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, January 30, 2006

Going home

Well, this is the last note from Mom as I leave for home on Thursday after a wonderful 6 12 week visit with Lauren.
I'll start by completing the last 5 of the 10 big differences Lauren asked me to share:
6. The language
Can't list 10 big differences without including that. :) Lauren is profficient in Spanish, but it's a struggle for me and by the end of the day, my brain is fried. I will be so glad to hear blessed English upon my return to the states although I have to say that my Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds.
7. Stray dogs
OK That may seem like a small thing, but dog lovers beware if you ever plan to come to this country. The majority of dogs here are strays, rarely do you ever see one on a leash. And they are the saddest, mangiest looking animals I have ever seen. There is no SPCA here or any form of animal control that I am aware of. The dogs breed freely and their lot in life here is truly a sad one.
8. The food
The basic diet here consists of corn tortillas, beans, eggs, salty white cheese and green bananas (and plantains) So for sure that is an adjustment for anyone coming from the states where choices are abundant.
:) There is no garbage collection here, Lauren has a 4 foot deep trench past her backyard gate on a hill in which she throws her trash, then burns it once a week or so to keep the dogs from dragging it away. Needless to say the litter in this country is shameful. Only in the manicured sections of towns and parks is it picked up, everywhere else most people just take care of the frontages of their homes.
10. Friendliness and hospitable neighbors
I have to say how much I have enjoyed the absolute friendship and total acceptance of everyone here. They have been wonderful. I love the way they look out for Lauren and the way they all want to give soem}}mething, anything they are able to share. The fact that they have so little is not important to them, when they have something to share, I accept gratefully and enjoy so much the beam on their faces.
People are constantly dropping by, often with plates of local dishes for us. I am so glad I brought 2 boxes of good old Hershey{s chocolate bars from Costco. It was nice to be able to reciprocate a little although completely unneccessary.
I hope they will remember the things I have shared with them as well....and that I have left them with a little something that they will be able to use. They were so receptive to every little thing I was able to teach them, whether it was art, painting or decorating cakes.
I have made many friends and I hope some of them will have the chance to visit us in the states.

Lauren just asked me to write one more blog entry, to list the things that I miss most about this place. I think I will do that one after I get home.

I know I will miss Lauren, but it will be so nice to get home too. Thanks to my 2 mural clients for allowing me to take this sabbatical and put their unfinished murals on hold.

I was able to get Lauren's garden started and going well in the last few weeks. I put in 3 types of basil, including the purple one, cilantro, squash, morning glories, and sunflower. Also added 3 more varities of coleus, so now she has 6 different color varieties. I will have a month or 2 before putting in my own garden at home, but it was so nice to plant. The soil in her yard is so rich and the moisture is perfect. I tried to get bougainvillea started but the roots didn{t take...may just send her some plantling or seeds.

Well that{s it for now....we're off to a restaurant here in Santa Rosa, it{s like their "Applebees" :)

See you all soon!! Lauren sends her love.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bus trips, coffee, 10 differences

Lauren´s mom again, probably for the last time during this trip. Writing her blog has been great for both of us; for me because I get to share this experience with everyone without emailing. And for Lauren as it clears her busy schedule a bit for devoting to her projects here. Emailing for me is quite time consuming, I have to use my yahoo handle, as AOL is virtually inoperable. Try to imagine waiting an hour to log on and then 15 minutes per click. It´s a mystery to me why all other ISPs are so fast while AOL is so inept, I might get rid of it all together after I get home.

Anyway Lauren asked me to try to list the 10 biggest differences of life here as it compares to life in the states. So here goes:

1) water
The water in her village is turned on every other day from 7am to about noon. During that time, we fill up all of her water containers in the house. She has 2 large tubs under her kitchen sink, 2 large tubs in her shower, and a large cement sistern (pila)in the back yard, here she does her laundry.
Yesterday she hired 3 neighborhood kids to come and clean it out after the water was turned on. It was a riot. The kids had to undress down to their underwear, get in, dive for the bottom until they unplugged the drain. Then they splashed in the cool water and had a great time of it, laughing and giggling. (I snapped their pics) Once emptied they scrubbed it all out, then refilled it. The pila tank in about 4 feet high and a rectangular shape of maybe 4 feet by 6 feet. A fun pool for any kids but I think the water was a little colder than other times of the year.
The dry days in between, we use the stored water for all our needs. Showering requires using buckets of water, (part of it we heat on the propane stove and mix with the cool water supply), and using pitchers to manually flush toilets. Needless to sy I will have a whole new appreciation of the abundance of water, hot or cold, and drinkable...when I return home.
I should also mention that her drinking water is completely set apart...she buys purified water a couple times a week in a 5 gallon jug.

2) paved roads
Only the main streets of the bigger cities and towns are paved, the rest of the streets are packed dirt or cobblestone. Lauren´s home is on the main street of Dulce Nombre so her frontage is cobblestone...but just 2 blocks down the street the dirt roads begin. In the states we take this very much for granted, we expect all the streets and roads everywhere to be up to par or we complain. Here there is no one to complain is the way here.

3) the kids
The children here are quite bit different from the kids in the stats as a whole. They are quiet, attentive and respectful when adults are present. They are so appreciative of any little thing you give them or do for them. Of course when it´s just them and their friends, they act every bit the child, you can hear them laughing and playing from morning until night. They are so friendly and sweet, they stop by all the time just to say hi.

4) Transportation
The way it works here is that all the little villages have buses which the locals use to go back and forth to the ´big cities´and to other little towns. For the most part these are yellow schoolbuses, obtained from the states, sometimes PC volunteers can still see their counties printed on the sides of them. The local buses run every hour and are so reliable you can set your watch by them. Once in the bigger cities, travel anywhere in the country is supplied by the largr charter type buses and are equally reliable. Within the towns, people travel in the back of pick up trucks, horseback or mostly on foot.

5) Groceries
Here, Lauren, like most people shop daily for perishables, and meals are not planned or shopped for in advance like we are accustomed to doing in the states. I miss having the luxury of a refrigerator but Lauren has adapted well and enjoys doing it this way.
That´s the first 5 things, the other 5 I will cover in the next blog, because I want to mention our trip to Siquatepeque.

Last weekend, Lauren and I took the local bus to Santa Rosa, from there we took a large bus for the 5 hour trip to Siquatepeque. The bus ride was a little uncomfortable for my stomach but once we arrived, we spent the weekend with her original host family and it was such a delightful visit, it made the trip worthwhile. It was also nice seeing another city, they all have their special spots, this one had a nice central park with picturesque fountains and unique UFO type dome structure in the center. The family we stayed with were wonderful, as so many of the folks here, they treat you like honored guests. It is their way, and every comfort is given.
On the way back, Lauren and I decided to spend the night at a nice hotel in Santa Rosa and actually went to the movies to see the newest ´Harry Potter´movie (in sweet English!!) (with popcorn and everything!) :) Also dinner that night was Chinese food as good as you can have anywhere in the world. It was a spectacular weekend.

The week following was filled too....once back here in Dulce Nombre, we nearly completed the mural. The health center ´won´the privilege of having the mural and they chose a Winnie the Pooh scene of Piglet receiving an inoculation. They wanted something that would help remove the fear for kids of getting injections, so we made Tigger the nurse. :) I wish I could put it on my web site but since Disney is copywrited, I will just send it to some of you in email.

We also spent a day visiting the coffee farm of another host family here Lauren stayed after arriving here in Dulce Nombre. It was an adventure. Carmen (the owner) invited us last week and I didn´t think it was something that I wanted to do at first, but then the truck arrived and off we went. The climb up the mountain was a little harrowing because the roads are narrow, rough and carved on the sides of steep slopes. But I figured if the locals do it everyday, I was sure to make it too. ;) Anyway, once there, Carmen showed me the process and machinery they use to shell the coffee beans , and spread them over a cement platform to dry in the sun. She showed us what the best beans look like, the beans are red when picked (by the workers) then the beans inside are white after being shelled by the machine. The roasting is what makes them the rich dark brown we are all accustomed to.

There we were, all sweeping and raking the beans into a large pile to gather into bags. Each bag is 200 pounds and we collected about 6. then Carmen served us all a wonderful hot stew made ithg chicken and tropical veggies, which she served with rice and soft drinks. What an experience.

Carmen and her family have a lovely home here in Dulce Nombre, but they stay on the rustic farm, where there is no electricity, during coffee season, which is October to March, only going home on Sundays for the most part. Still she said many times what a blessing her life was there, she loves working and growing the coffee , the planting and harvesting, she says it gives her much peace.

OK I will do one more entry after this, on the next 5 things, and will be going home in less than 2 weeks.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Adobe homes and cell phones

This is ¨Mom¨ again, writing for Lauren as she is busily preparing a report this morning. I was able to see first hand the stove that greatly improves the quality of life for those dear folks who live in the aldeas. Without the stove, the small dwellings are continuously filled with smoke, which the entire family has to inhale 24/7, needless to say it is very unhealthy. The stove may have the appearance of being a bit primitive to us, but it is a godsend to those lucky enough to get one. The cost per stove is $25, (500 lempiras) a small fortune for most of the people here.
I am donating $50 to the Peace Corp, earmarking it for the stove project here, the PC will match any funds contributed (all donations are tax deductible too) That small donation on my part will mean that 4 more families will get the greatly coveted stove. :) Are you sensing yet that I will probably hit some of you for a little donation as well? ;)
I will be sure to take photos of a home without the stove, and one that has one. Many of the people who have one, share the benefits with their neighbors. These people may be poor but a more generous group of hearts I have never seen.
Yesterday Lauren and I went to the wedding of a couple who live in the aldea. The house was simple and rustic, with a packed dirt floor covered with fresh pine boughs which made the atmosphere festive and fragrant. The bride must have spent the entire week prior preparing, she cooked large pots of food and opened her home up to the entire community. There must have been a hundred folks there inside and outside, it was one of the sweetest and warmest gatherings I have ever experienced. I had brought a deluxe gingerbread house kit with me for Lauren for Christms, I thought it might be a fun thing to do with her kids here. But after a busy Christmas, we never used it. So we decided it would make a perfect addition to the wedding. The house was not so different from the dwelling of the bride and groom, so instead of ¨snow¨we used lots of spearmint leaf candies to create lush greenery around the house. :) There was more than a pound of every colorful candy on it too....and we even put an edible "latrine" behind the house. haha Needless to say it was a tremendous hit....they had never ever seen a gingerbread house before and they were just delighted with it. It was so much fun watching it get eaten right down to the icing "glue" that stuck to the aluminum. Until this, every gingerbread house i ever made for Christmas, sat untouched for several weeks, then thrown away, too stale to eat.
To see it get eaten and enjoyed so much was far more rewarding.
¨Rewarding¨ is probably the best word I can use to describe what Lauren´s life must be like on an everyday level. Everything she does for these folks is greatly appreciated. The fact that she cares enough for them to be here for their benefit is some kind of an honor to them.
Her weeks are filled with meetings....with the youths as well as with Miriam, her counterpart, to plan and discuss ongoing projects, such as the library, latrine and stoves.
The first art lesson went well, tomorrow we will proceed to shading, using a light source to create light and shadows.
Also while in Santa Rosa last Friday, Lauren and I found some wonderful cake decorating tools, so the cake decorating class is a go, sometime next week.
Tonight we will be meeting with Miriam, to discuss a fund raising drive amoung the citizens here for the library land mortgage which is $50 (1000 lemps) a month.
Lauren is hoping that the building will be completed before she leaves in 2007, it is moving along, but as everything else here, it moves slowly. I saw the piece of land which the new library will sit on and it is lovely. Situated across from a pretty church, and just a few blocks from the town center.
That´s about it for now, I want to post this before I lose it. The electricity flickers on and off here sometimes. ;)
Love and hugs to all of you back home reading this. Lauren sends her love as well.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Thoughts from Mom

Hello everyone, this is Lauren´s Mom (sitting in for Lauren while she enjoys a midday nap)
What an experience it has been, being able to actually see and feel her life here. She has acclimated beautifully to the culture and language and it´s amazing to see how easily she interacts with the people here. She speaks perfect Spanish and seems to know how to handle every situation with ease. To a taxi driver that tried to overcharge us (gringos) she said " No hombre! I´´ll give you 120!" (lempiras.....he wanted 150) hehe He relented quickly.
So far we have explored Santa Rosa and the Copan ruins, the coastal cities of Tela and La Ceiba, took a ferry to Roatan where we spent an incredible Christmas, then took the trip back to her village the day after Christmas. That entailed a 2 hour ferry ride back to La Ceiba, then driving 3 hours to San Pedro Sula with all of our luggage, dropping the rental car off at the airport then taking a taxi to the bus terminal. From there we rode the bus 3 hours to Santa Rosa de Copan, where we took the "chicken bus" to Dulce Nombre. It was a real adventure.
The roads here are crazy. Lauren is used to the way they drive here but it´s going to be awhile before I am able to stop covering my eyes when people pass. All the roads are single lane highways, sometimes there is a line in the middle, sometimes not.But apparently there is this invisible third lane somewhere in the middle. It´s common for people to pass each other, and claiming that invisible lane, but it is harrowing to see the car, bus or truck coming at you in your lane and squeezing through.
In San Pedro Sula, we had an accident while going to the airport to get Ian. In the pouring rain, we were rearended by a large truck carrying hundreds of tanks of propane. It smashed into the back of our suv, and pushed us directly into the middle of a tractor trailer that was making an illegal left turn.
The car smashed all around us, the entire front end went under the tracter trailer, but stopped a few inches from my husband´s face. It was as if we were in a protective vortex, the car folded up all around us but we were completely unscathed. Lauren had a sore neck for a few days and Steve had a scratch on his finger. But the car was pretty much totalled. Needless to say we are so grateful to God for keeping us so safe. As it turned out I was able to taxi to the airport to meet Ian while Lauren and her Dad stayed at the accident scene to await the police and car rental folks. Everyone bent over backwards to accomodate us. Lauren and her Dad had to take a few hours out of our vacation time the next day to go to court and give their testimony of the events, but the 2 trucking companies shared the blame and cost of the accident.
Here in Dulce Nombre things move much slower. Lauren has made a comfortable home out of basic simplicity. She has taught us how to wash clothes in a pila, to "shower" using buckets of water, to cook from a portable stove and how to survive without a refrigerator.
People drop by all day long, the kids especially are adorable. But there is an air of friendliness and calm that permeates all of our surroundings here.
Her friends here threw a wonderful party to welcome us, they even shot off fireworks when we arrived.
I can see why Lauren is so content here. I believe she is making a difference in a thousand little ways. She loves the people here and they really seem to love her.
We find so many of her new personality traits so endearing, like the way she twitches her nose then points with her lips...this has replaced "check it out".
Lots more to share, but I will end it here for now. Looking forward to cooking a special birthday dinner this evening for Ian. He heads back to Virginia in the morning.
Tonight several neighbors will be stopping by to share the food and chocolate chip cookies.
Hope all of you enjoyed the holidays. Much love to all of you from me and the kids.

I wrote that blog entry yesterday afternoon, then was unable to log on to Lauren´s site, so saved it.
The party last night was a wonderful success. We were able to make chicken cacciatore, using a wood stove at a neighbor´s since we ran out of propane yesterday. And I did garlic bread using her toaster oven, and cooked spaghetti in an electric kettle....half pound at a time. haha It´s a lot like camping.
The guests all raved over the food, and ate, drank and danced well into the night. I know Ian especially enjoyed hearing the birthday song in Spanish.

This evening Lauren and I will meet with her counterpart to set up twice weekly art lessons which I will be giving to a group of ladies here. I brought a slew of supplies, so will spend tomorrow setting up some kind of "lesson plan". I plan to begin with basic drawing, then advance to shading, light, perspective and then painting techniques. I will actually do a mural for them somewhere and get them to assist in any areas I think they can handle. I know having helped with it will make it a special mural.
Also on the agenda are cake decorating lessons which I will work in sometime in between.
The women are all anxious to reciprocate by teaching me how to make the ever popular corn tortillas, and a few other local dishes.

Ian (Lauren´s brother) left early this morning for Virginia with a stop in Houston. He really enjoyed his adventure here and said he has a whole new appreciation for the simple things we all take for granted there, like running hot water, and drinkable faucet water.
Enjoy the slopes, Ian, before your classes start!

Love and best wishes to all my friends and family, you will love all the photos, and I know you will be so proud of the good work Lauren is doing.

Patty....Lauren loved all the little goodies you sent! It´s all the little things now....and she not only appreciates everything, she shares it all with many. I am so proud of her.

To Chris, Audra, Wendi, Ron and Connor, Madison and Debbi, Mom and Al, Burt, Marcia and Katie, Ted, Delia, Ben and Eliza, Kay and Jeff, Danny and Betty, all my many friends; Marty and Mitch for looking out for Steve with a nice meal while I´m away, Laila, Rab for your wonderful correspondences and so many more too numerous to list, but every bit as special....all my warmest wishes for a geat New Year and beyond. I have a feeling it´s going to be a great year for all of us.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Well I survived the holidays. Happy New Year everyone! There is so much to catch you up on...

My parents finally arrived a day late to San Pedro Sula. I went to the airport and collected them without was just a long long day on the bus to get them and back to Dulce in the rented SUV they got. My Honduran friend Mari went with me to get them. Mom cried of course when she saw me :) Our rental car was soooo posh. I was in heaven. They don't realize what a luxury it is to be in control of your vehicle (instead of on the bus) and in air conditioning. Dad drove back to Dulce, and scared the wits out of mom, since Hondurans drive a little differently here...passing around curves or with inches to spare between cars. But we made it just as it was getting dark. The time in Dulce with dad passed so quickly. They brought so many suitcases of food and gifts and treats. My friends threw them a party that Sat. night and they had a great time. Since we lost a day we only had a few hours the next to show my dad around...we walked around for about 3 hours and met the majority of my friends, although very briefly, and he saw some of the work I have done with the latrines and improved stoves and water barrels and saw some of the poorest houses in the town and the nicest. They were both impressed with my house and the town and the said he had expected it to be depressing or something here, but it's really quite cheerful, even with families who don't have much.

Around 11:30 we left to go to Santa Rosa, met up for lunch with a good PC friend and walked around a bit, saw the PC house, and then left for Copan Ruins. We spent two nights in the cute little town and saw the amazing mayan ruins (the "Paris of the mayan world"). I thoroughly enjoyed the hotel and hot showers and the food and the beds. Tuesday we left to get Ian from the San Pedro airport and just inside the city we had a very bad car accident. We were stopped waiting for a huge truck to turn left in front of us, and all of a sudden a truck hit us from behind and pushed us under the truck in front of us. It wasn't our fault. It was pouring rain as all we climbed out of the driver side door. We put mom in a taxi to wait for Ian at the airport while dad and I waited in the rain for the transit police to sort things out. We were there about 2 hours. The SUV was mostly totalled, squashed in between the two trucks. We were very lucky to walk away I think...the worst injury was my neck, which I couldnt turn for a few days. Finally we got our stories on record and agreed to meet with the judge the next day in San Pedro. Alamo was awesome and took care of everything. We had a nice reunion with Ian and mom at the airport, got another rental and made for the coast to Tela. We stayed at a really nice hotel on the beach and ate awesome seafood that night, all 4 of us. The next morning dad and I had to go back to San Pedro an hour away and tell our versions of the story. Our lawyer was pretty on top of everything and the 2 trucks split the blame and the cost of the accident. That afternoon back in Tela, Ian, Dad and I went kayaking with a guide in a steady rain on a river through some very scenic mangrove forests. Due to the rain we did not see the promised howler monkeys or crocodiles, but saw some great birds, bats, flowers, and beautiful jungle.

We dropped off dad the next day at the airport sadly, he only had about 5 days total with many mishaps, but still we enjoyed the time with him. Then mom, Ian, and I drove to Ceiba and stayed the night there. We were going to visit my friend Mike's little garifuna village but decided not to in the heavy rain. We stayed at a nice hotel on the central park in Ceiba and relaxed. The next morning we left for Roatan! We took the 2 hour boat ride and due to the choppy waves, we all got pretty queasy. I managed to stick it out inside while mom and Ian hung off the back in the fresh air. We got to the island around noon, with mom praising god to be on solid land again, and grabbed a taxi for the West End of Roatan. We had a great few days there. The island is very relaxed although more touristy than the rest of Honduras. It was pricey through my eyes and cheap through my mom and brother's, coming from the states. I could never afford to go on my salary. Although it rained frequently (hello, rainy season!) we got enough good sunny hours on the beach to get a tan and go snorkeling and enjoy some beautiful sunsets. I can't wait to go back with my friends in March and do some diving! We spent Christmas Eve there and Christmas day and went back toward the mainland the 26th, and I was sooo ready to go back home. Vacation is hard work!

I'll have to write about the last week next time, what we've done the past week in Dulce. I'll just say that we had an awesome New Year's Eve last night at a great party, dancing, singing, drinking whisky and cokes, playing guitar and eating great food, and of course, fireworks. But we'll get into that next time.

Love you all and wish a very prosperous and happy new year to everyone!