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.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Semana Santa

Hola, Que Ondas?

Hi everyone! It's Holy Thursday here in Siguatepeque. I have off the today through Sunday for Semana Santa, and I am enjoying the time off! Last night I slept for almost 11 hours...I was wiped out.

This week has been good. It's a lot like my first month in Siguatepeque as far as the schedule - Spanish class all morning, Health technical sessions in the afternoons. Only the feeling has changed. We are all comfortable here now, and their's much less of that uncertainty of the first month in Honduras. Our breaks tend to be longer and we are slacking a bit more. We are going out longer after class together. A lot of people are anxious to get to their sites. A lot of people are making plans with the other trainees that will be living close to them.

Our tech sessions have been very fun this short week. Tuesday we spent the afternoon at a self-sufficient farm called CEASO, right outside Siguatepeque. It was soooo fun. We saw how they run their farm, and visited all their animals and saw how they grow all their vegetables and herbs. Most of the 4 hours there was spent after the tour. We picked a bunch of different leafy greens from the gardens and then walked into the breezy kitchen for a class on how to cook healthy foods using stuff you can grow or buy in Honduras. We ate like gourmets. First we made Jugo Verde, which was like a sweet citrusy drink with tons of juice from green leaves, kinda like wheat grass juice, but sweet and yummy. Then we learned how to make soy milk with cinnamon and sugar. We ground up the soy beans, strained them through a strainer after adding a lot of water, and then boiled the milk for 30 minutes with cinnamon sticks floating in it. Very very yummy, kinda tasted like a warm Christmas drink. Then we made soy chorizo...ground up soy beans with garlic, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, salf and then cooked so that it tastes like ground up meat...we ate that with warm fresh tortillas. The best thing we made were these Tortas, which were eggs whipped up to a froth, flour, with lots of leafy greens, tomotoes, and other vegetables plopped into cholesterol-free oil and fried into cakes. Soooo yummy. We left very full and content with a great healthy cook book and ready to cook healthy in our sites.

Yesterday was interesting but a ton of work. We learned how to keep a family garden, so that we can either keep one for ourselves, or teach families how to keep one so that they can always have a supply of healthy vegetables and fruit. We learned how to prepare the earth, make seed beds, transplant the little plants, mix in compost, etc. I planted yucca, carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccali, sweet peppers, and banana trees. I was dirty and tired afterwards, but it was fun. I had to haul in huge buckets of water and compost several times, break the ground up with a heavy pick axe and shovel. I was dead tired afterwards but I hope I will be able to have a patch of ground to have a garden.

This Semana Santa weekend should be fun. This is the only week most Hondurans get off a year. The flock in hoards to the beach. I went to the Palm Sunday service last Sunday, which kicked off Semana Santa. Tomorrow I am going to Comayagua, a city famous for its Good Friday events. They create these huge rugs made from sawdust of different bright colors that usually depict a religious picture. Then around 9 a.m. these beautiful rugs that have been worked on since December and cost thousands of Lps. are destroyed during the procession. They reenact the procession of Christ to be crucified. It should be very interesting to watch. My training group is leaving tomorrow morning at 6:15 to go to Comayagua to see the rugs before they are destroyed and to enjoy the festivities in the city. Then Saturday I am going to a CD burning/haircut party with the other people in my group. That night I am going to stay in a hotel and hang out with people in Siguat. Sunday I am hoping to go to Easter services with my host family. In Honduras they don't have one big day for celebration like we normally do in the states, they sort of celebrate all week. So Sunday there is mass to celebrate the resurrection of Christ but no huge Easter dinner that day. But as in the states it is still a time for family to be together. I will be missing you all that day and am so jealous of your big ham with raisin sauce ;)

I got an email from the current volunteer in Dulce Nombre. She said it is fine if I come visit her next weekend, so I am already excited. She also told me the name of the cellular phone company that has great reception in my site so I might buy a cell phone this weekend, or soon. She said I can drop off a good portion of my stuff and she will show me around. She said my counterpart is an awesome lady ("She rocks") who has been her adoptive mother during her time there. She said she loves her town and I will have a great experience there. So it'll be good to go visit and see what all the fuss is about! :)

Well everyone, I am going to go run some errands with my host sister, Lizeth. I wish everyone a very happy Easter!! I miss you all very much and can't wait for the visits you are already planning. Lots of love on this special weekend!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Drum roll please....My site!

Well everybody after a lot of suspense I found out my site! Our project director took us to a lake side camp/hotel to make the site announcements. First however, he spent a lot of time describing each site, how he had made the decisions, and basically kept us hanging for what felt like an eternity! But FINALLY he handed out the folders with our site descriptions on it...

I am going to a town called Dulce Nombre ("Sweet Name"...cute huh?) which is right outside Santa Rosa de Copan, in the department of Copan! You should be able to look it up on the internet because the area gets a lot of tourists from the Copan Ruins, the famous Mayan ruins there that are supposed to be amazing. Santa Rosa is supposed to be a beautiful old town with cobblestone streets. It is known for its good coffee and cigars. The climate is gonna be perfect for me I think...I requested a not-hot place, and the average temperature is between 60 and 77 degrees. It is known for its green rolling hills and mountains and is supposed to have a lot of recreational outdoorsy stuff to do there. The nearest airport is in San Pedro Sula, which is about 2.5 hours from me.

I will not have access to internet in Dulce Nombre but will have to go into Santa Rosa to use the internet...I have heard lots of different estimates of the time to Santa Rosa from Dulce Nombre, but it sounds like it is about a half hour. So I will probably go into the city once or twice a week to use email. But, I will have cellular service there so I am planning to get a cell phone and people can call me whenever they want from the states and it won't cost me anything! There is also a post office there and a bank and some small restaurants, several kindergartens, an elementary school, a high school. There are planning to build a library and a mirimba school and want my help with that. I got a picture of my future house and it is cute! It's white with a tiled roof and a front gated area where I am already picturing my hammock. I don't know what it looks like inside but I think it will be nice because the current volunteer living there picked it out for me.

That is another thing: I am going to the same site as the volunteer who taught us how to make the improved stoves on Wednesday! She has had a lot of success in her site and will be a lot to live up to I think. The community will have high expectations of me. She will be there the first two months I will be there before she leaves. I am planning to visit Santa Rosa and Dulce Nombre in two weeks to look around and drop off some stuff, and I am very excited!

My project manager told me he put me there because he thought I needed a very safe place, I don't know what that means but I know my mom will be happy about it. He said he wanted me to live in a very safe town and so that's what I am getting. It's supposed to be tranquilo y bonito.

My counterpart is unique. It is the first time my project manager has matched a volunteer up with a community member independent of an organization, like an NGO or the health center. My counterpart is a member of the community who is educated and very involved in the development of the community. She supposedly has a very nice house 4 blocks from where I will be living, and wrote that she can offer me help with my Spanish, help with housing, and care and affection, haha. She hopes I can work with the improved stove/oven project, support the health center, perhaps work on a latrine project (we'll see), help with the new library and mirimba school, teach English, and work with the schools on teaching about health and self-esteem. I am not sure I will be focusing on the same things the former volunteer worked on a lot, because I really want to work a lot with the youth. But hopefully we can work out a balance with what I want to do and what the community wants.

Another thing I am happy about is that I have several friends going to the same area! My good friend Angela from Georgia is going to live in Santa Rosa, so I should see her a lot, and someone from the water and sanitation group will be in Santa Rosa too, but I don't know who yet. Also a married couple Danyel and David, my Spades buddies, will be living in Santa Rita, just an hour and a half or so from us, so we will probably be visiting a lot. Also, there are a lot of PCVs that live in the area, that aren't from my group and whom I will be meeting soon. There is a "safe house" in Santa Rosa where all the volunteers from the Western part of the country meet up and hang out, so that will be exciting.

Well I am sure I will be writing more about my site as I learn more. I am going to email the current volunteer there to get some more info and directions how to find her when I visit in two weeks. Go look up Santa Rosa de Copan though so you can see where I will be living! I can't wait for visits!

Friday, March 18, 2005

The big day....nerves and other rantings!

Well today is the big day where they announce our sites!! It is now 12:40 and they are planning to announce them at 4 pm. Ahhhh! I can't wait. This whole week has been agonizingly slow from the suspense of waiting for today to arrive. I just wrote up a whole post about the week and the torture of waiting, and I lost it. Argghhh. So I am sorry but this post will be short and not as good. But anyway, I wanted to share with you my torment and excitement. After the site announcements they have some sort of secret celebration planned....we were told to tell our families we would be back long after dinner and to bring our bathing suits...hmmm. Too bad it is raining! Oh well I have a feeling that after they give us our fat folders full of information about our sites that we won't care about much else. I don't know how I am going to physically and mentally get through they next few hours :)

I might not be able to get back onto a computer for a couple days because I am leaving to go back to Siguat tomorrow. But I will try to share the site information with you as soon as I can!

This week has been busy but slow from all the suspense. Tuesday morning we gave our last charla of training to a 5th grade class in a small aldea, or town, outside of Santa Cruz. The kids in the aldea were much different than the city kids...much much more shy, not as easy to get involved, timid about responding to questions. So it made for a more challenging charla, which lasted 4 hours. Any kind of abstract question or acitivity was beyond their prior experience. By the second half we had gotten some of them out of their shells and we stuck in more activities to get them moving, and it worked better. It was a good learning experience.

Wednesday I went to another aldea with half the group and learning about the baby weighing system in Honduras. Mothers brought their babies to the community volunteer who records the baby's weights every month. Since they started the process in the aldea a few years ago, the malnutrition rates have gone down in the community. If the baby has lost weight or stayed the same weight, the Honduran volunteer is supposed to sit down with them and give them advice on how to help their child gain wait. The babies were adorable and the mothers were very nice and curious about us. As always in Honduras, there were a ton of kids around, and we played some games with them.

Thursday I made a Estufa Lorena, or a Estufa Mejorada, which is basically a better stove. We went to a preselected house and the 5 of us with the help of a current PCV who does this as her secondary project, made a stove with an oven underneath out of mostly mud, some bricks, and an iron sheet for the stove top. We got pretty muddy. If an American freshly arrived to Honduras saw it they would see a very primitive apparatus that looks poor and dirty. But to me it was a beautiful thing. The stoves will help the families a lot because before, smoke was released directly into the house and contributed to the really high rates of respiratory infections and asthma here, as well as they used a lot of firewood. These release the smoke outside of the house and also use less wood. It only took 3 hours to make! I will send pictures of it :)

Ok well it is time to go to Tech class and wait in suspense for my site announcement. Wish me luck!! Ahhh!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Last weekend in Santa Cruz, one more week of FBT

Hi friends and family!

I had a great, busy, fun weekend and now I'm beat :) Right now it's about 4 pm on Sunday afternoon and I just got back from the pool and I got a nice tan from the sun today. It feels nice to be in the air conditioning.

On Saturday I woke up at 7 to get ready to go hiking. We left at 8 in the two white Peace Corps Land Cruisers we are known for and drove about 20 minutes to Meambar - Cerro Azul, which is a national park right outside of Santa Cruz and known for it's cloud forests and mountains. We first took a short trail to a beautiful waterfall, although it wasn't huge. To get there we got to go over a wooden plank bridge hung over a river, which is always interesting! We took pictures of the group in front of the falls. Then we started the long hike up the mountain. The temperature was pleasant and the trees blocked the sun, but pretty soon we were all soaked, both from sweat and the moisture of the rain forest. It was a clean sweat though, if that makes any sense. The hike was challenging. In some places it was very steep with uneven terrain. Some spots were soft with layers and layers of moist leaves which have accumulated over the years. The rain forest was green with plants with huge leaves and vines and sometimes the trail would be very narrow and you could see down quite a ways. We had to stop several times because all of our hearts were pounding so hard and our legs were really tired. It took about 2 and a half hours to climb to the top and by that point I was thinking twice about going on the hike because my legs were like jello, very shaky and tired. The top was amazing - it was like we were up in the clouds, which we were. From the top of the mountain you could see most of Lake Yohoa and way into the distance. The pine forests looked tiny from the top. We sat at the top for a while, eating snacks we had brought and guzzling water, and again, I was drenched. I seriously had to ring out my hair - yuck. I was sort of dreading the long descent down the same path. The 13 or so of us sat at the top for about 45 minutes, talking about everything and anything. We finally started back down and some places were tricky and slippery. I fell twice but it wasn't bad because the ground was soft and I caught myself with my hands! My friend Brian and I passed the time by singing show tunes in a really loud obnoxious way :) We went through West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, Oliver, Lion King, and Aladdin. Yep, I know. But it was fun and it distracted me from my spaghetti legs. When we got to the bottom and hour and a half later it was pretty cool and I was very glad I did it.

We decided to reward ourselves by driving the few minutes over to Lake Yohoa and treating ourselves to an amazing lunch of seafood at Agua Azul hotel. I got a huge filet of bass encrusted with garlic breading, it was amazing. And since I had been rehydrating myself since the hike some of us ordered some Salva Vida beers too :) The view of the lake was really beautiful and the light breeze, the food, the beers, and the company made for an enjoyable time. After we stuffed our bellies we made use of the hotel pool, which is right in front of the view of the lake and mountains. It felt great. We came back around 4 and I was beat but happy.

Today I went with my family back to La Laguna pool where they have a little cottage there where the dad works and lives every other week. My friend Lauren came with me and we had a good time. My host mom cooked up these huge whole Tilapia fish, fried of course, and delicious. I also made up a strawberry cake with pink vanilla icing and heart sprinkles, which my mom sent me for Valentine's Day. They loved it and had never seen cake in a box before and were amazed it actually tasted good! It was a cultural exchange moment. Then we played in the pool all afternoon, it was great.

I can't believe we only have one more week of FBT left. This second month has flown by much faster than the first month, I guess because we were so busy. I am looking forward to returning to Siguat and seeing the rest of the group and my other host family again. My host sister Lizeth, in Siguat, has been writing me emails and letters and called me this morning to tell me how much she misses me and can't wait for me to return. Well I am going to try to answer some emails for once. I love you all and hope your lives are happy and that you continue praying for me :) Vaya pues.

Friday, March 11, 2005

My imminent site assignment and other stuff

Hi everyone!

I wanted to finish up what I was saying yesterday. I guess I finished talking about the taller (pronounced tie-yehr) so I will move on. On Wednesday I had an interview with my project director. He came into Santa Cruz to interview us all on how our training is going and our site preferences. This is a big deal to us. Next Friday we will find out where we will spend the next two years. Rumors are flying, the littlest comments are blown out of proportion, speculation is high. The following analogy might assist some of my friends: it's like the night before you receive your bid to join a sorority and everyone on your first-year hall is speculating this and that, trying not to get their hopes set on one certain thing, preparing yourself for your second and third choices, and being scared and really excited at the same time. It's like that :) For the rest of you, that analogy doesn't work so you'll have to use your imaginations!

Anyway, I tried to be really honest with our director and he's really nice and sincere and I know he will do the best he can to match the right place to the right person. Basically we can tell him all we want about our preferences but there's only so much he can do. Organizations and individuals in these different sites apply to have a Peace Corps volunteer and then he tries to match the best volunteer based on job skills and location preference and personality. I told him I'd like to work with an NGO, basically a nonprofit, and try to utilize my public relations-marketing-event planning experience in some way with the organization, maybe by planning AIDS events or raising awareness about certain health topics. I really want to work with youth on HIV knowledge and self-esteem, and I'd like to have a strong, involved counterpart, who is basically your assigned partner/co-worker that you coordinate activies with and is your first contact in the community. I told him I didn't think I would like to be a volunteer up on the North Coast with the Garifuna population, because it is a very challenging assignment even though you are on a beautiful beach, it's not quite as safe, and the population is challenging to work with sometimes, especially since they speak their own language. As far as other random preferences, I told him communication with home is very important to me, so that I would need internet or phone fairly close, and that I'd prefer a temperate climate, another volunteer there in town as my site mate, I'd like to live in a mid-sized town or a small town close to a city, and some other small things that I probably won't get. So that's what I think I'd like but none of it is guaranteed and I think I will adapt and have a great experience with just about any site assigment I get. You don't really join the Peace Corps so you can be picky and choosy about where you would like to live and all these little preferences, and they give you much more say in the matter than I expected. So now I get to play the waiting game! Ahhhhh! :)

Yesterday during Spanish class we took a field-trip to a beautiful waterfall on this guy's property. The only sad part was it was not the usual scorching heat, but instead kind of misty and chilly. But a few of us braver souls went in the water and felt the mist from the waterfall. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera but believe me when I say it was beautiful - tall white cascading water, big green mossy rocks all the way up, and a small river running by at the bottom where there is a nice pool to wade into. The owner was a doctor who talked to us afterwards and he was really inspiring. He is young, possibly early 30s, and he has great big plans for the area. He wants to build a hospital there in Santa Cruz, he wants to find ways to protect some of the natural resources of the area that are rapidly being destroyed, and he wants to bring more tourism, prosperity, and education to the area. He's an environmentalist and wants to protect the rivers, the lake, some endangered species of flowers and fauna. He said that big ideas are much more important than big money. And I could tell he had some big ideas, it was great to see the enthusiasm in his face.

Well I am writing during my lunch break, and it is almost over. This afternoon we are planning our last charla for next week which will be in a high school right outside of Santa Cruz. Then it's the weekend! Tomorrow we are going to a national park called Cerro Azul to go hiking, I am excited. Then Sunday I think I am going with my family to the pool and possibly taking some of my friends with me. I'm excited to relax after all the hard work of the week! I wish everyone a great weekend, and keep writing!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

My first taller!

Hey all, I hope all is well at home!

I can't write much because I am supposed to meet the rest of the group at Happy Restaurant for some beers and appetizers, but I wanted to write a bit about my first taller, or workshop.

Yesterday and today my group of 4 put on a workshop for the community health volunteers, most of which were midwives. I was nervous but these ladies were soooo cute. Most of them were older, and there was only one guy out of 20, but you could tell they were leaders in their community, had a deep love for their community, and had many years of experience and yet were very eager to learn more. Yesterday the theme of the day was self-esteem and goal setting. We did this to empower them to help the youth in their community and to show them they can build self-esteem in young women to prevent teen pregnancy. Today the theme was breastfeeding, and though they knew a lot about the topic they were still involved and interested in what we were saying. There were 3 times I could tell they had never heard something before because they all ooooed and ahhhhhed and looked really excited to have a new piece of knowledge to apply in their communities. When it was all over we gave them diplomas for their participation - diplomas are a huge thing here. They will probably go and display it in their house, as well as the nametags we made for all of them, that's just how they are here. All of the ladies gave me big hugs after lunch, coooing "que linda!" at me and just showing their appreciation of us being there to work with them. So it was a good experience. I never could envision myself working with older community members in that capacity, and I probably will focus more on youth and self-esteem and HIV/AIDS, but now I know that I can definitely have a good time with a bunch of cute old ladies too :)

I have to go, my friend Lauren is waiting for me. But I do want to tell you all about the beautiful waterfall we visited today during our Spanish class and the interview I had with my project manager about my site placement, which I will know by next Friday!! Crazy huh :) Ok take care and I will write soon!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hearing their stories...

In the afternoon today during our health tech session we spent several hours listening to the stories of people living with HIV/AIDS. We were visited by 3 women and one child who has HIV.

The first woman contracted the virus through a blood transfusion in 1995. When she got her HIV test later the person at the lab merely handed over her results and sent her on her way, no counseling or anything. She ended up keeping it a secret from everyone and didn't get treatment for several years, depending only on her faith in God. Eventually she came down with an illness and went to her longtime doctor, fearful of telling him she was positive. She ended up having a child with the man she was in love with and her little boy was born negative. However, because she was so excited in general to have a child and the doctor did not communicate the issue clearly to her, she breastfed her son and transmitted HIV to him through her breast milk. Her now 2 and a half year old son was there today, completely adorable. She receives treatment from the episcopal church here, and her son receives treatment by the government, as long as there is money for it, which could be any time. She doesn't regret having him and he is her whole life. Now she is involved with a self-support group, which is now about 15 people in her area. There are soooo many more that don't know they have HIV or refuse to tell anyone. However, through this group she and the others there have learned to go on with their lives, supporting each other and learning that they are not dead, they have a lot of years ahead of them.

One of the other stories was just as sad. She had been with 2 men in her life. The first man left her with 2 children. Her mother didn't help support her so she learned how to support her little family. A few years later she fell in love with a man. They were together for a few years and had a little girl together. The family lived all together and she was very happy. One day he took he aside and told her he had something to tell her. He said he had another family and another woman. She was heartbroken and felt completely betrayed. She told him to leave and go back to his other family, she could take care of herself and her children. But then she got very sick. She was layed up in bed for several days and didn't get better. The gossip mills started running and people were saying she had gotten HIV. She suspected it herself. She went to the doctor and asked for a test. When she found out she was positive she went home and was even more sick. The illness was almost secondary to her heartbreak of being deceived and infected by the man she loved. She was very depressed and finally after being in bed 15 days a friend came and took her to the hospital in Tegucigalpa. She stayed for a month and finally had to get out of there. She came back and decided to go on living for her youngest daughter, the little girl she had with the man she loved. Her mother doesn't support her at all. She looked to be in her 30s but lives with her mother, a woman who orders her around and doesn't let her leave the house without permission. The stigma and prejudice here surrounding HIV/AIDS is very serious. The place she was living before kicked her and her kids out because they found out she had HIV. She was one of the first 4 members of the self-support group, which was started only 2 years ago. Coming out into the open to a group is still a rare and new thing here, and support for people living with HIV is only now coming into the picture. She has a reason to leave the house, a purpose, to go to her meetings and talk to other people like her. She can now tell her story to her group and people like us, a group of gringos in the Peace Corps. Even now, people in their community don't know they have HIV. It is kept within the group. The first lady wouldn't be able to cut hair or do people's nails. The third lady had to quit her job as a nurse because the doctor in charge was going to force her to work in the Hepatitis unit even though she told him it was too risky for her health to work there. She now is the president of the Honduran self-support netwok for people living with HIV.

These people are only a few of the thousands and thousands of people here in Honduras living with HIV. A big thing they are working on is the stigma surrounding it. Most people won't get tested because they believe if you find out you have HIV you will die in 3 months. Another thing they are working on is prevention. And simply to provide an avenue of self-expession in a safe environment. They have a big job to do here. They are looking for ways to become self-sustaining because the Red Cross and some other funding will be ending soon.

Anyway, I wanted to share their stories. It's easy to forget when you hear about the numbers that every one of those numbers represent a son, a daughter, a mother, a brother, a child. It was a really moving experience.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

*Whew* Taking a breather

Hi friends and family!

Well it's nice to finally have a few hours to myself. It's about 4 pm Saturday afternoon here andI just woke up from a long, much-needed nap. I still feel kinda off but I think a day of rest will do the trick!

We went to ANEDH yesterday at stayed the night. As I said before, it's a youth camp right outside Santa Barbara and pretty much right on top of Aguas Termales, hot springs! I'll get to that in a sec though. We packed the 20 of us into two of the white PC land cruisers and arrived to the camp around 2:30. The girls slept in one room with bunk beds and the guys in another. We spent the afternoon doing the same activities that the staff does with youth, but the theme was HIV/AIDS education, and not the environment like I thought before (they also teach about the environment). The staff are almost all volunteers, and they are all fairly young people that got scholarships to the United States to go to university and now they work with Honduran youth. The view from the camp was gorgeous, very green, rural, and rolling green mountains with pastures and cows dotting the landscape. It was very misty around the tops of the mountains, and from the camp you can see clouds of steam rising from the hot springs below.

After dinner and once it was dark, some of the staff took us down to the hot springs. Now, this wouldn't have been possible in the states because the liability would be too high. We went through the woods down a pretty steep slope with only our flashlights to light the way, holding on to each other for support. It was surreal because we couldn't see the springs, only hear the bubbling and steam as we got closer. We had to wear tennis shoes because if we slipped while crossing the stream we could burn our feet in some places. All of a sudden I realized I was in a cave - the darkness made it hard to see more than a few feet in front of you. The cave goes over the stream and forms a natural sauna, where they have put benches so you can sit in it. It was funny because all the people with glasses had to get pulled through because they were blind from the steam fogging up their lenses. I couldn't even hardly see and it was so warm and steamy I tried to get through quickly. After a few moments of grappling through the fog I felt cool fresh air. We had gotten through the cave and on the other side the boiling stream empties into a river. We crossed on wooden planks which freaked me out a bit because I could hear the bubbling and boiling only a foot beneath my feet and again, it was hard to see. During the day people like to cook eggs or meat in the water - isn't the earth amazing that it can produce things like this? Anyway we made our way to the point where the hot stream meets the river and a staff member tested the water, toasty but not scalding. So gradually more and more brave souls got down to their bathing suits and just floated in about 2 feet of water all together. We giggled and sang camp songs. The cooler river and hot water mixed so sometimes the water going by was hot, sometimes cold. It was funny because I also knew what was coming to me from the Ooooohs and Ahhhhs from the people a few feet upstream (i.e. "Oooooo here comes a nice hot one!" or "Ooooooh cold!" which created a wave effect of sound. But reclining in that warm water was so neat, hearing the rapids and bubbles but not seeing past our little group in the dark.

We eventually climbed back up the slope through the woods to the camp. It was so funny, I felt like we were kids in a summer camp again. The girls all ran to the showers and giggled (young and old) and we made up our bunk beds and told random stories. Afterwards I walked over to the boys' room and played a game of spades before lights out at 10 pm.

This morning we woke up early because of the usual roosters crowing and dogs barking and made our way up to breakfast. We did a couple more activities together as a group. Before we left at 11 am, we got to go spend another hour down at the hot springs. The experience during the day time was completely different. We could see the path down through the woods, which was pretty easy to navigate in the light. I saw the cave for the first time, which looked different than I had imagined. The stream running into it was bright green from the algae that thrives in the heat and large whitish gray rocks make up steep walls the surround the stream. The stream runs into a brown cave with a low ceiling. The cave was filled with whitish steam making its natural sauna. Walking through the cave we saw a beautiful river with large boulders everywhere. We saw the area we had waded in the night before. We climbed over the boulders about 300 feet down the river, which would have been impossible in the dark. I had to tie my camera to my belt buckle so that I had my hands free to pull myself up and down. We finally reached some small waterfalls upstream that were really scenic. Some people went swimming, since it was a deeper area, but I just sat on a large boulder and soaked up the sights. It was finally time to go. Hopefully I'll be able to take some of you all there when you visit, it was really a cool experience!

Now that I am back in Santa Cruz and rested up a bit I can relax. In a couple hours I am meeting some people at a restaurant in town here called Sabor Catracho (meaning Honduran taste) and we are going to eat dinner and drink some beers and probably play a few games of Spades and other card games. I am looking forward to it!

I miss you all and hope all is well back home. Love you all!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Packages galor!

Hi all :)

Just wanted to share with you about the mountain of packages and letters I got today, thank you! I got Valentine's Day stuff from my mom (a ton I might add), a Valentine's Day card from Grandma Pat and Grandpa Al, a Valentine's Day card from Carol, Chris's mom, an awesome care package from friends Brittany and Kelly for Valentine's Day, and a letter from Chris. I think in total I got about 6 packages and 5 letters! Mom you sent me a mountain of facial products so I gave a lot of it to the young teenage girl who works in my host house cooking and cleaning, she loved it all. I still have a ton left so don't worry. And I shared some of the candy with the kids of course, and gave my 9 year old host brother the Highlights magazine after explaining the games, and the word search book, since he is learning English in school. Mom sent me cake mix and frosting and sprinkles, so I want to make the cake sometime in the next few days using the neighbor's oven. Anyway, it was very exciting, thank you! I had to pay 50 Lps. for it all, which is the equivalent of about $2.50. We'll see how I get it all back to Siguat!

Today was a scorcher. It had to be in the 90s or higher. I sweated all afternoon. When I finished at 4:30 I went home and took a nice cold shower - it was heaven.

Today we prepared for a charla we are giving tomorrow morning for, get this, about 150 fifth graders! And it's just the 5 of us in my Spanish class that are going to be controlling all of them. I don't see how it's possible but I am sure I will learn a lot from the experience! The theme of the charla is self-esteem and we will be doing the following activities with them: We start with Simon Says to get them moving, then we will go over what self-esteem is and what affects our self-esteem. Then we are going to have them trace their hand on a piece of paper and make a turkey (you know what I mean, we all did this in school) and have them write on each finger one thing they are good at, one thing they like about themselves, etc. Then we are going to play charades in smaller groups to get them used to doing things in front of a group (sometimes just having these kids introduce themselves in front of a group is something they have never done before and does wonders for their confidence). Then we are finishing up by having them write their dream, what they want to do when the grow up, on a leaf, and we have drawn a few big "Arbol de los suenos" or Tree of Dreams that they will put the leaves on and they can keep it in their classrooms. This, we hope, will take only about 2 hours. What do you think? With a group so big it's hard to do a lot, so hopefully we will be able to do what we've planned.

Tomorrow (Friday) afternoon the whole health group leaves for an overnight trip at a camp outside Santa Barbara, called ANEHD, or something. It is like a youth camp that educates about the environment, which is what we are going to learn about. So we will all go there for the night and return Saturday. It should be fun.

Well I'm sending lots of love to you all! Take care :)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Catching up...

Hi everyone!

It's been a few days since I've posted anything so I am here on my lunch break to catch you up on my week. On Monday we worked with the same youth we have our AIDS charla to on Friday, and this time they took part in the charla we gave to a class of 6th graders. I was so proud that, 1. they showed up, and 2. they did a great job explaining AIDS and facilitating some fun activities for the class. Lauren and I plan to meet with our two youth that helped us on Monday this Thursday for ice cream so that we can talk more. I found I really enjoyed working with the 6th graders - they were energetic, cute, and loved the activities we planned. I think I have found a hidden talent that it's easy for me to facilitate a group of youth and teach things in fun ways, even in Spanish. So now I definitely want to work with a youth group in my future site - it's so fun.

I am more worried about my ability to give a charla to a group of older midwives. That intimidates me a bit more and that is exactly what I will be doing next week. Today I am working with a group of four - Karen, Ann, John, and me - on a charla about why breastfeeding is best and we are also going to work in some self-esteem activities as well. Not only the audience is intimidating (a group of 15 to 20 midwives and other Honduran community health volunteers that are mainly old ladies from the country and not known to be the most willing to participate in interactive activities) but the charla is also a two-day workshop including lunch. So we are figuring out the logistics of that and have to prepare all of our materials and figure out which non-formal education activities we want to us and what we want to cover. So it'll be a learning experience!

Yesterday it rained all day - it was heaven. It was a complete aberration from the usual weather here - hot and dry, this time of year. So the rain and the almost chilly temperature was a great break. The only problem was that it got very muddy (and one trainee fell and sprained her knee) and also that the internet connection was disturbed, so I couldn't get online yesterday. But other than that everyone enjoyed the rainy day :)

Today after class I signed up for a Spanish tutorial, which is a one-hour one on one session with one of the Spanish teachers. I haven't been able to have one before because they were reserved solely for the novice speakers before, but this week I was able to grab one. The language training here in the Peace Corps is amazing. I found out my new level in Spanish is Intermediate-High, which I am pleased about. I also received a list of suggestions of what I need to study and improve on in my language skills. I have so much work left to do though, I think it's gonna take studying a little Spanish every day for my whole first year to feel fluent. But at least now I can get my point across and give charlas in front of groups and express myself. Maybe before the end of training I will reach Advanced-Low, but if not I think I can improve once I have more time to study.

Well I hope you all are having a great week! I heard it has been snowy up there this week. Chris finally got an international calling option added to his cell phone plan and now it's 37 cents a minute for him to call, which I don't think is too bad. So he called me at my host house last night which was a great surprise!

Keep writing and emailing please! It makes my day every time I hear from one of you. Lots of love!