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.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Galloping Lauren

Hi people!

So I am back in Santa Rosa already...I am going to stay the night with my friend Angela (by the way, her blog site is if you wanna read it ever...she just started it). She just got an apartment in Santa Rosa and is moving into it this weekend. Plus it'll be fun to stay up late and talk in English...sweet English.

Anyways, yesterday I woke up really early, about 5:30, to go running with my host sis Estellita, who is 16. The sun had just come up and there was a slight mist over all the green hills....just gorgeous. I don't know if it is practical but I am going to bring my camera next time. We ran all around Dulce Nombre, up and down the streets, some cobblestone, some dirt, and some hills brought awesome views. I am going to make my dad and brother wake up early with me when they come visit to go on a morning run :) I think in total we ran/walked about 5 km. Hopefully I can keep it up.

And I suppose you might be curious as to what the title of this post means. Well I went horseback riding! It was so fun. Horses, riding in the back of pickup trucks, and buses are the main sources of transportation here. Men and women and children are always trotting by on their way to work or as they run errands. I love it. So my host family has a few horses the 4 of us "kids" took out two horses. I sat in the saddle up front and "drove" and my host brother, 12 year old Fito, sat behind me on the horses butt. He was not happy back there and I eventually got Estella behind me. So at first I was really unsteady and only wanted to walk around. But they I sorta learned how to steer the horse and eventually we started having races. Picture this: two girls sitting on a horses, gallopìng madly down a dirt street and screaming the whole way. It was so fun. I am sure I made a professional impression on the community. We rode around town for about 2 hours, and of course, today my posterior is pretty sore. But I can't wait to go again. I am tempted to buy a horse like some volunteers do during their service but I don't feel like dealing with the responsibility. I think a kitty is much more ideal for me. So I think I will just borrow a horse every now and then :)

Later in the day I had to find my counterpart to fill out this form for Peace Corps, an emergency action plan form that had various phone numbers of people in the community, a site map with landmarks like local pulperias (convenience stores) or churches, a 2 way radio frequency in case the phones go down (I am still working on that), etc. So I got my first taste of what it is like living in a town of only 7000 people. I get to my counterpart's house and discover she isn't there like she said she would be. So I went over and asked the neighbor where she might be and he said "Don Juan"´s and pointed towards town. Now I had no idea who Don Juan was so I decided to just walk in the general of the center of town and hope that I saw her. Well I see someone on the street that I knew so I go over to say hi to her. She is talking with a man and she introduces him. Apparently he produces the town's local television station. Now don't go getting any high-tech images in your head - he had a little hand held video camera like mine. Well he says he wants an interview. Meanwhile I am sweaty and tired and am not in the mood to speak Spanish on camera for the benefit of the whole town. Well he would not be persuaded of the badness of this idea so he pointed the camera at me and started recording. I muttered some works about what I was doing here and I think I said something about forgetting most people's names that I have been meeting (good job Lauren) and that I would be continuing the former volunteer's work, etc. But mainly I just stood there looking at him and smiling awkwardly. Then it was over. But he says, this will only be the first of many interviews. So I said, ok so next time I see you on the street I will run away. He looks confused for a second, and I explain it was a joke...but not really. I think it would be cool to do a health program with him though about HIV/AIDS or something. So I go back to talking to my friend and ask her if she knows Don Juan. She does and she proceeds to take me there. Eventually we get to the house and there I find my counterpart! Now where else but in a small town would that have been possible?

Ok well, I hope you all have a great weekend. And I will be thinking of all you UVAers who are going to Foxfields next week - no fair! I have all my pictures from last year though, I will just have to be there in memory. Vaya pues...ya me voy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Week 2

Hi guys and gals,

It's so nice to be sitting in this internet cafe right now. I am appreciating it even more now that I can't use it as much. I called my friend Angela today from Dulce Nombre to see what she was up to and I ended up coming into Santa Rosa, meeting up with her, and then going out to a tiny aldea for a meeting with a group of kids. We ended up just doing lots of fun activities and games with the kids (remember 7up?) and they taught us lots of songs. They were so cute, belting out these songs at the top of their lungs. I also tried to teach them Miss Suzy, that irreverent hand clapping song, and they liked that, even though they didn't understand the words.

This week has had its ups and downs. The main down was that last Thursday, just hours after I sent out that huge email to you all, I got really sick. I got really nauseated around dinner time and before I knew it I was throwing up all night. It was pretty awful. I went into Santa Rosa early the next morning to go to the private hospital that we PCVs get to go to; my counterpart and her husband took me, they were awesome the whole time. I was really weak and dehydrated so the doctor had me hooked up to an IV for a few hours while I slept in a hospital bed and he ran some tests. It turns out I had amoebas. Yeah. I must have eaten something bad or had some bad water. Who knows - I go out into the aldeas and when these destitute people offer me food or fruit drinks, I can't say no. But honestly I probably got them before I got to Dulce Nombre. Anyway, he hooked me up with some drugs to kill the little suckers, and I was feeling better by the next morning after a good night's sleep. So my first encounter with sickness wasn't that bad all in all - in fact, I was one of the last people in my training group to have to go to the hospital :) I am learning that in Honduras, if you don't feel good, it's best to just go to the dang hospital. So I basically slept, read, wrote letters, and slept some more all weekend. I don't think I really left the house. It was raining and chilly anyway so I was nice and happy inside.

Monday I decided to go hang out at my counterpart's house, where she has a little store in the front of her property. We went over Spanish...I am trying to study more now that I have the time. In the afternoon we decided we would wander over to the school so that I could meet the school director. Well it turns out they were preparing for a big ceremony to award a small group of kids that had been electer by their peers to different positions. The director invited me to watch, and I said, sure why not. My counterpart left to run errands. So I was sitting off to the side, chatting with a kid here, a kid there. When the ceremony started he started calling up various directors of various departments and schools up to the Principal table up front. He called them by their full, often long names and stated their position. Then suddently I heard, "and now here representing Cuerpo de Paz, Lauren"...just "Lauren". It was really funny. I awkwardly rushed up there in my Teva sandals and t-shirt and sat with the school bigwigs and stared out over a huge mass of kids. I saw my little host brother in the midst and he was smiling at me. It was just a funny moment, hard to convey to you all...but I sat there in the middle of this ceremony in Spanish, the lone American in the middle of a couple hundred Hondurans, not knowing what the heck was going on. But the good thing that came out of all this was that I made a friend! Yay :) She is a 19 year old in her first year as a kindergarten teacher. I am going to go help her with some classes and do some English with them. But the really cool thing is that she wanted to start a youth group a while back but it didn't work out. So I was like, hey, I really want to start a youth group too. And PC tells us, when starting an activity, group, event, whatever, try to involve a member of the community from the beginning so that when we are no longer here, it can continue. So I was thinking, yay, someone to be my counterpart for a youth group! She proudly showed me her kinder class room and took me over to her house to meet her mom and sister. It's funny how anxious I am to make Honduran friends here in my community and when I finally did, it was really satisfying.

Well that's about it from my end. This week was pretty low key because Pri isn't here to take me around and show me her various projects. I am enjoying the slow pace for now though. I think I am going to try to make outmeal and chocolate cookies with the family I am living with, and maybe lasagna....mmm. I am lucky because Carmen, my host mom, who's actually only 32, is a great cook, and has a fully stocked kitchen complete with an oven.

Well I am going to go down and catch the 5 pm bus out of Santa Rosa to Dulce Nombre. I enjoy the ride because the scenery is beautiful and I often get involved in an interesting conversation with someone on the bus.

Take care and I hope to hear from you all soon - email, phone, letters...your choice :)

p.s. They are playing Grease at this internet cafe right random.

First week in Dulce Nombre

(Email from last week...)

Hi family and friends!

Sorry it has been a little long since my last email or blog post. My blog is down right now, at least from my end, so I thought I'd write this email and then copy it onto the blog another time.

Anyway - wow I have a lot to catch you all up on. Last Wednesday my training group went to Tegucigalpa for Swearing In and other related activities. Unfortunately I was sick that day...I had been up all night the night before with stomach aches. So I wasn't too alert that day. Anyway, we went to the Peace Corps headquarters and got some logistics squared away like our bank accounts and salary and living expenses. We got our new residence cards and other IDs, and check books. I went to the PC doctor and got drugs, yay. Then we bussed over to the U.S. Embassy which was really interesting. We got presentations from various people that work in the embassy on subjects such as visas, corruption in the Honduran government, the role of the embassy in Honduras, USAID, economic situation in Honduras and what the U.S. is doing. The ambassador dropped in and said a few works, and we all had to stand up since he is supposed to represent the President of the United States in Honduras. That evening we went to the huge mall in Teguc and I ate at T.G.I.Fridays. I had been planning on having a fun night out with my group but since I was sleepy and sick I didn't take part in the celebrating much. But we did have a hotel party on my room (of all the rooms!) and about 30 people were in there chatting, doing silly stuff, and drinking. We stayed in a fancy hotel and our room had an awesome view of Teguc. Luckily for me, people cleared out by 11 and went out to clubs and casinos, but me, I stayed and went to sleep in my wonderful comfy bed and had an awesome night sleep. The next day I was pretty much the only alert one as we went off to spend the day at the ambassador's residence. I had an awesome time...I felt much better. We enjoyed his pool, volleyball courts, tennis and basketball courts. The ordered in a bunch of Little Caesar's pizzas which we all consumed like a pack of animals. Then we all showered and dressed up for the swearing in ceremony. It was emotional and inspiring. The U.S. ambassador, Larry Palmer, the PC country director, the director of USAID, and the PC training director were there and all spoke. We sang the Honduran anthem and I led the American anthem. We had to stand up and say the same oath that the President, Vice President, ambassadors and all foreign service officers have to say. So I become a real Peace Corps Volunteer, and no longer a trainee! It was a cool moment and I wish you all had been there.

After that we schmoozed a bit with the bigwigs and then eventually made our way back to Siguatepeque. The next day all of our counterparts came into Siguat from various parts of Honduras and we had counterpart day, which was basically a day of orientation for them to explain the role of peace corps volunteers. Mine is awesome, a little lady about 55 named Mirian, who is a retired teacher. She has a huge family, 5 kids who will probably all be friends of mine. She is super involved in Dulce Nombre and has a long list of projects she is dreaming about. I think she will be a great counterpart. The sad part of the day was that people in my group started leaving for their sites. It's amazing how close I have gotten to these 33 people over the last 3 months. All the staff has said how amazed they are at the closeness of our group. Everytime I hugged someone goodbye, the tears came, I was a mess! We are already planning a party in Santa Rosa on April 30, so I will see some soon, but others, it will be a while. *Sigh*

The next day, Saturday, I said goodbye to me Siguat host family and gave out lots of hugs, and I met my counterpart at the bus station to make my way to my site -- ahhh, the time had come! My "real" Peace Corps experience is starting! Her husband was waiting for us at the bus station in Santa Rosa in his pickup truck, and we piled my huge duffel bag into the back and made our way to Dulce Nombre. By the way, you can start sending letters and packages to my new address:

Lauren Mohlie
Voluntario de Cuerpo de Paz
Dulce Nombre de Copan, Honduras
America Central

Yup, no numbers, no zip code. I already met the post office lady and she knows me, and I will go to her to check for mail. Anyway, back to my first day...we got to Dulce Nombre and hung out at my counterpart's house for a bit and then I went to the house where I will be living for the first few months. I chose to live with a host family at first, and then when Pri leaves in June (the volunteer who I am replacing) I will move into her very nice house. I don't know though, I am already ready to live on my own. My host mom is only 32 and has accepted me so much that I am like part of the family, which means I have little privacy. It is starting to drive me a bit crazy. But I haven't been home much so far because Pri has been keeping me super super busy. I have been waking up early and getting home late. I think I have already started losing weight from walking several miles a day and eating healthier. Since Monday I have gone to two improved stove demonstrations in the surrounding small towns around Dulce Nombre, helped give an English class to a kindergarten class, helped Pri give an aerobics class, gone to a meeting about the library they hope to get funds for, books and computers and please Lord, internet!, and which will probably be a project of mine, met a hundred people in the town. Everyone here thinks I am Honduran at first, and about 16 or 17 years old (because people age here quicker from the work and sun and babies). On Sunday when I went to mass with my family I got taken for Honduran again and got sucked into reading a long passage in front of the whole church -- ahh! Only later were they like, "Where are you from? You have an accent." Duhhh. On Tuesday I went to a great party at my counterpart's house and met a lot more people and danced and ate a lot and had some wine. It was a lot of fun.

My town has about 7000 people, and I still feel lost in it, but I have started already seeing my new acquaintences in the streets and stopping for short conversations with them. Every time I pass someone when I am walking to Pri's house or my counterpart's house, I say "Buenas!", or "Hola!" or "Adios!". I try to smile and call out to as many people as possible. Pri said that most of them probably know about me even if I have never met them. It's a great town and I think I have already started a few friendships. It is slow going though, and I try to remind myself that becoming part of a community can take the whole first year, if not all 2 years. Ok, so I have been really busy but I think over the next few days things might slow down a little bit. Pri is going away for about a week and a half and I will be left to my own devices for a while. I am going to a two day workshop in Santa Rosa with my counterpart next Monday and Tuesday, and I will probably try to catch up on letters and studying Spanish over the next week.

You can call me at (I took the number out b/c this is internet but call my mom or email me and I would love to give you the number). That is the number of my family's house, just ask "¿Lauren esta?". I am usually home after 7 or 8 pm my time, and the east coast is 2 hours ahead, so that means 9 or 10 pm your time. Anyway, soooo sorry that this is so long but the last week has been very busy and momentous in my PC life so far :) I am already super excited to show visitors around my site so start planning visits! I will be checking email about once a week from now on.

Love and miss you all and hope to hear from you soon,

Monday, April 04, 2005

My beautiful new home...

Well this won't be a long post, but I wanted to share my first, very fleeting impressions of Santa Rosa de Copan and my site, Dulce Nombre.

I went out to Santa Rosa on Saturday with Angela and a married couple, Danyel and David. It only took us 3 and a half hours to get there on a direct bus from Siguatepeque to Santa Rosa...I think our bus driver set some kind of speed record. Angela and I both took a Dramamine because the roads get pretty curvy! The Western region of Honduras is GORGEOUS. I could not believe the views that we passed on the way to Santa Rosa. I can't wait to see the faces of people who come visit me on that first bus ride to my site! There are these huge green rolling mountains that have tons of curves and crevassess, white cows and horses dotting the inclines. The best friend of one our trainers, a prominent Honduran in Santa Rosa, picked us up at the bus station and recommended a hotel for us. We thought it was really expensive but there wasn't another option that wasn't really sketchy. This really nice hotel in downtown Santa Rosa cost the equivalent of 6 you can see our scale is a bit different down here. But let me just say this, the city is ADORABLE. I love it. It has cobblestone streets and all the stores and restaurants have these little historic looking plaques instead of big tacky signs. Bakeries and coffee shops are prevalent, sending aromas of baking bread throughout the city. It seems like a little European oasis in the middle of Honduras. I felt safe there, even after dark. The cathedral on the central park is beautiful and many of the buildings are painted bright colors. After getting there we walked around and had lunch at a little diner type place and then asked for directions to where the Peace Corps volunteer crash house is. It is near the center and is the upstairs of a house on a corner. Walking up we found several volunteers in the area lounging around under blankets, since this weekend was pretty chilly here in Honduras. Everyone was coming into Santa Rosa that night for a farewell party for the group that is getting ready to leave Honduras. We heard so many funny stories from the past two years. All of them said we had the best region in Honduras. We hung out with them most of the day. That night they made all this great food together and had beers, champagne, and this local alcoholic mixture they made that was really strong and I avoided. About 30 volunteers came in from the region. We went to a karaoke place and had a great time, then at midnight they went off to a dance club, one of their favorite places. Angela and I decided to go back to the hotel, which was only 2 blocks away, since it was late and their was a cover charge. But it was great to meet some of the awesome people in my region.

The next day Angela and I went out to Dulce Nombre with Pri, the volunteer I am replacing. It is so beautiful!! It too has cobblestone streets but on a much steeper incline. It is surrounded by the same green mountains. It took about 35 minutes by bus from Santa Rosa, but is faster by car. I saw my cute new house, which I won't move into until after Pri, leaves in 2 months. It has 2 or 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, sala or living room area, a big back yard with a plot of grass where I hope to have a garden, and the back yard is surrounded by a wall, which has a gate through which I have a view of green hills with horses grazing. I dropped off about half of my stuff that I had brought from Siguatepeque, which should made the move much easier on Saturday. The house is near the center of the town. I met my counterpart briefly and had lunch there, and we walked to meet a family where I want to live for the first 2 months. The house is very nice and the family was great...a mother in her thirties, with a 6 month old and a 16 year old. Her husband was killed the year before in circumstances I am not quite clear on yet, but the family obviously has a bit of money. She was very fun and talks a lot, which will be good for my Spanish. We only had 2 hours to spend in Dulce Nombre because Angela and I had to take the bus back to Santa Rosa in time to catch a bus back to San Pedro Sula and on to Siguatepeque. But I am so excited to get started...nervous of course, but I think it will be a great experience. I hope! The ride home took 4 and a half house since it wasn't direct, but it was ok. I made it home safe and unfortunately have a head cold today but am in good spirits. Mom has my new address and said she would send it around. Email me if you don't get it and want it!

Wednesday we go to Tegucigalpa, and Thursday I will be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer! Then Saturday I will move to my site permanently! It's hard to believe. I'll write soon. Miss and love you guys!

Friday, April 01, 2005


Hi everyone!

Well I didn't pass the final language exam and they said I can't go to my site next week like everyone else. My whole Peace Corps service is in jeopardy. I am so sad to disappoint you all....

Well in case you are feeling sad now, April Fool's :) I had to do something! It's our family tradition after all to do very creative slightly sadistic April Fool's jokes on other family members. Mine wasn't so creative but hey I am short on time.

I just wanted to check in because it has been awhile. I only have about 10 minutes to write...I am using the internet during my lunch break here at our training center in Siguatepeque. Today has been very laidback. We learned the Honduran national anthem and my well-trained ears hurt afterwards since everyone was singing different notes. But when it came time to sing the American anthem (we are practicing for next week) they had me choose a note for the group and we started on the same pitch, thank Goodness ;) Wow, I sound like a music snob. Sorry.

Tomorrow I am getting up at 5 am to go off to visit Santa Rosa de Copan. They unfortunately don't pay for a site visit anymore so I am using my own money. But I am going with my friends Angela, Danyel, and David so it shouldn't be too bad of a ride. I think it will take about 5 hours. We have to go through San Pedro Sula so I am slightly worried about that but many people have already done it and say it's not that bad. When we get there we are going to walk around Santa Rosa and look for a place to live for Angela and see the city. We will stay in a hotel there. There is a goodbye party for the PC group in the west who are getting ready to end their 2 years of service in Honduras, so I will see the volunteer I am replacing there. Then I hope I will be able to visit Dulce Nombre on Sunday morning to drop of some stuff and look at some different places to live before coming back to Siguatepeque. It will be a full weekend but I am looking forward to it. I will write and describe my site for you when I get back!

Well I have to run. Sorry this is so short. Oh real quick, I got mail yesterday and want to thank Ian, Wendi, Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Tim, and Rachel for great letters! I was laughing out loud at some of them and it was great to hear from you. I will write back when I get to my site in a week...right now things are too crazy. But they really made my day!

Love and miss you all. talk to you soon!