has asthma which probably explains why I won the underwater ones). The family played cards and watched the younger children. It was really pleasant.

I came home and jumped in the shower, which is pleasantly cold in this climate. When I came to the internet cafe just now I ran into two other aspirantes, Angela and Michael, and I think after I write this I am going to stroll over to Michael's house and hang out before dinner.

Well I hope all is well at home and I miss you :) Keep praying for me! I am having a great time though. Honduras is beautiful and exciting.

It's Saturday and life is good

Hi friends and family!

Well it's a beautiful Saturday morning here in Santa Cruz. The busyness of the week has been forgotten momentarily and I am enjoying having 2 days ahead of me to relax. At 11 this morning my family is taking me to El Cajon, which from what I have heard is a dam/waterfall/swimming hole that is supposed to be beautiful. I think it also powers electricity to the area around it, although when it was built it was intended to do much more, so it was considered a failure. But from all accounts it is gorgeous and a must to bring your camera. I have my bathing suit on and I'm ready to go :) My mom is preparing steak to grill (carne asada) and a large spread to go with it. So I'll tell you all about it!

Yesterday was a momentous day. My first real charla! In true Honduran form, we ended up waiting at least an hour for any of the youth to show up, and when they did it was only half the size we expected. So Lauren and I gave our charla to 3 young guys, ages varying from 15ish, 18, and 20. We had a blast. Within the first minute our nervousness went away and we realized we had some great youth in front of us. One reminded me of Ian, because when he introduced himself he said his favorite thing to do is praise God with his voice and his guitar. Also, and this really got me to the point of tears, he said his uncle had died of AIDS a few years ago. He said he believed that if his uncle had heard a charla on HIV/AIDS, he might have lived. That's why he was there, so he could learn as much as possible and prevent other deaths. It really gave new value to what I am doing here, hearing a story like that. Another youth about 18 was a jokester, and knew a surprising amount about HIV already, although none of them knew the answers to our pop quiz before the charla, and they knew afterwards. We just had a good time - we did lots of interactive activities with them, and we had them debating different forms of transmission, how risky certain behaviors are (from a french kiss, holding hands, a mosquito bite, to unprotected sex and a mother with AIDS breastfeeding). After the charla, which lasted about an hour and a half to 2 hours, we got them started on making their own charla materials. The younger quieter one we discovered loved making the puppets, another one had very nice handwriting and could draw, and the other we taught how to trace so that he could get past his unartisticness. I really hope they show up on Monday to give the charla to the 6th graders. If they can't come, Lauren and I will do it again, which is fine too, because it is fun to do this. To see lightbulbs go off in their heads and be surprised about learning things completely opposite to what they thought (for example, many kids are taught that condoms are not anywhere close to reliable, less than 50% as opposed to the actual 99% reliability when used correctly-they are also taught that bad people puncture condoms, and it is pretty safe to say that these beliefs come from the fact that this is a strongly conservative culture, where abstinence is the only way. But meanwhile kids are doing what kids do, and contracting diseases and getting pregnant and creating a whole host of problems). Anyway that's the end of my shpeal. But let me just finish and say that it was a great experience yesterday. And now I feel more motivated to get through all of the projects that had me feeling overwhelmed earlier.

Well I just wanted to share that with you. I am hoping to have a great weekend, just winding down and hanging out with my host family and as always, working on my Spanish. I hope you all have an equally pleasant weekend, and I'll write again soon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Sweatin' FBT

Hi everyone!

Well I am definitely enjoying the AC in this internet cafe because it is very hot outside today. I really like Santa Cruz but it feels much more tropical and hot, with lots of palm trees and banana and mango trees around. Last night it apparently poured for a while but I didn't hear it because I had my trusty ear plugs in to block out the crazy roosters and hyperactive dogs who bark all night.

My living sitation got figured out. I am staying with the same family and it actually worked out well because now I have my own private room and bathroom in the back of their house - the have a suite the rent out and I am staying in it. It seems pretty new, and has a double bed, tile floor, a ceiling fan, an old tv, and the bathroom has a sink, toilet and shower! The shower is cold this time but since it is so hot here I don't mind, especially now that I can roam around my room in my towel - PC really lets you appreciate the little things. I still plan to spend most of my free time in the main house with the family though so I can get to know them and practice my Spanish. They were very happy I was staying with them. She said she prayed to the "Senor" (Lord) that I would stay so I could keep her 25 year old daughter company. The mom sells food for takeout to people and so far my meals have been very good, very colorful with a lot of variety and yay, vegetables, but she really piles it on my plate, so I can't usually finish.

I am happy that I now have kids in my household, although I left most of my games back at my house in Siguatepeque since I wasn't expecting kids. The 2 year old girl Selene is really cute and chubby, and resembles me when I was her age. The 9 year old Cesar is hyperactive but always smiling. My host mom Stephania's husband is very sweet too, constantly doting on his granddaughter, and it is nice to see the family sentiment in a Honduran man. I taught them how to play UNO, which they like and it's amusing to watch them play. I think this weekend they want to take me to El Cajon, which is a large dam of some kind that is supposed to be very beautiful if not functional. My house has a telephone so if you would like to call me you can do so any night after 7 my time, when it is pretty certain I'll be home. Mom has the number now.

This week we have been working in partners to prepare an HIV/AIDS charla we will be giving to a group of youth called Castillo del Rey on Friday. Me and my friend who's also named Lauren are working together and have made a bunch of funny puppets to explain different ideas. We have a "Super Condom" guy who saves the day, some little monsters who represent the AIDS virus, and little "Flu" and "Diarrhea" guys who attack the human body when the "White Blood Cells" get decimated by the AIDS guys. The charla will last about 2 hours including all the fun activities we have planned, and then each pair of us will teach 5 youth how to give the charlas themselves. We will help them make their displays and plan their activities, and then on Monday we will watch them give the charla to a group of 6th graders. It should be fun to see happen! Lauren and I still have some work to do to prepare, and have to practice what we will be saying in Spanish, but I think we will do fine. We are both very energetic and goofy so I think the youth will feel at ease with us.

Well I don't know what more to say. I am happy though tired at the moment. The heat saps your energy and also we have been working hard today figuring out our charlas, so I am ready to go home and relax. I love you all and think of you every night! God bless :)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hi from FBT at Santa Cruz de Yohoa!

Hey everyone :)

I just arrived today to my new home for the next month. This morning I packed about half of my things and said goodbye to my Siguatepeque family at about 7 a.m. Both my sisters cried when they said goodbye, and made me promise to write to them. What a great family!

We all climbed on the bus, both the water/san and health groups, and passed the following hour by reading a copy of the Onion someone had been sent and voting on who we think is the hottest: Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Zeta Jones, Halle Berry (my pick), Angelina Jolie, and Katie Holmes - I believe Halle and Angelina won.

On the way we passed the beautiful Lake Yohoa. It's like the Great Lake of Honduras, huge and blue. The area surrounding my town is much greener and more tropical than Siguat, and not as dry and dusty. It's also a lot hotter. A little farther at about 9:30 a.m. we arrived in Santa Cruz, and the health people got off (the Water people continued to Santa Barbara for their FBT). Santa Cruz has about 10,000 people in the center and then several thousand surrounding it, so it's a lot smaller than Siguat. There's nothing like a subtle community entry. 20 gringos got off the bus, gathered their mountain of belongings, walked a block to the central park, and sat there looking lost and confused until our host families came and found us. We totally blended.

A lady came up to us and after some chatting I figured out that the lady who was supposed to take me in had totally forgotten about our arrival because her son had just won the candidacy for mayor the day before in the Honduran primaries and had been really busy campaigning and stuff. She also owns a grocery store. So she didn't have my room prepared and for some reason it was going to take 5 days (I think she mentioned something about painting) so she sent her sister to come and get me. So I walked less than a block from the central park (it's awesome how close I am to everything!) and met my temporary family and saw my temporary room, which is very nice. There is a 2 year old girl, a 9 year old boy, their mom, and then their mom's parents, who own the house. My room is nice with a double bed, a fan, a television with remote, and dresser. I think my temporary host mom cooks and sells her food. While I hung out a bunch of good looking Honduran guys visited, I think they are cousins, and one sort of resembles David Duchovny. Of course they were thrilled to find an American chick sitting there and Duchovny practiced his English with me, even though our families are only supposed to speak Spanish to us.

After lunch we all met up and discussed general info about Santa Cruz and what we will be doing here the next month. As part of our assignment today we split off into pairs and roamed around the town noting where things are so we could make one big map. It was fun talking to people and getting to know the town (and yay, there's a Kobbs here too, which is the best ice cream shop ever!). I live about 5 buildings from internet - hooray! This place is also hilly, and my thighs are sore from playing soccer yesterday in Siguat (I wasn't half bad Chris!) so even though I am closer to stuff I will be raising the heart beat every day.

So to sum things up, I'm living with a family temporarily and they have a telephone but I forgot to get the number from them before I came to the internet cafe. So Mom, don't call the number I gave you just yet, I will let you know if and when I move in a couple days. Until then you can email me with your questions. Keep sending stuff to the original address for now :) Hopefully we'll still get mail at least once a week.

Well I will probably check my email more often these days. I love you all and hope all is well!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Checkin´ in...

Well it's Thursday night and I'm here at the internet cafe with my host sister Lizeth. I had to come in and type up a resume in Spanish that my counterpart will receive, when I get a site assignment and someone in my site to be my counterpart that is.

Today I got information about my next host family (for the next month starting Monday, then I'll return to my current family again in Siguatepeque). There are two parents and two adult children, a son 30ish and a daughter 27. They live a block away from the central park of Santa Cruz de Yahoa, which should be convenient as far as meeting up with people and using internet, since right now it takes 30 minutes to walk downtown from my current house. Our facilitators said that the houses the people in my health project group will be staying in are poorer than the houses we live in here in Siguat. They paper I got says they own a small business, but who knows what. I am disappointed there are no kids in the family - they ease up the pressure and you can speak bad Spanish with kids without feeling awkward :) I just hope we get along half as well as I get along with my current family! We leave Monday morning and then will eat lunch with our new family and then meet up in the afternoon for the introduction to Santa Cruz.

Field-based training is basically we start integrating into a community, working with a community organization, do a few projects, work to improve our Spanish as always, practice giving charlas in the community, and basically getting more hands-on practice within the health project. The water and sanitation people in my group are going to a different town so we will be split up for a month, which is kinda sad because we all have friends in that group. Several married couples will be split up since they are in different projects, but the Peace Corps pays for them to stay in a hotel on the weekends so they can see each other - nice huh? And I think we will probably meet up and do weekend trips together to the nearby national parks. But there are 18 or so awesome people in the health project and I´m excited we will be spending more time together.

Yesterday we had a "Fiesta Cultural" so we spent most of the day decorating our big meeting space for the party (balloons, streamers, pine needles covering the floor to dance on) and everyone brought in different kinds of traditional Honduran foods. I made "horchata" which is a yummy drink that has sugar, cinnimon, and pumpkin seeds, mora seeds, and rice ground up and strained into the drink. It tasted like a Christmas drink. We all stuffed ourselves with carne asada (grilled seasoned steak), baleadas (flour tortillas filled with eggs and beans and cheese), tacos with chicken, fresh salsa, corn tortillas and lots of other things made out of corn, and lots of other kinds of food. Then some our spanish teachers showed us gringos how do dance and it was really fun (I have some great pictures). Then we commenced with the ping-pong tournament, a not so cultural event. It spilled over to today and I won 20 lempiras side-betting on the eventual champion, my friend Michael (20 lps is only a little more than a dollar but it seems like more here!). It was really fun. We have been playing ping-pong pretty much every day during our lunch hour. Since everyone put in 20 lps the winner got 140 lps, and the second and third place winners less.

While I am on it I´ll give you guys a few comparisons of how much things cost here. There are 18 lps to the dollar. Seeing Ocean´s Twelve in the movie theater cost the equivalent of $1.50, a two hour bus ride costs $1.00, a personal pizza costs about $2.50, an hour of internet costs about $1.00, a pack of cigarettes according to my host sister cost $1.00, a jar of peanut butter costs $2.50 because it´s imported, a beer costs about 60 cents, a tube of toothpaste $1.00, a Snicker´s bar costs a whopping 75 cents (pretty much all American foods are more expensive), a meal at Wendy´s about $3.00 (pricey!). So American money goes a long way here. That it why pretty much every family here has a member living "mojado", or illegal, in the states who sends money back to their family.

Then yesterday I went with two other girls to the house of a lady who mades t-shirts.We negotiated prices and options as far as color and sizes and it went pretty well. Our training group has designed 4 shirts, one for the guys (Hondudes), one for the girls that is way cute, a creative one for the 2 projects, water and sanitation and health, and one nicer polo shirt with the PC logo on it and our training year. They are all great, I´m excited. The regular tshirts are costing about $2.30 each and the polos much more expensive at $7.50.

Well that´s all for now. Keep writing to me at the address I gave before. The PC people will continue to bring over our mail from Tegucigalpa! Love you all lots and miss you!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope everyone had a great day of love and friendship, as they say here :)

Well it's my first holiday in Honduras and it went quite well. When I got out of my "shower" (I have a warm bucket bath every other day, the other day I get a shower) this morning I found a heart shaped mug filled with candy and two cards from each of my sisters here, it was so sweet. Then a few of the other trainees cut out hearts and gave everyone a valentine. Then I remembered it was mail day and I found a huge box, 2 big envelopes filled with magazines and books, and a valentine's day card from my mom - yay! Thanks so much ;) I was so happy to get my photo album from my last year, and my family loved looking at it. Then after training I got to come to this internet cafe to call Chris and wish him a Happy Valentine's day and Happy 4th anniversary (which is Wednesday) and it was really great to hear his voice, even with a 10 second delay!

Well to backtrack a bit and finish telling about my volunteer visit with Grace, on Saturday we went to Tegucigalpa. We caught a "jalon" with a guy driving to Teguc (a jalon is basically hitching a ride with someone, usually in the back of a pickup, but we sat in the front with the driver). Avoiding the bus saved us a good 45 minutes so we arrived in Teguc and met up with her friend, Heidi, an American who works for an NGO there but isn't a PCV. Grace shower my the PC headquarters, which was really nice, I used some of their free internet, and grabbed some books from the PC library. While we were there some current PCVs walked in to use the internet and invited Grace and I to an embassy party - apparently they wanted PCVs there to liven things up a bit. So we said yes and told them we'd meet the guys later.

Then Heidi showed us some of the sites of Teguc. Teguc can be dangerous at night and there are a lot of thefts and holdups there every month, but during the day if you are with other people you usually are ok. So we went to this park to see the vista over Teguc, which is in a valley surrounded by mountains. Heidi's friend Travis played the guitar while we chilled there and the time there was very tranquillo. Then Heidi and Travis took us to a Honduran christian youth group they go to, and it was fun to meet the youth there. We did some icebreakers that were fun and sang and then I listened to an interesting message about the friendship between Jonathan and David, in Spanish! By the end of it my brain was fried - I understood everything but it took some serious concentration.

So being that we were both tired, Grace and I decided not to go to the embassy party. We went instead to, yes, Ruby Tuesdays! It was one of the best meals I've ever had. They had the same exact salad bar with the honey mustard I love, and I also ate a huge burger topped with cheddar, bbq, and onion straws. The Ruby Tuesdays in Teguc is really nice, but it cost a huge chunk of my allowance. But it was worth it. I was soooo incredibly full when we left. We walked down the street to the huge new multiplaza mall, and this place was amazing. It's as nice as any mall in NoVa, and definitely not typical of Honduras. But we walked around and looked in the shops, which include Benetton and department stores and electronics stores and a huge food court and a T.G.I. Fridays, a Tony Roma's, and a ton of other chains. Well it was nice to be in fantasy land for a few hours :)
We rented a DVD, "Ray" about Ray Charles, and went back to Heidi's to watch it on her computer. Very good movie.

I slept on the floor of Heidi's room, but not very well because there was this stupid dog barking all night. But we woke up early on Sunday to go to an English-speaking church that Heidi goes to. It was so nice to go to a Bible study and a service in English. Most of the members are missionary families and families who work for international companies or work for various NGOs (non-governmental agencies, or nonprofits). There were a ton of kids there too. It felt sort of like our church in Hawaii, a normal English service surrounded by open rooms and palm trees. The service sort of boosted me up, it was nice.

Well I was starting to feel antsy to get back to Siguatepeque so Grace and I left in a taxi to the bus station. We ended up waiting almost 2 hours because the bus we chose was broken and wouldn't work right. We finally got off and found another bus to Siguat and made our way. Grace got off right before Comayagua and we said goodbye. I'm so glad I met her, they really got lucky when they matched the two of us up! I know I'll visit her again and we might go on some trips together. On the way to Siguat a guy next to me asked me as I was reading, "You're reading in English huh?", and I looked at him strangely and said "Yes, English". Then he was like, "Have you studied English a long time?" and I was like, "Um, I'm American." and he was really surprised. Well it doesn't happen often because I'm usually with other gringos, but it's nice when I get taken for Honduran, that's the 2nd or third time now. Funny huh?

I finally got back to Siguat and was lazy and took a taxi home. When I arrived my neighbor ran out and was like, "You're alive!!". Apparently when I called the PC duty officer and told him I was staying with Grace an extra day, my family never got the message like they were supposed to. So my sister was realllllly worried about me. She had finally gone over and called PC, who told them I had called the day before. But she had stayed up late on Saturday looking out the door waiting for me, then was alone all of Sunday waiting for me while the rest of the family made a trip out of town for the day. I felt soooo bad. She said she was dying of worry. Next time I think I'll call directly. Oh well, it's nice I have people here who care about me so much they overeat, which is what my skinny sister said she did while she was so anxiously waiting for me.

Well it's good to be back for the week. It'll be hard to leave Siguat on Monday to go live in another place for a month for Field-Based training. Health people will be living in Santa Cruz de Yahoa, a place really close to the huge lake of Honduras and apparently close to a really beautiful waterfall. It's also supposed to be much hotter than Siguat.

I have to write a 4 page paper on my volunteer visit experience in Spanish tonight, so I better go. I hope all is well and you all had a great day! I'm going to try to write some letters this week :) Love and miss you all!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Hangin' in Comayagua

Hey people!

Well it's Friday afternoon and I'm here in Comayagua, that big city I visited last week with my host family. I am visiting a current volunteer named Grace and she lives about 15 minutes outside of the city. I am having a great time! And guess what, she is from Richmond, VA! What are the chances! And even weirder, she goes to West End Assembly of God! What a small world :) Her parents live in Glen Allen, and she said when she goes home to visit May 20, she'd be happy to bring me back stuff from my family and Chris (since she also has a ton of friends in NoVa) . How convenient she'll be there right before my birthday!! ;) Her parents came to visit her August and had a great time with her, her mom stayed one week and her dad 2. She said they felt a lot more comfortable about her being in the Peace Corps there after they visited and saw it for themselves.

So far I like a lot of what I see about her life. It's really tranquillo and laid back . Her town's a bit dusty but it's surrounded by mountains in every direction around the flat Comayagua valley. She has her own house about the size of a large apartment, with a living room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and a bathroom in the back of the house. It backs up to a pulperia (which is a small sort of convenience store found on every corner) owned by her landlord, which sells most kinds of food, including veggies and fruit, meat, american cheese (yay!), toiletries and stuff like toilet paper, etc. Yesterday I took the bus from Sigua to here and walked to the health center to find Grace, using a hand drawn map the PC staff gave me. The trip wasn't hard at all, and I asked a lady on the bus to help me find my stop, and she gave me her phone number so I can spend some weekend with her in Comayagua! She even offered to buy me some food from the people selling it on the bus. The people here are very nice.

I hung out a bit at the health center with her until lunch time, then we went home and made chicken and broccoli in this coconut milk sauce with garlic and butter, over rice. Que delicioso! Then I went with her over to this private school across the street that is run by a nonprofit that takes in unwanted children or poor kids from across Honduras and boards them there and gives them a good education. Last night she gave them a charla (or "talk") about AIDS, and it was only for the boys, from ages 10- 17 it seemed like. They were all so cute and attentive and alert, it's an awesome thing that they are receiving good care and an education, I can see so much potential in some of them. Afterwards we hung out in her house and played with her kitty. It's made me pretty sure I want to get a kitten when I move into my own place - it's so fun to have a companion and have someone waiting for you when you get home! I think I am going to stay an extra day with Grace so that I can go to Tegucigalpa with her tomorrow. All I've seen of Teguc is the airport so it should be fun.

I am getting lots of good information from Grace during my stay. She´s told me all about having a cell phone here, which I am considering, traveling, what I can and should ask for in my site, her work and how she gained the trust in her community, how she bought the furniture for her place, what things cost, everything pretty much. Her work here is basically working with a youth group, a lot of whom I met in the streets and are so cute. She also gives charlas about health and AIDS, and helps out in the health center when staffing is short. Her counterpart is a nurse from the health center, who also lives 2 houses down from her and helped her find her place to live. It's funny because my Spanish is just about the same is Grace's, even though she's been here a year now. She's much better at listening than me though. She's trying to study more now though to get over the plateau she's reached. Even though her Spanish is limited, she can get her point across and is very comfortable chatting with people and people don't seem to mind at all. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable.

Well I hope to call Chris on Sunday from an internet phone in Sigua, but he might still be on a skit trip. I am also planning to hear from my parents on Sunday night b/c they are celebrating my dad's birthday :) I love and miss you all - Hugs and kisses!!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Gearing up for my Volunteer Visit

Hey people!

Well, it was another good day in Honduras. To catch up a bit, Sunday night I watched the Super Bowl with my Honduran family - I tried to explain a little bit about American football in Spanish, which I am sure Chris would have loved to hear, and I even acted out some of the important parts of the game. Anyway, it was in Spanish and so I missed out on all the commercials (I did hear about the cat one though from the volunteers who went into town to watch it at a bar) but at least I could see the game and knew who won.

Monday back to training. Things are going pretty well in that department. My Spanish is coming along and I am slowly getting more comfortable, but I have to remind myself I have been here less than 3 weeks now, though it seems like I have been here forever in a weird way. Today for our Spanish class we went into town to ask questions of the vendors in the market - what do you sell, what is this odd looking food, how much does this cost, what is this used for, etc. The whole market experience is really fun and everyone there was really nice. I also found some really nice cheap hammocks that I want to get before I leave for my site in a few months - here, having a hammock for a nice siesta is key. Since we finished our assignment early we walked around downtown, and I shared a banana split (in Spanish: "banana split") with my friend Ben, which was absolute heaven. Then we went back for lunch. Quite a nice morning actually.

In the afternoon we spent a couple hours preparing a charla with a partner. Charlas are talks about various topics, for me health, to groups of people. My topic today was Respiratory Infections, the leading cause of death for children here under 5 in Honduras - and the sad thing is they are preventable if mothers can be educated about them. Well my partner and I drew up our posters (here we use Charla paper with lots of pictures to show the main ideas, since many people in our communities will be illiterate - I'll show you some pictures of them eventually). Well considering it was our first and it was in Spanish, it wasn't half bad. We will be working on them a lot and giving them to various groups when we go to Field Based Training in about a week, which is a month of training in a different city, living with a different family. Then we will come back to Siguatepeque for our last month of training.

This Thursday I will go on my much anticipated and somewhat scary "volunteer visit". I am visiting a volunteer named Grace who lives pretty close by, around 2 hours by bus. We all have to find our own way to their house with the directions given to us. So that involves figuring out the bus schedule, how to transfer, when to leave, etc. Luckily I won't need to transfer, so assuming I get on the right bus, I will be fine. She lives between Comayagua and Tegucigalpa, right off the Pan-American highway. I will stay at her house for 2 nights, observe what she does, go to the health center to see what it´s like, and just generally see what a volunteer´s life is like here. Some people get to go to the North Coast, the beautiful beaches, which sounds awesome, but they have to ride in the bus for like 8 hours. Other people are going in the opposite direction 8 or 9 hours. So I feel pretty fortunate to have a short trip. I´m excited to meet Grace, she wrote me a nice letter and it´ll be interesting to observe her life.

Oh I still haven´t gotten the packages people have sent me, but I expect some will be arriving by next week. On Monday I did get a nice card from Mom, thanks Mom! Also, Chris told me my Valentine´s Day card reached him in 10 days, so that´s not too bad. Keep writing! It really is a huge pick-me-up.

Well I love you all and miss you. I hope to write again soon!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Kickin' some butt in Honduras

Today is Sunday and it's sunny and blue-skied here in Honduras. It was rainy this morning and I wrote a few letters and listened to Indigo Girls on my family's stereo. My breakfast was fresh tortillas, avocado, refried bean, queso, and eggs with ham. The contents on the plate change but everything here is wrapped up in a tortilla and eaten like a soft taco.

This weekend has been fun. On Friday after class we all met up at Iguana Mia´s, the cute college-type restaurant in downtown Siguatepeque, and had dinner and drink. I got to meet several volunteers who have been here longer and they told us stories and gave us random advice. There are some cute guys here, girl friends of mine! Just trying to give you some incentives to come visit me :) But Chris, don't feel threatened, everyone knows I have a boyfriend and it's one of the common conversation topics whenever I'm introduced to someone these days.

Saturday I went to the training center for some optional self-defense classes. How fun! We talked about security, punched and kicked some bags, learned how to get away from people holding on to us with some nifty moves, and laughed a lot. I got some great pictures. Our instructor was a current PCV who used to be a professional kickboxer and was 3rd in the world. Crazy huh? I feel like if the worst ever happens (and the chances are it won't mom!) I feel better prepared now. My favorite moment was my friends practicing punching and kicking this hanging sack and screaming "Get the $%!* away from me you jerk!!!" and "Give me back my purse!!"

I left early from the classes to go on a day trip with my 2 sisters, Lizeth and Cindy, and a cousin Diana to Comayagua, Lizeth's favorite city about a 45 minute bus ride from Siguatepeque. It sits in a big valley and is quite a bit hotter than here. There is good shopping and lots of colonial architecture from the Spaniards. The oldest clock in Central America is there on an old beautiful cathedral in the central square. We had lunch with extended family there, where I met several talking parrots and an iguana. Then we walked around the streets, and went to a nice museum where I read (in both spanish and english) about the ancient civilizations that used to inhabit the Comayagua valley and saw their artifacts, all the way up to the arrival of the Spaniards. One cool thing was that at the end there was a case with pictures and letters and artifacts of my sisters´ grandfather, Angel Campos, who was apparently an important figure in Comayagua in the old days. We went to the central square and saw the cathedral and fountain, surrounded by palm trees and lush greenery. We bought an ice cream cone at Kobb's, a great place that is in Sigua too, and relaxed around the square. There were a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers hanging out there too that I didn't know, but I recognized one as one of the guys who helped with the self-defense class earlier that day. He is really nice, a big black guy, who apparently is half of the female PCVs' "boyfriend" - he visits them to scare away any guy who are bothering them in their towns. I might have to borrow him in the future too!

We took the bus back to Siguatepeque around 4 pm, whipping around curves over some dazzling heights - I tried not to look down though! It was a fun day though, but I was ready to get home and relax. Today I am just relaxing with my family and my dad is supposed to call around 2 - yay! I passed up a hike with some other people because I didn´t want my weekend too full so I couldn´t rest up and get some homework done.

Well I gotta run - I miss you all! Keep writing :)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sad day yesterday...Wonderful day today!

Hi everyone!

I hope all is well back home. I´m at an internet cafe right now with my hermana. I have to leave in a half hour to walk home in time to receive a call from mom - yay!

I´ll tell you about yesterday first. It started off bad because we couldn´t eat breakfast because we had to get bloodwork done at the training center. In addition, we all got a tetanus vaccine the day before and my whole left arm ached. So we trudged to the training center complaining about our empty stomachs and the 6 hours of spanish we had ahead of us (one day a week we have two extra hours). Later in the day, we all received sad news. One of our friends decided to return home. We were all hugging her goodbye and crying. It´s hard to see one of us go because we have gotten so close. But she decided that she is not ready for PC service right now and wants to reapply later. She also started dating her boyfriend 6 months ago and really missed him and her family. While we don´t want her to be here if she´s miserable, we are all very very sad to see her go!

The day was pretty much ruined after that. I didn´t feel well at all and ran a slight fever later I think because of the vaccines. I dragged myself home and did my homework and whined to my family a bit, who were all very concerned and served me lemon tea. I read a Clive Cussler book and I went to bed at 8!

Well sleeping 10 hours has a way of changing a person´s outlook on life...hehehe. No, seriously, I woke up feeling much better today. It was a beautiful sunny day as usual and I dressed in a cute skirt and sandals for class and felt good about life. What a fun day! We had 4 hours of spanish as usual in the morning, and in the process discovered our teacher´s last day is tomorrow. So we decided at once to celebrate together by making a hallowed trip to the best restaurant in town - Wendy´s! Oh, the heaven of anticipating that burger, those fries, that Frosty after nothing but beans and tortillas for 2 weeks. I really can´t explain it.

Then in the afternoon us Health people had 4 hours of a fascinating topic - Diarrhea. Yes, we talked of nothing but poop for several hours. We even made up some hilarious skits about how bacteria and parasites in diarrhea can spread and the beliefs and practices here in Honduras that make diarrhea the 2nd leading cause of death in children under 5 here in Honduras after respiratory infections (not so hilarious). We got in groups, made up a skit, and performed. I played the part of a fly, buzzing about, landing on food, spreading disease, and finally getting swatted. A dazzling performance if I must say so.

Then came the piece de resistance. Wendy´s! Our teacher Esly drove the 4 of us from my spanish class in her carro to one of the nicest Wendy´s I´ve ever been to. It would be a very long walk for me, but in a car it wasn´t too far. This Wendy´s opened up a few months ago and it is very expensive by Honduran standards - basically it´s the same price as in the states. Also did I mention that during training we all receive the equivalent of $2.50 a day for "walk around money"? Doesn´t sound like much but it goes a long way here. Well on Thursdays the Wendy´s here has a deal called "Super Amigos" where you get 5 drinks, 4 hamburgers, 2 chicken nuggets, one nachos and 5 fries for the equivalent of 7 dollars. We added a spicy chicken sandwich and another hamburger and several frostys (mind you there were only 5 of us). Well we dug right in and it was so much fun. We were all laughing the entire time and most of the people in the restaurant were staring at us. I mean, we were laughing so hard we were crying. I can´t really convey the experience. Mostly we laughed at ourselves, our limited Spanish, and the fact that were were so freakin´excited to be at a Wendy´s in the middle of central america. A great time and I am very happy right now.

On the way home as Esly dropped us off we listened to the Beatles and other great english music and felt the wind through our hair. Oh, and I saw my life pass before my eyes several times because Hondurans drive loco. She was swerving in an our of traffic, sometimes crisscrossing paths with oncoming cars, coming inches away from people on bicycles and pedestrians. But I made it home and that´s what matters. Then I got my hermana to walk with me to this lovely internet cafe where it took me 15 minutes to just load this one website. But I didn´t let that spoil my mood. I bought a "carnet" where it´s 30 lempira for 3 hours online, 10 lempira an hour, which is about 60 cents - great deal huh!

Well I hope you enjoyed my account of my last two days. It´s definitely a roller coaster ride here!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

On my lunch break...

Hello from Honduras!

I am stealing a few minutes online during my lunch break here at the training center in Siguatepeque. Today it is sunny and warm with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I heard about all the snow you all are getting in Virginia! Cant exactly say I am envious. I am getting pretty tan here...trying to wear sunscreen but the sun sort of sneaks up on you here!

Things are going well here. Last night I went over to my Tias house to receive a call from my mom, my sister Wendi, and my nephew Connor. Very nice to talk to you all! I hope the phone bill doesnt change your mind about calling though! I cant wait to get the letters and packages they told me about. Yesterday was our first time to receive mail and I got a letter from grandma and exciting! Everyone was really excited about the mail...a couple people got packages and it really lifts the spirits to see something in your mailbox.

I am really enjoying living with my family. I have a cute little room with green walls, a double bed with a huge mosquito net over it (required by Peace Corps), a little table to do my homework if I want (but I usually do it out in the sala while the family watches television to be more social), and a little closet to stack up folded clothes and hang some stuff up. My hermana does my laundry whenever I have a few things to wash, but this weekend I washed my underwear. First time handwashing in a Pila, a big sink here that is vital to Honduran life. I did pretty well I think! Last night I also help my Mami and hermana make Pastelitos, little fried pastries filled with rice and meat and topped with fresh pico de gallo. Yummmm! The house has a pretty large living room with a couch, some chairs, and a television, a large kitchen, then a backyard with 2 extra rooms I believe they are going to be renting out (there are 2 small bedrooms in the house). All in all it is a comfy house. I definitely lucked out. I usually have hot water in the shower, but when the shower isnt working, my hermana heats up water for me to have a sort of bucket bath in the shower. It is not too bad. Some people dont have reliable water in their houses and have to bucket bath with cold water or skip showers altogether some days.

Spirits are staying mostly high. Yesterday one friend was down because spanish was causing a lot of frustration and she missed her boyfriend (which I understand) and I think I cheered her up pretty well. We all are trying to support each other and keep the spirits up. Sometimes it does get hard and discouraging, but all in all, I am holding up well and like Honduras and love most of the Hondurans I have met. Its hard to imagine before you come that you will make Honduran friends, but when you get here, you realize they are just like us in many ways. We get silly together and make fun of each other, they love music and food, fight with their siblings, love their families, complain about random things, laugh at funny parts in movies or television shows, and love oooing and ahhing at cute children.

Well I have to go...this afternoon we have an hour or so of Health training for my project, then some safety training...some more experienced volunteers are here at the training center to talk about their experiences which should be interesting! I got two more vaccines today and my shoulders are a bit sore...ick. Ok enough rambling...keep writing and I love you and miss you all!