Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Part 2 – This is The End

Alas, the time has come: The time when I write my last blog as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  When (I feel) I should be deep and insightful and really understand the lessons I learned over the past two years of my life.  It’s a little harder to do it that way because of the circumstances my service is ending under.  However, I was close to the end and definitely appreciate all the time I did have there.

The last couple of weeks here in the US have been a time of adjusting.  This country is so big and unfriendly.  It’s fast paced beyond any reason and the things we have here are absolutely, 100% ridiculous.  At the same time, I love driving in my car, being anonymous and not having to be under lock and key come sundown. 

I’m still upset that we had to leave.  It brought me to tears again a few days ago.  It’s entirely unfair that we can just up and leave.  I gave my word to the people to be there for two years and we’ve both been robbed of nearly four months of time.  (I like starting every sentence with “I”.)  Left behind in Honduras are my friends and family.  Left undone and unfinished are projects that could have made a huge difference in many people’s lives.  Not just my own, but those of 157 other volunteers. 

However, it is what it is and I’m dealing with all the associated emotions.  There are good days and there are bad.  The Lord has blessed me with a short-term job working at a non-profit I volunteered at before leaving for Honduras.  It will be a great opportunity to get good work experience and even better to earn and save some money.  Getting into a “normal” 9-5 will help me pass the time and not be so bored.  The plus side is I love the work this agency does!  I’m also applying for jobs with the Peace Corps (stateside) and other non-profits.  I’ll go to grad school for my Master’s eventually – once I figure out what I really need it in.  Maybe I’ll learn I don’t need it!  Once I’ve accumulated enough savings to start my next adventure and still be responsible for my debt, then I’ll be on the go again.  That’s one definite lesson I learned – I cannot do normal!

So, now comes the part when I’ve got to reflect and say ok, “What did the last two years teach me?”  This is really off the cuff and by no means all inclusive, so let’s see what I’m thinking… 
            I learned that I am a chameleon.  Eat like the locals, live like the locals, talk like the locals, sympathize with them and at times even empathize with them.  I wouldn’t think twice before throwing myself into the unknown again.
            Patience IS a virtue.  I spent a ton of time waiting over the past two years of my life.  Each time I was forced to wait just made me more patient.
            Home is where the heart is – not a physical address.  My heart knows three homes now.  No matter where I am I can build a home and create a family.  I’ll never be alone because my heart is so full.
            As an American I need to do a lot of good.  It’s so easy to lead a mundane life here and get caught up in the “American Dream.”  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to educate myself both traditionally and non-traditionally.  I honestly feel it is my calling to “pay it forward.”  I get so much happiness out of helping people and that’s what I want my life to be about.  My life will be better when I’m helping others help themselves.
            I’ve got oodles of confidence!  In terms of self confidence I’m a completely different person now than when I left two years ago.  I’m more confident in marketing myself in the job market.  The experiences of the Peace Corps make me an amazing candidate and I will bring amazing ideas and fresh perspectives to any work place.  I’m even confident in my appearance!  Two years being the target of men’s off handed compliments (that annoyed the heck out of me) actually made me realize, “Yah, I am pretty darn good looking.”  Now, don’t think I’m conceited.  I’m still a woman at the end of the day and will always fret over silly things.  But 9 days out of 10, I feel darn good about myself.
            Perhaps, the most important thing I learned is this: Honduras is a beautiful country inside and out.  From evergreen pine forests covering the towering mountains reaching heavenward to the cumulus cloud filled sky, to the island paradise with white sand beaches and crystal blue water – you will see some of the most amazing natural beauty in Honduras.  Los Catrachos (what Hondurans refer to themselves as) will go above and beyond to welcome a stranger into their land.  The poorest of people will make the most immaculate feast their meager ingredients can muster and serve it to you at their plastic table with fancy place mat and piping hot coffee, just to say, “Welcome to my home.”  A young boy will carry your 50 lb. suitcase four blocks from the bus stop to the house down the pot hole filled dirt road.  Your friend’s family will invite you to their coffee farm on Sunday – a day typically spent with family in Honduras – because they know you don’t have your own family to be with.  Your landlady will feed your cat for weeks while you travel.  Small neighbor children will bring you fresh fruit off the tree from their backyard.  A work counterpart will drive you two hours to the airport and decline taking gas money when offered him.  Young girls will treat you like the hottest pop star because you took time to teach them a class for 12 weeks.  And the list goes on!  I saw no lack of generosity from a people that are supposedly needy.  It’s a terrible shame the rotten few are giving the country a bad wrap.  I encourage you, nay – dare you to go beyond what you read in the news and go see for yourself what an amazing country Honduras is.

So, this is the end.  My 27 months became 23 and I spent the last one living in the US.  It has happened for a reason.  My Peace Corps Volunteer experience may end today, but tomorrow begins the rest of my life as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.  I can forever share my love, knowledge and experience of Honduras with the world.  What a blessing!  Thank you all for reading and following my adventures.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  I’ve had the time of my life.  I’ll never let go.  Don’t stop believing.” 

PS – Update on my cat, Amor.  She’s in Tegucigalpa, medically cleared for entrance into the US.  We’re just waiting to see which flight she can get home on.  She should be reunited with Frijoles and I within the next few days! :)

Vaya pues, cheque, que le vaya bien, que Dios te bendiga, vaya con Dios y Amor y Frijoles

La Gringa formerly in Honduras - Emily
Catracha de Corazon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Administrative Hold: Life in Limbo - Part 1

It’s been two weeks back in the US.  Where have those fourteen days gone?  I feel like I’m in some sort of time warp, paradigm shift or anything else like a sense of altered reality.  I definitely know I’m in LIMBo. – lonely, isolated, misunderstood, bored.  At the all volunteer conference in Tegucigalpa, we were told by the psychologists to expect certain feelings and that acronym was the one that really stands out.  However, I’m getting ahead of myself.  For the longest time I’ve been writing my blog recap style and there’s no reason to change now.

We last left off with la gringa spending Christmas Eve and Christmas with friends in Guaimaca.  It was a beautiful holiday full of the Honduran traditions and food I love.  A special Christmas Eve church service with a program put on by the children, rosquillas en miel, pierna, nacatamales and staying up ‘til midnight to set off fireworks.

Shortly after Christmas my parents, this time my mom and stepdad, arrived in Honduras for a vacation that’d been planned for months.  Instead of it being an opportunity to see what my daily Honduran life was like and get to visit my host families it became the opportunity to see what my daily Honduran life had been like and going to visit my host families for the last time to say our good byes.  While most volunteers who stayed in Honduras over the holidays were on Standfast and not allowed to travel, I’d been granted permission from our Country Director because my parents had rented a car and we would not be on the oh-so-dangerous public transportation.  My parents trip ended up being great timing due to all that was happening because we were able to get my dog, Frijoles, to the vet and cleared for entry to the US and they were able to bring back an extra suitcase full of my stuff – which makes my grand total for pieces of luggage coming back to the US three, while I only arrived in Honduras with two.  Weird, since I left 95% of my clothes there.

The first few days of January were the cliché emotional roller coaster as I started really packing up my house (my home), saying goodbye to friends in Guaimaca and faced the reality of the end.  January 8th was my despedida both with my favorite host family and my best friends in Guaimaca.  At one point there were about twenty people in my small home.  It was stressful trying to manage the two groups who didn’t know each other, while individuals from each wanted to buy furniture from me and have other things gifted to them as recuerdos.  I didn’t handle the situation well at all and my best friend from Guaimaca ended up not getting some of the things I had promised her beforehand.  Later that evening when I was sitting in my house with nothing left but a small foam mattress she texted and said she was upset with me because of that and also that I’d neglected to give anything to her daughter.  It hit me so hard – I tried to call her to talk about it and explain myself, but she didn’t answer.  However, things were resolved and I think it just came down to her trying to deal with her feelings of my leaving by trying to start a fight.

January 12, 2012 was the last day I woke up in my home of Guaimaca.  My favorite taxi driver had offered to take me to the neighboring municipality where Peace Corps was picking us up in a bus.  I spent the morning dreading his arrival to my house and doing my last minute errands in Guaiamaca.  The waterworks started when I went to say goodbye to the one little girl I’d spent the most time helping personally – giving donations to her and her family.  I’d spent very little time with her in comparison to other people, but she was very attached to me.  As soon as she saw me she burst into tears and it broke my heart.  I had also spent the night before writing a goodbye note to mi pueblo.  There are three local news stations and one radio, which was run by a neighbor, so I left my notes to be read on air that afternoon or evening.  It was the best way I could think of to express my gratitude to the people of mi pueblo for welcoming me home for nearly two years and treating me like one of their own, while also saying goodbye to those I’d missed in person.  Finally, the hour arrived and I walked my beautiful dusty streets one last time, passing the chickens pecking away, hearing the niños kicking a soccer ball around and breathing the ever present smoke wafting heavenward from the fogones heating café and tortillas.  Waiting at my back door was my best friend with her little girl.  Two of my favorite people, not only in Honduras, but the world.  They watched as I packed my last minute things – laptop, cords, chargers, phones and camera.  My vision was already blurry with tears and heart so full of pain – I felt the impact as my friend punched the wall in anger and despair crying, “Que cabrona!”  It was the hardest day of my life.  The taxi arrived and I sought out my cat, temporarily left behind with her young kittens, burying my face deep in her soft black fur and sobbing the pain out and trying to wash some of the sadness from my soul.  I gave my landlady last minute instructions on the cat’s habits and how to feed her, praying that I will actually have her back here with me in the US soon as planned.  I hugged the kids whose laughter and greetings had been the soundtrack to my life.  I thanked my landlady for everything and her aunt who lived near as well.  Then I took the ride out of Guaimaca.  The clear blue skies, wispy white clouds and sun shining even in the middle of January.  I soaked up the views of mountains, valleys, pines and creeks as we neared the next stop.  The whole morning will forever be etched in my memory.

Almost as soon as all the pain hit, it was eased seeing other volunteers in Talanga, where the majority of people from our region were being taken into Tegucigalpa met up.  Seeing twelve or so people going through the exact same thing helped immensely.  We went to the very luxurious Hotel Maya and spent four days there going through an excruciatingly painful COS (close of service) conference.  Meetings all day from 8-5, in English with punctual Americans and no permission to leave the hotel.  Weird.  They were fun filled days, trying to pay attention in the important meetings, collecting last minute samples of bodily fluids for medical testing, enjoying the amenities of the hotel and surviving on little to no sleep as we squeezed all we could out of last minute time with friends soon to be scattered all over the US.

We finally flew out of Honduras on Monday, January 16, 2012.  It was another really hard day as all three of the US bound flights out of Tegucigalpa carried PCVs back to the unknown.  On the bus to the airport I heard from a PC staff member that after the incident when the volunteer got shot on the bus PC Washington had wanted to evacuate us from the country within THREE DAYS.  She told me that our amazing Country Director stood up to PC/W and told them to not make such rash decisions and convinced them to let us volunteers stay in Honduras until a later date.  I was so shocked that PC/W had thought the situation was that serious because it wasn’t and felt even more appreciation for our Country Director whom I already had so much admiration for.  She’s an amazing lady!  Finally at the airport there were yet more goodbyes with the PC Honduras staff who had helped us through so much.  The last goodbye that was hard for me was sending “Bessie” along on her flight.  Her short three months in Guaimaca made it so much more bearable for me and I knew I was going to (and already do) miss her tons.  At least it’s easy to visit people aquí en los EEUU.

I spent my last few minutes in the airport using all my saldo and calling friends and family before boarding the plane.  Tons more tears shed and a heart warming moment as a random American monk noticed and came over and handed me a wad of napkins.  Random acts of kindness are always fun.  Then we were whisked away to Miami for a night of layover fun.

Continue on to part 2 to see what it’s been like back here stateside.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve of Something...

It’s Christmas Eve in Honduras.  Today is the day most people gather to celebrate with family here.  In a little bit I’m going to take to the city and go visit all my friends.  However, this holiday finds me with a heavy heart and while it’s Christmas Eve, we’re on the eve of something else here in Honduras.  As most of my faithful readers will know, I don’t usually post until the end of the month.  However, this month has been a topsy, turvy roller coaster ride for Peace Corps Honduras and I feel I need to do my part to keep people abreast of what’s happening here.  Basically, my Peace Corps service is coming to an end soon, unless I get really lucky.

The Back Story

I’ve kept mum about this the whole time I’ve been here.  I don’t like people worrying about me and Peace Corps always did an excellent job of keeping us informed about how to stay safe.  What I knew from the first day I got here in February of ’10 is that this is a dangerous country.  The drug trade is alive and well.  Drug traffickers are above the law.  The police and military are heavily infiltrated with corrupt personnel.  The poverty rate is high, so along with that comes much petty theft – lots of being held up at gunpoint for cell phones, cash, wallets, purses, etc.  Due to all this Honduras became the country with the highest murder rate in the world in October of ’11 (where there is not a war being fought).  Further, unrelated to all this is something that seems to plague Peace Corps – many victims of rape.  For whatever reason an unfortunate number of female volunteers suffered this here in Honduras.  So, Peace Corps has been facing a lot of negative stuff for as long as I’ve been here, 23 months, and it has more history than that still.

The One That Broke The Camel’s Back

On December 4, we had an incident here in country that finally made someone say, “OK, we’ve got to get these kids out of there.”  Around noon on that Sunday, a bus was assaulted by three armed men on a major highway.  One robber held the bus driver at gunpoint and made him keep driving as the other two fleeced all the passengers.  A passenger on the bus decided to try his hand at vigilante justice and opened fire on the robbers, which resulted in many shots being exchanged.  One of the innocent bystanders who took a bullet was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Thankfully it was not a fatal shot.  This whole incident put us PCVs in a frenzy as we started buzzing about what this would mean for our future.  That very same week we talked to PCV peers from each geographical region who reported back to PC Honduras staff about what our thoughts and feelings were given this incident.  General consensus was that we all feel safe in the sites we live and work in, but are more fearful when traveling on public transportation.

The Decision Making Process

As it turned out our Country Director was going to a meeting to discuss the security of Honduras and other Central/South American countries the week of December 11.  We heard that week that one of the major issues on the agenda was the future of Peace Corps Honduras.  We volunteers got a summary of the results of that meeting as soon as our CD got back to Honduras that Thursday, the 15th.  She told us the situation in Honduras had been extensively discussed and Peace Corps Washington, DC (HQ) was now analyzing the information and we would have a statement from them soon.  Each day we waited for news was a careful exertion of patience as we were all full of nerves waiting for an answer as to what was coming our way (no one likes their future being out of their control).  Finally, on Monday my site mate and I sat down together and wrote up an email to send to our CD.  We expressed our frustration with lack of knowing and asked what Peace Corps was waiting for before closing the post.  Did it have to come down to a volunteer dying in Honduras?  My site mate, who has only served for three months, expressed her lament for even being brought here to Honduras to serve because Peace Corps has known all along how dangerous it is here.  I expressed my ambivalence to the fact that we may soon close this post because I’m so close to being done.  Within half an hour we had a reply from our CD telling us we would have an official statement from PC/Washington by the following day.  The popular questions were: What do you think the decision will be?  What should the decision be?  What do you want the decision to be?

The Decision

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 we got the email we’d all been waiting for and knew was coming.  Peace Corps had made the decision to suspend operations in Honduras.  Effective immediately was that our security level was updated to Standfast.  While on Standfast we cannot leave the communities we live and work in without express permission from the CD.  The message told us that all volunteers currently in Honduras would attend an all volunteer conference in mid-January after which we would be sent to our respective homes in the US.  During this time in the US, at least 30 days and up to 45, Peace Corps would be reviewing the situation in Honduras and decide whether or not to keep operating in the country.  If the decision is made to stay in the country it will be on a much smaller scale, they will consider moving the central office out of Tegucigalpa and restricting volunteers to a more specific geographic location deemed safest. 

The Aftermath

This is all affecting me and my emotions immensely.  After receiving the email Tuesday I cried a lot.  Despite having told our CD that I’m ambivalent about an early departure, I’m clearly not.  Sure, when it comes down to work and projects I am because right now I’m not in the middle of anything and didn’t plan on starting anything new.  What I’m not ambivalent about is my community and the people here – my friends who are amazing, the girls I’ve worked with, the small business owners whom I’ve helped, my neighbor kids who just made me a ton of extra special mud pies for Christmas.  For emotional as I was leaving home nearly two years ago, I feel the exact same way now: I’m leaving home all over again.  I think I may even feel a little worse now because I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back here and life is a lot more volatile here.  Maybe Peace Corps will let me come back and finish my service until May as planned, although I highly doubt it.  I knew leaving was coming, but having it come up and be beyond my control in less than a month’s time is not how I wanted to go.  I wanted to have going away parties with my friends, start some more work in the high school next school year, get the Chamber of Commerce opened here in Guaimaca.  It makes me so angry that the handful of bad people in this country ruins everything for the majority of the good people who need us here.  I’m angry because these selfish people are ruining their country and making life for the good people miserable.  (Ugh, sorry I’m too emotional still.  My best Honduran friend just now called me and as I updated her on everything she started crying and got me going again.)  I’m frustrated because I don’t feel unsafe here even though my odds of being an innocent bystander or robbed are very high (when outside of Guaimaca).  I’m frustrated because this is happening so fast and Peace Corps isn’t going to help us make sure we volunteers with pets can get them home to the US safely.  I’m excited to be back in the US, because well, it’s freakin’ awesome.  I’m nervous to be back in the US because life is so different there.  In the blink of an eye I’m going from being a self supported adult with meaningful work back to living with my parents and without a job.  I can’t start grad school this fall because I wasn’t planning on being home until May.  Now I’ve got almost a whole year and a half back in the US to pass before I can get into a program.  Basically, I’m a whole jumble of sad, angry, frustrated, nervous and excited amongst others.  Never did I think it would come down to this.  However, one thing that comforts me a little right now is my belief that everything happens for a reason.  I don’t know what it is, but I know God has His plans and I’ll be ok, just like I always have been.  A little sliver of peace despite all this other tumultuous stuff going on right now.

The End

Will this be my last blog from Honduras?  Perhaps.  My parents are coming to visit next week and will leave after the New Year, so I probably won’t post again this month.  I may try to post again from the States while we’re there so people can get that insight of what it’s like to be a PCV on Administrative Hold.  I know that what’s happening here in PC/Honduras is the right thing in my head.  But, what I feel in my heart is completely different.  It’s a disconnect that commonly occurs.  I think this is the last struggle of my Peace Corps service where I will have to stay positive despite adverse conditions.  For now I’m going to enjoy Christmas with my friends here and make it all that more special. 

Hasta yo no sé cuando…

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

And I Thought October Was A Great Month…

Well, another month comes to an end in the 27 months of my Peace Corps story.  I feel fairly certain that for the first time in my 18 months of being a volunteer this is the first month in which I’ve done zero reportable work for my VRF (volunteer reporting form – what every Peace Corps volunteer fills out worldwide and is sent back to Peace Corps HQ in Washington DC).  So why is it that despite not working at all I still had a great month?  There are so many reasons!

The first five days of the month my best friend from the US was still here visiting and it was great to have a friend around with whom I have a history – someone with who I can use names when telling stories about people back home, laughing over old inside jokes and reminiscing on all the good times we had in college.  It was just amazing to fall into that old familiar groove.

Having been here for 18 months already makes me quite a veteran of Peace Corps service.  Where we go on six month cycles of one group comes in and another leaves, that now makes my group, H-16, the oldest group still serving here in Honduras.  In the department of Francisco Morazán there is only one other H-16 volunteer and it’s a guy – therefore I’ve dubbed myself “The Matriarch” and him “The Patriarch”.  That being said I decided to make a Welcome Party happen for our region of the country, since in my 18 months there hasn’t been one in Francisco Morazán.  I opened up my house to host the party, not just for our three new girls from H-19, but the rest of us as well.  The party was a ‘Stace Bash’ theme so everyone was rocking facial hair or made a mustache out of duct tape.  It was a great time and Amor and Frijoles (my cat and dog) loved all the attention!

As everyone knows November is also the month of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday!  The Peace Corps tradition is that a few volunteers across the country will host a dinner and other volunteers will show up – and the food is usually really close to authentic to that of an American Thanksgiving.  There was not a shortage of options this year: a pig roast, a dinner on the island of Amapala, a dinner with orphans in not one, but two cities, and yet another where a girl had been raising two turkeys to kill.  Having done one of the big dinners last year, I just wanted to stay close to home this year and spend the day with two of my besties in PC: one being my new site mate and the other my H-16 girl who lives about 10 hours away by bus.  It was easy to get my site mate on board since she’s new and their group has crazy travel restrictions.  Then, after some talking her into it and convincing her how much cooler it would be, I convinced my H-16er to come down to Tegucigalpa as well.  It was by no means a traditional Thanksgiving, but one of the best I’ve ever had for that very reason (much like the Thanksgiving I spent with two friends at Disneyland back in college).  Once at our hotel in Tegus we downloaded new music, movies and shows and watched a little bit of the NFL games.  After watching the sunset and enjoying some gas station hors d'oeuvres on the hotel roof with the two H-16ers (veterans) and the two H-19ers (newbies) we headed to dinner at TGI Fridays.  A turkey plate was on special for the day and was supposed to come with a carrot cake dessert (which they had run out of by the time we got to dessert and I was ticked!).  It actually wasn’t half bad for being TGI Friday’s version of Thanksgiving dinner.  As we were wrapping up our dinner we noticed some other Americans sitting across the restaurant and they noticed us as well.  It was a hodgepodge mix of guys who were Marines, ex-Marines and State Department workers who were also missing a good old fashioned dinner with family back home.  So, what did we decide to do?  Go dancing!  With the suggestion of some locals in Tegus we found this club that seemed to play lots of old 90s music, in English!  The throw back was a blast and it was a good way to dance off those Thanksgiving dinner calories. :)  Friday we had brunch at Denny’s and then headed to the mall where we watched Breaking Dawn.  It was a great American couple of days.

So, I’ll admit it: I may not have reportable work, but I’m constantly working here.  There are three goals of the Peace Corps after all.  The first being that interested parties in the respective countries get the help from educated men and women, the second is that host country nationals learn more about the American people and our culture, and the third is that the American people learn more about the culture and people of the country where we serve as volunteers.  Yes, I’m lacking in my goal one work – but my community has to play their part, which they frequently don’t.  Goal three I’m doing right here – blogging: getting my story of Honduras out to other people.  The Saturday after we got back from Thanksgiving I went to a sixth grade graduation ceremony with my best friend in site.  She teaches in a very small community about half an hour outside of the main part of town.  As we were waiting for our ride out there she had me explain what Dia de Acción de Gracias (Thanksgiving) is.  I gave her the brief history of pilgrims and getting to America, how they killed the Indians and later felt bad – is this even right?? – then decided to have a shared dinner being thankful they’d made it across the ocean and repenting for having been mean to the Indians.  Then she asked why we eat turkey and I couldn’t tell her!  Can anyone help me?  Anyway, so we get to her school and it’s a one room school and she has about 30 students from first through sixth grade.  I’d had the privilege of working with her in that community about three times: twice with the students and another time doing a presentation for the parents.  Due to my experiences in the community she invited me to form part of the mesa principal, or table of honored guests is the best translation I can give it.  She graduated six kids and I got to turn the diplomas over to two of them.  For years to come I’ll forever be in the photos hanging in these families homes and it’s such an honor.  At one point my friend, the teacher, opened the floor up to the families to share special words with the kids.  As one parent was speaking, she pokes me in the ribs and asks “You’re going to say something, right?” in a way that wasn’t so much a question as a statement.  I tell them it’s been a pleasure to work with the kids and parents, that I always feel very welcomed in their community and tell the kids that they can achieve anything they want to – even up to studying in college.  The sad part is, that’s just me being very optimistic and having a positive outlook on things.  The truth is most of the six kids won’t even be able to afford to come into the city here next year and continue with their 7th grade education.  However, I reminded them that, “Sí, se puede” – “You can do it.”  I’m not the best motivational speaker, but hey here’s hoping someone takes it to heart.

Aside from my few amazing days the other days I just pass here at home or hanging out with “Bessie”, my site mate (that’s not her name, just a nickname we have for each other).  She’s a great girl and I’m glad I got someone so awesome here in town after the last equally awesome girl had to wrap things up.  Bessie was musing just the other day how quickly you can become really good friends with someone in the Peace Corps and asked me if I could believe it – I just smirked a crooked grin and nodded as she realized who she was talking to.  The friendships we make in Peace Corps are special, amazing and powerful - both with fellow Americans and HCNs (host country nationals).  While some of my work projects will fail, I know that my relationships won’t and that is probably the very thing that keeps me going through this difficult endeavor.  So, to touch on giving thanks – I’m so thankful for the special people that are in my life here: who will laugh with me, cry with me, commiserate with me, celebrate with me and love me no matter what.  Thank you Lord for brining these people into my life.  It’s been a real blessing for me! 

And since this is perhaps the longest I’ve written in awhile, I’ll wrap it up now.  Thanks for reading.  Just five months and eleven days to go as a Peace Corps Volunteer!  OMG…

Hasta la proxima vez…

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

VH1's Best Month Ever!

Since it’s already November 7, I’m having a hard time getting motivated to write a blog for October.  However, I’ve been pretty consistent thus far and can’t get behind now. 

The beginning of the month was filled with much anticipation for what was to come later and just getting by with day to day work things.  Working with one of the teachers in my counterpart high school we finished up a series of classes teaching kids about personal strengths/weaknesses, how to adapt skill sets to certain career paths, communication skills in the work place and ultimately how to prepare a resume and prepare for an interview.  We gave this class as what Peace Corps calls “teaching of teachers.”  It basically means while we were training the kids themselves they will give the class next year as a senior project to other students in the high school.  Here’s hoping it’s successful since I’ll only be around for the first three months of the school year before my service ends and with all the teachers’ strikes here it’s hard to tell what next school year will be like.

I also spent some time working outside of Guaimaca with a woman who I met at some workshops last year.  She is the kind of person I wish lived in my own community so I could work with her more easily.  This woman is motivated and realizes what resource she has in me here, so she’s taking advantage of it.  It seems to me people here in my town have never realized this, which is why I got so into my Chamber of Commerce project – they can go there and get all the help they will need once they realize what they lost in my two years here.  Anyway, this woman has worked with other Peace Corps volunteers in the past and is on her game.  She’s aware of the fact that Christmas is coming up and as a small business owner/jewelry designer she’s doing all she can to earn some decent money right now.  She and I discussed some options of how to deal with uncooperative members of her cooperative and I also did some graphic design stuff for her (ok, more like creating signs with MS Word).  I’m hoping to work with her some more in my remaining months here and maybe get her in contact with a volunteer who lives near her.

So, why does the title refer to the best month ever?  Because it’s my birthday month and two friends came down from the States to visit me.  It was epic!  The actual Wednesday of my birthday some of my counterparts from the high school took me out to eat, which was very nice of them.  One of the teachers I work with even gave me a card with L. 200 in it!  I was so impressed.  After that I came home to a fun evening with three other PCVs here at my house.  Just some good ‘ol fashion gringo fun – speaking English and all.  Thursday we got up and headed into Tegucigalpa because there was a soccer game we were going to.  Now when I say we, it’s grown to about 34 people.  The Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS came to play Club Motagua, one of the two teams from Tegucigalpa and also the team I’ve chosen to be a fan of.  Since I could care less about soccer in the US or the MLS, I was supporting Motagua.  This game was so crazy and exciting for various reasons: 1) The sheer number of volunteers that went to the game – I really think 34 was our final count; 2) David Beckham who plays for the LA Galaxy and had been rumored to not be coming showed up in TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS and played; 3) The Peace Corps’ greatest Safety and Security Director, JC, who recently had his last day with us, attended the game with us; 4) The U-S-A chant – oh yah, we did it!  It was so great to finally see David Beckham play because he was still playing for Real Madrid the year I lived in Spain, yet I missed him there and since he’s been in LA I’ve never bothered to make the drive down south to see him.  So you betcha I went to see him when he shows up in Honduras.  Friday I enjoyed some Americana, Honduras style with great shopping and international food and closing the night off with dancing at a Spanish tapas bar called Nox.  Who ever said getting older is no fun?  Life is what you make it and I’m making mine fabulous!  Starting the new year of my life with a three day birthday celebration is just how I roll.

Saturday was the day I had been counting down to for about three months.  Jen and Ash arrived to Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa and I was so stoked!  Now, Ash and I go way back to 4th grade and the last time we had actually hung out was well over two years ago.  Jen has been my best friend since college and she had actually made the trip out to CA while I was on my visit home back in May.  Having them both here was so much fun and something I was really needing.  The first few days we came back to Guaimaca and they saw how I “rough it” here.  They experienced my cold showers, hand washed some clothes in the pila and saw first hand what it’s like to be harassed by strangers as you walk around town.  My town is not the best of what Honduras has to offer, so I took them to the town of Copan Ruinas, which is in the Western part of the country only 12 km from the Guatemalan border.  There we stayed in the Blue Iguana Hostel, which is really nice and owned by great people, and was actually voted as one of the top 10 hostels in the world.  (Yes, I like it that much I’m giving them free advertising on my blog!)  We spent the first evening at a fellow PCVs’ house as he hosted a great dinner party and he cooked some amazing Indian food.  We also visited the archeological site of the Mayan ruins and learned some history about them, which was really cool and something I had skipped the year before.  We ate a fabulous dinner at Hacienda San Lucas – an absolutely amazing property overlooking the small river valley, town of Copan Ruinas and the ruins themselves.  At the hacienda they serve a five course meal always by candle light and the food is amazing.  For only $28 it’s definitely something that must be done when in Copan Ruinas.  We spent a relaxing Saturday at the thermal hot springs with the two PCVs who live/work in Copan Ruinas.  It was seriously one of the best days I’ve had in Honduras.  There was even one pool where they set out mud for masks and you can get a great facial while sitting there.  Part of the package we paid for included the most amazing spread of food too – fresh fruits, artisan cheeses, fresh rolls, spreads, some roast pork, and hard boiled eggs which were amazing with this great rock salt on them.  That evening was the infamous Halloween party which used to be the event of the year for Peace Corps volunteers.  However, due to new rules, which are really strict, no one is allowed to go anymore.  Last year it was packed with at least fifty Peace Corps volunteers in great costumes enjoying the opportunity for some gringo time.  This year there was a motley crew of people hoping to see all the costumes the gringos put together only to learn of the sad news.  Sorry to disappoint Copan Ruinas.  Maybe if Honduras can get its act together Peace Corps could relax the rules a little bit.  But yah, about that…  Sunday was our last day in town, so we did some souvenir shopping and visited the beautiful Hacienda San Lucas again for lemonade and coffee.  We had one last dinner with my fellow PCVs and another friend down on vacation and reflected on what an amazing weekend it had been.  I doubt either of the PCVs I’ve referred to here will read this, but if you guys do, thanks again so much for an epic weekend!  You went above and beyond of what it is to host someone in your site and also made great impressions on my friends.

After our jaunt to Copan we visited Valle de Angeles, one of my favorite places in Honduras and spent a few more days in Guaimaca.  Taking my friends back to the airport was sad and eventually made it really hard coming back to an empty house.  At least my pets were here waiting for me and I’ve got plenty to look forward to on my social calendar for the month of November.  Work?  Well, we’ll see what happens with that since it’s “summer break” here and also the holiday season.

Thanks again for reading and staying up to date on my super exciting Honduran life…only slightly sarcastic! ;)

Hasta la proxima vez…

Friday, September 30, 2011

Home Remedies

I wished my remembrance of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 was something more somber and adequate to the horrible tragedy that passed that day.  However, I was passing a normal Sunday here in Honduras.  You know, washing some clothes in the pila, cleaning the house and running around the corner to the pulperia (small neighborhood market) to grab some eggs and rice for lunch. 

As I came back into the yard I saw my dog, Frijoles, and called her to come as per the usual when I get home.  She ran over and immediately fell to my feet whining and crying.  Completely bewildered as to what her problem was I noticed she was keeping her left eye shut.  The eye was very watery and was starting to have some weird discharge gathering.  Due to this event I recently learned how strong I am in my own crisis.  I’m a rock when it comes to helping others out, but seeing Frijoles suffering and upset was killing me and I nearly panicked. 

My first call was to another Peace Corps friend whose dog had died after eating poison.  By this point I’d put some eye drops (yes, the kind for humans) in Frijoles’ eye and brought her inside.  She’d gotten very lethargic and was just lying there whining and had also begun drooling.  When I finally got my friend on the phone I start crying and asked her to tell me the story of what happened when her dog got poisoned, even though I’d heard it multiple times.  That helped to reassure me that Frijoles hadn’t been poisoned.  My friend was with one of her Honduran friends and his advice was to give her milk.  Frijoles simply ignored the milk I put in front of her, which worried me even more, since she usually goes crazy for any “human food”.

My next call was to my stepmom since she’s always had dogs and I figured she’d know what to do.  Luckily she was at home and was able to find information on homeopathic medicine for dogs on the Internet, something I can’t do from home here in Honduras.  At first she’d thought it was possibly parvo or distemper, but Frijoles has been vaccinated against both of those.  With those ruled out and having the information that it was an eye problem the best information was to make a saline solution and flush Frijoles’ eye. 

I set water to boil and then called my friend who had given me Frijoles.  She passed me on to her mom who also suggested a saline solution.  Two for two with the saline solution, so I knew I was on the right track.  My friend’s mom also said I should visit the “vet” (who, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t actually studied veterinary medicine but has dedicated herself to the care of animals) Monday, since naturally everything is closed on Sundays here in Pueblo-ville, Honduras.  I thanked her, finished making the saline solution and flushed Frijoles’ eye.  That was all I could do for the day.

First thing Monday when I checked Frijoles’ eye it was completely covered by a white layer, very much resembling a cataract.  “She’s gone blind in this eye,” I told myself.  Putting her on the leash and taking her to the vet, she confirmed my thought and said, “She’s lost the vision in that eye.”  It made me sad to think my poor Frijoles would live the rest of her life one eyed, but at least she was alive.  The vet gave Frijoles a series of antibiotic shots (which are more common than pills here) and as I took her home I passed by my friend’s house, the one who I’d called the day before.  They looked at the eye and said, “You need to make a solution of urine and honey and put drops of that in her eye.  It worked for Jorge’s dog out in San Marcos.” 

Willing to give it a shot, I started running around town trying to find natural honey and a dropper.  The urine…well, that was another story.  My friend has a two year old kid who is potty training so, I think that’s how we got that ingredient.  I take the honey to my friends and ask if they could also happen to watch Frijoles that night since I was heading into Tegucigalpa to catch the Raiders on Monday Night Football (they won, so it made the trip totally worth it).  They said sure and I took off for the capital. 

Getting home on Tuesday morning I picked Frijoles up along with the new honey/urine solution and the instructions of giving her a few drops twice a day.  In the two and a half weeks since her incident, I think I’ve given Frijoles the drops maybe five times.  However, every time I see my friends and they ask if I’m still giving the drops I tell them I am.  Frijoles eye is also almost back to 100%.  As to what happened no one will ever know.  There is one small white spot on the bottom edge of her iris, but aside from that the white cover is nearly gone.  Maybe it was a bee or wasp sting, maybe she actually ran into something, maybe a toad or tarantula spit some venom at her.  I’ll never now, since it happened in the ten minutes I was gone to the store.  And what’s made it better?  Maybe it was time, but maybe there is something to be said for that home remedy of a urine/honey solution.  I’ll also never know since I didn’t administer the drops according to schedule. 

While the whole thing is full of mystery, I’m just glad my ‘ol dumb girl, Frijoles, is almost back to being perfectly healthy again and her sweet natured self.  Hopefully she learned her lesson to stay away from whatever it was that got her in the first place.  Go figure, I try to take good care of her and something like this happens.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned our saying before, “Honduras always wins.”  It’s true; Honduras has racked up a ton of points against me, but when she starts messing with my dog that’s just not cool.  Not cool at all Honduras!

Frijoles on Monday, Sep. 12 - the day after her incident

Close up of her bad eye looking like she'd lost her vision

Normal eye also Moday, Sep. 12

Frijoles today - Friday, Sep. 30

Close up of her bad eye also today - Friday, Sep. 30.  Almost all better!

On a side note October starts the seven month countdown for finishing my Peace Corps service.  It’s a little crazy to think I’ve got twenty months behind me, but that’s the truth of it.  To anyone who’s been a faithful reader all these twenty months, thanks so much!

Hasta la proxima vez…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What's for Dinner?

What’s for Dinner?

When I was drawing a blank as to what to post for July and August, I decided to document my food for a day and share it with you. Delving into the culture a little more, I also decided to give making flour tortillas from scratch a go. I also documented that process and have pictures to show the process.

Now, what I’m going to share in pictures makes it looks a little more exciting than what I usually eat. I won’t lie – I’m lazy and cooking for one is not frequently on my list of things to do each day. Many times I just have a bowl of cereal (corn flakes, because their cheap and so am I) in the morning and make a pot of rice at lunch that lasts until dinner. (Oh, I know my carb intake is ridiculous…but I take my multivitamin to get some good stuff in me.)

I like to incorporate fruit into my breakfasts. Today I had an apple, a banana and a yogurt. Other times, like in my photo I really love a smoothie. From time to time peanut butter is available in the grocery store and a peanut butter/banana smoothie is so good. Other times peanut butter is scarce, so I’ll substitute yogurt. This is not at all a typical Honduran breakfast and very much what I have brought with my experience from home.

Some of what I put in one of my smoothies - Milk, yogurt, a banana and some ice.  Yummy!

Thanks to my dad for sending me down some Raider stadium cups, I can still rep the team I love!

Lunch and dinner tend to have many of the same components.  I try to incorporate more veggies during the later meals of the day.  Just now for lunch I had some rice, beans and a chicken breast – well most of one, I like to share with my dog and cat.  In the photo is a fairly typical Honduran lunch.  Red beans, scrambled egg, a hunk of semi-dry cheese, mantequilla (which I’ve explained before – it’s like a mixture of sour cream and butter, but with a consistency of a runny sour cream), chicken bologna (my own addition because I try to get additional protein where I can and my grocer didn’t have any decent chicken cuts that week) and tortillas.  Obviously, no meal is complete without a good dousing of hot sauce.  I put it on everything, since I don’t even bother trying to season my food.

Almost a ''plato típico''

And then I tried to make tortillas all by myself.  I had previously assisted my host mom once and she gave me the recipe.  Another time I helped form the tortillas and cook them with a friend here in site.  I figured all that was left was to put the two parts of the process together and try it myself.  My end results were not bad for my first time.  I experimented A LOT with the dough and kept adding flour and vegetable shortening until I got a consistency that seemed somewhat near correct.  The first part of the process is combining the ingredients: flour, water, baking soda, shortening and a pinch of salt.  I did it the true Honduran way and just made room on the countertop to make the dough there.  It’s a little tricky creating the crater of dry ingredients and preventing the water from making a mess once you start the mixing.  After the dough is made, it needs to set for about an hour.  I don’t really know why, but I was told to leave it be.  Once the dough has set for awhile it’s ready to make the tortillas.  Start by balling the dough and then flattening it.  Here some people are good with their hands and are able to do it just by palming the dough, not this girl.  I used the trick taught to me by my host sister.  Use two pieces of plastic and flatten the ball of dough using a plate.  After that the raw tortilla can go on the heat to cook.  Here many people use fogones (wood burning stoves) and the tortilla cooking process is quite fast.  I don’t have a fogón in my house and just used my skillet on the stove.  It took me forever to cook the tortillas, but I finally finished about two hours later.  My end result was a little thicker and bread-i-er than tortillas normally are.  I still give myself a good grade because they tasted good, just with a new texture!

The dry ingredients with the crater made, waiting for the water to be added.  And my pot of beans cooking in the background.

The dough as I mixed it all over my fancy concrete countertop.

Letting it sit for awhile.

Ready to start pulling off chunks to make each tortilla.

So, these got out of order - this is the last step of cooking the tortilla.

Putting the ball of dough between two pieces of plastic to flatten it with a plate.  The plastic prevents sticking.

Ready to cook.

And enjoy!  (I have no vanity and no shame of posting unflattering pictures of myself anymore.  Thank you Honduras!)

And that my friends was a little glimpse into the culinary side of my life here in Honduras.  Thanks for reading!

Hasta la proxima vez…