Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On 2-2-12, I gave up my pride, and let my brother take the name Walter for his newborn son. Walter's birth is just one more thing I've missed being away from home, but it felt a bit more distant knowing that I could have been home if I would have gone with the rest of Peace Corps Honduras. But in January I wasn’t ready to leave yet, and I wanted a few more months of closure here in Ocotepeque.

January 16th I found myself alone in a luxurious hotel in downtown Tegucigalpa.

I watched out the window as the buses hauled my once fellow Peace Corps volunteers to the airport. I packed my backpack, raided the piles of dejected belongings that had put suitcases over the 50# limit. And with a grocery bag full of Oreos, fruit, chocolate, a few books, and a cheesy gift clock, I took off to Las Cañadas to visit the host family where I lived when I first arrived to Honduras. On the bus ride there, I kid you not, as I reflected on all the great times spent with such great friends who were now on their ways home, the song All By Myself came on the stereo (old classics like that seem to exude from every bus, bar, and restaurant). Few people here understood they lyrics, nor understood that that was exactly how I felt.

But I'm not exaxtly All By Myself. I made it to Las Cañadas and found my way back to the house where I’d lived for a month. It was hardly recognizable because they’d built another house on top of the first house—a second floor.
Luisa, my old host sister took my stuff and we went up to take a tour of the second floor, and she showed me the Internét Gratis that they now offered by stealing Wi-fi from the neighbors. I stayed a night and when I left the next morning they were all begging me to stay longer. But I wanted to visit the second host family where we had our field-based training, so I moved on.
When I arrived in La Cuesta, hanging out with my "host cousins" I realized that I was basically following my Peace Corps timeline all over again. Only this time, after a night with Isaí and Glenda, where I’d lived for two months, I also trekked a few hours up the mountain to visit doña Angela.

Doña Angela is like the old black lady stereotype from any movie that takes place between 1850 to 1950 in the south (only she's hispanic, and skinny). Her constant stories and exclamations have more range than a choir, and it seems like she approves every detail with a long vocal sigh, as if she were saying ‘you don’t say,’or ‘would you look at that.’ She still takes care of one of her past husbands, though he’s a drunk and sold every bit of his land out from under her feet. She has a def, mute daughter from the same man, but she treats her daughter so normally, that you can hardly tell she’s def or mute. She also cuts hair for all the needy in town, after she gets home from picking coffee. She fed me 3 meals and 2 snacks (plantains, coffee, and sweet breads) for each of the 4 days I was there. And in the evening, somewhere between everything else, she sits in an old worn out chair in front of her house, surrounded by her gardens, and watches the boys of the community play soccer and reads the Biblía Latinoamerica.

Doña Angela lives in San Andres. Because the community is an hour and a half rough ride from anywhere, it seem s at least 25 years behind the times. You still get crew cuts with scissors (not a clippers), there’s no cell phone reception so everyone shares the community landline, and bedtime is at 8:30 because by 4:30 everyone is starting to move again. Doña Angela told me that’s because the water (which is frigid), is the warmest just before sunrise. If you can’t imagine it yet, imagine a bowl in the mountains with two creeks that cross either side. In the middle there’s a flat area where they have a large soccer field. The houses, which have lots of amazing 60-to-70-year-old woodwork surround the soccer field and work up the bowl forming a stadium feeling. If you climb the far side of the bowl, you crest a ridge and look to the north where you see sweeping valleys of pine trees. “The farthest ridge you can see back there, the one with the cell phone towers on top, that’s in the department of Las Minas de Yoro.” They told me. I hung out for long enough so that my coffee-picking earnings would pay my food and my bus tickets back home.

Finishing a my trip, my abbreviated Peace Corps experience, I took the long bus ride to Ocotepeque. Only, this time, when I walked up to the hill to my house, everybody knew me and I knew them. We really miss you when you’re not around a few of my friends told me. And then they gasped when I told them of my trip. They’d never been farther than 4 hours north of here, and some of them less than that.

Now I’ve been back for a while. I’m getting used to not having Camila and Aimee to hang out with every time I go down the mountain. I’m also getting used to living without PC rules; I can ride motorcycles now, and I don’t have to send a text message to tell them if I’m not going to be in my site. I also don’t get paid. So I’ll coast for a bit on the money I’ve saved (out of the $315/mo. I was getting paid), and be coming home March 19th. Until then, I’ve got a few weeks of camping and bird surveying to do, a statistics workshop to teach, and several goodbyes.

Meaning, for everyone back home, I’ll see you soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Peace Corps to pull out of Honduras

I’ve described this previously, but I doubt anyone remembers. Leading up to Christmas in Honduras we celebrated every day a tradition called the Posadas. Posada means inn or lodging, and it’s the word used around Christmas because Mary and Joseph were given posada to stay in the stable. Every night someone hosts the posada at their home and we go to their house as a group. Once everyone’s arrived, half the group goes inside, and the remainder stays outside along with two children dressed as Mary and Joseph (Somewhat historically inaccurate, but they have a white dress for a Mary costume, and a cowboy hat, a wooden hook—the type used for working fields with a machete—and a hollowed squash which is the traditional water vessel for Honduran farmers). The door is shut and those outside knock on the door to start the posada. Usually it’s not cool for the men to be too involved (apart from those who play instruments or are church deacons), so Mary and Joseph stand on the doorstep with a half-ring of women standing behind them some holding tightly to the ears of their kids so they don’t misbehave, and then a scattering of men in the back standing with their arms crossed waiting to see if any other guy will go ahead and participate. (I’ve done experiments and sometimes if I take two steps forward, the whole group of guys starts moving. Sometimes I take one and a half just to psyche em out, and it gets about half of them, but then they pull one of those balancing acts like a child at the edge of a pool who got pushed, but is trying not to fall in. Usually they stand awkwardly in the space between the men and women, and look over their shoulder nervously to see if anyone else noticed.) After a conversation of song between the people outside (pleading, “knock, knock”) and the people inside (asking, “who’s there?”) the doors are opened for Mary and Joseph and everyone enters singing a song about peregrinos which, naturally, makes me think of Peregrine Falcons. I didn’t think to care what it really meant till the other day; it’s loosely translated: weary traveler. A passage of scripture leading up to the birth of Jesus is read, a few church deacons preach their interpretation, prayers of Simeon, Mary, Joseph and Sweet Baby Jesus are read. And we’re all invited to sit and stay for coffee and cake, tamales, or pastels.

In one of the recent posadas at Don Oscar’s house, I entered (as a foreigner, I can still be cool and go in as long as it’s only about ¾ of the times, otherwise I stay outside and help represent the wall flowers) and sat on a bench near the door. Manuelito, a 8-year-old Honduran version of Buzz from Home Alone, sat his tiny body down and looked up at me with his huge head and funny gap-toothed smile and continued a discussion he’d apparently been having outside, “Right Jesse, this year you’re going to teach us classes of English since I’m in fourth grade now?!”

This was right after I’d received news that PC Honduras is pulling us out in early January (their school year starts in February). I just choked up and half-lied, “tal vez si.” Instead of si Dios quiere, I was thinking, “Parece que Dios no lo quiera.”

Saying goodbye after a short-notice warning that we’re leaving has been difficult. It took me nearly a week to bring it up to my former host family, because every time I tried, I worried I’d lose it, and lost ganas to speak.

So I’ve been realizing lately that I’m not ready to leave yet, and wont be in three weeks. I’d already made plans to spend a week birdwatching with one of the top bird experts in Honduras for late February in a work he’s doing to finish what will be one of the best Bird Guides for Honduras and Central America. I’d committed myself to teach a statistics introduction course to the only biology university program in Honduras because they currently don’t get a single lecture on statistics (it sounds boring, but I was actually pretty excited for it. AND the stats course includes paid lodging and transportation, so I could just fly out right afterwards.

So for those who’ve gotten excited that I’m coming home early, I’m sorry. I’m going to take cash in lieu of my plane ticket home in mid-January, and I’m going to live off the money I’ve saved here in Honduras until late March. But still, I’ll see you MUCH sooner than I was planning!

Love you all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

SeptOctoNovember Fest

September passed rather quickly full of holidays. Fellow volunteers celebrated being in our sites for a year, There was the 190th anniversary of Honduran Independence (15 de Septiembre), Día de los Niños (Kid’s Day) September 10th, along with flag day, armed forces day, Fería de San Francisco, and all the other holidays that are crunched into this time of year.

One of my favorite traditional events thus far is the Carrera de Cinta. This is a horse competition. To begin, 15-20 cintas (metal rings sewn to a leather strap, which forms a loop with a button closure) are hung on a line strung across the street about 8’ off the ground. The riders all line up about 60 feet down the road from the line and wait for the announcer to call their names, “Juan Luis Ortega Nuñes y su caballo Fuego de Satanás!” Then one at a time, they gallop toward the line leaning forward on their horse, eyes lined up behind a small palito, or a pencil if they’re novices, at one of the small keychain-sized rings. At the line they thrust their hand forward at the ring, and point their palito toward the sky, and to score they must joust the ring, and pull the cinta off the line. The difficulty is not only to be accurate, but also to keep the ring from shooting off the palito, which often happens when the unsnapped button flings the ring off the line.

For Día de los Niños we had dances and skits in the school, and for a grand finale a “carrera de cinta.” The boys, 1st-6th graders brought their own old-fashioned stick horses, complete with authentic names and orneriness, and ran past a line with their horses between their legs. The girls, true to the tradition, dressed up as reinas and tied handkerchiefs to the arms of those who scored rings. A few VERY authentic actresses gave their riders timid kisses on the cheek along with their prize bandana.

In October we had our mid-term medical appointments in Tegucigalpa. I was a bit scared to go to a dentist here, but to be honest, that was the nicest dentist office I’d ever visited—complete with a flatscreen to show me HUGE images of my own teeth or watch cooking shows while the dentist cleaned food from my teeth. Other than discovering that I’m still alive and kicking, I got to go see Lion King 3D and eat some semi-American food at Fridays. A few days after getting back from Tegucigalpa, a dear friend from the University of Montana, Ari, came to visit me. She had served in Peace Corps Peru, and it was great to hang out and compare experiences.

Also in October was the communities official Mass where Padre Walter came and 3 children had their baptism ceremonies. (Pictured at right is my host brother Carlos Roberto ready to be baptized.)

And wow, November is passing already. Thanksgiving I spent at the clausura of the school. School has been on break since early November, but the official send-off was Thursday where the kids got their report sheets and we broke a piñata and played some games at the school. The day after was a graduation for the 6th graders (keep in mind that here, graduating from 6th grade is about as big as graduating from high school in the U.S. Some may go on to study in high school, but many don’t have enough money and will just go out and work now. That’s why a 12-year-old here sometimes has a community role of a 18-year-old in the U.S.) So it was a very formal presentation complete with speeches and an elaborate lunch of roasted chicken, rice, chismol, a salad, and, as always, several glasses of refresco (in this case orange pop).

And now, aside from finishing up signing people up for an improved wood-burning cook stove project we’re doing here in our municipality, it’s coffee-picking season, and I’m going to go see if I can break some personal records.

I'll put more pictures on FB sometime this afternoon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Since I've last written...the same loaf of white bread still hasn't gone moldy. Scary

Adapting to la luz. Now in my house I have laptop speakers, a fridge, an electric percolator, lights and an electro ducha (small hot-water-heater/shower head). So, since getting electricity, my life has changed drastically. I had mentioned earlier, that it seemed only my life was changing. However, now that some time has gone by, everyone's lives are changing. It seemed to pass by weekends. One weekend everyone brought up fridges, the next blenders, the next TV's with DVD players, and now, just about every afternoon, my neighbor who used to sit and crochet on her patio, watches trashy telenovelas (soap operas). And as sad as I was to see the old way living come to pass, it's really a great thing to see the people here allowed into the 21st century.

I've almost been in Sinacar for a year, and I feel like none of the projects I've worked on have come to fruition. However, the little things are what I came to the Peace Corps for, and I feel like I have been richly rewarded. For instance, I wanted to feel like I was living as a part of a community in a foreign place, not just traveling through as a tourist. Now, I know every person's name in a 1 mile diameter from my house, when I go to San Marcos to get groceries, I know and am recognized by my favorite markets and shops, and the neighbors randomly drop in to say hi. Those are the things I'll value most when I leave. Those, and the exciting times shared with other volunteers which seem to be hyper-bonding times because we are so starved for English conversation and humor.

My latest work has been a lot of teaching in the school (math, Spanish, crafts, and natural sciences). I am beginning to give more frequent cooking lessons (women here, and I, love learning how to make leavened breads, pancakes, peeksa = pizza, and cookies). And always in demand is teaching English, both to a group of police and beginning tomorrow, to a young group of guarda bosques (the equivalent would be a park ranger/game warden). The police want to graduate from a continued learning program so that they can graduate to higher pay scales, and the guardas want to learn basic English phrases so they can accommodate tourists in the visitor center. I honestly have lost much hope in anyone learning English from English classes because the classes are not frequent enough and the students don't spend enough time memorizing vocabulary in their homes. However, they love the classes, and I figure that, if nothing else, it might help to develop their linguistic skills.

Again, the biggest rewards are not the projects themselves, but little things like: showing a community that a man can cook; teaching English, in Spanish after only being here a year; or seeing first graders' reading skills improve.

I've molested some of you to pass out a shameless flyer to your churches. The community is building a new church here that will double as a community center. They are about ¾ of the way through with construction, and ran short on funds to seal the bricks with gypsum and put ceramic tiles down for flooring. The Peace Corps is not really about giving handouts, but since the community is already well-invested in this building and it'd be an opportunity for those who like to give to have nearly 100% of their donation go to the said cause, I figured I'd throw a line out. It'd be cool to give them something because 1) it'd show them that people from the US care for them (they idolize the US here), and 2) the money would probably come from ecumenical sources and it'd be a neat way to elucidate the ridiculousness of the Catholic/Protestant divide that exists in this country.


At a recent meeting with the padres de la familia (a parent-teacher conference), I proposed an idea I had to teach some card games to the kids during their free time. I wanted to teach Speed, King's Corner, Concentration, etc... But when I proposed the idea, it got silent, a few people looked outright disgusted, and finally someone spoke up, “I don't know about this, maybe if it were with different cards, but certainly not if they have Kings, Queens, and Jacks like the kind they use for gambling!”

I started having some crazy dreams, almost nightmares. I sat for one afternoon trying to think of the root of these dreams. Was it something I was eating before going to bed? Something I was worried about? An insecurity? Well, last night I finished the last episode of the first season of Dexter, and I found myself scared of the dark when I went out to the bathroom afterward. I now blame Dexter Morgan.

Sometimes I feel so far from home, until I send a random email, a request for a recipe or a short hello, and that very day I get a reply. Suddenly I feel like it is a connected world. However, when I called Eli for his birthday, I talked for two minutes to a distracted birthday boy, and then got, “Um, Jesse, I'll talk to you later; I have a really big present to open.” And the truth arises; I am far from home.

Ants invade everything in Honduras. Last week I took apart my laptop subwoofer to see why it was crackling and when I opened the back plate, the whole thing erupted with my least favorite, a clearish-red jumping ant (I think that's the scientific name anyway) scurrying trying to hide their eggs. They chose to make their nest in the hollow between the cone of the speaker and the magnet.

And, if you know me, I'm still getting a kick out of myself. The other day, I got someone so good I couldn't keep a straight face. A fellow volunteer, Carly and I were walking out of a mini-super market with a few items including a new brand of Honduran hot sauce I found. A small pickup slowly passed and worked it's way up the water-damaged gravelly road, and the people riding in the box had much time to stare at the gringos. After making eye contact, I casually pulled the bottle of hot sauce out, pretended to unscrew the cap and lifted the whole bottle to my mouth and guzzled as if it were a Coke. Shocked, they nudged and looked to one another to make sure they'd all seen what was happening. When one girl pointed at me, clearly appalled; I lost it.

Last but not least. In a recent meeting with random farmers, their wives and a few daughters, I forwarded a text message in reply to “Hola como sta?” that I got from a 16-year-old flirt who was also in the meeting. The text message said, “Tell me something, do you like me? Sorry to ask, but I notice you're always looking at me. You give me lots of attention. I just wanted to say that I don't think it will never work out...” I wish you could have seen her squirming in her chair reading that message. Even more funny, she quit reading before reading to the end, “it will never work out, even though you're on me all the time, I'm only your cell phone!”

Oh, and before signing out, I want to send a special thanks to Trennda and Liz for the incredible care packages. I use the travel towel all the time now, I relished the sweets, and I'm wearing my new FBI shirt as I type. You can't imagine how miraculously a care package can help quench one's thirst for home (and at the same time ignite a small longing to embrace what you miss as home).

(At Left: Camila and I on a recent "business trip" to Esquipulas, Guatemala where we saw the Basilica and the famous Christo Negro.)

Bueno, vaya baya vaya pues, nos miremos, cheque baya.(rough translation: okay bye).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Will the end affect their means?

I finished my Examen de Ingles this morning and copied it to a jump drive while finishing my coffee (I make coffee in a pot, so it's 'cowboy coffee,' but I add 1/3 of the cup whole milk, which I buy from my neighbors for $.25/20 oz.). I gave the students a take-home version of their test to study, and today is the due date. I wanted to give them a chance to ask questions before their test on Wednesday. However, I never heard the typical foolery as the kids walked by my house to the school this morning, and I never heard the moto del profe (the hum of his motorcycle is our schoolbell). Apparently, school was cancelled today.

I live in a farming community, and now that we're in the rainy season, every male in my community milks the cows, eats breakfast, and then leaves the house around 7:30 with a machete, a hoe and a pick to go weed their coffee plantations or dig canals to direct the draining water. This is relevant because it means for me, that my morning plans have been cancelled, and everyone's working for the day, so I have until 3:00 PM before I can do much of anything in my community.

Some have asked how to report on how life changes with the recent coming of electricity to this small community. Life for most people has not changed drastically, but rather, it is only slowly changing. Life for me has changed drastically, because I was once used to having electricity. I come home, and even though I only have a 25 kbps internet connection through a USB modem, I immediately check facebook, hotmail, gmail, and the BBC World News. I can now pass hours organizing photos, music and old files on my computer, without worrying about battery life. I leave my cell phone on all night, just because it's easier than having to turn it on again the next morning. I read later into the night because I'm not so worried about my eyesight being ruined. And I constantly brainstorm ways in which I'll be able to get my refrigerator up the mountain (Xiah, a retired Peace Corps Volunteer, left me a knee-high refrigerator when she left).

For other people life's begun to change too, they listen to music more often now, and aren't worried about using their cell phones for playing games or listening to music, because the batteries are rechargeable. People who have TV's have gatherings to watch the newest illegally copied DVD that they bought from town, but most still can't justify sitting for more than 1 hour, and often excuse themselves during the climax of a movie. I have had one instance where someone invited me into their house, and when we ran out of things to say, instead of sitting in silence like we used to, they turned on the TV to watch telenovelas.

But mostly, we still sit around in the afternoons on the patio talking and peeling blades of grass in the awkward silences. Candle sales are surely down, as are battery sales since nobody uses flashlights anymore. In fact, most houses are lit without flashlights all through the night since, as of now, the meters have not been installed, so there is no financial motive to turn out the lights.
Electricity is certainly one of the necessary services in the modern world, but since the people here have gone for so long without it, their initial use, for the most part, is very practical. They use it for: phones, lights, hair clippers, music, and an occasional TV show.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

And God saw that the light was good. --Genesis 1:4

The Peace Corps offers one of the best vacation policies I've had in any job (just not a salary for travel!). Besides practically being on vacation for a job, I get 2 days per month that I can save up and use how I want. A few weeks ago, I was euphorically dragging heavy cables through coffee plantations, across drainages, over hedges, and under an intensive heat. Euphorically because 1) the very cables that were a present burden would be a future blessing, and 2) I was one day away from heading back to the U.S.

I remained very content during a 5-hour, sweaty bus ride, a sleepless night in a hotel without AC, and a 3 ½ hour flight to Houston. And upon arrival to the U.S, my patriotism was soaring like our national bird. Then I hit customs, ha ha.

Anyway, I won't write about my trip because this blog is for those who live in the US and want to know what my small part of Honduras is all about; HOWEVER, Nate and Emily's wedding in Hawaii was unforgettable, being back in Dickinson to see my sobrinos, family and friends made it hard to leave again, and I'll sure miss my Jeep.

It was a bit tough leaving, especially to arrive in sweltering heat in San Pedro Sula to stay at the same hotel withouth AC. I instantly was hit with the realities of my life in Honduras: you can't flush your toilet paper, you get used to being sweaty all the time, you walk a lot, you keep your few possessions close, and you go a long time between accessing your Facebook!

But I was genuinely content to make it back “home,” to my cooler mountain town, to unpack all my stuff, and see that at least the neighbors already had electricity. Sadly, they waited to do my house because they didn't want to intrude while I was gone--I swear I wouldn't have minded!

I did go through some remorse for the first day or so away from the U.S. again, but in the first week since being back:
-I hiked to an undeveloped waterfall with a group of other volunteers, and then we went for a dip in a beautiful blue lagoon
-I was interrupted from digging a curb (to keep water out of my house), in order to show 11-year-old Leonardo how to butcher and prepare a domestic rabbit (everyone LOVED my cooking!)
-I ate a whole pound of mamones, tropical grapes, or whatever you call these wonderful fruits that are in season now
-I helped herd an escapee pig back to its corral (it was eventually carried back, SCREAMING, by it's two ears an it's tail)
-I tried to convince the school president to release the house wren fledgelings that she'd captured AND...

-I finished wiring my house! I cannot explain the feeling of gratefulness that comes to me just walking back and forth between rooms in my house looking at the lights, even when it's light outside. After months of living with only a solar panel to charge my phone, I still feel rushed to use the electricity before the clouds come out.
<---- doesn't my house look content now?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Not yet a rainy day

(Old news: The last pictures I put up on Facebook were with a connection too slow to add descriptions. The student elections were to form a student government which will help organize all the festivities of the schoolyear as well as see to complaints of other students. The other photos were of processing sugar cane. This process takes almost a whole day, and because all the kids knew to come to dip wooden spoons in the foam so they could lick the cachasa, it was a very festive event.)

Today while brushing my teeth, washing my towel or washing dishes (I can't remember which), I noticed a straight, branchless palo (tree) that I hadn't seen before through the gap in the bricks in front of my pila. There is another that stands above my neighbor's house that I now see out the window while lying in my hammock.

On Saturday, May 7th, as we wrapped up an amazing Mother's Day celebration at the school, I was eager to leave the lunch to find the source of gritando (barks, yips, whoops and hollaring learned by Honduran men sometime in boyhood used to celebrate or emphasize someone's foolishness--a direct ) from outside. However, I had a few invitations yet to extend to women who might want to enter our newly forming group that will soon be selling canned vegetables in the markets of towns down the mountain.

After finishing a large plate of fried chicken, cabbage and potato salad, tortillas and rice, and cleaning the walls of mother's day decor, I snuck out while some were still chatting to see where all the men were from the community; I could still hear them whooping nearby. What I saw nearly silohetted by a sinking afternoon sun was strikingly like the statue to Iwo Jima. Over 20 men were gathered in a tight band lifting a pole high over their heads, and after a few minutes when it fell into an 8' deep hole, the shouts erupted again. I helped lift poles for the remainder of the afternoon, and what we accomplished was to give the appearance of a town that almost has electricity. So that's the big news in Sinacar; they say by the end of the month, there will be streetlights in a town that's never had electricity apart from solar panels, alternators, gas-powered generators, and batteries. I'm worried Peace Corps won't feel so much like camping anymore.

This season in my part of Honduras the Cucunachinas (sp? june bugs) are hatching like crazy and each evening you hear sounds like rain on the zinc roofs. Subsequently, each morning you feel somthing like autumn leaves beneath your flip-flops, as their lifespan appears to be one night. The warblers and many raptors have migrated north now; so I suppose you're all enjoying new signs of Spring back home. It's still summer here, and has been since I arrived apart from a brief spell in Nov-Dec that kinda felt like fall. However, this is the dry season, and sometime in May the rain normally falls, so I expect that shortly I will pull the rubber boots out of the corner. I suspect that when it's pouring rain here and 70 degrees and sunny back in North Dakota, my friends and family will finally have a one up on the weather! At least I will still have mangoes, platanos, bananas and a wonderful neighborhood of friends here to not become over nostalgic!

I'll try to write more faithfully; especially once I have an outlet!