Lauren's Peace Corps Experience in Honduras

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

Monday, June 27, 2005

My house, in the middle of my street

Hi people!

Well life has changed here in Dulce Nombre. First, my lovely site mate, Pri, has left, her 2+ years ended. The town already feels different without her. I am sure I will get used to it though in time, but it was great having her here. The town gave her a big goodbye party, and you could really feel the love and appreciation in the room. The great thing is that most of the people in that room are now my friends, so hopefully that will make my time here satisfying.

The other change is that I have finally moved into my own house! After almost 6 months living with families, I now can do whatever I want, on my own schedule, in peace or to the pace of my own music, in my own house. It is a big house for one person and very nice by Peace Corps standards, with white tiled floors, a big kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The ceilings are very high, creating a dilemna now that I need to change a lightbulb :) I have put up a border of postcards and pictures of family and friends around the kitchen, a la Pri, so whenever I am cooking or cleaning I can see all of my loved ones. There is a small gated front part, where I am hoping to plant some flowers, but a pretty big backyard, where as you know I planted a garden. The garden is very neglected right now, so it will take some work to get it back up and running, but I am looking forward to it. The backyard has the garden, a pila to wash my clothes, a back gate through which are the pits for my garbage, some clothes lines, and benches. I am hoping to beautify it a bit. Anyway, the last 24 hours I have been cleaning and moving things around and putting away my things. I am hoping to buy some more furniture in the near future, but Pri left most of the big pieces so I have everything I need just about. Carmen and the rest of the family helped me move my things in the back of their pickup, and then I cooked them dinner, spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread. I used some of the fresh herbs that have already come up out back. The oohed and ahhed over the house and gave me decorating tips. Carmen said she wanted to arrange for a man to come this week and help me chop down the tall grass out back, where snakes apparently could be lurking, she says. She also said she wants to bring in some good dirt for me soon, yay :) It's the little things that get me excited these days! So it's nice to have help with those kinds of things.

Well just wanted to do a quick checkin with you! I am going to send out my cell phone number so that you all can call me whenever :) Lots of love!

Friday, June 24, 2005

I'm in the REAL Peace Corps now...

(Copied from email)

Hi friends and family!

Well I wrote about this adventure I had last Thursday on my blog, but it got erased (grrrr) so I thought I'd share it with you on email since some of you probably don't read the blog and it's a pretty good story :)

Well last Thursday I had a grand adventure with Pri. She had asked me Tuesday if I would walk with her to Copan Ruinas. I can't say I really wanted to but since it was basically her last week here I said "ok". Over the next two days when we told people our plan they looked at us ike we were crazy, saying things like "You're not seriously walking are you?"..."You can't, no!"..."It'll take days"..."You gringas are crazy". Anyway we laughed and thought they ere overreacting mostly. On a map the road from Dulce Nombre to Copan Ruinas looks much more direct than the paved highway, which goes north an hour before turning south at La Entrada, which is another 2 hours to Copan Ruins. So driving, it's over 3 hours. But the direct road we were planning to walk is not paved, rocky, muddy, up and down mountains. So we didn't expect it to be easy, but I didn't think it would be TOO hard since we'd been walking so much anyway.

So we leave around 11 a.m., later than planned because of a library meeting with the Rieken people who are donating this great library to Dulce Nombre. Our friend Ryan Sim came into Dulce Nombre at the last minute to make the trek with us, and so we didn't mind too much forgetting the long metal stick we usually take with us on long walks for protection - we had a guy with us! We set off. The first few hours we are in high spirits, talking,making jokes, admiring the gorgeous views and countryside. It's greener than you could ever imagine. We walk through the towns of Las Caleras, Candelaria, Plan Grande, past the road to San Augustine, on our way to El Zapote de Santa Rosa (places people normally go in trucks, not on foot). We climb to the top of this mountain, not an easy feat, and see a sprawling view below. Pri says she thinks she sees Santa Rita below and optimistically says we are more than halfway. By then it is about 1 pm I think. We had been walking uphill for about 2 hours by that point. Yay, halfway there we think!

We keep on trekking. In the near distance we see a big black raincloud coming and hear the approaching thunder. It starts to drizzle, then gets stronger, the wind picking up. We stop, take out our rain jackets and umbrellas, wrap up our cameras and food in plastic bags, and keep on going. The rain feels good for a while, as we had been sweating a good bit. The mud starts to get a life of its own - we slip, slide down muddy hills. Every few steps we have to stop and scrape off the mud that cakes the bottom of our sneakers. I start to geta big discouraged when we get to El Zapote about 2:30 or 3 pm and we start to ask people how much further is Santa Isabel, where we planned to meet up with the paved highway and get a ride the short distance to Santa Rita and Copan Ruins. "Far, very far"..."How many kilometers?"..."Oh, very very far"..."Ok, how many hours walk"..."Oh, you can't...4 hours"...Another person: "6 hours"...a boy "A day". Answers that were not very encouraging. We trudge on, already exhausted (it is still drizzling). We walk through little towns and pass people that had probably never seen 3 gringos walking past their houses with their big gringo backpacks - we were in the middle of nowhere. In Quebraditas we pass an old man, who upon finding out where we are headed, gives us a warning in his hard-to-understand campesino Spanish: "The river is really swollen from the rain up probably won't be able to pass". Pri thanks him for the information, but we have come this far and there is no way we can turn back now. My feet are killing me by this point. We finally get to a river, a rather large river. But the strange thing is there isa huge concrete bridge going across it! "Ha, that old man didn't know what he was talking about" Sim says..."It must have been ages since he has come here". We sit at the bridge for a while, resting and finishing up our snack foods. It is about 4:30 or 5 by that point and I start getting worried that we might not get there before dark. We get up and keep walking - we never know what's on the other side of the next mountain, but I hope it's Santa Isabel. The road is not really a road...more like a dirt path or rocky river bed. We see another river up ahead - oh great, we think, THIS must be the dreaded river. There is a tree branch laid across the brown rushing waters, with stakes sticking up vertically out of the water, apparently to hold onto during one's branch crossing. I look at this measley branch doubtfully. Pri goes slowly across slowly. I step up on the branch but get a sick feeling and don't thinkI can make it. Pri does a lot of yoga and has great balance, after all, I think - I am a klutz and if anyone falls into the water, it'll be me! I decide to wade across. But Sim starts across andtells me that it's not that bad, I can do it. I probably look comical as I went sideways across the branch - but I make it, with all my things dry and intact. Whew!

We are not far past the river when a pickup truck full of people comes from the opposite direction and passes us. The people are yelling "The river, the river! We couldn't pass!" Uh oh. So there's ANOTHER river. Maybe that old guy knew what he was talking about after all. We keep walking. It's about 5:30 now - we have to be close. We pass by an amazing trail of ants carrying cut up pieces of leaves. But what was amazing was they had made a bridge over a big mud puddle with themselves, other ants. The ant bridge was maybe 10 or 15 ants thick, with other ants walking over them with their cargo. God has made an amazing world of so many impossibly intricate details! Anyway we go on,walking determinedly towards the last hurdle in our journey - the big river. We hear it before we see it -up ahead, a swollen river is rushing over the road. And just on the other side we see the paved highway to Copan Ruinas, with cars and trucks rushing by. So we have to cross, somehow. As we approach the water's edge, on the other side comes a pickup truck. We wait and see, wanting the watch the truck go across so we can see how deep the waters are. But we realize the people in the truck are waiting for the same thing, for US to go across so they can see how deep the water is! Haha. We make hand gestures across the water - Come on, go ahead, you can go first. The truck hesitates and then plunges in, and for a moment it seems like it will be carried away by the current. The water is up to the windows. But it makes it across, the engine is steaming when it pulls up next to us. We make a weak attempt to bargain for a ride across the river, but realize that the truck probably wouldn' t make it again. So with much resignation we take off our sneakers, now very muddy, and tie them to our backpacks. We know we will be getting wet. Pri and I go in first, barefoot into the muddy waters, our backpacks raised above our heads, as if one were watching an Africa movie with an exploration party crossing a crocodile infested river with their cargo raised up. But no, this is real life. The water goes up to my ribs,obviously drenching my jeans and shirt. In the middle the current gets very strong and I am very orried I wouldn't be able to stay upright and keep my backpack (with my digital camera) out of the water. I plant my feet down though and make it across. The whole time Pri and I were struggling across, Sim was trying to get us to turn around for picturs and the video he was taking, and I am yelling, if I turn around I am going under, shut up Sim!! But Pri and I get to watch from the other side as Sim goes across in his boxers and with his huge pack raised over his head - very amusing. So our little walk turned out to be quite at adventure.

We trudge up the road, dripping wet, to the highway and flag down a tourist van headed to Copan Ruins. The Australians in the van look at us like we are crazy when we mention why we are so wet and muddy - "wasn't there a bus from where you came from?" they ask. I get off in Santa Rita to stay with my friends Danyel and David. I spent two nights with them. Many people in their town wanted to meet the girl who had walked there from Dulce Nombre...they didn't think it was possible. The trip ended up taking about 8 hours, by the way...we think maybe 30-40 km. They couldn't believe it. I didn't go to the actual ruins but the city was great, sort of another world, full of tourists taking pictures, great restaurants, and great shopping in stores filled with crafts like wood carvings and jewelry. On Saturday morning I went back to Dulce Nombre - on the bus.

Well hope you enjoyed the story! Sorry it was so long but I thought some of you sitting at your desks in an office might enjoy going on the adventure with me :)

More soon and lots of love,

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Writing from Siguatepeque

Hi all!

Just a quick check-in from Siguat. I am in town visiting my host family (Pri had to come into town to give a charla to the new training group so I decided to keep her company on the bus). Anyway my host family was very excited to have me visit and they have been very welcoming. They have a new volunteer living with them, a cool girl from Texas, and it has been fun getting to know her and meeting some of the other people in the group. They just got here the end of May. Tonight I might go out with some of them as well. There is one guy that graduated my year but from UNC, which is kinda cool. Apparently a lot of people from the new group will be coming out West where I am, so I might be seeing some of these people a lot of in the future.

It is an odd feeling being the more "experienced" one and also feeling like my Spanish is really good. So I have come a long way in my Spanish...but there are still many days back in Dulce Nombre where I miss half a conversation and all of the jokes because I can't follow the Spanish. But my host family says I have improved a lot so that is enough for now. Only two months in my site and I am back here talking to the new trainees....time is flying by if I am already that volunteer. It's a weird feeling. But it makes me feel like progress is being made, even if I am not cognizant of it, and that a lot has happened in the last 5 months.

Well gotta go....Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Getting this keyboard muddy...

Hi all!

I write to you on a breezy afternoon her in Dulce Nombre. I spent all morning with Pritham getting muddy and making an hornilla. It was different today because we were just making it for a lady, not showing any groups of women how to make it and having to explain anything. It was good, satisfying, dirty work. By noon we had mud on our face, clothes, and of course hands and arms, and went back to her house to make a yummy lunch of squash soup and flatbread with cheese, tomatoes, and some other delicious items, including some GREAT milano cookies my mom has just sent me. I am pretty sleepy now but probably won't have time for a nap today...hopefully I'll make it ;) I want to go home after this and wash some clothes by hand, hang 'em up, and get myself cleaned up. Then maybe I can start a book my mom sent me before dinner.

I had a good weekend in San Marcos by the way. Not many Hondurans came to the film festival, but us PC volunteers had a great time. Each ticket was about 50 cents, and I watched Ice Age, The Bourne Supremacy, and the NEW Star Wars movie, bootlegged of couse. But it was on a big screen and was a pretty good deal I think! We had informal parties both nights and lot of good, deep conversations and funny, not so deep moments. Between 10 and 14 volunteers came into town and many of them I hadn't known before because they weren't in my group, so it was funny getting to know some cool people. There are about 230 volunteers in Honduras I think, maybe more, and as only 33 of those were in my training group, I have lots of potential friends out there to meet :)

Tomorrow I am helping give a teen pregnancy charla with a couple nurses from the health center at the high school. I think I'll talk about some of the high costs of having a baby, the rates of pregnancy with various contraceptives, where to get contraceptives, goal setting and how one's future changes when you have a baby to worry about, and the new Honduran law that holds men responsible (supposedly) when they father a baby. It shouldn't be too hard of a talk, and it's only an hour. I don't know how effective these talks are, as there is a staggering teen pregnancy rate here, but maybe it'll affect one or two kids. That's what I'll tell myself anyway :)

Ok well I am off to wash some clothes -- woo hoo! I have access to a washing machine here, but I have learned that hand washing gets the dirt and stains out much better ... who woulda thought?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Things are "normal"...I think

Hi people!

I had a good week. The weather has been hotter here during the morning and early afternoon and then it usually storms in the late afternoon/evening.

I have been helping Pri start up the latrine project this week. She will have to leave in the middle of it so it will be up to me to supervise the latrines after they are made to make sure the families did everything they were supposed to do, and also I'll have to write the report at the end. In Concepcion, where we are doing another latrine project, I will probably have to do everything from start to finish: plan a community meeting with all 80 families on the list to get latrines, explain to them the steps of the project and the dates by which they need to have certain things finished, distribute the materials (concrete, tubing, metal wires, and eventually the roof), and coordinate the supervision afterwards. Sounds enthralling doesn't it? I am sort of learning as I go since I have never done anything like this and we didn't learn about latrine projects in training. Yesterday I walked all over Dulce Nombre to see the latrines of 30 families that were part of the last latrine project - it might be an understatement to say that Pri was not pleased with the quality of the latrines or supervision that was done afterwards, as many of the families had still not put up walls even though they were supposed to have done that before they received the metal roofing. So she was pointing out what not to do basically, and I learned a lot.

Life here is kinda funny. After a while life here seems normal. And many things about life here are like life in the states. There's TV, cable, electricity, showers (when there's water), people wear similar clothes, some families have washing machines, I can go see a movie or rent one if I want, there are restaurants, school plays, people have cell phones and my parents and boyfriend call me from the states, American music everywhere, I can buy almost any American food, people have cake and ice cream for birthdays, and it goes on and on. But Pri said when she visited back home she realized how different the two cultures are. So I guess I will have to wait until then to feel the discrepancy there. But I think many people, when they come to visit, will find many things more "modern" and normal than they thought, and then if they get a chance to go out to the aldeas, the smaller towns, they will see how people leave out there, without any modern conveniences and in a culture pretty foreign to ours. I love the people here though. Before I came Hondurans were sort of a fuzzy image in my head, simpler, campesino type people. But now I see that there are many types of Hondurans...there are the campesino families that don't have much to their names or much education but are still so warm and generous; then there are the Hondurans with computers and washing machines and speak English and are very educated. Some Honduran youth here know about new American songs before I do. There are the warm and jolly motherly types that cook and do laundry half the day, or they are serious and quiet and submissive, and there are women like my counterpart who are always inventing something, or concocting a plan on how to improve the community. Really what is amazing about this experience is you see how similar humanity is within different cultures. I said that before in the beginning, but it is really true. I think people need to live outside of the U.S. once in their lives to see that other side of things, to see that the "poor people" on the news are not so different from you and your family.

Well enough preaching from me. This weekend I am going to San Marcos, a town of about 15000 people an hour and a half from me, where another volunteer is celebrating his birthday and hosting a film festival in his town to support the local newspaper. I am going with Pri and staying with one of the volunteers who live there. Hope it's a good time. I hope everyone has a great weekend!