Thursday, May 15, 2008

The End!

I find myself in my last month of service. I’m finished on April 19th 2008. I am not sure how to answer the question that I frequently ask myself “Am I glad I did this?” . I have learned very much, about myself and about humanity, and of course all this has me even more confused… the more you know the less you know. I experienced a lot more ugliness than I expected, on a lot of levels. But despite this I am satisfied because I know that this was something I had to do.

So now that I'm not sure what is next on the table, my future blogs will be from my wanders through South America, as I enjoy my freedom as well as my ability to do so. Some day soon I may miss Honduras. I find myself in great ease in my community, something I currently find hard in other places, even those luxurious, beautiful places where it is meant to do so.

Reflecting on my daily life here in Honduras and how it is about to change, I’ve created short little lists about what I like most and least about living here.

Things I’ll miss:

  1. I have come to profoundly enjoy having little to no responsibility.
  2. Being able to show up at anyone’s house anytime, knowing I’ll be welcomed and served something yummy.
  3. EVERYONE knows my name.
  4. Hitch-hiking.
  5. My PCV friends.
  6. Close knit family members that never get tired of each other.
  7. Community resourcefulness
  8. Sweet little women.

Things I won’t:

  1. Being lied to all the time.
  2. Being a single independent woman; this not being appreciated but rather seen as awkward.
  3. Dry season dust and rainy season mud.
  4. The long, rocky, winding dirt roads in and out of my site and the old, broken-down 1980 school buses that travel them.
  5. Handwashing my clothes.
  6. Bucket baths.
  7. Always being asked to regalar (give) whatever I happen to have.
  8. The most uncomfortable bed in the world – my bed.
  9. Men who disrespect women and teach their sons the same..

Now the real question: did I accomplish anything here? Well that depends. I really stopped worrying about working only about 6 months ago. It took over a year to shed that American outcome-oriented mentality. I didn't sigh up for Peace Corps to contribute to the development of another country; I always knew that would be an unlikely goal in 2 years. But I had ideas on what to do in my community on a small scale. I imagined people eagerly listening to me, sharing my visions, and investing their time and resources in reaching them. But maybe the real flaw has something to do with our own world dominant perspective on what is developed and what isn’t.

Maybe I made an impact, by showing my values to the friends I made. But I'm now just a memory for them, and will be added to the list of gringos that have come and went from San Miguelito, to be racked off to the next one, whoever he/she shall be. They’ll always remember Sarita, she never married a Honduran.

I got a taste of development type work. I know it’s not effective. I know that organizations like USAID, the World Bank, international NGOs, etc. are, well, actually hindering development in countries like Honduras. But maybe it’s the adventure, the freedom of these types of places that I am drawn to. Maybe it’s satisfaction in helping someone to achieve something, maybe the constant learning that comes with visiting new places, learning new languages.

Anyway, that's the end of this chapter.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The mayors drunk...

The mayor has been drunk all week. The doctor hasn’t shown up once. There’s a women up in the mountain that fell and hasn’t stopped convulsing since but her family refuses to take her to get help because they’re too poor and no one of authority is around to help. Also somewhere up in the mountain this week a 7 year girl died from malnutrition. A few weeks ago a women was carried into town macheted into pieces by her bolo husband and this week only there has been at least 4 other cases of domestic violence mostly involving machetes and drunks as well.

“¿Cuando va a salir San Miguelito de los atrasos?” asked Carmen Nora as we stood outside of the municipality building. When is San Miguelito going to leave from the setbacks? We were waiting to crash a town meeting to make one last effort to request municipality support for our project to reduce maternal mortality, after being lied to and ignored. We weren’t asking for money, just support…to help prevent preventable deaths, you wouldn’t think it would be so hard. “C’mon lets get out of here, I hate that mayor”, snapped Carmen Nora. “Well, let’s just see if the meetings going to happen whether he shows up or not.” I’m trying to stay positive and encourage persistency, but I’m feeling rather apathetic as well.

But the meeting was going to happen. I networked to get the students the floor first since they needed to get back to class although I had to deal with a slimy hand on my leg and a few other advances later from the facilitator for this. “La gringita muy linda la más bella en Honduras, me gustaria vistarte en tu casa me esperas esta noche” ewh puke. “Okay Nora, go talk.” She doesn’t know it but Carmen Nora’s my favorite. She is from the most stubborn and ignorant community but she’s serious beyond her years, intelligent, and compassionate. She got up in front of everyone and persisted in her request for support, creatively backing up her requests despite resistance from everyone and negative comments from the ex-mayor who is also a drunk. She defended herself causing the ex-mayor to storm out leaving everyone else trying to hide their smiles. She won over the facilitator for this. “We have to support those youths they´re trying to do something!” he said after she left. “If we can’t support the younger generation and their efforts we´re better off dousing ourselves in gasoline and lighting the match!” No better words could have been said (without pissing off anyone) since self-destruction is the direction this town seems to be heading.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Super bolo Sunday

La Esperanza proudly touts the title “the bolo capital of Honduras” (bolo en ingles: piss-assed drunk man.) As you might imagine, this combined with Honduras recently named the most dangerous country in Latin America, I feel pretty bad-ass. I’ve seen one bola (drunk woman) in my year here, women generally don’t drink. Bolos are also generally poor yet who choose too spend their little money on alcohol, rather than their families. But anyhow, let me take you on a field trip of the mind so you for yourself can understand how La Esperanza has earned such a respectful title.

La Esperanza is the capital of Intibucá and is more or less the only town in the department that is not dry (sell or consumption of alcohol prohibited). Picture yourself on a Sunday morning in this chilly city amidst the buzzing local indigenous culture, out-of-town day trippers, and a few foreign visitors here and there. As always there is a feel of oppression about which exists on a greater level and is something I can't explain or understand. Pickups full of people from the campo are piling into the capital city to pile up on goods before midday when all will shut down. There’s a hunger for something in the air…you feel it first and then you spot them; nicely tucked neon colored shirts, beady darting eyes, salivating…for something. They dash into the side street shops and as swiftly as they entered they exit, bag in hand. Guaro, sweet guaro, precious nectar you are all mine! O Liter of salvation to which I shall devote my weekly earnings... Actually guaro is awful, it’s very strong (but cheap!) grain alcohol which requires numbed oral sensation to swallow and need we mention delivers terrible hangovers.

But now fast forward 1-2 hours: you drift along the now less crowded, almost empty streets of Intibucá’s capital. Be sure to glimpse the ground in front of you ever so often to be sure to step over the passed-out bolo in your path – careful not to trip. Dwell not at any street corner for too long to avoid wear-inspiring bolo banter. And beware of flying bolos being dispatched from the beds of passing pickups. Extra caution for flying bolo excrement. But don’t let it get you down, it’s not all bad, you sometimes get lucky and find yourself witness to most excellent bolo behavior like two bolos making-out or a profound conversation between a bolo and an inanimate object (I saw a trash can once). Yessirree it is definitely Super Bolo Sunday.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

la lucha sigue...

This morning I arrived at the Centro de Salud to give a charla about mother and infant mortality. I was dreading it – it would be hard to get the simplest things through to people here if they all spoke English. Sometimes I’m just a moron trying to speak Spanish in a motivational way. As I arrived I saw Lillian was there. Lillian is a community health volunteer; she’s 17 and has a 2nd grade education. I just learned this fact which surprised me because talking to her you’d think she had gone to high school at least. Community health volunteers are residents of the aldeas (rural villages) who are especially motivated and responsible individuals and Lillian definitely fits the bill. She solely manages the baby weighings each and every month in her community. (This is usually a job of 3 and always a struggle to get it done). I hadn’t seen her since I went to her community in September. I hadn’t returned since because it is so far, the one time I went she met me the last third of the way with a horse since it’s too remote for cars to pass.

I asked her how her Christmas went, “well my mom died last month so it didn’t go well for me” she said. I remembered meeting her mom, a vibrant, smiley woman like her daughter. I remember she had quite a few kids around; large brown eyes, dirty faces, shy and in awe as they petted my hairy arms and touched my blond hair – normal response for aldea kids gawking at my gringa qualities. Now with her mother dead and her father currently in the US (illegally), Lillian is the head if the household.

We stayed chatting with one of the nurses about the latest “barbaridad” - a 12 year old girl had been “robbed” or taken from her parents and married by a man in the community. Robbed is the expression used here and is pretty adequate, it often happens in the middle of the night. I had seen the man the day before, he was at least 30 and apparently the girl is really tiny, undeveloped, and had never even had boyfriends. Pretty gross, but it’s common for aldea girls to marry at 14 or 15. The real scary part is that marriage here equals pregnancy, which is so dangerous at such an early age. The nurse proceeded to ask Lillian about the hickeys on her neck and face. Lillian grinned at me embarrassingly, flashing her star-shaped gold-capped two front teeth. I remember when I first met Lillian she had told me that she felt no need to get married so early, she has her whole rest of her life to do so. But now with no parental figure in the house I can see the aldea men taking advantage of the situation and perhaps Lillian’s newfound vulnerability that may result from so many responsibilities to tend to. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen but the husband may make her stay in the house, give up her role as a health volunteer, and start popping out kids of her own.

Fastforward to conversation 3 weeks later.....Señora de la montana: ¨La monitora de Cangual se fue. Se la llevo un muchacho¨.´... So Lillians gone, some guy took her away.... Sigh.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

feliz navidad!

I spent my first holiday away from the family and the U.S. this year. It was hard watching so many volunteers take off for the states, but with just 6 months in site I wasn’t ready to travel back to the states yet. Instead I planned a trip with a bilingual school teacher in the nearby town of Gracias, Jordan from the state of Washington. We planned to meet in Nicaragua and go south to Panama. I set off, shedding my identity as a Peace Corps Volunteer and assuming that of a backpacker. It’s a bit different being a backpacker, just passing through hopping from one tourist destination to another. It’s a fun bubble to be in but one doesn’t really learn about the culture or the country, as a PCV I have that inside edge… and I speak the language. But the trip got off to a rough start as I realized right before venturing to the Nicaragua-Honduras border that I had brought the wrong passport. Peace Corps issues Volunteers special passports, I had brought my personal which doesn’t have that crucial entry stamp. I tried my luck pleading with border authorities, throwing my weight as a PCV. After an episode you’d see in a movie involving the border boss “El Chino”, $71, and Coca-Colas for all the border workers, I was allowed to pass.
I headed down to Leon where I met up with Jordan. We kicked off our first night of the trip with mojito inspired dancing through the streets. The next morning, Christmas Eve, we headed down the coast of Nicaragua, to San Juan del Sur – a popular tourist beach spot and it was of course flooded with backpackers. But it was nice to be at the beach and we happened upon a cool little jewelry store and Jordan apparently shares my obsession for such things. We had our goods wrapped and Christmas morning in our hostel, over Nutella and crackers we gift exchanged!

The day after Christmas we started down for our ultimate destination – Bocas del Toro, an island on the north Caribbean side of Panama. This included a night in San Jose enhanced by Pizza Hut goodness. San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica I swear you’d think you were in the US. 12 hours later we arrived in Bocas. I had no idea what to expect, I had never heard of it and I thought it would be more beachy, less touristy but it was the opposite. It was totally packed with beautiful people who all had come to celebrate New Years and we barely found a place to stay but at last landed at a small, less flashy, but way chill little hostel. The following 5 days included a little rum, meringue, fully clothed swims at midnight (naturally, since all of the bars are on the water), acrobatics and Jordan’s near death experiences (see previous), snorkeling, exotic specie spotting, and, alas, way too much money withdrawn from the ATM. The day after New Years I had to face the harsh reality of returning to Honduras, which required a 3 day bus trip. It was especially difficult meeting so many travelers heading next to South America – sometimes I just feel that continent is magnetically pulling at me, but right now I have some commitments. If anything this “need” to go to South America is inspiration to get done what I need to do here and get out! But I will say Bocas del Toro was one of the funnest trips I’ve had, most likely due to such good company, thanks Jordan! In the end, spending the holidays in Central America was not such a bad move.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

this is where I live

So yes, I mentioned live in San Miguelito, which is located in the department of Intibuca. I guess I would say that departments here are the equivalent of states. Intibuca is one of the poorest departments in the country, it is very mountainous, and the roads are horrible. The capital of the department is La Esperanza, which is located about an hour away from me and is where I go to do just about anything and happen to be right this moment. La Esperanza is the coldest city in the country, I think it can get down to about 30 deg, and yes, it´s darn cold right now. It is the most agricultually productive region in the country and for this reason the market offers a great variety of vegetables. La Esperanza area is home to one of Honduras´s few indigenous cultures, the Lenca people. The Lenca culture is not a strong as say the Mayan culture of Guatemala. They lost their own language long ago, although they do manage to squeeze out a few crafts here and there. In the Lenca villages, which are very poor, there are occasional religious ceremonies, although I have never been to one. The have a synchronistic religion, a blend of Catholicism and their own traditional practices. Oh did I mention La Esperanza is also the drunk capital of Honduras - hmmm, this is a topic worthy of an entry all it´s own, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Halloween in Copan

This year Honduras PCVs united for the the annual Halloween festival in Copan Ruinas. Two day festivities began with a Hash run through the city and countryside. Halloween night costumed PCV´s did what we do best when we get together - drink! My chicita banana type costume here was thrown together pretty quickly but I think it turned out alright. There were some pretty good ones though, little drummer boy, ninja turtle pinata and some classic pairs - reggaetone star and ho, britney and kevin. Good times, looking forward to next year!