Peace Corps Diary

 

What, are you crazy?

 

In March, 2001, Silicon Valley’s Great Recession of 2001 necessitated that I shut down my business, sell my house, and move to Green Valley, Arizona. As I settled into my new life of tennis and bridge I wrote the following email to a friend:

 

Friends--it picks up but slowly. This week a lady who comes by tennis once in awhile gave me two names of newly arrived single ladies my age looking for work. So I met each and liked one. Actually the latter has got me all excited about applying for the Peace Corps, something I've been thinking about for years. She's just back from Jordon of all places and was very encouraging. So we'll see what happens.

 

I had actually thought about the Peace Corps for the first time the previous year when my daughter, Regina, started college. John F. Kennedy would have been the first President I would have voted for, so I knew about it. I thought with my daughter going “off into the world” I would have the freedom to take on the Peace Corps. At that time, the Peace Corps, to me, could only have meant going out into the wilds and helping the less fortunate by digging ditches. I really knew nothing about the modern Peace Corps.

 

So while still in San Jose, California, I inquired somewhere—answered an ad or something. I received a postcard, but it appeared that the first step was to go to an “information meeting” at a local college campus, and I was a bit put off by that. For heaven’s sake, I was 58 years old! Truly, had I not met Darlene Schmidt in Green Valley, I’m sure I would never have had the greatest adventure of my life! Darlene was a real source of inspiration and information, the first and most important of which was that I could apply on-line. So I did.

 

Was I crazy? My license plate in California was LDBKLDY, laid back lady. I wasn’t fashionable, I wasn’t materialistic, I wasn’t fussy. I was adventurous. I’d always been active, played a lot of sports, although I’d gotten quite heavy in recent years. My sisters never really said anything about it. I suppose they already knew that I was crazy. My brother, on the other hand, is a Mormon. His stepson would be serving a mission in South America while I was in the Peace Corps, so he was very pleased. And I received this wonderful letter from my daughter mid way through the application process:

 

Dear Mom,

Can I just say that you are by far one of the coolest women I have ever known. I can not believe that you are going to be going to the peace corps! I am so proud of you for being the socially conscience women that you are. I am always so proud to tell the people I meet here about you..."Yes my mother will be going into the peace corps this summer, it is her way of giving back to the world..." I just want you to know that you are the kind of women that Barnard strives to form. You are the kind of women that many girls here only dream their mother could be like. Here at Barnard we are called "strong independent women...making a difference in the world.." Well mother, you are the epitome of all of Barnard stands for, and I am proud to have you as a mother. I just remember when I was younger being so embarrassed of you because you were not those "perfect Presentation mothers" with their silk suits and expensive shoes. Well, you are still not those mothers, you are better than that--you are the strong independent women that I only hope to some day be like....I love you…thank you.

 

 

Month 1-3: The Application

 

Nine Eleven occurred during this time, but the country hadn’t really had a chance to adjust. The big changes to our collective psyche didn’t begin to sink in until I was gone. I heard later that the attack spurred a big increase in Peace Corps applications. Nevertheless, by the end of September I was actively into the application process. It was complicated; I needed references and even letters. I’d led a full and active life that included two marriages. The Peace Corps application process meant that I had to find all sorts of documents that were filed “somewhere.” I think I also needed to list all the places I’d lived—for the legal investigation. Of course I had to write essays explaining why I wanted to do this, why I thought I could do this—but that was the easy part of the application!

 

Hope all's well with you guys. I'm filling out an application for Peace Corps and want to put you down as 'past work supervisor,' OK?? Can I have your current office address/phone number??

 

*************

 

Say, I'm applying for the Peace Corps!! How about that! So, I need to provide someone at Intel they can call to, I am told, verify that I was there those 8 years. Any ideas?  I can have my brother (did you know he works there now??) see if Peter Klauer is still there, but I can't even remember my last supervisor's name.

 

*************

 

How are things? I heard from John about the mix up--he was taking off for China for a month visit. Are you going to be there for the next year? Yeah, like you know. Well, I want to put you down as current job supervisor on my Peace Corps application so they'll have someone to call. So, what's the current address where you can be reached there? Phone still 546-4242?

 

*************

 

I'm filling out an application for Peace Corps!! Who knows, maybe this could be interesting. I've been thinking about it for years, and yesterday met a woman my age just back for Peace Corps in Jordan. She was extremely encouraging. So, what the hell. She said it would even help Gina get grants to have a mother who was a Peace Corps veteran. I have to write 2 essays, wow, just like college.

 

*************

 

Guess what? I'm applying to the Peace Corps!!! Can you please give me George's email, etc. for the forms?

 

*************

 

October 1, 2001

I'm awaiting 2 more confirmations on phone numbers and then I will send that Peace Corps application off and get back to living. I plan to ignore it and see what happens. I'm only concerned about the health questionnaire, really. Let's see if they reject me outright or at least ASK me for details re the question "Did you ever attempt suicide?" I mean, shit, it WAS almost 40 years ago. So, I will put it out of my mind... Oh, one more interesting tidbit: my friend mentioned that I would have to produce my divorce decrees so I went searching in my papers. When I got divorced the first time I was REALLY nutsy--either that or incredibly stupid. Cause what I found was an Interlocutory Decree not a final. Jesus, hope the idiot lawyer got me a final or... So I was on the phone today--lawyer doesn't exist anymore--sent a request to the Orange County Justice Court, and let's see if they find one. Til then I won't think about it.

 

*************

 

Thanks, Ken! Apparently there will be forms (some day) for you to fill out and return within 7 days--but I hear this entire application process takes 12-18 MONTHS.  Anyway, I won't know what I would be doing until after they accept me, IF they accept me. Thanks for your support.

 

*************

 

October 17, 2001

Hi Cici,

I'm so glad to hear from you!! I am still in Arizona, still no job. We are having a true Recession here. This means that the economy is VERY bad. Now, after the "attack on America" things are even worse. Tell me, what do the Chinese people think about Osama Ben Laden and Afghanistan, etc.?? I would really like to hear your views. Americans are beginning to think that the entire world hates us.

 

Meanwhile I play tennis and bridge. I applied to the Peace Corps--who knows, they might even send me to China (if they accept me!) Anyway, in my application I had to write an essay, and I wrote about my trip to China. (John Li is in China now visiting his wife.)

 

I am helping my daughter fill out her applications for university. This takes a lot of time, too. And I am typing my mother's diaries and letters and my youthful diaries--my sister insists that our future generations will want this.

 

So is your new business still fiber optics?

 

Regards!

Camille

 

I had been to China the previous January to teach a class for JDSU. I had loved every second of it! I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures which was probably a big part of the appeal of the Peace Corps.

 

Month 4: the Interview and Recommendation

 

Apparently it took Peace Corps headquarters a couple of months to decide I looked good so far. So the next step was an official interview. The Peace Corps office nearest to Green Valley, Arizona, is, unfortunately, Los Angeles. I learned later that many applicants had telephone interviews, and I also later learned that there were actually Peace Corps personnel in residence at the University of Arizona in Tucson, 30 minutes away from me! But, perhaps because I had applied on-line, my application was routed to Los Angeles. It never dawned on me to complain. What the heck, Los Angeles is on the way to San Jose! So on December 10, 2001, I drove to California for a visit and incorporated a stop in Los Angeles for a face-to-face interview at Peace Corps headquarters. The interviewer was a former Peace Corps volunteer who liked me so much she gave me a Peace Corps tote bag as a parting gift! She even gave me one for Darlene! I later wrote:

 

Peace Corps interview went great; girl said she was recommending me. Now just have to wait for the med part. Wait, wait, wait. She said probably June-ish just like my friend said

 

A month later:

 

January 10, 2002

Got a letter from the Peace Corps. Your letter must have been great--they recommended me. Now I have to do the medical stuff ASAP which is turning out to be a pain.

 

Also the Peace Corps is moving forward. I was officially recommended so all that remains is the medical stuff. May be sending you a postcard from the ends of the earth soon!! Next is a trip back to LA for a physical. Don't know when yet.

 

 

Month 5-6: Psych Eval

 

Having no financial or legal problems in my past, Medical, especially my history of psychiatric counseling, would end up being my big hurdle. It started on January 14:

 

Also in the mail from the Peace Corps is paperwork they want filled out by the doctors who hospitalized me 35 yrs ago and the dr. who prescribed Prozac. Then... well I HAVEN'T had a nervous breakdown and we managed to survive so far. I'll call and tell you the rest and, who knows, maybe some will be resolved this morning.

 

January 15, 2002

Yeah, Peace Corps. I asked for Dominican Republic but don't know yet where or when although the interviewer thought prob around May-June. So far I've turned in all the paper work, had an interview, and been recommended. Now I have the medical which I understand is time-consuming. I had a half-dozen phone conversations with the psych folks in Washington, DC and the upshot was that I faxed a "personal statement" explaining everything. IF that is deemed acceptable, they'll send me the regular med forms, I'll get a physical, and off I go. I've been recommended for an "Information Technology" program. Yeah, it's very exciting. Actually, I've long considered the Peace Corp--came of age during JFK, afterall. I met a lady here in GV who is a returner from Jordan and she's my age. She was very encouraging so I filled out the on-line app and here I am.

 

Doctors from 35 years ago? You’ve got to be kidding. Even the psychiatrist I hadn’t seen in 20 years had retired, so I had no “evidence,” no diagnosis or completed treatment plan to provide. Peace Corps decided they wanted me to get a minimum three-session psychiatric “evaluation.” This was difficult to put together because most psychiatrists aren’t interested in a three-visit patient. Happily, I eventually found a psychiatrist-in-training at the Tucson Med School. He evaluated me for three hours while his supervising psychiatrist evaluated him for the same three hours. In the end they declared me healthy and wished me luck. And it didn’t cost me too much either!

 

So another month passed:

 

February 20, 2002

Nothing new on the Peace Corps. Currently doing psyc review to see if I will fall apart in the boonies.

 

And another month later:

 

March 11

Peace Corps: I've asked for Dominican Republic simply because I would like to return fluent in Spanish but don't really care. Please, tell me more of your experiences in the PC! I have a friend here in Green Valley who returned a year ago from Jordan. She says not to count on accomplishing much, just make friends. I considered asking for China, having spent a week there, but the only program they have is teaching English.

 

March 12

Nothing new here. Finished my psych evaluation for the Peace Corps so expect the medial/dental paperwork to come through any day now.

 

 

Month 7-8: Medical Clearance and Getting Prepared

 

March 15

The Peace Corps is sending out my medical packet today (I called them), so next week I can start my physicals, and, who knows, might be outahere in a month or two. Which reminds me: would you be willing to board my cats for two years if I gave you money for food and paid any vet bills, etc.? Please let me know--I'm kind of up against a wall here. They're so old I've thought perhaps I should put them to sleep rather than ask them to adjust to a different person (environments they have adjusted to twice now). But your house is so like mine in that your cats come and go as they please, yes?

 

March 17, 2002

I got my medial packet from the Peace Corps yesterday--now I just have to do the physical/dental and I'm outahere!! Starting to get excited but it will probably be several more months.

 

Just got home from going to Unitarian Church here. First time, but I think I'll go every week. It'll be good for me to get out on Sunday, actually put something on other than tennis togs, and mix with some intelligent and caring people. Today, someone gave a talk on Africa and its ethical dilemmas. Yes, indeed, very sad situation. Peace Corps has had its greatest success in Africa; however, I know they won't send me there. No older volunteers can go there cause there's no health care.

 

 

Peace Corps had told me that I could get my physicals performed for free at any VA hospital, so I shopped around for one. A March 21 email mentions a possibility. And I was already planning the rental of my house:

 

My realtor says Southwest decor is popular in rentals so I picked up about $100 worth of trinkets to help decorate my house as I remove personal items and photos. Around here houses go for up to $2500 a month in the winter months, then maybe $8-900 a month for year round. Wierd huh? However, unlike rentals I'M used to, one can leave there personal stuff in the garage. The realtor said because I have a 2-car garage, I can even leave my CAR!! She said she'd come around once in awhile to start it for me.

 

My sister got me an appointment for the Peace Corps physicals at the Veteran's Hospital in Palo Alto for next Thursday so I'm scrambling yesterday afternoon and today to figure out what to do. It's free to go there, but I just don't think I can face driving. Then too, next week I have a full tennis schedule that I don't want to forego (plus finding subs is really a pain). Guess I'll have to spend $250 to FLY to my free appointment. I had thought I could do a visit while there, but now my sister says she's going to be gone. Oh well--I have a feeling it would really cost me a bundle to do all the tests they're asking for and I have no insurance.

 

Happily, I located a VA in Tucson; so now all I needed was appointments! Oh bureaucracy, bureaucracy.

 

March 25, 2002

Hi--All's well. Starting Peace Corps physicals tomorrow so now you'll probably have to wait two years for your roses!! Anyway, glad life’s busy for you!

 

The Peace Corps is incredibly careful and cautious about insuring that future volunteers have no medical conditions that they will be unable to support in the field. Therefore, given the bureaucracy involved, the process can seem interminable! Getting through the application process is a test of a future volunteer’s ability to work the system. It is absolutely necessary to follow-up, follow-through, jump through hoops, and bug them, bug them, bug them! My personal delays were caused by health concerns, but I imagine the same goes for legal, financial, or any other parts of the application.

 

April 1, 2002

This morning I'm going for my Peace Corps physical, part II. Can hardly wait till this week is over. then I can start bugging them: where, when!!!!!

 

April 3, 2002

Peace Corps in Tucson invited me (Darlene got an invitation, too) to a dinner “in honor of the Tucson (sic) residents who have been invited to serve in the Peace Corps.” Mexican buffet, we pay $16, at El Parador. Darlene and I went in together. Quite an experience. I was awake all night afterwards, concerned by what I had experienced. The folks in charge seem incredibly inefficient. By the end of my sleepless night, however, I had accepted the fact that this was inevitable given their youth and experience. Remember that no one can serve in (or work for!) the PC for more than 5 years. So, better get used to ineffectiveness! The young people were delightful if ineffective. I was told that the mission of PC was 3 fold: to bring to the country the values, culture, etc. of the US, to teach something to the country, and to bring back the values, culture, etc. of the country. There is a very active returners club in Tucson but they don’t appear to do anything (I specifically asked!) to communicate the values, culture, etc. of the countries beyond hosting a food booth at Tucson’s annual ethnic fair. Another thing that bothered me was that I was told that I should not have been sent to LA—a little obvious, given that Tucson has a recruiting station—and they would look into it. They said I should have bee told an expected departure date and a region and should call Merritt tomorrow to find out. There was a man present who had served in the State Department for a zillion years in Africa. He was a waste, had nothing to say about anything. I wore my pink harem costume but was a bit overdressed; PC people apparently even go out to dinner in blue jeans. Darlene says this is normal PC attire. Food was good.

 

April 4, 2002

Called Merritt, but she had to give me a name in Washington, DC, because I was already out of her database. The person in DC called to say that the expected departure date was July and the region was Caribbean but that there wouldn’t be any other info for at least a month. Of course they haven’t received my med stuff yet cause I haven’t sent it!! Anyway, it was exciting to get that message.

 

April 5, 2002

Here all's very well. Resolved the Peace Corps med problem very handily--scouted around and found a Veterans Hospital in Tucson and have completed all the stuff FREE!!! Today I completed the dental exam and Monday eye test and I'm done. In about two weeks, the VA will have accumulated everything--all blood tests, etc.--and will call me in to pick it all up. I will send to Washington and await their blessing (the VA has already told me there is no reason I can't go). Washington has told me the anticipated leave date is July and the region is the Caribbean. Someone in health services mentioned "eastern Caribbean" which I looked up on the Peace Corps internet site and found that it comprises a bunch of little islands on the eastern Caribbean (English speaking). What a kick!! So now I wait a month.

 

April 7, 2002

At Unitarian services today, Sandy Bogar told me about her daughter’s disastrous Peace Corps experiences in South America, Uruguay?  Some place where the language was NOT Spanish (her daughter being FLUENT in Spanish!). The daughter was a nurse who came home early. Couldn’t deal with it. The attitude of the people was: what can your parents do for our village? There was no support from the PC; she was all alone with other PCs a bicycle trip away at best. She had to, for example, deliver a set of premature twins and just wait for them to die.

 

April 9, 2002

I'm compiling lists of stuff to take with me, like which of my CDs, is there something I need to buy? What are my all time favorite movies that I should get on CD, but only those that I would want to watch over and over. My friend Darlene (always negative, bless her heart) says no one can send me anything because it'll get stolen. I said I read too fast so can't possibly TAKE enough books to mean anything. Nevertheless, I suppose I ought to consider some hugely long books. Any suggestions?

 

April 11, 2002

Met Darlene’s Jordan friend Ann last night when we went to the Diamonds concert. Of course we talked PC. Nothing much new. Told them how I was listening to all my CDs, deciding which to bring, said I was going to bring a stack 2 feet tall, Darlene says only bring 5, I say no music is important to me, Ann says bring them all. Surprisingly, they said, yes, bring your tap shoes. Apparently anything goes that will help you cope, especially something you can do in the privacy of your little co-op (wherever it ends up being). I told them about the nurse in Nicaragua (or wherever), and they said, yes, typical. You are alone. Also, PC does NOT do medical (I knew this already). We talked about little stuff: you’ll bring a backpack mandatory, won’t carry a purse (I’ll fit right in!). You’ll get an additional, official State Department passport!

 

Ann had been nominated for the Caribbean but ended up in Jordan. Why? Because she wanted to work with the deaf and in the Caribbean there were more than enough more qualified folks. So: I would expect that I am exceptionally qualified (??) for information technology TRAINING, but if they’re looking for computer knowledge, then… anyway, must just wait and see. Ann received her invitation 5 weeks prior to departure. And you get 10 days to decide.

 

Darlene waited a year for Jordan because she wanted the project. Me? I really don’t care.

 

The best laid plans, etc. When Washington reviewed the VA medical report, they decided they needed to see prior mammograms for comparison. More running through hoops, more long-distance calls, more thanking God that I remembered the name of the facility where I’d had them done. On April 15 a kind person at the VA advised me to “put the request in yourself and get the results back as soon as possible. Then call the physician or Nurse Practioner you saw so they can do the comparison.” Damn, damn, damn—so I faxed the Los Gatos facility and asked my ever-wonderful sister to pick them up and Fed-EX them to me. Onward and upward. Meanwhile, I’m still studying the eastern Caribbean and hearing a lot about volunteering in the Peace Corps.

 

April 18, 2002

I've ordered a ton of books on Amazon.Com again. Starting my Caribbean stack--my friend Darlene says I have to bring everything, that mail won't be possible (I don't believe this but am hedging my bets). So I am trying to accumulate some LONNNGGGG paperbacks. Any suggestions? Ordered a bunch of philosophy stuff. Also ordered some stuff on the Caribbean. The PC has a list, but many of the books were out of print or cost a fortune. I was able to get 2 of them used for under $10 apiece. Hope I'm not being premature, but the word I get is that a person gets a whole 5 weeks notice.

 

April 21, 2002

At Unitarian church Barbara introduced me to Mary ? who 10 yrs ago was in Jamaica. We had a brief talk and will do so again. She basically reaffirmed everything. Lots of attrition in the Caribbean she says, and they don’t know why. Possibly because the people are “so angry” while at the same time they elevate whites to higher status or something.

 

April 22, 2002

What's new here? Yes, the PC is taking a long time, and actually the longer it takes the more jaded I become. Not that the PC is forthcoming with information. Rather my friends, acquaintances, and reading are providing continued confirmation: this is not going to be a vacation. The latest is that "they don't want you," and they probably hate you. Ick. Oh well. From the application end, I'm awaiting medical clearance from the VA in Tucson. Presently they are comparing my mammogram with the last one I had in San Jose. This is the last hurdle and may well be the kicker, but I should find out this week. If they pass me, then I'll send the stuff to DC and await their blessing and their 1" thick binder of info and assignment somewhere in the Caribbean. I'm presently reading a geography book (this I learned is more than location and physical description; I'm learning about history, politics, populations--fluctuating and otherwise, cities, agriculture, industry (or lack thereof), revolutions, and so forth) that is reallllly disheartening. We need to count our blessings, girlo!!

 

This Peace Corps application process was like a snowball—once it got rolling, it just kept on rolling. The process was frustrating, yes, but perhaps because I usually finish what I start, I just kept plugging along. And it was sometimes exciting to plan a trek off into the wilderness. I asked for and received advice on electronics from a friend, but I still didn’t know for sure where I was going.

 

I think it won't be long now. Have you a suggestion as to what computer to take along? And phone? I think I can't be assured of stable electricity but will know more when I find out the country. But all I'm reading about the Caribbean isn't very reassuring. Plus it appears that the area imports EVERYTHING they use so I'd best take what I will need...

 

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Sounds like you've heard where you will be going?

 

I'd pick a laptop which has a 12volt cigarette lighter cord available (most) Probably a heavier (sturdier) model, rather than the lightest. Dell, or something from CostCo /Staples? Speed isn't as important as space. Partition the hard drive into 2, and copy files you think are important to both partitions. Get a CD burner, and backup to that (only "My Documents", the rest is wasted space.

 

Same for Cell phone. Rugged, with a car charger cord (in addition to 110v)

 

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Then you could let the computer charge up all day, and use it for a while daily. The solar charger wouldn't be able to keep up with actual use, but should be enough to recharge for about an hour's use daily?

 

 Of course, most places will have phone and power. One final point. Find out whether there is US or European power, so you get the right charger/adapter.

 

I hope there's phones. I want to get email from your adventure.

 

 

I was reading a lot!

 

April 27, 2002

Continuing with my reading on the Caribbean. So disheartening. God, I hope they don't send me to Haiti. The consensus, in my reading, is that it is not known if it is even POSSIBLE to save the country. My feeling is that Cuba is the best of the lot, and Cubans should be grateful to Castro. Every other Caribbean country is in ruin--politically, economically, environmentally, especially environmentally. Also, it blows my mind how we take our (US) freedoms and standard of living for granted. Did you know that recently (I think within the last 20 years), the government in one English-speaking country (probably Jamaica) forcibly cut off the dreadlocks of all the Rastafarians? I couldn't get over it; such an infringement of basic human rights would be unthinkable here. This is to say nothing about the non-English speaking countries, like, shudder, Haiti, where they'd like as not simply shoot anyone they don't like, and then cut the hands from the body. Yes, Cuba is by far the place to be in the Caribbean...

 

Finished at last, finished at last:

 

April 30, 2002

Hi--You are so cool, thanks so much!! Really good news today: medical completed--I am healthy and ready to go according to the VA. So I FedX'd everything off to Washington. Maybe now I can get something specific from them. Course the VA lady told me this (the process) is an "endurance contest."

 

 

Month 9: Waiting for an Assignment

 

Little did I know that the Peace Corps would now suddenly realize that I was of an age when all women are supposed to have annual mammograms. Oops, since you can’t get a mammogram in the eastern Caribbean, they would have to find another assignment for me—not that they’d ever committed to the eastern Caribbean

 

April 30, 2002

I’m REALLY starting to drag with impatience. My diet has gone all to hell in the past week, and I’m depressed. I’m just very frustrated at how slowly everything moves. This is not a good sign. My days are just too empty, but then again the reason I don’t attempt to fill them is because anything I do will be interrupted. Like volunteering at Borderlinks. Or taking bridge lessons. I have always been so quick at anything. Maybe I should go to the library—I did spend some time on the internet recently, researching, but not knowing which country…don’t want to spend time learning about the wrong place!! Shouldn’t matter, but… plus learning about the Caribbean has been more than a little depressing. Believe it or not, the ONLY positive thing I read was that the people took time to be polite—big f’in deal. The book also implied that music was a big part of their lives, as it is in mine, but Americans have difficulty understanding the patois of the area. Maybe THIS is what is really bothering me. As Deedee said to me recently, are you SURE you want to do this? Well, I’m so stubborn, there’s no f’in way I’ll back out, but I think I should confront this instead of getting depressed and eating candy.

 

May 9, 2002

Actually Mary Brennan provided a clue to the process, and that is that the med folks “are working on the May” people, but I am a “June” person with an August departure. Now, whether August is real or just 6 weeks after June, I don’t know. These people are so secretive; I wonder if it’s that they have a trillion people to process or that experience has taught them to be circumspect… oh well. So I guess that I could possible be waiting another 2 months, til the end of June, before I hear anything. C’est la vie. Question is: should I begin a bit of Spanish study? Wouldn’t hurt, but then again… I guess I’ll focus on getting the house ready and the cats placed. One good thing: apparently I’ll have no concerns about being here through July so I’ll be able to take care of Gina’s tuition/financial aid for next semester.

                                                                                     

May 30, 2002, email from my Peace Corps Placement Officer, Sylvie Mortimer.

 

HI- I know you called this morning...things are very hectic around here, but you are clear and ready for your invite, so Congrats!  I may need you to brush up on your Spanish.  How is your Spanish? Would you be willing to do an over the phone language test in Spanish?

-Sylvie

 

Month 10: Spanish

 

There was no way I could pass a Spanish test! Sure, I had lived all my life in California and could properly pronounce our myriad of Spanish place-names—San Ramon, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Alamitos, Via de los Abejas. I’d even had an adult class in Spanish one term. Whoopee! I’d been to Mexico even! I’d listened to my former husband’s family speak Spanish. But SPEAK SPANISH???

 

June 4, 2002

Stressing out over the Spanish test. Everyone’s trying to reassure me, and I’m trying to get my head in shape. Started an online Spanish course for review. Bob wants me to spend time at his house, but I feel intense pressure to get home and get going on some program.

 

June 5, 2002

Deedee, the sweetheart, took cassettes out of the library for me to listen to on the way home.

 

June 6, 2002

Drove home from Bob’s. Very tired but listened to Spanish tapes all the way, well most of the way. No more radio except Spanish. Can’t understand a thing. The Berlitz tapes are great; wish there were more. The Living Language tapes are too difficult for now.

 

June 7, 2002

Hi,

Just to let you know that they told me I could go to Honduras on July 23 if I pass a telephone Spanish test on tenses and life skills. I figure I'll try the test in a month--will keep you posted.

 

Email from Darlene June 10, 2002

Congratulations! I knew you would receive that packet sooner or later. Now it is official. You are on your way....Darlene

 

June 10, 2002

Humm. Though the "Dress Code" states that "...shorts and sandals are unacceptable..." perhaps, given the injunction to blend in, grass skirts (if they're long enough perhaps?) will fly. I'll check with the "Honduras Desk" in Washington!!

 

June 11, 2002, email to VA Hospital in Tucson

Hi,

Well, finally the day is coming, and the Peace Corps will be sending me to Honduras on July 22. The Caribbean was eliminated because of the recommendation to have an annual mammogram (makes you wonder, huh?). Anyway, they said I should bring my last films with me. How do I arrange this?

 

Thanks for your help!

 

June 11, 2002

Busy day. The PC packet is so confusing I haven’t started reading it yet. Contains a country handbook and PC handbook plus some tabs for resume and stuff. Actually, what is confusing is the instructions for getting passports. Need to call them cause, claro, I already have one.

 

Went into Tucson for my first conversation class with Dru. Great! They are working on present subjunctive which she says is more prevalent than future. I want to go on Thursday as well—it would be free. Stopped at Red Cross on return trip to give blood. Afterwards, went in the back to Disaster Services to speak them I was going. Saw Kalyn Simpson—who is a returner from Dominican Republic. What a sweet young woman! Anyway she was full of info AGAIN. Like SHE wore sandals A LOT—except when trekking over mountains—and only wore sundress in the office. She had lots of other projects. Again she said that most PC people came with no Spanish. I need to ask her about PC.

 

June 12

Very depressed over the language thing. Feeling like the more I learn the more I don’t know (sounds familiar!!!). Took a long nap and feel better. Change of pace—read the Honduras handbook. Very helpful especially re clothes. New questions. They suggest bringing a sleeping bag!!???? And sheets??? They still discourage bringing pc. I go back and forth, but think I should bring it for entertainment—music and movies and writing. Will get insurance. Also looks like visits to US are totally out for 6 months!! Apparently Merritt was mistaken?—then again, she did say, ask—maybe a quick weekend visit to Parent Weekend isn’t out of the question. Can’t hurt to ask. I don’t know—I think I’ll pass… apparently the language thing is the hardest (if only hard thing) for the elder volunteers so maybe I just have to go with it…of course, maybe they’ll flunk me out…I hate this ambiguity!!!

 

I don’t know how it’s going to work out with Dora as tutor. Didn’t like her class this morning. Too disorganized. Will see how tutoring goes tomorrow morning.

 

I ended up using every option I could think of to improve my Spanish. I used a tutor, took a conversation class in Tucson, listened to Spanish radio broadcasts, went through a cassette course and an Internet course, and bugged my friends who spoke Spanish. I’m sure it all helped…

 

June 15

Feeling better about the Spanish—don’t know way. Maybe cause I can understand so much more. Listening to the radio the other day on the way somewhere and I understood the question that the disk jockey was asking the audience to call in to answer. Also, went to Manual’s for lunch yesterday (to try to get one of the waitresses to play tutor), and successfully ordered lunch in Spanish. Also found out that Rona Chumbock used to teach Spanish. She will play singles with me 2 days next week and afterwards will speak Spanish to me—well, on the phone arranged this totally in Spanish. Also beginning to sometimes think and hear Spanish. Bueno!!

 

June 28

Feeling very wired, and it’s getting in the way. For example, the night before last, I was not able to sleep even a single hour!! And then had to get up and play singles with Rona!!! Actually did very well, too. We were even 5/5. Talking Spanish with her is great—probably because she is a former teacher. She gave me time again today after tennis, and we will play again (singles) next Tuesday. Like others, she can’t believe I’ve only been doing this a month.

Yesterday, had last meeting with the tutor—a waste of time but at least it was some talk. Tomorrow I will meet with Maria at 11:30—will ask her to lunch!! Remembered (can’t believe I forgot) that my neighbors across the street stay in Mexico 6 months of the year—surely they speak Spanish!! Will call and ask for time.

 

Then, too, accosted Scott on the tennis court (the man I played with some months back who recommended the “Destinos” tapes). Anyway, he brought me home to talk with his “wife” Denise who barely speaks English. We had a lovely 1-1/2 hours. Unfortunately, when I called yesterday their was no answer—and I have a Spanish magazine of hers! Well, will try again. Soooo—I seem to have several opportunities to speak Spanish. Finished Pimsleur’s Spanish II this afternoon and went to the library for Spanish III. The Conversation class is over also; Tuesday we will have an oral “exam.”

 

Bob bought (for me with my money) a lap top for $700+. Now it just has to arrive and get software on it. Of course it goes to HIS house. He and Linda are supposed to come out here next week and then the following week we will all drive back together, taking the cats along.

 

So—the staging packet arrived, and I’ve started to do all the paperwork. Lots of loose ends.

 

July 3, 2002

Just got of the phone with the Spanish test lady--she said I did really well (she lied!!), but I guess it's official now. I'll be leaving here next week, and God knows when you'll hear from me again, so be patient.

 

The Peace Corps experience in Honduras would begin with three months of training in Honduran culture, Peace Corps policies and procedures, and Spanish. We would not be sworn in as volunteers until we satisfactorily completed this training. For the first month and a half we would live in a very Westernized area, but the second half of training would take place “in the field”—an experience designed to prepare us for working and living at our eventual site.

 

 

At Last!  Honduras

 

07/25/02

Well, here I am completing my 2nd day in Honduras. What a beautiful country!! Everyone says, however, that it is beautiful in the rainy season (now) but ugly in the dry season. I’ll find out.

 

Staging in Miami was an opportunity to meet all of the 57 folks who I went down with. I was really impressed with the Peace Corps staging event which was essentially a day and a half of consciousness raising type soft training. We were made conscious of the PC role (our safety). It was but the first time they harped on safety. Now who can complain when someone is concerned about your safety?

 

All but three of the other volunteers are in their early 20’s. Two are in their mid 30’s and one is even older than me!! She’s 66 and retired. So—there’s very little work experience involved here!!

 

Some of us were extremely stressed over baggage issues—I sure was. American Airlines had told me on the telephone that I could have 2 personal items to carry on board, but when I tried to change planes in Los Angeles, they wouldn’t let me on. I had to pay $80 to check my carry on. Then I was worried that I would be overweight in Miami or that something else would pop its ugly head up. American Airlines, however, was wonderful. The person on the phone had made a mistake. Their written materials clearly state that folks can carry on only two items—purse, briefcase, laptop, luggage, or whatever. In Miami the Peace Corps folks were incredibly well organized and getting on board was a snap.

 

The flight to Honduras was uneventful, but the landing was VERY eventful.  My seatmate was a young woman going to Tegucigalpa (the capital) to visit her mother who had retired there after living in the US for most of her life. So this young woman said to me, “I don’t want to upset you, but pilots don’t like to land here because it’s very difficult.” Our pilot took two tries to do it and earned a round of applause when he landed us with hardly a bump. Apparently it’s a very short runway with a steep dissent.

 

Debarking was again incredibly efficient. The Peace Corps staff in Honduras had been planning our arrival for months, and everything was very easy. We felt very welcome. They even gave us a snack!!

 

The weather was on the cool side, very comfortable. Again, everyone was saying it was due to the season and not typical of Honduras. We drove in a bus for, I don’t know, 45 minutes to an hour, to Santa Lucia, a town outside of the capital. There we gathered in the Peace Corps compound and were given several hours of orientation. Of course we had been up since dawn (I since 3:00 am!!) and lost two hours, so we were VERY tired. Then we were introduced to our “families.” Each of us was placed with a local family, and we will board with them for 6 weeks. Of course they all speak Spanish so most of us—to varying degrees—were stressing out unbelievably because we couldn’t understand much.

 

I was placed with a youngish woman, Sonia Perez. Her husband (I learned later) is working in Guatemala or somewhere, so she is alone here with her 12 year old daughter. Her father has a room here also, but I think he usually lives in Tegucigalpa with his wife. Isn’t it amazing that I know even this much considering that all this conversation is taking place in Spanish!!!!????? Anyway, Sonia works as a secretary in Tegucigalpa. I have a very nice room in her very nice house. There are screens on the windows so I don’t need to use a mosquito net, and there is an indoor toilet with even a shower!! Rather a middle class house. Some of my compatriots were not so lucky. I know of at least one with an outdoor privy. Hot water and/or bathing facilities are not a given. My “family” calls me Dona Camille! I guess I’m special!!! No, they really respect age here. Also, for example, we were given instructions on behavior that Americans would consider old fashioned—men give their seats to pregnant women on the bus, men walk on the street side, women shouldn’t smoke outdoors or stare at men, etc. Very interesting.

 

This morning, after ANOTHER night of little sleep (guess I am mucho stressed!!), I was feeling very fragile, ready to cry any second. Didn’t help that we were going to have a language evaluation. You know, you can TELL yourself that it’s only a placement thing, but you still feel stressed. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is stressed over the language thing. And there are kids here with ZERO Spanish! (And I thought I was low…) Also found another person—in my own project, economic development—who had had to pass a telephone Spanish test. I think they must have wanted a bit more from us econ folks. Anyway, considering how much I’ve been speaking, I’m not really worried. Everyone says that many people have come here in the past with ZERO Spanish and left with enough facility to do their job. Anyway, after the test and after meeting with my project folks, I began to relax and now feel pretty much ok.

 

On the way home I asked someone to show me the internet café—we have one in our town—which is Valle de Angeles (valley to valley!!) Anyway, so I separated from my compadres, and got very lost finding my way home. A bit scary, as dusk approached. Plus it was an uphill walk!! However, eventually I actually asked a passerby for directions, and he guided me to the correct road.

 

So there we are. I am writing this on the battery because the electrical outlet here cannot accommodate my 3-prong cord. Hope I can find something soon. Anyway, time for bed!

 

28/07/02

First Sunday in Honduras.  Saturday was very traumatic. Probably why people leave. Anyway. We have classes on Saturday morning. So far it’s not really classes, merely information presentations or, as yesterday, team building events. I am still impressed with the way the Peace Corps is handling this training. Although, in our case, we have contractors doing the training. It has been raining every afternoon, and, sure enough, on Saturday it started raining just about when “class” was over. On Friday night my “mother” Sylvia had spoken to me about going on a trip on Saturday afternoon. I thought she wanted me to wait for her at the entrance to the PC building. I found out later that she wanted me to catch a BUS at the entrance to the PC building and travel to Tegucigalpa. Oh well. We both waited in a torrential downpour, me in front of the PC, she in Tegucigalpa. I watched everyone leave, one by one; a half hour goes by, an hour, an hour and a half. Honduras time??? Finally, I go back and try to communicate in Spanish with a PC employee and then run into someone I know who speaks English. Telephone calls are made to my “house,” but of course no one is home. I say “no importa” (not important); I’ll go home to my neighbor’s house; so she takes me to the bus stop in the middle of nowhere, and it is by now raining buckets. In 5 seconds I was literally soaking wet even though I had an umbrella. C’est la vie. A truck stops. To offer me a ride? Should I get in??? Humm. Well, there is a nino (young child) in the truck, so I get in. What luck! Turns out to be an American missionary with his son going home to MY town where he has lived all of 2 weeks. Once in town I ask for a restaurant, it being about 2:30 by now and I’m starving. What do you think? I go to a restaurant where I run into about 8 of my colleagues from another town who have come in to have lunch. Lovely lunch. Then I walk with my neighbor (David) who was also at the lunch to his house. I was dreading this because I knew that Sylvia would have been very upset and worried, but what was I to do?? The neighbor, her friend, was, sure enough quite put out with me. Didn’t even offer me coffee (a sure sign!!) until I had spent about a half hour explaining. Practically ignored me as she talked with David. Personally, I thought it was more than a little irresponsible on Sylvia’s part to expect me to go alone on a bus to a strange town and to expect that I would understand her speech. Oh well. In about an hour, Sylvia showed up, and, sure enough, she was rather a bit put out, too. SHE was given coffee AND a muffin. I was by now feeling REALLY upset. No one was concerned about ME. I’m the one who could have been kidnapped and murdered, and yet I felt they were MAD AT ME. I was having a hard time not crying. Oh well.

 

Happily, when we arrived home (Sylvia’s father and daughter still being in Tegucigalpa enjoying the Ice Capades), Sylvia was EXTREMELY friendly. We spent a good hour talking, and I felt very much better. Still it was very frightening to be so vulnerable and helpless. The storm was VERY fierce. Couldn’t even hear the music playing. She said this is normal (and it did rain that hard again this morning). Knocked out our water. Turn the faucet and nada! Interesting. Sylvia, it turns out, has no husband, or at least he never lives here.  Best I could tell, he lives in Guatemala or some place, and that’s what she wants. So we’re both single parents!! And her daughter, Andrea, is a diabetic. This is bad for Andrea but good for me because her diet must be carefully watched. Possibly I WON”T get fat here afterall.

 

This morning, Sunday, I helped Sylvia cook the main meal, lunch. I peeled and grated yucca, watched her add egg and milk, mixed it up and fried pancakes. I told her it was just like my mother’s German pancakes! Even tasted somewhat similar. But they served it with sugar! I requested salt and put on a few drops. There was also some meat dish, tortillas, and a salad with beets (which I love). I think there was also something else, but I can’t remember. Breakfast was Honduran pancakes—somewhat like French pancakes but served with honey and mantaquila (?) rico (?) which was sort of like thick buttermilk.

 

I gave my Henry Potter book to Andrea, telling her that I preferred Sylvia’s newspaper. Then we just hung out for a couple of hours. Sylvia cleaned the kitchen, and I read the newspaper (with the dictionary). This has been a restful day, and I needed it. I didn’t get out of bed til 8:00. It’s nice to feel rested for a change. Monday, tomorrow, starts study in earnest at the PC. Oh, I forgot to tell you that someone ET’d on Friday (early terminate); said it was not for him and went back to Oregon. Maybe he was one of those kids that got put into a house with no indoor toilet or bathing facilities??

 

29/07/02

Got my language classification: Middle Novice. Gee, and I had myself pegged as low intermediate—based on their criteria. Disappointing. However, it probably increases my possibility of success as it is required that you move up at least 2 levels and it is required that you end up at least a Intermediate Middle; so I have two levels to go. The teacher said that we (in his class) know a lot of words but can’t put them together (talk) properly. So possibly we will move rapidly???? There are only 3 of us in the class. This is a really wonderful opportunity and a first-rate instruction program. Too bad I feel so overwhelmed. They ask you to do so incredibly much and yet you’re in school from 7:30 to 4:30 every day including Saturday morning. By the time we take the bus home and eat dinner it’s 7:30. I’m “chilling” tonight. Screw it. All the

 

 

 

9/8/02

Two and a half weeks! Wow. Tomorrow I’m throwing a birthday party. Invited all the “aspirantes” in Valle de Angeles and told the others to feel free to crash if they could figure out how to get home. Bought 3 cases of beer, 2 big bottles of wine, and some coke, lots of munchies, and balloons. Sylvia is supplying the birthday cake and a piñata. Should be fun. I’ve heard lots of people are coming.

 

My language class was changed. Now it’s just me and one other student, Azar. We have such a good time often and today was one of those days. With just the two of us we get a lot of attention. I’m sure we’re making progress. I do a lot of speaking. Next week, on Tuesday, we have to go to Tegucigalpa on the bus and find some places—an exercise—because on Thursday we’re all going on a trip ALONE. I’m going 4-1/2 hours away to visit a couple women volunteers. Very scary. Look on the map. I am going to San Nicolas, just outside of Santa Barbara, around the nw/central somewhere, I forget.

 

Last weekend went to Tegus with my family both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday got on the bus and went alone to Tegus. Sylvia had given me a note that said something like ‘ask the driver to drop you off at the hospital.’ So, with my heart in my hand, I set off. A man behind me watched me reading my note and indicated with gestures that he would tell me when to get off. Isn’t that sweet! Apparently, typically Honduran. So trip was uneventful. Grandpa Jorge picked us up in town, and we drove to Ohohono where Sylvia likes to buy handicrafts to resell here. I took pictures. On Sunday afternoon we went back to Tegus to a baptism and a fiesta afterwards. The baptism was reminiscent of San Jose. Ten thousand babies getting baptized and 100,000 relatives with cameras. Everybody had a good time except the priest! The food at the fiesta was fantastic but very unlike American party food. They parents had hired a couple of young men to, like, barbeque meat, so all of a sudden someone handed me a plate with two corn tortillas with a meat/onion mixture with a dabble of avocado sauce and some other sauce. Ummmm good. So, thinking this is the dinner, I ate 5 (pig that I am). Thirty minutes later, someone hands me a plate with a FLOUR tortilla filled with a different kind of meat and sauce. Now I’m catching on. Thirty minutes later someone hands me a plate with (back to corn) yet another variation. But no salad or beans or rice or anything else to accompany the “main course.” Later there was birthday cake, kind of coarse but tasty. Everyone was very friendly. I showed all the children how to use the digital camera and let them take pictures, so I was a hit. The house was probably very typical. Off of an alley were like sidewalks and walking down the sidewalk there would be little houses, like townhouses in that they shared walls. Grandma’s house has a cement floor, tiny living room, curtained off bedroom, bathroom with only a toilet, a kitchen/dining room, and a wash area with sink to wash clothes with lines full of drying clothes—this is IN the house. Where I live, in Valle, the house is semi-familiar. Very unfinished kind of. For example, most houses in my town have no finished ceiling. I look up and see rafters (beams not made of consistently sized wood) and a tin roof and electrical conduit with light bulbs. The window in my bedroom does not have the normal wooden “jamb” around it. It looks like they built a brick wall and left a hole where they wanted a window and then put a window in it. Weird. Sylvia’s bedroom door has no door knob, but no one seems perturbed and doesn’t do anything about it. It’s the culture. Fatalistic. Accept what is. It’s going to make our jobs difficult. We have discussed this in class.

 

Let’s see. How about some stats? Fifty-one percent of the AIDS cases in Central America are in Honduras. Seventy-five percent of Hondurans have electricity. Today we learned about technology--or the lack thereof. You can get the latest technology here in computers, for example, but you can wait years for a telephone. The worst thing we heard was that every four years there is a national election. Regardless of who wins, the winner fires EVERY government employee, all the way down to the janitor, and hires new people. So obviously there is no continuity. You just get someone trained to do a job, say install telephones, and they get fired, and you start over. A new government took over in January, but no one has gotten fired yet; the new government is dawdling. So the old employees are doing nothing, just sitting around waiting to get fired. So everything is REALLY stalled. One group got around the communication problems in one isolated town by setting up a microwave installation. That town has no electricity, but they have a great computer installation!!!

 

This is a really rambling note. Wish I had time to write every day. Now, a friend has suggested that I write just a little bit every day. So maybe I’ll try that next week. This past week I had lent out my computer anyway.

 

10/8/02

Wow, what a party! Mi fiesta fui muy bueno—lots of noise, lots of people, lots of beer, lots of food, lots of music. The kids brought me a piñata so we didn’t use the one that Sylvia bought. Seven til midnight, so I’m really beat this morning, AND after everyone gets up we have to clean the house!!

 

Many of us started the day (well, after Saturday class!) with a “Field Day”—everyone put on their workout clothes and adjourned to the local sports field for basketball, Frisbee, and soccer. So I, on the day of my 60th birthday party, played soccer for the first time in my life! I played with the children—just my speed. Had a wonderful time. Now I just need to get someone to teach me some moves…When I got to the field, the boys were playing basketball; no one was playing soccer. So I just started kicking the ball around. Soon a little girl looked interested, and I invited her to play with me. (I have a beautiful ball—my carrot-on-the-stick!) Lots of children on the field doing religious school, so when it was over, gradually more and more children joined our play. The children: other than being delightful as all children are, I noticed two things. They are very generous. When we took a break, they brought me their cookies and candies that their teacher had given them. Also, no concept of using the garbage can—heck, no garbage can. One kid asked me for water so I gave him my remaining water; he drank it and promptly dropped the bottle to the ground and walked away. Obviously, garbage is everywhere. Also, obviously, there is no water available at or near the field, and the children apparently do not have containers to bring water or???? Anyway, I had a ball. Even fell down and bloodied my knees, so I am now officially initiated!

 

To prepare for the party I blew up about a thousand balloons and fried “chips.” Thank God Sylvia knows how to throw a party because I sure don’t. I took direction from her. She taught me how to fry up the chips: put some Crisco-like stuff (comes in plastic like Jimmy Dean Sausage) into the frying pan, cut tortillas into fourths, fry, turn over, put into paper towel-lined bowel. 

 

After not having rained all week, an hour before my party we had a torrential downpour. Stronger than Arizona, but then it might be that the tin roof of the house makes it sound louder. Then in 30 minutes it was gone, and in the distance, over the mountains, we had a lightening show like you wouldn’t believe. Like Arizona but much more intense. Went on forever and literally continuously. I sat outside and watched for awhile.

 

I spent a lot of money on the party but it was worth it. Last weekend when we were in Tegucigalpa Sylvia took me to PriceMart—the Costco-like store that you need a card to use—and I bought 3 cases of beer, wine, chips, cups, paper plates, forks, etc. etc. The wine was California’s best (minus the cork…) and it was delicious. We inhaled it at the party.

 

So for the first time in Honduras, I had FUN!! Danced up a storm. One of the kids, Jasen—who is also in my Economic Development group—gave me the sweetest birthday card. He says I am an inspiration!!! And he is sooo glad I am here with them. Wow, and they all said the sweetest things—made my decade. (In the morning’s class I had shared that I felt isolated and whined that no one ever sat with me on the bus. Now many are making a point of speaking to me. But it is funny, the perspective. On the playing field, I played with the children because when I got there everyone was playing basketball. Yet when folks started playing Frisbee and soccer no one thought to ask if I would like to join them. Now, you’re thinking: but YOU could have asked THEM. Hard to see me as shy, but in this respect I am. My script says I am not wanted, so it requires guts to ask to be included. And of course it worked out a lot better playing with the children. More my speed.

 

Well, guess I’ll go do some work. I have to prepare a lesson on writing objectives for my group. Well, I volunteered. But I am a little concerned that these youngsters know essentially nothing about teaching…

 

16/8/02

Just returned from the volunteer visit to San Nicolas where I have finally experienced the REAL Honduras. Apparently all Hondurans do not have hot water. You wash your dishes in cold water, and you wash your clothes in cold water, and you wash yourself in cold water. (I’ve been spoiled in Valle de Angeles with an electric device on the shower that heats the shower water…) Soooo, if you want a warm bath, you heat some water on the stove. Also, the water QUALITY is poor, so in order to drink the water (like to make coffee) you have to boil it for 3 minutes minimum. Then, in order to EAT any vegetable, you must wash it in soapy water!! Welcome to the 3rd world!! Actually, it appears that it is relatively easy to learn to live with these constraints. My hostesses in San Nicolas (a 23 yr old and a 63 year old!!) were charming. I had lovely meals—gazpacho for heaven’s sake—and a lovely birthday cake (for the 63 year old) with a fantastic fruit syrup on the bottom that the 23 yr old had boiled down from a local mayagueno fruit (with sugar). She borrowed someone’s oven to make it cause SHE cooks on a 2-burner (like for camping). There are ceiling fans in the house, but, of course, they don’t work, and, of course, the showers don’t work. The house has beautiful woodwork and cabinetry—better than my house in Arizona certainly—but apparently there’s only one person in the 6,000 person town (he built the house) who knows where the pipes are or whatever. I saw another house being built—all concrete, with little holes every once in awhile with wires poking out. My hostess said that once they lost water for a couple months because a pipe had broken under the concrete in their house, and it took that long for the man to come, rip out the concrete, and repair the pipe.

 

I’m attaching a picture of this 95 year old woman and her daughter who is cooking some kind of tamale to sell. Apparently the difficulty here (or rather one of them) is that the people are so beaten down that they cannot conceive of anything positive happening. So men drink up their wages, and women watch their children die. The 63 year old volunteer in the Health Sector is a veterinarian; as she described life outside of town, I guess the unincorporated area, she was pretty negative.  My other hostess invited her artisanias to come over and show me their beautiful handicrafts; they weave straw bags, mats, etc. She has latched onto them because they clicked, and the women have grasped the idea that they can change. They have become empowered and are making new designs and even new products. (Others cannot grasp the possibility of change; they do everything the way they always have.)

 

I was sent out to practice my Spanish one day—go down the street to the nearest pulperia (hole-in-the-wall 7-11), and buy one egg and a bag of milk. (That’s right, milk comes in a plastic bag, about 2 pints but doesn’t look like a quart… or in boxes… cause you can’t trust that it was properly refrigerated.) You can also buy, for example, two tablespoons of yeast!! I also practiced my Spanish on the 5 hr. trip back to Tegucigalpa because I was alone—the other volunteer who had gone out with me wasn’t at the bus stop… she speaks FLUENT Spanish, so I’m not concerned that she’s lost of anything. Then I had to get a taxi all by myself and go across Tegucigalpa to the other bus stop for the bus to Valle de Angeles. I survived. Even ate a something-or-other on the bus. At every stop it seemed that vendors were offering refreshments. One clever mechanism consists of a pole with a piece of wood perpendicular (like a big T) with all kinds of stuff hanging off nails on the perpendicular piece. Then the vendor pushes the pole up near the bus window. So I had tortillas, a bit of bean, chicken, and rice, all made into a snug little sandwich. All for 20 limperas or about $1.50.

 

The countryside reminded me of California—lots of pine trees and hills. The bus—and almost ALL the other buses!—are old school busses. What a kick to see a sign, in English, telling us the RULES (remember when???) including ‘don’t put your hands outside’ and ‘the driver is entitled to assign seats!!’ The drivers are a stitch—they LOVE to pass on curves. But everybody does it, and I observed that, in a pinch, there’s room for 3 or maybe 4 across, so no one seems perturbed. They do honk a lot when passing or even when approaching curves, and no one seems to drive very fast, so I was never concerned even though I did see some crosses next to some of those curves…

 

**************************

 

Letter to Sarah

August 25, 2002

 

Hi Kiddo!

 

I’ve been thinking about you, especially this difficult past week. I was riding in the bus to school, and yet again no one had sat next to me. I was feeling close to tears, and I started to think about you. Knowing how we are always on the same psychic plane, I remembered that I was NOT alone; you are there, enduring a worse struggle. Later, after I sobbed my guts out in Spanish class, my buddy, Azar, gave me HIS bit of wisdom, which basically was a reminder that I probably PREFER a struggle, a challenge if you will, to the alternative. Life without challenges would be very boring and unfulfilling for us, no?

 

Nevertheless, it sucks. Like you, I focus on the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow. But sometimes just getting through the moment without crying is a challenge. I can’t seem to find an appropriate outlet. I get an hour of exercise by walking to and from home every day, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Plus, with tutoring (3 days a week) I get a ride home. There’s no waaaay I have the energy to do anything about it. Screw it. I have no interest in watching my American movies or listening to my American music; hummm, maybe I WILL do that today and see what happens. I’ve decided that I will try just BITCHING. No one else gives a shit, but I know you do, so I will. (It’s the PROCESS you know, so don’t worry about me, I just need to TALK to someone who UNDERSTANDS for a change…)

 

Last Thursday I gave a presentation on objectives. I VOLUNTEERed for this, if you can believe, because I’m concerned that those young people have absolutely no skills in teaching. Oh well. So I have “facilitated” this particular “learning experience” many times. I invented a card game, one of my most masterful achievements, as an activity. My students have ALWAYS loved this game. For my little brats here in Honduras, or more specifically, the 10 little brats in my project—economic development—I spent a great deal of time writing objectives and translating them into Spanish (no small achievement), acquiring card stock (no small achievement), getting the objectives onto the cards, cutting the cards up, etc., etc. Then I had two little fucking brat boys who were bored or whatever and wouldn’t play, didn’t take it seriously, made up their own game, and just in general fooled around. I was totally shocked. I was not prepared for THIS in Honduras. Hopefully, Hondurans—who are reputed to take education and their teachers very seriously—won’t be the same. Then on Friday, my Spanish teacher had us (Azar and me) join another class for a game (take turns being the server in a restaurant and interact with the “patrons”). I think the teachers are very creative with their activities.  But, alas, AGAIN there are two fucking brat boys (different ones of course) who are bored or whatever and just totally ruined the activity for everyone else. MAN! I’m presently not feeling too positive about young people, and I certainly have no desire to socialize with them.

 

Happily, there are some I am comfortable with—hummm, guess it’s essentially those in my group. And Jason and Linda, who I was out with last night, are both in my group. Jason gave me the sweetest birthday card, telling me how much he values and admires me and is so grateful I am here. Imagine! I certainly do not FEEL like a person to be admired, not yet anyway. Haven’t done anything except endure. Although perhaps THAT’s something. Wonder if I’m a masochist? Jason and Sarah (Sarah was in our party last night; interesting girl, very religious I think from what she says and she wears a cross every day. She’s a “know it all” but has a good heart. They tell us that basically all the virgins succumb during service. Sarah is sooo pure, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the thought. I’m very curious as to whether she’ll grow into a REALLY nice person or one of those goodie-two-shoes matrons. She’s frequently annoying but not the least bit judgmental and really sincere, so…) anyway, we were saying that we each feel committed to remaining here, no way we could face those at home otherwise. It’s very interesting that no matter WHAT one feels, there’s someone else feeling the exact same thing. Linda has told me to watch, no one sits with her on the bus either. So I know there are others feeling exactly like me, maybe worse. We did lose another volunteer after volunteer visit. She had been having diarrhea ever since getting here and couldn’t take it any more. I know Azar had a TERRIBLE day yesterday. He didn’t cry, but maybe he had a worse morning than I did. Certainly Manuel (teacher) laid into him about his errors during the interview, harp, harp, harp. I know Azar works as hard or harder than I do. Like we don’t need to constantly be told how “importante” it is to study, study, study. Like we don’t? He sent Azar home with all this special homework. Not me. I have no clue how I did in my interview—although I guess better than Azar cause I UNDERSTAND better than he does. Possibly Manuel was avoiding me due to the earlier tears.

 

Well, I was going to bitch about my bitchy mama-hija, Sylvia, but I feel so much better now—plus I’ve locked myself in my room, away from her insulting bitchy voice. I think I will watch a movie!!

Love,

C

PS The attached pic is how we need to view life! This was at my birthday party

 

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August 25, 2002

We got new Spanish teachers on Monday which, as yet another change, is distressing for some of us. Then before we even have a chance to adjust, we get our second language proficiency interviews. I had a mostly depressing week. We saw a video on culture shock, and boy is it true. I have felt isolated the entire time I’ve been here. Because I’m old and everyone else is young. They’re nice to me, but we’re just not buddies, for heaven’s sake. And the other older woman lives as far from me as you can get and speaks fluent Spanish because she is Puerto Rican. Then, too, because I live so far UP the hill, I don’t just go hang out downtown. Twice now one of the kids specifically invited me to join them, and of course I traipsed down the hill and had a good time, but generally, with the inability to communicate thrown in, it’s pretty tough. During the culture shock discussion, we were told that it can literally have a physical effect on a person. They also said that everyone experiences it: trying to function in an environment where you feel isolated, and all the “rules” you are accustomed to have changed. Generally it comes in two waves, the first immediate and the second 6 months or a year later.  So I’m probably in my first wave of culture shock. This is the first week that I’m finally sleeping through the night—thank you God!! And yesterday morning I was so frustrated at my inability to communicate to the Spanish teacher some specific suggestions (instructional designers shouldn’t take classes!!!) that I simply broke down and sobbed. Poor Azar and the teacher didn’t know WHAT to do with me! But I recovered, blew my nose, and actually ended up having an absolutely WONderful day.

 

Sylvia (my host family mother) had invited me to Tegucigalpa to see a Honduran movie. I was to take the bus to Tegus and a cab to the center of town to meet her, but a friend was also going so we traveled together, and he walked me downtown (so now I know the way). We walked by an American fortress, I swear. Huge, well-constructed, tall bars everywhere and barriers for, what Tom said, were bomb protection. (Its not the embassy but the place for “American Support Services” like when you lose your passport or something. A representative came to talk to us last week. Among other things he said it’s a myth that you can run to the American embassy for protection, and it’s not “American soil” so a baby born there is not automatically a US citizen.) We get tons of counseling about the dangers in Honduras, so we’re trying to learn to walk very alertly and not put anything into the backpack that you’d hate to lose. So walking into the downtown was interesting. There are armed guards everywhere. Sylvia told me there are a lot of armed robberies and that the guards actually help keep stores safe. There are also National Police and soldiers (different uniforms) walking or riding around in groups. I think the culture is inured to violence. I was reading a newspaper yesterday, and there were several graphic photos of murdered people. Right on the front page a photo of two young men sitting, dead, in a bus, with blood running down their faces. They’d been murdered right there with a bus full of people. The perpetrator was wearing gray pants they said. On the inside pages there was a photo of a dismembered body being recovered. The photo had a small black bar covering what was probably the head—so I guess they do draw the line somewhere… there was also a picture of a 12 year old girl, a close up, head swathed in bandages, for whom 75 million Limperas or something had been raised to cover the cost of cranial reconstruction needed when she had been shot in the crossfire between police and some robbers. Interesting.

 

The movie was a kick. “The Souls at Midnight” or something. Interesting on many levels. Made totally in Honduras, but I don’t know what sort of movie industry they have here. Sylvia recognized the locations in the movie; clearly filmed here in Tegus. Everyone was talking about it so probably it’s a big deal. Anyway, it was pretty bad, technically. The sound didn’t sync up with the picture, and the picture was not clear, almost like a video copy. The sounds were pretty amateurish--a guy fired a rifle but the sound was very faint and didn’t sound right. I thought the actors were quite good! But what I enjoyed most was what the script revealed about the culture. I think the story was basically about some zombie-like creatures, “souls,” hidden beneath black hooded monk robes, who I heard referred to as “black angels.” I THINK there was something about the need for the protagonists to go through some rigmarole, including, for example, inverting a cross and retrieving a white cross, all kinds of religious symbols and exercises. Also, we had 5 youngsters, rich college kids, interacting together. (A love scene was truly amateurishly filmed.) Sexual activity was implied, not graphically shown. Three guys and two girls. Absolutely NO chivalry however. My mouth absolutely fell open when—while being pursued by these ghouls—the guys ran like deer and totally abandoned their girlfriends. BIG cultural difference there! Well, all 5 kids got killed in the end even though they followed all the “rules” and went though all that rigmarole. So much for the triumph of good over evil.

 

We got back to Valle de Angeles about 7:00pm, just in time for the coronation!  Turns out that this year’s “Queen” of the city was being crowned. Sylvia told me that the high school students select the queen, but later a fellow aspirante told me that it’s the girl who contributes the most $ to the fund raising activity. Whatever. It was soooo charming. There was a “hall,” split in half lengthwise from the entrance with a pathway made from grass and flowers. There were candelabra along the edges, and the new queen’s name was spelled out in flowers along the path. So then, with much pomp and circumstance, these girls start walking in, each on the arm of a young man. Each couple takes, in unison, one step to the left, feet together, one step to the right, feet together, one step to the left, feet together, and so forth. And SOMBER.! With his right hand, the fella holds the girl’s hand high, like they’re dancing an old fashioned quadrille or something, and places his left hand in the center of his back at the waist. They walked up the path, split apart, walked around a central decoration, rejoined, bowed to the audience, and walked on towards the stage at the head of the pathway. Then the next couple started. All the while, an announcer is singing their praises (I presume) and pomp and circumstance music is playing. It was soooo sweet. The girls wearing evening gowns and boys wearing suits. The new queen was so shy (and so un-Americanishly chubby!). Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me.

 

Gee, and the day wasn’t even over! My friend Jasen came to pick me up at 9:00, and we joined some others at a karaoke bar downtown. Had a lovely, relaxing evening, hoisted a few, and got to bed at midnight just in time to miss those Black Angels!! My first late night in Honduras. Buenas noches!

 

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9/12/02

 

Hi Sue!

Thanks for your letter! Yes, it WAS fun putting the training department together. For me it was some of the most rewarding work of my career. God, the economy SURELY must improve soon. I hope you’re hanging in there as I know, as I’m sure Angela does, how valuable you are.

 

You asked about the work and incidentally I found out yesterday what I’m supposed to do and it’s really exciting. I’m going to consult for the only female co-operative manager in Honduras! She’s a young woman, they think, but it’s hard to tell. Anyway, a co-op lends money—basically. My first and main project will be to enhance or create a computer program (and they use a lot of Access2000 here!) to track payments and/or late payments. In general I’m to examine how they do business and suggest improvements. They’re also looking for help with promotion. There’s a lot of computers in the town but practically no expertise and knowledge so a large part of my job will be teaching, developing curricula, and training trainers—because Peace Corps is dedicated to sustainability. It’s not a good project if it dies when you leave.

 

So that’s it in a nutshell. I’m hoping you will send me via email (or provide an FTP site where I can retrieve) those files from our fabulous train-the-trainer workshop. I probably could reconstruct what I want, but it would be easier with the mat’ls. (obviously I only need day 1-3, nothing of JDSU 1:1 training and safety.) Honduras apparently shares with China a tradition of rote learning so it might end up being a similar task. I’m really looking forward to it.

 

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Field Training

 

 

September 10, 2002

Wow! Almost a week here in Talanga now. Recovering from a bout of parasites. First time in my life stuff was coming out of me from both ends at the same time! Ick. We had heard that Talanga was the ugliest city in Honduras, but I like it. It’s FLAT! No hills to climb. My family is delightful, very sweet, and includes a mother, father, 9 yr. old boy, 5 yr. old boy, and 3 yr. old girl. They have a furniture-making business, and the husband also teaches furniture making at the local high school.

 

The other morning Claudia (the mother’s name) got me up at 4:00 am, and we went to a “seranata” which is a serenade, 3 musicians—guitar, bass, and a stringed instrument smaller than a guitar—singing and playing to honor someone’s birthday. It was neat.

 

One day last week our training group went out to a farming community about an hour away and learned how to plow and plant corn and make a compost pile. The people were very friendly and kind. Insisted on giving us lunch.

 

Friday and Saturday we were doing a business simulation whereby we make and sell a product. My team decided to do crepes, no less, with chocolate. So there I was making crepes with no utensils other than a fork and a knife. Interesting. However, they came out really good, and we managed to sell them all. The other team made popsicles with Kool-Aid and 7-up. Next week we’re supposed to give a 3-day workshop to some local high school kids. Given the level of my Spanish, I’m glad I have a partner. So basically, here we’re supposedly getting used to the kinds of activities we’ll be doing in our site which I guess is giving talks. Does nothing for me…

 

 

14/9/02

Claudia taught me how to make corn tortillas. What a kick! I have enough experience with dough so it wasn’t too difficult. Mostly you  need to get the water/corn meal proportions right so the dough is workable. Most people don’t make their own tortillas because they’re so cheap to buy.

 

21-9-02

Well, I’ve spent the morning exploring my site—Langue. It’s in the department (state or county?) Valle, in the south about an hour from the El Salvador border. There are a lot of professors here because there is a collegio (high school) but, sadly, no telephones. I’ve struck out finding a place to live. The previous volunteer had left glowing reports about how easy it was to find a place, but apparently not now. Best I could do is the phone number of a woman in Tegus who owns a house here that’s vacant. I’ve got my fingers crossed. The mayor (Mario) and his wife (Sandra) have an apartment above their house, and I went by there this morning to see it. Wow, there are bats in the ceiling!! A single room with a non-functioning non-private bathroom. I’d be better off staying here in the hotel. At least the toilet, sink, and shower works. Work? How quickly we adapt. The shower is a pathetic dribble of cool water—but it’s a shower!! The only problem here in the hotel is that the window screen doesn’t fit the window. Anyway, we’ll see. I’d probably starve to death if I had to live here. I think I’ve about had it with Honduran food. It’s all fried. Fried plantains, fried beans, fried eggs, fried (tough) meat. Vegetables, if and when they’re served, are cooked to death. The funniest food item endemic to Honduras is corn flakes served in hot milk!! Everyone eats it for breakfast frequently—and this is about a ½ cup of corn flakes in about 2 cups of hot milk. Sometimes you get pancakes (pan-cake-ees). They come with mantequia, which is like sour cream (I ALWAYS pass on this ubiquitous food item) and, if you’re lucky, honey.

 

I went by the collective this morning which is where my assignment is. Three ladies asked for my help to make a slanted text item in Microsoft Word. I taught them how! My first success. Not bad considering everything was in Spanish, I couldn’t understand much of what the ladies were saying, and I couldn’t handle Word as well as I would have liked. Nevertheless, they were thrilled to learn something new about Word.

 

After visiting the collective, I headed for the Mayor’s office, where I heard the only telephone is. (I need the number for a Peace Corps locator form I have to fill out.) So I walked in to the building, and, low and behold, I walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting! Wow, deep in the heart of Honduras and here is an AA meeting. Of course it was anything but anonymous—people were getting introduced (this was some kind of 34th anniversary, and I think there were emissaries from other places). Maybe here AA is more like a club. Their motto was recovery but also “service” and something else that I don’t remember. Anyway, I didn’t stay long.

 

Yesterday, the mayor took me to Nacaomi, the county seat more or less, for a meeting on economic development. It appeared that they are trying to put together a regional organization for this, and representatives from other cities were there. The only thing I really understood was the talk on gender equality (for goodness sakes!!!). I’ll bet that a lot of aide money is contingent on programs for gender equality; otherwise why they would have such a presentation in such a situation is beyond me. Certainly in this machismo society such outside influences are having a good impact. There were plenty of women in attendance. Anyway, the lunch was great—roasted chicken, rice, salad—just like home!!

 

On Thursday, Carlos (director of the high school, president of the collective, and owner of the hotel where I’m staying) drove me around town, and then we went on an outing (taking his wife and 2 youngest children) to the border town of Amatillo). So I SAW El Salvador. The border is a river. Weird town. Chock full of semi trucks, all parked. Must have been 50. Seems that it takes a long time to get processed across the border.

 

I came into Nacaomi on Wednesday afternoon with Lydia Sanchez, the 63 year old, who is to be posted in Nacaomi. We were invited to stay the night with Will, a volunteer in Water and Sanitation currently posted there. We thought his house was pathetically inadequate and then learned it’s down as a “great place to live.” We have a lot to get used to. Anyway, Will pointed out the mountain top of Amapalla in the distance. Supposedly, in the Summer—March, April—people travel there a lot, to the beach. I came in with Lydia because MY counterpart, Rosario Ortiz of the Collective, had failed to come to the Peace Corps meeting. Hope this is not a bad omen. When I met Rosario on Thursday, she didn’t seem very welcoming, but Carlos said she’s a good person. We’ll see.

 

29-9-02 Talanga

Last night I went to a fund raiser for the local maternity hospital. Supposedly dinner and dancing commencing at 8:00pm. We arrived at 8:30 and hardly anyone was there. Eventually had dinner—very good—about 10:00. However, we couldn’t stand it there cause the music was so loud it hurt. I could hear it in my bed two blocks away!! Very Honduran, I’m beginning to think, to play music so loud you can’t talk.

 

Thought I should mention that there is no place you can go (except possibly Tegucigalpa) where you won’t: hear roosters constantly crowing after about 3:00am and see horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, and goats wandering about the streets. I’m used to it. There’s a different attitude toward animals here than in the States. For example, Azar attended a cock fight recently. Apparently dog fighting is illegal in Honduras, but cock fighting isn’t. I always think the animals, especially the dogs, look pathetic, starving and sickly, which is not surprising since they apparently don’t “belong” to anyone.

 

Last week we went out into the country to observe a sugar making co-operative. Fascinating. I’m sure their process is archaic, but it was fun. An ox-drawn cart brings up 4’ long pieces of sugar cane. Then they manually put the cane into a power-driven press. They juice goes down a little viaduct into a big wooden cauldron built over a huge oven in which they burn wood to boil the sugar into syrup—just like making fudge (except that most, if not all, of these young people have never made fudge!). At the softball stage they move the syrup in buckets to a coffin-sized wooden box and proceed to stir it ‘til, just like fudge, it’s done, at which time they pour it into quart-sized molds—presto! Brown sugar! Of course THIS brown sugar has entombed thousands of bees, no kidding, cause they stir the bees right in, making no attempt to keep them away from the syrup. Obviously the process is very hygienic. I wonder if people eat the bees? Kind of like chocolate covered insects.

 

Friday I got bit by a dog! My own fault for not heeding the warning of my Spanish teacher, but, nevertheless, I had to go to Tegucigalpa and get a rabies shot. The dog had been vaccinated, but the Peace Corps takes no chances with our health and safety. We spend a lot of time at doctor’s offices; many of us have been sick—generally with stomach stuff of one kind or another, but one spent a week in the hospital with dengue that she got here in Talanga. There ARE tons of mosquitoes…

 

 

Final Weeks of Training

 

5-Oct

Back in Valle. I was probably the only member of the team who didn’t want to leave Talanga, but I sure do love my Talanga family. Spent most of the day at Jasen’s house cause my family wasn’t home (not expected I guess). I heard that Mike, a natural resources aspirante, has returned to the states having decided that he can’t be effective here. Those nat resources folks are very intense. We’ll miss him though. Jasen told me that several of our group are not happy with their sites and that Linda has contemplated leaving because she questions whether the Peace Corps is effective. Don’t we all? But it’s a very individual thing. I will at least give Langue a try. I know it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish my task. I’m supposed to help them improve their computer system so they have more visibility into defaulting/slow loan payments—but, heck, it’s a proprietary system, and it’s in Spanish! Oh well. Step by step. I did a “charla” last week—that’s what they call it when you teach something. I had to teach something about accounting to a class of high school kids. What a kick. I had come up with a great exercise and so was able to read a lot of my presentation, but, still, had to interact with the kids IN SPANISH!! Since I’m the only one in my group with teaching experience, I was able to be somewhat effective. The experience reminded me how much fun teaching can be.

 

Only two weeks to go!!  Sylvia tells me that a Dr. Santos has a house in Langue that he’ll rent to me; I think he’s supposed to call me today. And Claudia in Talanga will follow up for me with the woman who also owns a vacant house there. So housing is looking promising.

 

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5-Oct

Dear Penny,

What a wonderful sister you are! I got your PACKAGE in Talanga. No one else—family or friends—sends me mail and now a PACKAGE! Thank you so much. I especially liked the post card of where you work. It’s so typical California so I have enjoyed showing it to my Talanga family. Gina provided me with Robin’s photo web site with pictures of YOU on it. My friend Jasen was in the internet café with me, and I showed him—he says you’re beautiful!!

 

Hope everything’s going ok with you guys. Did I tell you that the doctor here put me back on Prozac? Probably just in time cause nothing seems to bother me now, but that first week in Talanga when I got sick I had a panic attack. Told the Peace Corps I wanted to go home and got all the way to Valle before I changed me mind. I think the Prozac kicked in. Plus I had talks with my manager and the PC head, and they were very supportive. I think I had been worried about Spanish, but they said if I needed more Spanish, I could stay longer in training. Well anyway, I stopped worrying and went back to Talanga.

 

We’re all REALLY SICK of training and chomping at the bit to get to our sites—for better or worse. Final language interviews this coming week, but I have no idea what happens if I don’t make the minimum grade. Will keep you posted.

Love

Schwes

 

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11-Oct

Today my Economic Development group built fogones—the brick or adobe stove/oven that just about every house here has along with its pila. Basically a fogone has 2 chambers—one tiny one for baking and one bigger one for burning wood—and a metal plate on top for cooking stuff on. Heck, I might need to make one for myself! Actually, our training manager told us that she used a stovetop oven. Just put a tin can into a big pot, and put your baking disk on top of the tin (then it doesn’t rest on the bottom of the top). She said it works great and works out to about 350 degrees. I told my friends that if I get an oven—a REAL oven—they’re all invited for Thanksgiving; otherwise I’ll travel up north to cook at my friend Jasen’s house cause he already has an oven.

 

My housing options are looking bad. Yesterday one lady told me she didn’t want to rent to me, and another offered me his house for 7000 Limperas a month!! Since we get 900 to use for rent, I think he’s a rapist. Langue is not making me feel welcome this way. At this rate I’ll be back in that hotel next week.

 

This afternoon we practiced singing the Honduras national anthem because we will be performing next week at “graduation.” We also did the US national anthem, and I’m proud to say that I have never been with a group that sang it so well—we all knew the words, and we sounded GREAT!!! Yes, next week we will get sworn in at the US Ambassador’s house. Normally the Honduran president is present, but, unfortunately, this time the president, Maduro, has just gotten married (yesterday I think) and so will be on his honeymoon. Maduro is a pretty good president; he’s trying to do some good stuff. Like he has the army helping out the police. A US embassy security guy was telling us this week that the poor police are outnumbered 12:1 in Tegucigalpa by gang members and 20:1 in San Pedro Sula. The murder solve rate is 1.5%. He says that, consequently, Honduras is a haven for felons. We’re supposed to try to stay out of those two big cities. He also told us all about the drug traffic and where the corridors are and stay out of the Mesquitia ‘cause nobody’s there except indigenous Indians and drug smugglers. As a matter of fact, it seemed like drug smugglers are in all the really cool places in Honduras. Oh well.

 

Somebody asked me about Honduran men. True, our trainers say that 99% of all trainees will have a sexual experience during their two years, but it’s hard to believe. I’m sure there are some tall, good looking Honduran men but I haven’t seen any. The guys have it tougher, in a way, cause the girls are willing, but American men are kind of turned off by their placidity and submissiveness. For the women the problem is rampant machismo. It’s socially acceptable for men to screw around, and we’ve been warned and warned and warned to never believe the men. Plus Honduras has the highest rate of AIDS in Central America. The girls have it really tough. They get harassed by the men—there’s a word for it but I forget it—as they walk down the street; it’s the masculine thing to do to stare at them, whistle, make salacious remarks and explicit invitations. Our girls have been taught that they have to learn to ignore it. It’s also socially acceptable for men to get drunk. Actually we’re told that Honduran men don’t comprehend having one or two drinks; if they start drinking, they end up drunk. Sunday finds a lot of drunks passed out on the sidewalk or staggering around. Yet women are not “allowed” to either smoke or drink in public.

 

Well, anyway, I think Hondurans tend to be short—bad diet I guess. Almost all the women are fat. Starting at puberty, even the skinny girls get a roll of fat around their bellies, and by the time they’re 40 they are REALLY fat.

 

13-Oct-02

Yesterday I got into a conversation with a young boy. I asked him if he was going to the fair, but he said no, it took money for that. Turned out he was in Andrea’s class at school, so I asked him if, like her, he would be going to “collegio” (high school) in January. He said no, he was going to work on a farm up the mountain. It’s hard to see all these children working. My Talanga mother, Claudia, told me that the government pays NOTHING for high school kids. This means that in addition to not earning money for their families, high school COSTS money--for uniforms, books, pencils, paper, etc. Even though education is “mandatory,” most kids drop out at 12 because of money. So you see kids everywhere peddling stuff—ice cream, cookies, bread. I was very much aware of them today at the fair because there were so many rich Hondurans wandering around with their fortunate kids.

 

21-Oct-02

Friday (18 Oct) we officially became real, live “voluntarios” at last. The jovenes partied all night. Lydia and I went off to bed at about 9:00pm as usual. Gina came in for the ceremony, and I took her to Talanga to meet Freddi, Claudia, and the kids. She was surprised at how much she has changed from the days when she traipsed barefoot around Guatemala. However, I think it was good for her. We went to a party Saturday night—the presentation of the girls hoping to be queen of the city. Music was loud as per usual, but this time all the young people were dancing. Even husbands and wives. Even Freddi and Claudia! Gina said the music and dancing was not unlike a party at Columbia but that the flagrant sexuality of the girls was quite unlike Mexico.

 

I was offered two more weeks of Spanish so I said yes. Others were offered, but no one but me accepted. One other, Stan, was FORCED to accept; guess he didn’t score high enough on the test. So I’ll be here with Stan for two more weeks. I was given Lydia’s family which is 2 feet from CHP’s front door. (Lydia is the other “old” person, and she’ll be in Nacaomi, 45 minutes down the road from me in Langue.) Moved into my new digs late Sunday afternoon. Santa Lucia is a charming town, and the family (mother, father, mother-in-law, 5 boys about 12 and younger) are nice. Lydia said they spoiled her. However, I’ll be doing 2 weeks with a bucket bath! They do bring hot water though. And so far the food is really good.

 

27-Oct-02

Spent the weekend in Talanga. On the way home, I saw one of those really nice things about Honduras. The bus stopped for no apparent reason. But then it became clear. Another bus was stopped, not even a bus of the same company as mine, but my driver and a passenger removed the battery from our bus and carried it over to the other bus, installed it long enough to give the other bus a “jump start,” and then returned it to our bus, and off we went. Hondurans always seem ready to help one another. I’ve also seen bus drivers regularly wait for someone coming or stop wherever someone is needing a ride or to be dropped off—very helpful. I’ve yet to find anything about Honduran buses that I don’t like. I don’t even think they’re particularly uncomfortable, even if they are old and in terrible shape. What do you expect from a bus anyway? I really LIKE the way vendors come on board to sell food and drink. Anyway, I enjoy riding in the buses.

 

28-Oct-02

Took the bus to Tegucigalpa this afternoon to mail two packages. There is no post office in Santa Lucia. Soooo—I waited for 30 minutes for the bus, took two buses to downtown, and hunted around for the post office. And repeated same on the return trip. America needs to appreciate its postal system. While there I went to my bank to cash a check because in Langue only cash will do. And the bank was a REAL adventure! Not only are there armed guards, but there’s a metal detector at the entrance. So I had to stash my can of coke in a locker and, when I STILL buzzed the detector, had to leave my entire tote bag behind. Then I applied for an ATM card. Interesting—I guess because addresses are unreliable to say the least, I will go to a town an hour away from Langue (the nearest town with that bank…and the Peace Corps picked the bank with the most branches in Honduras!) to PICK UP my ATM. In a month she said. As I’ve said before, in Honduras the simplest thing takes a LONNNNGGGG time.

 

 

Langue at Last!

 

9999999999999999999999999999999999

999999999999999 where’s the thalidomide  entry from Langue?

 

1-Nov-02

Langue. Finally. Got out of Spanish class one day early because Lydia came to town, and I and my muchos maletas had an opportunity to get a ride with her as far as Nacaomi. This morning I took the bus into Langue, and, surprise, Carlos was waiting for me. Wonder how he found out? Anyway, they had been very disappointed when I failed to arrive on the 21st. Anyway, he was happy to see me. Also went to say hello to Rosario, my counterpart, at the Co-operativa. Told her I’d be there bright and early on Monday. Carlos is putting me up in his hotel for “half price,” he says—L.400—and we’ll look for a house beginning Monday. He doesn’t understand why I don’t want to just stay in the hotel but acquiesced easily enough and will help me. I made it clear that either I find a house or a new city.

 

This weekend is Langue’s saint day celebration. Carlos invited me to go with him at 5:00 in the morning to visit his mother’s grave. Apparently this is part of the celebration, and there’ll be a lot of candles and stuff.

 

2-Nov-02

Didn’t sleep all night as the hotel room is on the street adjacent to the central park. All night long there were fire crackers and noise. I could hear families in the street about 4:00 so I got up. At 5:00 Carlos and one of his daughters and a friend and I walked to the cemetery. So did half the town.  And carrying votive candles, fresh flowers in tinfoil-covered cans, or paper flower thingees to hang up—about 2’ by 3’ ovals. Apparently they’ll be going there all day long. So the cemetery is packed with people, each person at his family plot, putting up candles and/or flowers and/or cleaning or sweeping the grave. Big business in candles and flowers today. Also street vendors selling food. The cemetery is packed with graves, and like any cemetery in the US they vary from very minimal markers to huge monoliths. Except here they’re concrete instead of marble. And the grounds are not maintained; instead it’s like a vacant lot with garbage around. People clean the old stuff from “their” graves and just throw it somewhere else… I saw families coming in shifts. Like first I saw one old man come and light just four candles and leave. Later other members of that family came and left more candles. I saw women doing it and men doing it and children doing it. (I didn’t see Carlos do anything but drink beer and smoke.) Carlos’ family is very large; I think he has something like 7 brothers and then some sisters too. So there were tons of candles and votive offerings and cans of flowers. And the brothers had started drinking their beer one after another at 4:00 in the morning! (Course this may just be Carlos’ family cause I didn’t see it elsewhere.) I saw one guy with a hand gun stuck in his waist and a number of unkempt drunk men. At one point I saw an enterprising child going around collecting the spent wax; I’ll bet he will be making new candles.

 

8-Nov-02

The water tank in Carlos’ hotel broke. This means that there’s no water in the room.  So I moved to a hotel in Nacaomi. Commute every morning to Langue. Finally someone found me a house. Three rooms, no water in the house, no toilet, no sink. Only a pila and latrine in the backyard which is shared with the neighbors. I said no. I just didn’t think I could take such lack of privacy. Too much roughing it. Everyone thinks I’m crazy. Crissy and Tim (they’re from San Jose!!) have the same setup in their house in Nacaomi; it’s the Honduran way, they say.  The other day a natural resources volunteer, Patrick, from 14 kil. into the boonies from here, came by to visit me and show me around Langue. He recently married a Honduran woman, and they will be going to the States in two weeks. He made me realize that any house will do temporarily. I already knew that many volunteers have to wait awhile for the housing they want. Anyway, ran into the mayor who says he has fixed up his apartment in the Colonia (the GOOD part of town where all the houses have water in the house and toilets and showers in the house) and says I can have it in two weeks while I wait for a house of my own. So now I have several options. But wish I didn’t have to wait. I’m really tired of the commute. This morning I slept through my stop and ended up at the border!! I’m anxious to get back to making a home here in Langue.

 

17-Nov-02

Wow, still no house. In fact, Maria, my Peace Corps manager, has decided I should change sites. Course I have to find my own work—no problem. So here I am today in Nacaomi, bunking with Lydia, and looking for a house HERE. None here either. I hear that workmen on the Pan American highway are using all the available housing… But Maria sent me to talk to the local women’s co-operative and the work there sounds very exciting—training staff on computers, helping with marketing the co-op, and giving charlas (very short seminars) on business subjects to the members. I spoke with the (equivalent to) regional supervisor and really liked her. The regional co-ops are NOT computer linked so that, too, would be an exciting project. Plus their computer system might have a lot of potential for me. Anyway, it made me realize how lacking Langue is, in management help for yours truly and in job satisfaction. Too bad that Nacaomi is supposed to be THE hottest city in Honduras

 

My body is drying up from this climate. Finally figured out what that rash was on my hands when I settled down here in the South—allergy to the soap. Here in the South my hands have started peeling. It gets worse everyday. Today I bought some rubber gloves, and I’ll try that, and I’m trying to avoid soap in the shower--I mean bucket bath—but, given that you are sopping wet 10 minutes after you leave the house, frequent “rinses” are helpful. The only clothes I can stand are the few cotton polyester things I brought. All those cotton bras I worked so hard to find are horrible, like wearing a damp t-shirt all the time. And using the fan is a toss-up: cool down a little bit and dry your skin up or…

 

19-Nov

Only in Honduras--The other evening I was in the “living room” when I heard “oink, oink” at the door. Pigs asking to come in? Yup, pigs.

 

Dian asked me to send her a Honduran blouse. Problem is that there is no longer a Honduran style of clothing. Well, there is, but it’s based on America. On any given street, if you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in America. Every t-shirt, blouse, or jeans with any “name” you ever heard of is being worn by Hondurans. Source? First, there’s all the donated clothing from all the charitable organizations. It ends up in “Ropa Americana” stores where it is sold, cheaply. Then there are all the rejects or overstocks that some company ships down here to sell cheaply or some   entrepreneur imports to make a quick buck. There’s an area in the country where all the locals are sporting new jeans with “prisoner” written down the left leg in red. I loved the big, burly man I saw in a t-shirt advertising “Roberta’s Fancy Nails.” Every fancy apron anyone ever made to sell at the local church bazaar, with cotton eyelet lace and ribbons, has ended up down here worn by the lady entrepreneurs selling tacos or enchiladas or juice or water or cookies or whatever on the street and in the buses. They like the pockets and think the aprons are pretty. Similarly, you see little girls in the country wearing satin or lace party dresses, a little the worse for wear, but they think they’re pretty. And that which causes me to blush, totally transparent blouses, of the sort you might wear for a bathing suit cover-up or with a camisole for evening wear, over ordinary white cotton bras. It’s important to WEAR underwear, but it’s no problem if it shows. Just because you’re wearing spaghetti straps doesn’t mean you need a strapless bra. So, sorry Dian, but if you want a Honduran blouse, just head for your local K-Mart!!

 

The Pan American Highway. All my life I’ve heard of the Pan American Highway. Once I dreamed of driving it from Mexico to Argentina. Well, now I’m living right next to the Pan American Highway. It’s a two-lane, paved road driven mostly by buses and semi-trucks. The buses need to maneuver around the cows, oxen, and goats, but they’re used to it. The occasional automobile is as common as the occasional ox-drawn cart which exists in both the city and country. In the city the carts are outfitted with car tires, while in the country cart wheels generally are wooden discs. Along the highway are a lot of houses. These vary from literal mud huts (what else would you call it if it’s one room and built of mud and sticks?) to cinder blocks or bricks in one or more rooms. The roofs are all those U-shaped tiles we’re so familiar with in the Southwest. All have the ubiquitous pila and latrine and usually a beehive shaped fagone (this is the inefficient fagone, not the Peace Corps one).

 

Dian also asked about the food sold on the buses and what, if any, I ate. Let’s see. They sell pints of water, in sealed plastic bags. (These are a major source of litter; I’m collecting them now and hope to stuff a pillow as an experiment. Some entrepreneur could make a fortune!) They also sell Coke and Pepsi and pour it into plastic bags and serve it with a straw (so they can get the refund on the bottle. Unfortunately, these plastic bags go out the bus window with the rest of the litter.) They also sell “fresco,” which is extract of tamarind or rice water and spices mixed with water. I’ll always drink anything. Maybe that’s risky, but I think that “agua pura” is so much a part of the culture here that everyone uses it. Plus you can tell by the price: a bag of water goes for L.2 while a bag of fresco goes for L.3.

 

I’ve bought (and enjoyed) candy which is probably essentially sugar and coconut. Baked goods—muffins, rolls—very heavy and usually a little on the salty side, but when you’re hungry… They also sell fruit: oranges peeled, cut in half, and offered with salt (I pass on this cause it doesn’t come with a Kim wipe) and pieces of mango served with chile (crunchy but tasty.) I’ve also bought peanuts.

 

I always pass on some things. There’s a mouthwatering looking thing. I think it’s banana chips served with shredded cabbage, lime, and a piece of tomato. Looks great but I’m afraid of the cabbage (we were warned that it’s very difficult to clean properly). Unfortunately, shredded cabbage comes with most if not all of the street/bus food. I would eat a chicken something, but since I can’t understand what they’re saying most of the time, by the time I figure out what Charlie over there is eating, the bus is moving again, and the vendor is gone.

 

More on buses. I really like the buses. Where in the US can you simply stand on the side of the road in front of your house and wave down the bus? Or ask the driver to stop at that big tree over there? Or is there someone hired especially to carry your heavy bags on and off? Or ask the mother to put her child on her lap so you can have a seat? And I think they’re safe drivers. Sure they pass on curves, but they always honk. This is the first place I’ve ever been where horns actually served an important purpose. They ALWAYS honk when passing. And they honk when approaching a place where people may want to board. Gets them ready I guess. Whenever approaching someone standing on the road, the money guy (also the bag carrier guy) leans out and makes a questioning hand gesture, yes? If the person on the road answers back with the appropriate hand gesture, the bus stops, but there’s also a waving-on gesture. I haven’t quite figured out these gestures, but I figure if you stand in front of the bus and make eye contact, they’ll stop.

 

December 9, 2002

Wow, hard to believe I finally got a house! Now if only I could clean it. Oh, what we take for granted in the US, like having a washing machine to just throw the rags in or the mops or whatever. Women seem to spend a lot of time here cleaning, but it’s different. Lots of sweeping dirt, like the front yard, and rag-mopping the ubiquitous tile floors. (God, I hate rag mops—always felt like all you did was move the dirt around...) Everyone seems relatively clean here (no body odor in the buses, you know!), and I’ve seen plenty of people all soaped up next to their pilas. Even saw a couple of half naked women bathing in rivers adjacent to the highway. And there’s laundry hanging up everywhere. However, I hate to tell you but—outside of Darlene and Anne—none of you probably has a clue about how absolutely a pain in the butt it is to wash your clothes by hand in cold water. AND the rag mop. AND the dish clothes. Yesterday morning I was thinking I couldn’t possibly last here another two weeks til Gina comes to visit. So I decided to accomplish SOMEthing and go wash some clothes. The little 11 year old girl (what a delight!) named Legia (Lee-hee-a) came to the fence to watch and talk to me. The pila was disgusting. (Basically a pila is a cement sink with a cement wash board –who’s old enough to know what a washboard is? Who’s old enough to have USED a washboard? Not me!) Anyway, there I was scrubbing away, dipping my plastic bowl into the sink for rinse water, when I noticed little swimming creatures in the water. Ick! Over comes Legia, and tells me, oh dear, these are mosquito larvae. Oh God. Pilas are supposed to be cleaned once a month, scrubbed with soap and Clorox. Guess my house hadn’t been occupied in 20,000 years, and the pila was disgusting. So my sweet next door neighbor and her sweet daughter came over and showed me how to clean the pila. Now I have a clean pila. I told Legia she needed to come over tomorrow and teach me how to clean the floor.

 

While I was living in Nacaome I went one day to the lady’s co-operative there and waited (in vain) for three hours for the manager to show up. So while waiting I talked to the women. One I asked why she was here—to apply for a loan. Why? To buy a freezer. Why? Seems she and her husband make a marginal living selling on the buses. She sells cheese, and he sells mangos (green fruit seasoned with salt and chile), and they earn less than L.100 a week, I think she said around L.30. She wants a freezer cause then they could sell water or fresco which has a bigger profit margin. Consider that a Coke costs L.5 to L.10, the 45min-1 hr. bus ride L.9, a cheap lunch L.20. However you slice it, that’s pretty meager earnings. My friends in Talanga thought you could live pretty well (I guess like they do) for L.5000. I hear, for example, that cable costs L.200, while newspapers cost L.5. Let’s see—seem to recall that in SJ normal cable costs around $30 and a newspaper, what now? $.50. Oh well, you figure it.

 

Last week Dona Maria (a very friendly lady who took me around looking for rental houses) insisted I rest in her house. I didn’t feel well and really wanted to lie down, but she insisted her house was very near. Hahahaha. Twenty minutes later I ended up resting in a hammock in... a mud hut!! Yes, indeed, one of those mud huts, with cardboard keeping out the wind. This one even had one wall bolstered with, yes, an old bedspring!! She of course invited me to live next door, we were friends afterall. Eventually I got home to rest. Unfortunately, I think Maria was angling for some food and coffee, telling me she had no money. That I don’t doubt, and of course when anyone is with me I always offer them one of anything (like coke or ice cream) I buy, but we were strongly urged not to give ANYthing away. “Regalame” (give, as in gift, me) is a real problem in Honduras.

Another young person, Angel, I think he’s 24, asked to go with me to Nacaomi to buy household supplies for my new house. Angel was married at 18 but is separated now, happily with no children. He says in the future he will want only two children. HIS father has 20!!! Eleven with his mother and 9 with another woman. The poor kid has nothing to look forward to. He works in the mercado selling women’s underwear one day, fixes shoes another day, doesn’t work another day, goes to El Salvador on some kind of business another day.

 

Oh, did I mention that I was invited to supper (chop suey made from cup-o-noodles—everyone LOVES cup-o-noodles here) at someone’s house where the mother teaches at the little elementary school out in the country on the way to the Pam Am highway. Anyway, she told me that those 16 computers there aren’t being used. Why? Because they can’t afford ELECTRICITY!!!!!!! Cripes, they should SELL the computers and buy books. Which reminds me, if anyone wants to go around finding books in Spanish, especially for children, feel free to send them to me at

 

Camille Flores

Langue, Valle

Honduras

America Central

 

Of course, feel free to send me trashy novels in English as well or cookies or candy or handsome young men. My computer—supposed to be my mainstay in this difficult first three months—decided to go completely bonkers. So now I have no movies, no music, no diary, no games, no English version of Microsoft Help, nothing, nada. I am writing this at work—cause of course THEY don’t use the computer much. Lately I have been teaching one lady to put the financial records into an Excel spreadsheet. This is rather difficult for me cause—while I have done EVERYTHING in Excel, including programming, over the last 15 years, I—like many of you—lately have a memory like a sieve. I can’t remember how to do the simplest thing in Excel and now I have to try to decipher Help in Spanish! Life is NOT fair.

 

Well, I think I will call it a day. Tomorrow I am going to Nacaomi to use the internet and fax my locator form to the Peace Corps. That’s so they know what bus to send a note on if they need to get a hold of me... only kidding. Actually I have a beeper so if they need to get a hold of me, they beep me and I get to take a bus somewhere to call them.

 

Dec 17

During the last two weeks I made the trek to Nacaomi twice to use the internet only to find it “down.” Yesterday it was because all electricity in the town was  to be down all day so work could be done on it. (Another thing we take for granted: advance notification by authorities.)

 

Well, the house is pretty clean, thanks mostly to Ligia. The neighborhood kids have befriended me and are always filling my house. Ligia and a 14 year old, Alma, taught me how to make carne asada (pieces of beef  marinated in vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, other stuff, then roasted and served with a salsa of tomato, green pepper, onion, lemon juice, etc.—marvioso!!) Started a compost pile in a corner, confounding everyone who is used to burning everything, and am training all my visitors to deal with four different kinds of garbage—food (for the compost), paper (for burning), clean plastic bags and bottles (for God knows what, crocheting bags maybe), and everything else (for burying). Started passing out books to the kids—my new “Langue Children´s Library”—and they’re just inhaling them, so DO send me books if you can. The teenagers are reading my adult mysteries; gees, Alma read one in a single night!! I think they are rather hungry for books...

 

Also, I am learning that there is poverty and then there is poverty. It’s really hard to befriend someone who is REALLY poor. Poor Angel is breaking my heart. He asked if I would “regalame agua” (gift me water) to bathe—turns out his house has no water OR electricity. Yesterday he wanted to give me directions to the house he will be staying at over the next four weeks (he’s going to work in a distant town) so I could visit on my way north. He had to get his little sister to write it cause he can’t write. Why? He left school at age 7 to work. I’ve also learned that he wasn’t married and isn’t 24. He’s just 18 and had a girl living in his house for 3 months when he was 16. He tells me that in Honduras sex is only acceptable when the girl moves into your house, whether you’re married or not.

 

People are lining up with work for me. Come February I’ll probably be swamped. (All schools are closed in December and January.) My next door neighbor is an official with the Dept. Of Ed and he convinced me that the primary school kids really need a head start learning English so I guess I’ll start having lunch with them in Feb. (Their schedule does not permit a class.) Sooo—anyone know any fun games for children? I’m so old I don’t even remember how to play Simon Says. I figure that some songs might be fun. Actually, I have no idea how to pursue teaching English as a second language. Anyone who has any materials or books, I would be forever grateful for your assistance.

 

Had a bad scare last weekend. It’s really difficult to internalize all the ways that are different here, but hopefully I won’t do THAT again! Well, I planned to go to Choluteca to buy some things that were not available in Nacaomi or Langue. So I planned to go to the bank first and get some money and hopefully pick up an ATM card that I could use at the grocery store. And I also planned to use the internet since Nacaomi had been unavailable. Unfortunately, work took longer than I had planned, and I didn’t get to Choluteca til 1:00 only to learn that the bank closed at 12:00. And I have only about L.100. Shoot. So as not to totally waste me trip, I decided to go to the grocery store and buy just a few things. But I wasn’t really thinking because I needed the fare BACK to Langue, and taxi (L.10) twice (to and from the grocery store). When the clerk in the grocery store gave me my change and I realized I didn’t have enough money, I asked to cancel the sale. He said no. I said but I don’t have enough money to go home. He shrugged his shoulders. I said ask your manager. She shrugged her shoulders. I did not say “shoot” this time... What to do? With my last L.10 I took a cab to the house of Elizabeth and Justin, praying they were home. They weren’t. So I sat down in front of their house prepared to wait for the weekend if necessary and feeling like an idiot. This isn’t the US, you can’t call a friend, you can’t use your ATM, you can’t write a check, you can’t go to the police station or the YMCA. Well, someone up there is always looking out for me and Elizabeth came home in 30 minutes, we had a lovely visit, and she took a check for L.100. I got home at 7:00. Fun day. Course Monday I was just as stupid. When will I learn? With my last L.10 I took the bus to Amatillo to go to the bank for money (having spent the rest on food on Sunday). But the bank’s system was down and they weren’t cashing checks!!!! Had not the manager okayed my check (there are some advantages to being a gringita), I don’t know what I would have done (wait I guess)—but again, someone up there is looking out for me still. But here it is Wednesday and I still have all my money in one place, no L.100 stashed somewhere, tsk tsk tsk. No backup.

 

My feelings continue to be up and down. Lately the days have been good; someone will come to visit me or something I teach someone will tickle them and, wow, it feels good to be here. Other days have been very boring. However, I’m well aware that I could be bored anywhere. I keep trying to tell myself that this is an OPPORTUNITY. Still and all, I’ve spent many an hour remembering all the good times, amazing how many there were. Too bad we so often don’t realize at the time how precious they are. Just a simple little thing like going to a good movie with your sister and eating popcorn and laughing. Let alone red cabbage and “mother dressing” at Thanksgiving. It’s amazing how much of The Shawshank Redemption, for example, that I can remember. Who needs DVD? The mind is a beautiful thing.

 

Well, hopefully, I will be able to send this huge letter on Friday in Tegucigalpa. Thinking of you all often and FELICE NAVIDAD!! (Merry Christmas)

 

Jan. 2, 2003

Christmas in Honduras. Sadly, I saw practically nothing that wasn’t a poor and superficial imitation of the U.S. This year my co-op bought and proudly displayed a giant mechanical Mrs. Claus and Santa and a singing Santa and Mrs. Claus who moved in time to the music. Jingle Bells in Honduras. The co-op members were fascinated and loved to push the button and set them in motion. I was reminded of the first time I saw the mechanical Abraham Lincoln in Disneyland’s “Future World.” I was just as fascinated, so we need to remember that Honduras is 50 years behind the US.  As I said, I didn’t observe any local traditions—other than fireworks. This is the season for them, and they’re VERY popular. Only fire crackers and rockets. The music is all carols in English, but, interestingly, the most popular Christmas song seems to be (one of my favorites) “Felice Navidad” by Jose Feliciano which is at least partly in Spanish. The co-op exchanged some of their normal artificial flowers for artificial poinsettias. Everyone has a Christmas tree—artificial—and some folks have reindeer and stuff on their roofs. I saw a couple of interesting crèche scenes set up under trees displayed OUTSIDE the house (suitably ensconced in wire cages to prevent theft). In addition to the typical Jesus in the manger, wise men, angels, etc. were OTHER scenes, separated from the manger by little rock borders. There could be six or more little scenes. Little cities were popular, with little houses and little cars and trucks (like an old-fashioned train set without the trains). There were little mariachis in one scene, little dolls in another scene. Fascinating.

 

New Year’s Eve was PARTY time here. So many fire crackers that the next the street in front of my house looked like California Street in San Francisco after everyone threw their calendars out the window on the 31st. I lay in bed (party pooper) and listed to the music and party noise until 2:00 am. I had intended to go to a dance (at least I HEARD there was to be a dance downtown), but no one picked me up, and my co-op vigilantes (guards) had insisted I not venture out alone after dark.

 

Yesterday there was a power outage that lasted long enough to totally defrost my refrigerator. My neighbor had told me that this is why some people have stoves with two electric and two gas burners. Anyway, it didn’t bother me; I generally go to bed at dark because there’s nothing to do anyway. The lights aren’t good enough for reading in comfort, so I’d just as soon lie there and listen to the neighborhood. Now I have ANOTHER reason for going to bed at dusk—I hear that power is very expensive! My neighbor spends about L.400 a month. I’ve come to realize that the Peace Corps wants us to be POOR. We get L.2800 a month which is less than L.100 a day for food, clothing, transportation, everything except rent. Hondurans tell me this is MUY POCO dinero. The other day I went to the market and spent L.150 and only bought some fruit and vegetables, soap and bleach. I decided to start keeping a journal of what I spend.

 

The neighborhood children are driving me crazy with “regalame” agua or chicle (gum). And most of them have no understanding of thank you or please. I started just saying NO. Then the daughter of a woman I know came and asked for agua. Confusing. I asked my neighbor, and she gave me some insight. Apparently water is cheap, only about L.30 a month for us in the colonia. But we have a different water system than the pueblo at large. Frequently the pueblo doesn’t have water. Then it is normal for folks to come and ask for water. ´Course she said that generally the MOTHER comes and asks and, when pressed, said no one’s asked her in ages.  And this is different from those really poor people who never have water cause they can’t afford to pay; I decided to offer them a jug of water any time they want to wash my floor. In this way I won’t be GIVING it away.

 

Jan 6

Yesterday being Sunday I went to the market to get what I’ve heard is a bargain on food. I DID get a big bag of oranges, but everything else seemed the same price as normal. There was a huge selection of stuff though, much more than during the week. With hesitation I bought a fish, and then later had to figure out a way to steam it. I am proud to say I did it: put three rocks in a big pot, topped them with the inverted lid of a smaller pot, and, voila, a steamer. With a potato and string beans, I ended up with a thoroughly American dinner!!

 

Jan 8

Found out that Christmas officially ended on Jan 6 which is the Day of the Three Magi. So, I am told, Christmas starts on Dec. 24 and ends on Jan. 6. Everyone took down their decorations on Monday, and the newspaper included a little article reminding everyone what the day was about. The three wise men (as we call them in the US), one of whom, named Bartholomew (?), followed the star of Bethlehem to see Jesus and brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

This coming weekend, Jan. 11, begins the week-long “feria” (fair) to celebrate the “Black Jesus.” What, you ask? But they don’t know why or the significance of this. Possibly I will find a priest to ask. But anyway, the feria includes a coronation of a queen (just like in Valle de Angeles and Talanga I imagine) and all kinds of activities. I’ll miss the first weekend as I’m going to a meeting in Santa Barbara, but the next weekend will include BULL FIGHTS!!

 

Oh, I found out that here I am NOT an “American.” Ooops, how self-centered we are. My tutor tells me that he, too, is an American, for America is the entire continent. So, I learned, I am more precisely an “estadounidense,” a person from the United States.

 

Yesterday I had my first conversation on my new telephone! Yes, I have a new cell phone, and it thinks I live in El Salvador. I have an antenna on my roof, and, of course, the phone isn’t mobile, but I actually TALKED with my friend Sherry. You, too, can go international when you’re in the mood and call me Honduran time 2:00 to 7:00. The rest of the time the phone is being charged or I am gone. If I don’t answer, do not leave a message because I can’t retrieve it. This phone situation has been a constant source of frustration, so I hope this El Salvador phone will finally do the trick. My daughter really feels the need to be able to talk to me. The technology here is, like everything else, waaaay beyond the U.S. I bought the phone from a physics teacher (seems like all those high school teachers are into something else in order to earn a satisfactory living) who had difficulty believing that my Arizona phone only needed to be charged on the weekends. THIS phone needs to be charged every 5 hours!! And the first TWO batteries were no good.

 

Yesterday also there were some men from Tegus at the co-operative because apparently the financial software had a glitch, and their company had written and installed the software. I mentioned to them (cause I doubted that they knew—and I was correct) that the co-op staff didn’t use the system and didn’t understand the system but, rather, ran a totally redundant manual system.  So we—the software analyst, I, and the co-op supervisor—had a brief conversation about why. The supervisor says this is necessary considering that at any time the power can go down for 2 or 3 days, and how would they function? I think we have opened a can of worms here. Talk about inefficiency. However, perhaps if (should I say when?) I understand the system, I can at least help them incorporate an efficient manual backup and at least USE the computerized system for analysis or something. Anyway it makes one wonder why they got a computerized system in the first place. It’s like those computers at the elementary school that all they do with is draw (so I hear; next month I’ll be able to observe, but considering they don’t have a functional printer, they would only be able to use it with educational software CDs which they probably don’t have.) Oh well, poco a poco (little by little).

 

Oh, and just when I was wondering how I was going to dig a hole for my plastic garbage, I learned that THERE IS GARBAGE PICK UP IN LANGUE!! Wow! I learned this because Monday morning as I was walking to my tutor’s house, I observed a truck pull up to a house, and a guy run up to the door and yell “garbage!” So I asked him, and sure enough, I can go the mayor’s office and pay for garbage to be picked up every Monday. Which reminds me of ANOTHER inefficiency. The mayor’s office came looking for me because they had a problem with their printer. I decided that they had a bad printer cartridge (things sit around for so long that I wonder how often they are expired or otherwise no good...). Turns out they had thrown out the last one before testing the new one and had no others. Turns out they have to buy the cartridge in Tegus, where the mayor happened to be at the moment, but there was no way to contact him. He’d be back in two days and probably wouldn’t return to Tegus for another couple of weeks. “How about the mail?” I asked. Takes 8 days they said. “So what will happen to your printing job?” I asked. It will wait, I was told. Soooo, I instructed them that in future they were always to buy two cartridges and never to throw the old one away before testing the new one. They of course replied that cartridges were very expensive, and I should tell this to the mayor. Poco a poco.

 

 

19-Jan-03

I’m sitting in a bakery in Choluteca waiting for the Internet Café to open in three hours. Oh well. So—some random thoughts. Yesterday I watched a neighbor make tamales, Honduran style. Into the masa (corn mush) she put a dab of Honduran rice (rice with a bit of carrots, peas, etc.) and a dab of chicken with sauce.  Based on what I saw, that chicken must have been plucked and then thrown whole into the pot! I couldn’t believe it, but one tamale actually received two chicken feet! Haven’t seen chicken feet since China.

 

Honduran tools. My friend Sherry thinks it very ZEN of me, but I recently spent a solid hour laying in my hammock and watching men shovel dirt, marveling at the beautiful arc of the dirt falling from the shovel. The shovel is the only Honduran tool familiar to me. I also watched these men dig a lovely six foot deep hole using nothing but that shovel and what appears to be a 1” diameter 6’ long spike. Poke it in to loosen the dirt, take up a shovel full… Hondurans have nothing but time. Every other man owns and carries his personal machete, a 2’ long knife. Most of them carry it in a fancy sheath. The machete is used for everything, starting with mowing the lawn. Can you imagine how hard it would be on the back to stoop for hours cutting grass? I talked once with a 19 year old kid who, for a living, used his machete to work the corn, which includes cutting down all the corn stalks when they die. Not surprisingly he said it was hard work. Hard work for a 19 year old; can you imagine how hard it would be for a 60 year old? Recently learned that Angel’s father, that drunken old one-armed reprobate father of 20, will be 80 years old at his next birthday!!

 

This past week was the fair, and Friday I went to the torriada. Not a bull fight, it turned out, but a bull RIDING event. However, never having attended a rodeo, I enjoyed it immensely. Some of the bulls were excitingly fierce, but I was thoroughly amused when several just sat down and refused to play, I mean literally SAT down with the rider sitting on them. Hysterical.

 

More on Honduran clothes. Matrons wear a costume of sorts. Nothing like embroidered blouses. No. These are two-piece tailored suits, kind of. Straight skirt. Top is short sleeved but tailored and fitted (in at the waist) to the hips. I think there were suits like this in the US once. The two pieces are almost always coordinated, flowered top, solid bottom, maybe the top trimmed in the bottom of something. The print is invariably large flowers.

 

19-Jan-03

Angel left this morning. He moved to Progresso to start a new life. I’m happy for him in that respect and hope he really does start a new life, but, for myself, it’s really depressing. He’s my only friend in Langue. He jokes with me, he has helped me innumerable times, he relates to me as a real person. I mean, we have a relationship that is as close to real as I expect to find here. I guess “real” translates into interactions that are familiar to me. We have conversations about things I can understand and relate to; he isn’t superficial and wrapped up in politeness. He’s a real scamp. He delights in correcting my Spanish and teasing me. Add to this the fact that the first week I knew him he propositioned me. My dream is to have sex with you, he said. Wow. I told him I was old enough to be his grandmother and that there was to be no more talk like that or he wouldn’t be welcome in my house. And that was that. But I was surprised to find myself “lusting in my heart,” as President Carter would say. Afterall, I don’t see myself as a 60 year old. Those dewlaps on my arms are my mother’s, not mine. That crape paper skin is my grandmother’s not mine. I am the 25 year old scanning the audience at the dance, hoping to see “THE guy.” I am the sexy young thing who wants those bedroom eyes looking my way, who daydreams about those full lips, and waits for glimpses of that taut, brown stomach. There are a million such images stored away in my brain, and Angel brings them all back. The mind is a powerful thing. I am reminded of that Star Trek episode where Spock, I think, helps his old captain, now only a brain on a machine, reunite with his old love on a planet where everything is a hologram designed by the mind, so that the two will live happily ever after as they used to be. Oh well. I know Angel, like everyone else here, is only after what he can get, but at least from him I get something in return, and I’ll miss him a lot.

 

Jan 23

Gina just called me, and during our conversation she mentioned that tomorrow is Friday. No, I insisted, it’s Thursday. So we got into a big discussion about how I would know what day it is. Since tomorrow turns out to be Friday afterall, I know Honduras has gotten to me again. It must be that hammock; I spend entirely too much time in that hammock. But that will probably all change in a week because with February, school starts and everyone is clamoring for me to do this and that.

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Angel didn’t leave afterall. Good thing I didn’t get all maudlin… Course I have transferred my sexual fantasies to another, fickle woman that I am. Honduras is mighty temping. Every man here wants a ticket to the U.S. and, especially since sexual permissiveness for men is socially acceptable, every man here is looking to bed any American woman who comes along, even 60 year olds. They are so blatant it is really funny. It’s just sad for the woman. In Choluteca the other day, the waitress in the bakery where I sat for 3 hours told me, in tears, how her husband had left her and her two young daughters 3 months previously for her maid. Not surprisingly, there is no such thing as child support in Honduras. They generally just go off and forget their children. I do recall seeing a billboard once that said something like “men, take care of your children.” I should think it’s a real social problem. Claudia (my Talanga friend) had told me that common-law marriage is very common here. Her own husband’s parents have never been married and one of his brothers has a child and “wife” but isn’t married. It makes it very easy to up and leave after 20 years and take up with a new woman. Claudia says that happens a lot. She told me that SHE had insisted on marriage and told her husband that if he ever screwed around on her, she would divorce him. Good for her. God, my tutor, Catalino, more or less said I’ll divorce my wife, and you and I can live in my house in San Pedro Sula. I can see why our trainers told us so emphatically: NEVER believe the Honduran men.

 

Febrero 6

Last Sunday I bought some berries at the market, and yesterday got around to doing the mandatory soak in Clorox treated water so I could eat them. Icccckkkky. Oh well. Think I’ll make them into jam, I thought. So I dumped in a bunch of sugar and made jam—only about a cup, but it is delicious. I was talking about this at the co-operative, but was told that berries were only for drinks, not for jam. And pineapple is the only fruit that can be made into jam and put inside pastries. Why, I asked. Because. During training we heard about this attitude—passivity or rigidity or traditionalism or—and it’s a real barrier to change here. People have difficulty thinking out of the box.

 

School starts this month, and this week parents are registering their kids at the high school (ages 12 through 18). Parents do this, not the kids. And they pay—L.600 annually this year. (Which I am sure is another reason that most kids drop out of school at age 12.) And if they fill up, not room for another kid, you have to go to a high school somewhere else—which I suppose means further away. So I had a little discussion with a neighbor about taxes. I don’t think Hondurans pay taxes, at least not consistently. Businesses that want to grow  (not the micro-businesses like pulperias) register and pay taxes, but the government has difficulty collecting. I explained to my neighbor how Americans pay tons of money in taxes so the government has money for schools and roads and stuff.

 

More on clothing. I meant to tell you that all these women who sell things carry them on their heads like women in Africa. Some of the women have a little cloth “rim” on top of their head to help balance the box or jar or basket or whatever. And what do people do for sun protection? Men wear cowboy hats and women wear towels or use umbrellas. That’s right, towels. They have a towel, small or large, draped over their head. Multipurpose. In the bus they can hold it up to block the sun, and they can wipe the sweat from their face. Umbrellas I expect cost much more than towels, plus you need to use a hand to hold it. Men are not “allowed” umbrellas according to Patrick, a former PCV in a nearby town. You never see women wearing hats either, but I sure miss mine (or my sister’s rather—thanks again Deedee!) but I left it in a bus recently and will have real difficulty finding another.

 

It has started to get hot. December/January are the coldest months here. “Cold” means that you are not sopping wet ALL the time, and nights are quite pleasant. I always used my sleeping bag as a blanket (and in January when we had “reconnect” training in Santa Lucia, everyone FROZE to death. Santa Lucia is high up in the mountains; here in the South we’re only at 1200’ (I know cause I brought my trusty altimeter!). So now we’re learning what really HOT is. Even in the shade you’re wet all the time. The next two months—March/April—are the HOTTEST months here. I hear that there is never a breeze, and even at night it doesn’t cool down. I started sleeping in the hammock this week. I hear it’s cooler. It wasn’t bad; I was surprised.

 

The other day the co-op was preparing invitations for its 500 members for the annual meeting. They used a hand-cranked mimeograph machine—haven’t seen one of those in more than 40 years! Then, after all 500 were printed, folded and stapled, they hand-addressed them. (Now I have another project; teach them how to do Word’s mail-merge.) Now that they’re all addressed (name only), they’ll pay some kid L.80 to personally deliver them. No mail system you know. Well, not a mail system like we know. After all, MY mail is personally delivered—but that’s because my tutorial is down the street from the postmistress, and she walks by me all the time.

 

March 25

Wow, more than a month and a half. Oh well, I have a new computer so I should be able to write again. Last month I attended two very interesting meetings, the annual meeting of the Co-operative and a town meeting in a nearby aldea (unincorporated area). Here in Honduras I’m frequently reminded of what life must have been like in the 19th century in the U.S. For example, voting is very simple—a show of hands! The Co-op needed to elect some new officers. There were like 300 people there, and first they asked for nominations. Then they voted, with about 6 “monitors” around the room counting the hands in their sections. Not very precise, but the job got done. The town meeting was REALLY interesting. The mayor of Langue is apparently their mayor also, and apparently they wanted a doctor in the health center there. So on this day the mayor was explaining why they had to institute a fee for visiting the health center, how the doctor would cost x amount of limperas a month, how that was way below what doctors could get elsewhere, etc., etc. The young doctor spoke briefly. They discussed alternative ways to get this money and ended up voting to approve a 20 limpera fee per visit.

 

Last month I also did two weeks of English classes for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. This was only one hour three times a week, or 90 student hours total, but it was fun. The kids were fun and really loved the class. Taught them to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “my name is…,” and the ABC song plus about 7 verbs and the regular conjugation. Kids all over town were begging to get into the class and some wouldn’t take no for an answer. To be fair to all, however, I went to the school and arranged with the principle to teach this 6 hour class to all the 6th graders (cause next year they start learning English formally). Also, the high school students are anxious for a class, so I am putting together a program and ordering some books and cassettes. Apparently the English classes in Honduras are usually horrendous because the teachers don’t know English. In Langue the poor English teacher has no books and 2000 students. Needless to say, the kids get about an hour a week of lousy instruction. So my program will require that the students BUY a book and cassette. Also I have an assistant! Elwin grew up as an illegal emigrant in Phoenix, AZ, came to Honduras to visit his father at age 14, and has been unable to get back to the U.S. since. Now he’s 18 and coming to the conclusion that he might as well make a life for himself here. His English is so fluent that he would be a wonderful resource for Langue if they would only utilize it—I mean PAY him. So anyway, I’ll teach him to be an English teacher and see what happens.

 

The community doesn’t seem interested in anything other than English. I visited some lady hammock makers and tried to get them interested in learning to make other products because there’s no market for hammocks. But they were pretty apathetic and unwilling to do anything. Maybe it’s because most things require an investment and an act of faith. Like the lady in the park who I’m trying to interest in selling Jell-O to the high school kids. She wants to branch out and sell other things but doesn’t want to try Jell-O. Maybe it’s too different or maybe she doesn’t have 100 limps to buy the raw materials. Whatever. Anyway she’s willing to let ME sell Jell-O from her refrigerator, so I hope to be able to convince here that she can make a good profit with it.

 

March 26, 2003

Yesterday I experienced the power of the law in Honduras. I had hired a carpenter to build me a little table and two chairs. He wanted half the money up front and delivered the table and one chair on time but asked for the rest of the money, saying he would deliver the remaining chair the next day. Needless to say, he did not deliver the second chair. He kept saying “mañana.” After a month—yesterday—I asked my knowledgeable friend, Aulalio Romero, one of our vigilantes at the co-op, what to do. He sent me to the alcaldía policía, the city police or the municipal court (?) where I told my story to the official who typed up a formal complaint(?) and told me to come back in a day. (He wanted to know my title—am I licenciada [have a college degree] or profesora [teach in the escuela]. In Honduras these titles are important!) Anyway, within four hours the carpenter was at my house apologizing and giving me back my money. Cool. Romero had also told me how to deal with the bus drivers who wouldn’t give me the discount. Simply tell them “no problem. I will write down your license plate number and tell the transit police.” It works like a charm. So now I am familiar with three types of police. The “preventive” police I think are the normal crime fighters, the ones who work with the bad guys. In Tegus a couple times I’ve seen these guys stop a young man on the street and search him—nothing like the US “probable cause” except that he looks like he might be a hoodlum. The hoodlums all have tattoos, so of course they ask the guy to take off his shirt, and they search him for weapons. Considering how the bad guys outnumber the police, people like this presence. Lately I’ve seen them and their machine guns in the Mercado in Tegus where I have to catch my buses, and I am VERY pleased to see them. That Mercado has a VERY bad reputation, and I’m always a bit nervous there.

 

March 29, 2003

I’ve been meaning to mention another thing about the buses. They sometimes have snake oil salesmen! A man or woman gets on with a suitcase and starts talking about the efficacy of some health product and then walks up the aisle handing out the product for folks to see, touch, smell, etc., talking all the while, and then comes back up the aisle collecting product or money. My favorite one is the cure-all for intestinal bugs; these guys have a visual! Big color drawings of all the microscopic organisms that do those horrible things to your insides. Vitamins are very popular, but, unfortunately, the ones I’ve looked at have not been multivitamins but only one thing, like iron. Religion is another popular talk—hoping for contributions I guess—and once a blind person was led on board by a child to walk up the aisles begging.

 

It’s mango season. Wow! Yesterday some neighborhood children asked if they could climb my fence to get at the mango tree next door (the house is unoccupied; I heard the owner went to the States…), and they gave me three mangos as they left. So this morning I breakfasted on mangoes. Talk about sensual. Remember that famous scene from “Tom Jones” (well those of you MY age) where Tom and his girl friend are eating chicken or something and getting the grease all over everything and licking everything? Mangoes are like that. Peeling them is kind of like a cross between peeling a kiwi and an orange: the peel comes off like an orange but the fruit sticks to the peel like a kiwi so you can lick the peel—and of course you NEED to lick it cause it’s very juicy, and just peeling it is getting sweet mango juice all over your hands. After it’s peeled you have this huge seed, probably twice the size of an avocado, with incredibly soft, sweet, gushy mango fruit adhering to it. Not much fruit to the mango so you have to get it in your mouth and work that seed. Believe me a knife and fork wouldn’t do it. Afterwards you take a bath…

 

4/4/03

The other day in the coop a woman came in to get a check for a loan she was making. I watched as she entered a thumb print in lieu of a signature. After she left, I confirmed that, yes, she could neither read nor write. Apparently this is common in the last generation because outside of the towns there weren’t any schools. Nowadays, the government has put schools out in the aldeas. Wednesday I was asked to teach an English class at one of these schools. Since I’ve been doing it in town, I figured it was only fair to do it out there, too. So Angel escorted me to what had been his primary school, outside of town probably no more than a 30 minute walk but markedly and obviously poorer than Langue. The school was pretty new, about three classrooms, but the 6th grade was combined with the 5th grade because they didn’t have enough teachers. Even so, I think there were only about 25 students. Even this was too many for me, having no experience teaching little kids, but I went through the A,B,Cs anyway.

 

So I’ve been thinking that Honduras seems to be like the U.S. must have been in the 1800’s. Out in the country folks are scraping out a living and when they can afford to pay a schoolmarm, and can locate someone who has had a high school education, they’re in business. Here you only need a college education to teach in the high school—although I know at least one kid without one who’s teaching computer stuff in a high school in Santa Barbara. So anyway, I was thinking, why didn’t Honduras get into the 20th, let alone the 21st, century? Wish I knew more economics, but I decided it must have something to do with resources. The U.S. is very rich in resources; Honduras is very poor in resources—like they have NONE—no good farm land, no minerals, no forests, no nada. So once again, we Americans need to appreciate what we have. There but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. I am, again, left wondering, what on earth can we do to help? I have no clue. I and the other volunteers experience mostly apathy. Things may change soon for ME though. My manager wants to move me to another site. She thinks Langue is not taking advantage of my skills and knowledge; she doesn’t want me teaching English. That’s probably for the best, since I’ve come to realize that the politics of Langue preclude hiring poor Elwin in any capacity, so there’s no way to set up a sustainable English program. It’s very depressing. I hope my manager knows what she’s doing ‘cause personally I’ll be surprised if it’s any different somewhere else.

 

April 9, 2003

I believe Japan also has no natural resources to speak of yet they have done well. So maybe it’s not resources. Maybe it’s subjugation. Central America has been subjugated for 500 years. Anyway it’s a very complicated problem.

 

It’s been so hot here that, just as I was warned, all I want to do all afternoon is lie in front of the fan. Currently have three classes of 6th grade English in the morning. Temporarily stopped the English class in the aldea cause I can’t face the walk in the afternoon.

 

April 23, 2003

Honduras shuts down for a week for “Semana Santa” so last week all the Peace Corps volunteers also got a week off. I joined four friends in a jaunt to the Mosquitia. Having seen “The Mosquito Coast” and “Medicine Man” I felt I just HAD to visit the last remained virgin forest in Honduras if not all of Central America. After a four hour bus trip to Tegus, I treated myself to a night in the Hotel San Martin and an opportunity to enjoy a special breakfast of waffles with real butter (the only place I’ve found it in Honduras). Then my group and I had a six hour bus trip to La Ceiba in the North, got up at four the next day to catch a little plane for an hour ride to Palacio. We landed in a soccer field!! (Taking off from that soccer field a week later was a REAL adventure!!) We immediately caught a water taxi to go three hours up the Rio Platino into the Mosquitia. Three hours sitting upright on a plank of wood, two or three abreast was not too much fun, especially when it started to rain. Then the pilot broke out a long piece of plastic tarp, so we passengers held the tarp over our heads and remained dry. This part of the river reminded me of a delta (which it is). As a kid I saw a lot of the Sacramento delta and the southern San Francisco Bay sloughs (I was a Mariner Girl Scout), and this was very reminiscent of that. Even the vegetation reminded me of California or what I imagine parts of the southern Mississippi look like. After awhile we detoured into some side channels which reminded me of Disneyland’s jungle ride, very narrow waterway with lots of jungle type greenery—but no spear throwing natives!!

 

My group had planned to go all the way to our destination in one day—eight or more hours in the canoe--but we couldn’t find a free boat, so we stayed the night after the three hour ride. Beans, rice, and water, no electricity, outhouse, river water for bathing, brush your teeth on the porch and spit into the… wherever. The next morning we hired a boatman to take us up river another 8 hours to our final destination, Las Marias. All the boats in the Mosquitia are actual dugout canoes, long but narrow. Five passengers can sit Indian style in a row. One boatman runs the outboard motor (modern advance!) in the back, and in the front another is lookout and guide, directing the other into the proper channels and occasionally steering with a four foot hand carved oar or poling with a stout branch fashioned into a pointed pole. Overhead the sun was horrendous. I was wishing for an awning or at least an umbrella but had to settle for covering up completely. The others put on fresh sun block every 15 minutes. The Rio Platino is very shallow; I don’t think I ever saw that four foot oar get covered up, but plenty of times we were scraping the bottom! The river was maybe 100 feet wide with a pretty brisk current. There was always a nice breeze in the Mosquitia so all in all the climate was a lot more comfortable than what I had been used to in the South (I am writing this in my co-op, and when I entered this nice air conditioned building this morning, my blouse was literally wringing wet after two hours of teaching English in the un-air-conditioned school.)

 

All the houses in the Mosquitia are one room wooden huts, on stilts, with thatched roofs. I don’t think there were any towns between our two stops, but we saw a lot of onesey-twosey houses. No stores or restaurants in between either so eating was a problem if you hadn’t brought snack food. The drivers had difficulty finding gas to buy; a couple of times we had to try several different places. We saw a lot of other canoes on the water, most without motors, propelled simply with poles and/or that oar. Once I saw a dog in the prow, his front feet together at the point of the prow and one each of his hind feet on either side of the canoe; what a kick!  Lots of cows wandering around the shore, lots of birds, especially white egrets like I saw along the Guadalupe River in San Jose, California, except here there were tons of them. Also saw a couple of what I think were the same blue herons that I saw in San Jose and a couple of times a 1’ diameter turtle sunning himself. However, the high point of the trip was the CROCODILE on the SANDBANK!! No kidding. And I saw this the day AFTER I had spent an hour swimming in that river!! Some other folks saw a white faced monkey, a friend of mine saw tiger TRACKS, my group saw a wild pig (big deal, we have tons in Green Valley, right!!), and I saw a snake. Altogether, not much wild life for a jungle, but we were only there for a matter of days.

 

Never saw, thank God!, any druggies (who probably would have just killed us outright according to the Peace Corps), but, ironically, while I was gone a druggie jet actually crashed in Langue, right down the street from my house, killing the pilot and co-pilot and strewing millions of dollars worth of cocaine around. I head lots of people picked some up, but only Angel was caught and thrown in jail for the night. Scared the  

 

…was termed intermediate to advanced so I opted not to go. Good thing cause the kids came back reporting it had been the most strenuous hike they’d ever done. Instead I took a 6 hour hike and turned around before the end because it was too difficult. Everything you do there is with a guide, big surprise. You’d get lost in 10 minutes otherwise. Anyway I DID get into the primary forest, and it DID look like a jungle and like the environment of Medicine Man kind of. The path was very narrow; my guide used his machete once in awhile even though the trail was obviously well maintained. At one point we came to a stream and had to take off our shoes and socks, wade across, and put them back on again—without a towel of course. Leaves can remove SOME dirt… But after awhile, when I was huffing and puffing up hill and down hill, I asked him—so what’s up ahead, anything different? He said no, at the end a little view, but the trees are the same, etc. So, I said let’s go back. Thank God, because going back up those hills I had a really hard time for awhile, but happily I was by myself and didn’t inconvenience anyone. I think I got dehydrated—it’s so hard to drink enough water under those circumstances. No one even tells you to bring some!!

 

The “hospidaje,” or hostel, we stayed at in Las Marias was run a nice family of mixed Mosquito and Pesch natives. Apparently mixed villages are very rare; generally the two groups don’t get along. Diana was a good cook even though too often our meal was only water and beans and rice. My friends kept pointing out that everything has to be trekked in, except maybe bananas and chocolate. We got some excellent hot chocolate several times and some equally excellent chocolate CAKE a few times. The natives were selling chocolate (I bought some), artisan products (purses, too-small hats, water bottle holders (bought one for my hike), and cheap looking carved animals.

 

On our return trip we headed for a Garifuna village on the coast where supposedly we could see sea turtles come ashore and lay their eggs (it’s the season) and see a performance of Garifuna dance. Unfortunately, I took an instant dislike to the hospidaje we stopped at. The Garifunas have a different culture than the Mosquito and Pesch, and our hosts clearly had NOT attended the workshop on tourism that the Las Marias folks had. The place was filthy. Two of the group got sick and blamed the food (I refused to eat there), so after a HORRENDOUS night which, sadly, did NOT include turtles, we hired a special boat and got the heck out of there. Our last night, back in Palacio, meant that we didn’t have to get up at 4am to catch our plane, plus it was a motel with SHOWER!!

 

Back in La Ceiba we learned that Tegus airport was shut down because of pollution. What a shock. Apparently this is common when the people start BURNING the terrain for farming?? Anyway, I waited 6 hours in the airport for my flight. Might as well have taken the 6 hour bus ride. However, on the way home I was shocked to see the entire country in a haze from the fires. Bizarre. You’d think the government would take some action since this is so disruptive to travel and commerce. Oh well.

 

So now I’m back home in Langue, sopping wet from the heat, but it’s nice to be home.

 

May 4, 2003

Spent last week in Tegus with a medical problem. This included two days in the hospital so now I can talk about medical care in Honduras. On the other hand, I can really only talk about health care for the rich as I was in a private hospital. The Peace Corps gives volunteers the best available care. So I visited a LOT of doctors. Interestingly, all the doctors have their consulting rooms in the same room as their office—so first you sit down in front of the desk and talk, and then, if he/she wants to examine you, you turn around and sit on the examination table. If you need a blood test or x-ray or anything, you have to go to the other place, then return later to get the results and bring them to the doctor. All the doctors in the various hospitals have offices off a central hallway. They have “secretaries” at a desk out in the hallway who book their appointments. I saw one secretary arrive, unlock her desk, take out a telephone and plug it in. Guess you can’t leave a telephone unattended…

 

The hospital was, not surprisingly, a far cry from an American hospital. I think the bed was broken cause I saw no way to move it up or down; so I could only lie flat.  No one ever came to fill up the water jug, pushing the button for the nurse had no effect, and I could receive phone calls but not make them (or at least I couldn’t figure out how to do it). The big difference was the food. At meal times a girl would plunk down a 6” picnic plate and a 4oz. cup with an appropriate small plastic picnic fork or spoon and a paper napkin (Honduran paper napkins are always 2-ply whereas American paper napkins are 4-ply). The breakfast and supper beverage was always coffee with milk and sugar, like it or not. Lunch beverage was a juice like tamarindo. Needless to say, the amount of food on a 6” picnic plate wouldn’t keep a bird alive. I had a private room and air conditioning but no mosquito net so had to sleep under the sheet.

 

May 7, 2003

The other day a man came into the co-op holding a chicken (feathers and all) by the feet and wanting to sell it. No takers. But I bought some frozen chicken pieces and made some chicken soup. Put the chicken pieces in water with some carrots, onion, and celery. For spice I could add salt and espacia (a mix of cumin and pepper sold by the teaspoon in paper envelopes). I had found some stuff that looked like peppercorns, so I threw some of them in. But that’s about it. (One day I found cloves, paprika, something that looks like dill). After awhile, and in their own good time,  I threw in yucca, potatoes, carrots, string beans, and little corncobs. Someone PLEASE look up and tell me the nutritional story on yucca!! Not bad soup. However, I had to eat soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then throw the rest away cause the pot wouldn’t fit in the tiny refrigerator. Wonder if I could buy a single piece of chicken?

 

May 9, 2003

I had been telling Edwin how much I like quesadillas so yesterday his grandmother volunteered to show me how to make them. In the western U.S. quesadillas are flour tortillas with jack cheese melted inside and, in a restaurant, maybe some other stuff like chicken. In Honduras a quesadilla is a cheesy, bready muffin. Edwin came by with a list of ingredients to buy that he expected to cost over L.200 including 10# of corn and 10# of cheese. My God, that’s enough for an army! However, I guess normally grandma sells the quesadillas so I thought it would be interesting to learn if it was a profitable enterprise. So I had Edwin keep track of the expenditures which included L.5 for fire wood! (She uses the beehive shaped oven to bake.) Making quesadillas was similar to making the rosquillas we made in Talanga. Grind together corn and cheese. She separated about half the corn/cheese mixture and into the second bucket put a bunch of cinnamon sticks and what I thought was peppercorns and turns out to be that spice cake spice. After grinding she mixed in margarine, eggs, sugar and other stuff. Of course, no mixer. This was totally a hand job. And of course, no measuring spoons. I about died when she threw in a bunch of baking powder. So much for the difference between 2 tablespoons and 2-1/2 tablespoons let alone the difference between 7 tablespoons and 9 tablespoons. Oh well. The Peace Corps has a terrible time getting folks to produce products CONSISTENTLY (which is the first requirement for selling) and this is obviously one reason why. Well to make a long story short, we ended up with 76 quesadillas and dividing that into the total cost came out to a unit cost of 2.89 limps. They insisted you couldn’t sell quesadillas for more that L.2 so you lose money every time you sell one. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. It’s what I have suspected for some time but have difficulty believing it. I would love to do the same analysis on the pineapple filled pastries she makes. Oh well.

 

5/13/03

(Regarding the quesadillas: When I said mixing was a “hand job” I meant that literally. They didn’t use a spoon or fork, only hands.)

 

Yesterday I spent in Nacaomi getting a driver’s license. Edwin had recently gotten one and offered to shepard me through the process, so I took him up on it. Never know when you want a driver’s license.  Anyway, first I had to get an eye exam at an oculist shop. Well actually I just had to PAY for the exam paper but didn’t actually get an exam. Edwin told them not to do it. Then I had to go to a doctor and get a “physical”—meaning height and weight. And you of course have to pay for this, too. (But I didn’t--cause the doctor was very interested in the fact that I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and we had a lengthy discussion about the disastrous state of English instruction in Honduras. Nice man.) THEN you need to go to a photographer and get a passport picture (I had one left over from my diving certificate). Only THEN can you go to the Transit Police station. Then you have to listen to an officer talk for 5 minutes on driving signs. (I, of course, understood not a word) and then take a written test. I, of course, didn’t understand much, but Edwin helped me. This was all very funny because HE had not taken a test—he had a friend working there that day and didn’t have to do anything… Anyway, the process was kind of interesting. The test had a lot of difficult questions considering that we had no booklet to read or study. And some, if not all, of the questions had nothing to do with driving. Like the definition of pedestrian and the definition of roadway and “what do you call it when you run over someone?” Hell, I don’t know; I wrote “vehicular manslaughter,” but, again, I have no idea which questions I got wrong cause they didn’t tell me and didn’t give me back the test. I passed—barely. Or maybe THAT’s why one of the officers was hinting for a bribe… There were three of us going through this process who already had American driver’s licenses, but one of these guys couldn’t read Spanish, and Edwin and I were trying to help him until the officers kicked us out of the room. I told the officer that in the US, the staff would interpret for the illiterate person. Well, whether it was our efforts or a bribe, eventually the guy passed the test. Then I had to come up with a car, but Edwin just asked someone else if I could borrow his car for the test. (THIS could never happen in the U.S.!!!) He said yes, and off I went. All I had to do was start the car, drive across the street and down about 20 feet, then back up to where I started. That was it. Then they took my picture (the picture I provided is for their files) and my information, including my blood type (Edwin had just made up a blood type; it’s just another question like what’s your birth date or your mother’s name). Finally I paid my L.250 for a two year license (didn’t want to plunk down L.600 for 5 years). Later I discovered they had entered my nationality as Hondureno. What a kick; I guess I can vote here now!

 

Sunday, Mother’s Day, was pretty bloody here. A policeman guarding the drug plane was shot five times (and killed). I should ask the police, but I bet that was the first time a policeman was killed here in the line of duty. And then a truck ran over a drunk in the marketplace. I bet THAT happens a lot. Sundays especially there are drunks passed out all over the place.

 

May 14, 2003

I’ve had the computer in the coop because of the air conditioning, and I’ve been playing music for the ladies. Yesterday and today the darn computer was shutting down every few minutes; very frustrating, and I was about to complain to my brother when it occurred to me that it could be a power problem. So I plugged into a battery, and, sure enough, that took care of the problem. Here in Honduras when you buy a computer, you also need to buy a battery thingy to plug everything into because the electricity FLUCTUATES so much. I guess that hithertofore I haven’t used my computer enough to notice. The ladies really like the music. I also found that four of my movies have Spanish subtitles, but I don’t know when they’d have an opportunity to watch. Too bad I don’t have external speakers or I could have a “movie night.” Probably everyone here has seen a movie on TV, but I wonder how many, if any, have seen a movie in a theatre.

 

By the way, the murder of the policeman last week was NOT the first according to my co-op guard, Luis. The first he remembers was two policeman who killed and were killed by two fellas in the cemetery for heaven’s sake. Another died in the city hall, but he doesn’t remember the circumstances. So that isn’t too many in about 45 years…

 

Myra’s grandfather died yesterday so this afternoon I’ll go to the funeral.

 

May 15, 2003

Turns out Mayra’s grandfather was also the father of my next door neighbor, Jose, so I saw lots of people I knew. Because Mayra is a member and employee of the co-op, they wrote up a paper signed and sealed by the President and Secretary. I don’t know if they gave the widow money or just the paper, but anyway, Carlos (the President) drove us all over to the widow’s house after lunch where “the vigil” was in process. The casket (the little glass window visible so you could view the deceased) was in the living room, and all the furniture had been temporarily replaced with chairs so about 50 ladies were sitting there. All the men were hanging about in the back yard. We paid our condolences to the widow, viewed the deceased, sat around for awhile, and left. At 5:00 the casket was moved to the Evangelical church for a service. The “hearse” was a pickup truck with a device on the bed of the truck for holding the casket. After the service the casket was returned to the pickup truck and driven to the cemetery. All the mourners walked from the church to the cemetery. There was quite a crowd. I thought they were largely family until I learned that the man had only four children and two siblings, and one of his sons is in the United States. Anyway, attire was very casual, normal clothes. (At the viewing, the widow was even wearing her apron.) I even saw a couple of sleeveless t-shirts.

 

At the cemetery gate, the family took one more look at the grandfather, and then closed the door of the casket. A couple of young men were crying, and one woman was sobbing, but in general it was not a very somber occasion. Friends and family simply accompanied the casket to the grave. Finally, the casket was carried from the cemetery gate to the family plot where the tomb had already been opened. This is one of those above ground rectangular stone or cement monuments. Anyway, there was no further service; some men just put the casket into the tomb, added the flowers, and then, with cement, sealed the tomb with cement blocks. People drifted away all along. I talked for awhile with my next door neighbor, and then, as it was dusk, figured I had better start for home and left.

 

Romero told me that Catholic funerals last forever. First they have tons of food and drink each day for nine days. Then they repeat this party at 40 days and again at 6 months. Very expensive.  I asked Aricela if the family needed to buy the plot, and she told me that this cemetery was ancient, and the family solely needed to get a ticket from the city hall. But there is another, new cemetery where people need to buy the plots.

 

May 24, 2003

Just completed five days working as translator (????) for some Mississippi medical missionaries (Baptists and Methodists) who were here. Most useful I’ve felt since I’ve been here. There was a children’s dentist, a regular dentist, a pediatrician, GP, and a nurse practitioner in addition to nurses, pharmacists, and some helpers. The activity was sponsored by a local NGO (non-government organization); they paid for all the medicine. However, the missionaries paid their OWN transportation, food, and lodging. Nice vacation… It was VERY hot, and the power went off frequently. Generally my task was triage—filling out their name, etc. and what their problem was. The other translators were the four nearby Mormon missionaries and another Peace Corps volunteer from a nearby city. I convinced Edwin to come help, and the pharmacists fell in love with him. I’m sure it was a wonderful experience for his self-esteem. Now he should be able to see himself doing something meaningful when “he grows up.” ‘Course then Angel also wanted to help (especially since the helpers were given free meals); he eventually talked himself into being front door monitor (which turned out to be a necessary function).

 

My job was very rewarding. Some of the time I sat in with a doctor to help translate for the patient, but both doctors had a smidgen of Spanish. Once I worked with the two doctors as they dealt with an infant’s infection, and once I held the flashlight (yes, FLASHLIGHT) while a dentist stitched up a man’s gums. (That man was missing his 3 front teeth, but insisted there were teeth in there, and they hurt. So the dentist said, ok, I’ll slice him open; low and behold there were two teeth in there!) The worst thing I saw was the man who had problems with his feet. I said, “Show me,” and he proceeded to take his boots off even though the people around were saying, “no, no!” Sure enough, he had the most disgusting and evil smelling set of fungus-covered feet you can imagine. Then there was the woman who was 3 months late but insisted she wasn’t pregnant; she was pregnant. Almost every person who came in said he/she had a rash, headache, stomach ache, back ache, general body pain, pain with urination, eye pain, and parasites. It’s true that their were a zillion rashes, but for the rest—the word got around fast that if you wanted pain medicine you had to describe some pain, if you wanted glasses for reading you had to describe eye strain, if you wanted vitamins you had to describe “poor appetite,” etc. However, EVERYone got vitamins, etc. so it was confusing mess. I just would have given everyone who came in the door a sack of over-the-counter drugs and THEN asked who wanted to consult a doctor. Because MANY people couldn’t get in. It was a stampede all the time. On the last day, when there weren’t any more medicines, I just explained to the person, and then asked “what is your MAIN problem?” And even after the doctors quit, and the medicine was all gone, people STILL wanted in, wanted medicine, pointed out their little child or their aged parent… It was sad and not very well managed. Too many people who could afford stuff were in there getting free stuff while too many poor people couldn’t even get in the door. Sadder than that was the fact that this was very LIMITED medical care. The dentists could only extract teeth, not fill them. The doctors could only prescribe general medicines. Anyone with other needs was simply referred to another physician—and we know they don’t have the money for that.

 

Anyway, on the last day the mayor hosted a dinner for the entire crew. Unfortunately, many didn’t attend and so I found myself the only English/Spanish speaker (well, the best English/Spanish speaker), and so the head guy asked ME to say grace in Spanish. Oh God. Talk about stress. Never even said the word “God.” However, I DID manage to sneak in the word for Lord once…

 

June 2, 2003

Wrapping it up in Langue today, including working on diplomas for my English students. I was missing a lot of “complete” names and asked Areceli for help. Interestingly, she not only knew their father’s last name, but their mother’s last name and their middle name. Guess that’s what comes of everyone growing up in a small town.

 

 

Sabanagrande

 

June 5, 2003

Sabanagrande is a lovely town, with streets paved with cobblestones. I’ll be working for a foundation, Ambos, funded to provide food and other support to needy children and the elderly. It’s funded in part by a company here that fabricates and exports various high-end decorator catalog items in clay, wrought iron, and corn husk (flowers and dolls). The “factory” is a fascinating place for me, having spent most of my career involved in manufacturing. The American owner has instilled a lot of quality and consistency controls. For example, I observed potters at their wheel periodically pull out a tape measure to measure the diameter of their product. I also watched a lady constructing a new corn husk angel to a customer-provided spec drawing. However, since I’m working for the foundation, I had to tear myself away and spend the day at “the center.” The foundation managed to acquire a huge building from one of the state’s children’s agencies. Now they hope to get sufficient funding to utilize the space for one thing or another. For now, they simply FEED three meals a day to 54 assorted children, from infant to 18 years, I believe, plus a number of oldsters. The children are the lowest of the low, some having been horribly abused, but all terribly poor. The center gives them food and school supplies (notebook, pencil, uniform) and books. I had thought that the government supplied these things at the elementary school level but am now learning that the government merely provides teachers and classrooms/desks. Which means the poor are at a terrible disadvantage.

 

The center also provides a place for the children to congregate. There are a few toys, a TV and vcr and a number of children’s tapes. However, everything is in English, for heaven’s sake. It’s interesting to observe the children raptly watching, for example, “The Princess Bride,” without understanding a single word. Their storybooks are also in English. (Feel free to send stuff here to

                             Fundación Ambos

                             Sabanagrande

                             F.M., Honduras      

                             Central America

 

The children can bathe if they want to—no towels or hot water—but they’re grateful for it. Just like Angel’s family in Langue. It’s just so hard to grasp what it means to live in an environment where WATER is a precious resource. Reminds me of “Dune,” but, for heaven’s sake that was science fiction! I think it’s going to be hard to work here. You immediately start to see where MORE is needed. After reading the menu for two weeks I said to the manager, “the children get milk only once a week (with cornflakes).” Yes, he said; it costs like L.18,000 to feed them for 15 days. Our children get milk three times a day, at least, but these poor kids are kept alive on a diet of carbs. I joined a group for lunch today—beans, rice, ½ a potato with Honduran butter. At first the woman brought me the plate with a hardboiled egg and piece of fried baloney, but I said, no, I want the same as them. Still she brought me their meal plus a hard boiled egg which I promptly, surreptitiously slipped to my nearest kids. The kids, like all kids, are as sweet as can be, fighting to hold my hand while we walked, making drawings for me, breaking open a coconut seed to give me the little piece of nut meat inside.

 

My first job here is to build a web site to advertise the foundation and hopefully increase their donations. They would like to be more self-sufficient. I have no experience in the charity business but know that it is a constant battle to raise money. Plus the founder doesn’t want a boring web site and doesn’t want to use pictures of pathetic children to raise money. He wants these children to make something that they can give to people in exchange for their donation. Any ideas? I suggested that the children could draw on clay objects that the parent factory could then fire. They liked that idea. I think children’s drawings are always popular. Right now they have a 19 year old French girl working here with the children (she was sent for 6 months by some European foundation. She’s going to get them to make embroidered cloth belts. (Girls here learn embroidery in school.) She told me it’s difficult to get the children interested in activities because they like the TV. I’m going to ask the director more—they should restrict that activity and offer others—whatever THEY are. Again, any ideas? I don’t know much about children. I saw a basketball, and they have a piano for heaven’s sake—but no music and no basketball court.  I think I can show them how to make checkers and a checkerboard.  But see? Already I’m getting off track; I’m supposed to be working on a WEB SITE.

 

June 9, 2003

Well, I painted a checkerboard on the porch with a permanent marker and had the kids find a bunch of bottle tops and started teaching them how to play checkers. This is rather a pathetic place; there are NO activities. I think it’s mind boggling to watch 20 kids watch a movie in ENGLISH. Anyone remember how to play 4 square or other games with one ball? I wonder if hopscotch is too basic. Humm, tomorrow I’ll show them hopscotch. Today at lunch I joined the old people. I won’t be able to do it again; it’s too depressing. They were obviously hungry cause they sure cleaned their plates. I didn’t; Honduran spaghetti, pataste, and tortillas just doesn’t cut it. Again the lady in charge cheated and gave me lemonade while everyone else had water.

 

June 10, 2003

The kids wore me out today. They have absolutely NO social skills, so I feel like a third grade teacher. Deedee, HELP!!! Unfortunately, I have no experience with handling 20 youngsters; they need a teacher or social director or something. I made several checkerboards, and there’s always someone who wants to play WITH ME, but if I don’t play, they can’t seem to get through a game what with arguing and hitting each other. I made a hopscotch and the same thing happened. I made them sit in timeout if they hit one another, and I make them say please and thank you, but it’s exhausting. I hate to just abandon them, but I don’t have the energy for this. I asked Holland (the owner of the factory) if his woodworkers could make some dice, so today I have about 20 assorted wooden dice. Beautiful. Now I can paint MORE board games on the sidewalk that the kids can’t handle. I guess I should slow down and focus on one thing at a time. I talked with Holland about my ideas for the web page, and he liked them. He is dead set against pity-evoking photos of sad, forlorn children, and so am I. I suggested a slogan of “Keep them laughing” with fotos of happy children. You know children are irrepressible and resilient. Today I joined the kids at “Flora’s” for lunch (they fight for me to come to their comidors [eating places]), and it was a delicious vegetable soup. (Again), Flora gave me Kool-Aid, but the children had no beverage.

 

June 15, 2003

A rainy Sunday and I should have stayed indoors, but during one lull I decided to walk into town and check out the market. Langue’s Sunday market is huge afterall. Oops. Turns out that Sabanagrande’s market is more like the U.S.—Sunday afternoon is dead. And just about the time I was looking at all the empty spaces and closed doors, the rain came down again in buckets. Rain is not a Honduran-only event, but so much water was running down the streets (paved thank God) that within 5 seconds my shoes were soaked.

 

Last week I met with my “counterpart” in Tegus and made up a work plan. Work plan? My God, this is Honduras isn’t it? Well, it’s because the foundation is directed by that American… Anyway, I’ve got some actual WORK planned for a change, including setting up a candle making factory. What? That’s what I say; it’s a far cry from computers and training, but I think the issue is not so much candle making as the infrastructure. In general, the people haven’t the ability to set up even a micro-business without a lot of help and supervision. So next week I’m going to visit a candle making workshop and see what’s involved. Those people wanted L.8000 to set up a similar workshop for Ambos. I can’t believe it; they’re probably thinking too big. Heck, what’s to making a candle? Well, I guess I’ll find out.

 

June 26, 2003

The pulperia has one ESPECIALLY big difference—you can’t go inside. There are bars on the doors and windows, and you go up to the window and ask for what you want. This is often frustrating for me cause I don’t know the NAMES of things and would much prefer browsing the shelves… oh well.

 

Doors, gates, cupboards, etc. in Honduras don’t have locks like in the U.S.—they have padlocks.

 

Addresses—like here in Sabanagrande—can include a “kilometer” notation, such as my physical address which is KM 49. This tells you that I am 49 km. from Tegucigalpa. Since there are km. signs every once in awhile, this says that I am at or near that sign. Now in Tegus, a physical address will include the name of the neighborhood but not a street. Interesting. However, I’m going to have my mail (please note, guys!) go to Fundación AMBOS, Apartado Postal No.3768, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. So anyone who has any books or anything for AMBOS can send there, too. This will be much more reliable than Sabanagrande, where the postmistress has been ill for 8 weeks and the post office closed.

 

By the way, AMBOS is DESPERATELY looking for a donation of 2nd hand computers to put into their center for the children to work on and as a money-making idea (internet café—ATUTO will donate the internet hookup, and they have the facility). Anyway, all you Silicon Valley guys PLEASE pass the word to all your special “connections.” AMBOS can take care of shipping, would just need the donor to pack.

 

Some of you asked about what the children and oldsters need—wow, try to imagine people who have nothing. Children going barefoot or in shoes too large. I mean we’re talking BASIC here, like toothpaste, clothes, shoes, hairbrushes, combs, barrettes, underwear, to say nothing of Spanish videos (which might be easier to come by now since the advent of DVD). Toys and games would be great. The things WE (oldies) used as kids are big here—marbles and jacks!! Oh, and basic learning the piano sheet music. I could teach them, and they have a piano but no one even taught them chopsticks (and I can’t remember). Whatever strikes your fancy. Incidentally, the children’s pottery making activities are waiting on ME. I have to learn the pottery biz and decide what is appropriate for them to make. I was kind of thinking of little tiles with drawings etched in them, but I’ll see what is possible. What do you think of napkins or maybe placemats? It would be easier to control the basic quality. Afterall, this needs to be FUN not work. Anyway, they are such sweeties—wait til you see the web site I’m building, you’ll fall in love with them! One little doll just always wants to get cuddled, doesn’t want to play, just have me hold him. But these are happy kids. It is such a miracle to see that human beings are so incredibly resilient. Well, I’m going on and on and on and you’re probably bored.

 

June 28

Yesterday I had another adventure on the bus. Wow! I was loaded down, carrying a purse, briefcase, heavy grocery bag (including both a big bottle of  bleach AND a loaf of bread) and big bag full of various candles. The bus was so full that people were standing packed solid in the aisle--but there’s always room for one more. I insisted on sitting on the step. No way could I ride an hour standing up. Of course everyone is very nice. You can’t imagine--I was sitting on the first step, a young man was standing on one foot on the second step, and two delightful 20 year old boys (the employees, not passengers) had a ball hanging out of the bus (of course the door stayed open the entire trip, oh EXCEPT for the two seconds it took to pass the transit police blockade. They must be well aware of the rules but ignore them cause they want the fares. Frequently on a bus the standing people are asked to squat down while the bus passes the transit police. ) Anyway, the boys hung out like riding on a cable car--except of course we’re traveling at probably 70 miles and hour!! Boys of that age are SUCH a kick, so the epitome of the masculine spirit--fearless, adventuresome, self-confident, foolhardy even, full of fun. Now, every time the bus stopped, I’d get off, the other guy got off. Then any other passenger could disembark and THEN the young man in the yellow shirt and I would climb back up to our steps. You’d think that over time the bus would empty out a little, but I didn’t sit down in a seat until about 15 minutes from home because people continued to board even with yellow shirt and me on the steps.

 

July 8, 2003

Forgot to mention: when I was last in Talanga, I watched my first ever soccer match. I enjoyed it and decided that the only difference between here and in the States is that the field was littered with little pint sized plastic bags—from the millions of bags of water that the players drank and tossed. They didn’t have bleachers or a score board, but plenty of fields in the U.S. don’t either.

 

Saturday I took the bus south because some friends in Langue wanted my help in buying a computer. Decided that riding the step gets old in a hurry… Anyway, my friends picked me up where the Pan American Highway turns south, and squished their two kids and me in the front seat of a pickup truck (!!!). We then drove an hour to what passes for a coast in the south and enjoyed some crab soup and fried fish. There’s no way to wash your hands AND you don’t get napkins (actually, in Honduras I think you rarely get paper anything—except tp. They’re in love with plastic bags and have them from every size from 1Tbsp. To 20# ) but there was a tap with running water to rinse your hands. No towel. Never see those either. I stayed the night in a hotel in Langue recently and was given a sheet for a towel and a small packet of liquid soap for soap. Who cares—I actually got to watch an American movie, in ENGLISH!! And the mosquitoes weren’t TOO bad. Mosquitoes—that is another Honduran idiosyncrasy: put screens on your windows but leave all the screen less doors open all day. However, mosquitoes don’t bother me any more; I think I’ve turned into a Honduran.

 

Went to the doctor in Tegus yesterday for a follow-up on my dizziness episode. They tell me that this was caused by some vertebrae in my neck being out of whack????????? Which reminds me of another difference with Honduran doctors. This guy, typically, BEGINS seeing patients at 4:00 pm. Also, when was the last time that you brought a consult to a doctor and he examined you and wrote up a response on the spot? You may wait an hour (first come, first served) and may have to bring your own x-rays, but otherwise it’s pretty efficient.

 

July 12, 2003

A new woman was hired at the fabrica last week so I lost my neat workstation. I’m still keeping an “office” there tho, because of the phone and internet access. So, have I mentioned before that in Honduras most places work Monday through Friday and Saturday morning as well? Have I mentioned that, by law, twice a year people get double pay for a month? Vilma tells me it isn’t much help because since everyone knows that everyone gets double pay in June, the PRICES all double in June. Strange.

 

July 20, 2003

La cucaracha, la cucaracha. I had never seen a cockroach before I came to Sabanagrande. I didn’t even know that “cucaracha” meant cockroach. Langue had its own endemic insects; Sabanagrande has cockroaches. If you’re like I was, let me describe them: an exoskeleton, black, about 2” long and ovoid. Pretty disgusting. Holland (remember, he’s the owner of the factory) says he can fumigate the apartment, but I said no, I’ve never seen more than two a day. I hate killing things. I lie in my bed and watch the little sucker scurry away, obviously more frightened of me than I of him. One morning I bounded out of bed and into the bathroom so fast that I caught two guys unawares. I sat on the toilet screaming, kicking my legs; poor guys scurried into a corner and froze. I calmed down, but those two guys were STILL frozen in the corner hours later. Holland told me to be sure all food is covered or… I also suspect it’s hard to kill them. I saw one guy who looked dead, lying on his back, but when I got the broom and tried to sweep him outside, he came back to life.

 

The new woman at the fabrica got fired. I think Holland and his son, Kamu, missed my expertise. Anyway, now I have the assignment to institute new office procedures. I had to swear I wouldn’t abandon them. Both of them are technical, not office manager types, and really don’t want anything to do with the office, but sales and shipping and billing are obviously integral to the success of a business. There’s something about the psyche of a Honduran that gets in the way of American style business. I haven’t figured it out yet; and Holland, after 30 years, hasn’t either. It’s something about living in the now, the moment. There is no future; if there is no future, planning has no meaning. Planning is integral to US style business. Thinking ahead. I can’t imagine living without thinking ahead, but maybe if too many of the people are worrying about where their next meal is coming from, they grow up with no future, and it becomes a cultural reality. I don’t know. Anyway, it will be interesting to put my training skills to work teaching office practices. I also think there’s little delegation; people are adept at doing what they’re told, following the rules precisely, but not at thinking for themselves, taking responsibility for something in the abstract. I think I may begin by asking people what their job is in terms of deliverables, that is, (Camille and her “objectives”) ‘how do you know when you’re doing your job right?’ Maybe we can get them to think a little differently.

 

It’s very cold lately. Well, cold is relative. Windy and chilly. I always sleep with 2 blankets and sometimes add my sleeping bag. I keep asking people, if it’s this cold now, what’s it going to be like in winter? Everyone says it’s colder in winter, very windy. Holland says you’ll need a jacket. I remember needing a jacket one time in Talanga. Holland said it gets like 55 degrees. He uses his fire place. I had been thinking longingly of showers in Langue because I dreaded the morning dip into cold water here. So one day I mentioned to Holland that my electroducha didn’t make hot water, and he came over and demonstrated how to use it correctly. Wow, now I can take a shower in hot water! The new apartment that I will be moving into in town also has an electroducha. (Remember an electroducha is a little electrical device that heats water in the shower head; remember, there’s no such thing as a water heater in Honduras. I was talking with another American and we were saying that the single hugest culture shock was living in a cold water society. Even the director of my foundation AMBOS, Vilma, who I think comes from an old, rich family, bathes in cold water every morning. Here I always thought we Americans used hot water to CLEAN; now I know we use it only for COMFORT!! Should have known that after years of using cold-water CHEER.)

 

Which reminds me of the filter project. What an amazing product! Developed, I think, in Canada by some organization involved in worldwide causes. Someone even did a doctoral dissertation on it I heard. Anyway, this filter permits you to pour dirty water in one end and get out pure water at the other end. It even filters out cholera bacteria!! It tests purer than the water sold in bags and bottles. And basically it’s just a filter. I did a little research last week, got a demonstration at the local workshop where they’re made. They mix sawdust with clay, fabricate a large 5 gallon size flower pot shaped pot, and fire it. The oven burns away the sawdust, leaving the clay porous. Of course everything is a lot more precise. At the end, the filter must filter a precise amount of water in a precise amount of time or it is flawed and is destroyed. Then, finally, colloidal silver is painted inside and outside the pot. For a year, bacteria will adhere to the silver, further purifying the water. And it costs next to nothing. I’m going to buy one that sits in a beautiful ceramic container with faucet for L.350, about $20, and I’ll never have to buy water again. In Langue I was paying L.20 a week for a bottle. They also sell plastic bucket containers that are a lot cheaper. The foundation wants to market these buckets to the poor people, those who suffer most from poor water quality. They face an uphill battle. The people will have to spend money. They will have to BELIEVE that this will help them. They will have to maintain it properly. Personally I don’t think it will happen. I think they ought to market from the top down. The rich people are the educated people. Once they are doing it, the middleclass will do it, and so on down the line. Oh well. Anyway, I’m going to buy one to save money.

 

August 3, 2003

I don’t know why it took me so long to notice this, but apparently in Honduras people are always paid in CASH!! The other day was payday and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a guard and the HR lady enter the office. I’d seen this before. But this time I looked and cracked up and ran for the camera. Here it is: payroll—everyone’s little stub and their cash stuffed into a plastic bag and guarded by a machine gun. 

 

Holland runs a VERY tight ship here, and it took me awhile to understand why. I mentioned before, I think, that you need a signed form to leave the premises during work. Well, I think a large part of the reason is that, culturally, Hondurans have no—what? Loyalty? No I think it goes back to the existence in the present with no sense of future. Anyway, people too often, always?, make use of any opportunity. If it’s possible to do it, someone will. Give um an inch, and someon’ll take a mile. Give them access to a telephone, and someone will figure a way to steal the time. Holland recently told me that originally he was partners with a Honduran, Mimo, who because of the business had TONs of money by Honduran standards. Pretty soon Mimo and all his brothers are involved in the business, taking money and things, getting mistresses. Eventually Holland had to buy out Mimo who, without the golden goose, started rapidly downhill. I’ve heard this story over and over. A group will receive a “loan” for something but use the money to buy a TV or something else personal. It’s, I think, opportunism, but undisciplined like a child who can’t resist the cookies when Mother isn’t looking. Right now they’re trying to figure out who and how is stealing about $5,000 worth of phone calls to the US monthly.  The most likely suspect is Holland’s right hand man; it’s so sad.

 

I was in a pulperia today, drinking a soda, when a little boy came in and bought a pack of cigarettes. L.12, about 75 cents.

 

August 6, 2003

Passed my second birthday in Honduras. Hard to believe. Say, you know it’s illegal to drive in Honduras while smoking? ‘Course they don’t enforce that law unless the policeman wants to get you for something.

 

There was something else I wanted to tell you, but I can’t remember. I’m exhausted. Today I did the clay project with the children. Oh. My. God. Twenty children with clay. All you ex-teachers are joining my sister Deedee as she rolls on the floor laughing. I am covered in mud. Remember, I’ve told you these children have no social skills. Oh God. Well, it was to be an activity for “self expression” as they say in the manuals. For that it was wonderful. Some of the little children automatically say “I can’t.” So I say, sure you can, and take a little ball of clay and mush it around. I had a bunch of coasters already cut out so they could draw on them and I had a big pile of clay so they enjoyed themselves. We used large nails to draw with so OF COURSE when I’m not looking some of the older boys are punching nail holes in everything. The morning session wasn’t too bad, and I learned. I told my colleague (she’s in the water san group but like me finds it hard to resist the children), my sister would have scheduled 15 minutes for clean up so in the afternoon I’ll do that. But in the afternoon we got a little out of control. Ended up children—AFTER they got all dirty—would start taking their school clothes off. Then some of them started throwing mud at their friends. Oh dear. And of course the water wasn’t running so they couldn’t use the shower. My colleague’s sister and two children (looked about 9 and 12) were visiting. They were quite taken aback by the rowdiness. And the little girl asked me “why is he running around in his underwear?” I said, well he only has the one set of school clothes and doesn’t want to get them dirty. I think I was a baddd day care worker. But they got so dirty that I improvised. Set up a girls bathroom in the pila room and then scooted them out and let the boys have the pila for awhile. Some of them washed their little white shirts on the spot. One kid couldn’t FIND his shirt. He said his mother would hit him so I lifted one from the office. These children are very undereducated and experienced. Even after I showed them how to make a bowl or suggested an ashtray or a head or whatever, they couldn’t do it. But they were just thrilled to show me their little clay thingamajigs and their drawings. Dian, give up your idea of getting a pottery from them. They were getting the hang of the drawing on the coasters tho, so I think this will work out. Do I have the energy to bring those coasters back after firing so the children can PAINT them?? I don’t know. Need to rest up first. Do I have the energy to do this project again? Oh my God. Deedee I think you should come visit me.

 

Oh, the web site is up. Check out www.AmbosFoundation.org and meet my kids. It’s no where near complete, but you can see the place and the children.

 

Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you about sickness. Very interesting. I have a cold, a bad cold. People say I should get a shot. They all get shots at the drop of a hat. The last time I visited my friend Claudia in Talanga, her brother in law came by with a drip bag for her to inject him with (she’s a nurse). I asked what/why and was told it was “vitamins” because he felt “weak.” Bizarre. Also, very sad to relate, one of the Peace Corps volunteers had to leave early because they discovered he had triconosis for God’s sake from eating bad pork. Needless to say I never eat pork from street vendors, only reputable restaurants. Scary tho.

 

Well, think I’ll send this off.

 

August 9, 2003

My colleague Charissa had a check written in red ink, but the bank refused to cash it. Against the rules. She tried in vain to learn WHY, but all they would say was it was against the rules. However, with normal American ingenuity she just wrote over the red with black ink and cashed the check.

 

August 15, 2003

Went with a group down the road a ways to El Ecotel, a restaurant and zoo. Three of us rode in the back of the pickup—this is the normal mode of travel here. Two or 20, makes no difference. And folks (probably those 20 year old boys) love to sit on the edge of the bed. Scares me to death. Anyway, the zoo was interesting but pathetic. Lots of beautiful parrots, some peacocks, a pelican, a turtle, spider monkeys and white faced monkeys, some panthers, a pair of raccoons, something that looked like a coyote, chickens, turkeys, some little deer-like animals, a couple of other mammals that I can’t remember. The zoo looked relatively clean, but the cages were not adequate for the mammals. The pair of raccoons looked to be in a cage 2´x 2´x 4´. They were constantly circling, neurotically. Probably wouldn’t last long. Very sad. Also the coyote-like animal was constantly circling his cage, but it was at least a little bigger and he didn’t appear QUITE so upset by it as the raccoons. The panthers were just apathetic. The monkeys were monkeys. Now, this is Honduras, mind you, and a private zoo at that. So these cages, even the panther cage, are totally accessible to the visitor. Had I been so inclined I could have tried to pet the panther! Children were constantly playing “handsie” with the monkeys, giving me the shivers thinking rabies and biting, but then again I guess no one would be suing in Honduras either.

 

I was told the public zoo in Tegucigalpa is about twice as big but not much better.

 

September 8, 2003

Honduras celebrates birthdays a little differently than we do in the U.S. In the office anyway. The difference is that everyone in the room, around the table, etc. “says a few words.”

 

In Honduras the men are served (food) before the women.

 

October 15, 2003

I was talking to the guard the other day about employment in Honduras as compared to the U.S. He reminded me that in Honduras employment is truly a YOUTH market. Jobs in the paper specifically say, for example, “wanted: 18-25 year old…” It may be illegal to discriminate, but it’s not against the law to discriminate. So anyone in his 30’s is already unemployable. Nelson told me there are, however, lots of guard jobs like his. Unfortunately, the pay is, not surprisingly, terrible, and in Tegus it’s very dangerous. They all wear bullet proof vests and carry machine guns remember.

 

On the other hand, people are pretty friendly here, especially in this small town. The other night I got a phone call. I couldn’t understand much of what the woman was saying but caught the words “youth center” and “post office.” So figured she was asking if I was the lady who works at the youth center and if so I should go to the post office. Sure enough, when I went to the post office the next day, there was a package and a letter waiting for me. Turns out that the post mistress had mail for me, but I wasn’t picking it up. So she put an announcement on the RADIO!! “Camila Flores has mail.” For a week people were telling me to go to the post office. What a kick.

 

Also, I went looking for the vegetable truck one Saturday but couldn’t find it. I had thought he always parked in a certain place. So I mentioned this to my neighborhood pulperia (7-11 type store) owner and he said, “well they drive down this street every Saturday. I’ll send a message when they come.” Sure enough, later that day a fella came knocking at my door to tell me that the vegetable truck was waiting for me at the corner. What service! And what interesting vegetables. Potatoes with the dirt still on them, incredibly huge heads of broccoli, incredibly huge (and misshapen) carrots. The stuff is right off the farm, but even so it doesn’t look like stuff we buy at those little stands in the country. Stuff is just not PRETTY. Americans want their food to look pretty.

 

I made a cream of broccoli soup with that huge head of broccoli. Tasted wonderful. Another week I bought some apples—not the ones imported from Washington State but locally grown apples, not PRETTY. So I carefully peeled them, looking for signs of worms. Nothing. For a week I ate (peeled!) but delicious apples. I even made a compote to serve in French pancakes, yumm yumm.

 

This past weekend I tried—for the FIRST time!!—to cook something with meat. Here you don’t go to the supermarket meat counter and pick out something wrapped in plastic (except in Tegus you CAN do that). No. Here you go to the carniceria where slabs of beef are hanging in front of your eyes. I had been asking people what you call it when you want thick pieces to make a specific thing. It’s difficult. I wanted chicken breasts, but you can’t buy them. Most people buy packages of frozen chicken pieces—pieces like necks and other icky, boney stuff. However, I learned that I could ask for a “portion” and get a breast-wing or leg combination. So I was able to make a chicken stir fry! I was ready to throw the rest away but, at the last minute threw it into a pot and made soup. Anyway, the meat. I never did go to the meat store—a friend brought me a nice thick slab of beef that I was able, with great difficulty, to cut up into little pieces for a stew which turned out fantastic, and I had company in to eat it all up.

 

Well, that’s about it. Still enjoying the sounds of the creek behind my apartment and still enjoying the fierce rain and thunder that comes by most afternoons or evenings.

 

October 24, 2003

Someone asked what I DO here. Well, I have a “workstation” at the Atuto factory, and I generally work there from 8-5. There I have access to telephone and internet so it’s very convenient. They like me to write the emails because I’m the only one fluent in English, and all their customers are in the U.S. Generally this takes very little time, and I’m happy to do it in exchange for the internet/telephone. I’ve started teaching one of their people how to do a web page and tried to institute some improved meeting processes, but mainly I either work on foundation business (I created the web site www.ambosfoundation.org) and am working on acquiring the funds and volunteer technician for setting up a candle workshop. As necessary I step out of the factory and go to the foundation’s “Center” where the children hang out. Right now I am giving piano lessons to several of the kids. Yesterday I joined in a game of baseball using an 8”dia rubber ball that you hit with your fist instead of a baseball and bat. It was great fun. I think children are amazingly creative.

 

Recently I began working on another web site—for Atuto, but it is a very tedious and boring project, unlike the Ambos web site—so I’ve been thinking of doing some other things. I’ve contacted Junior Achievement and will do some work with the Ambos children and probably also the local school. I also volunteered to help/teach the mayor’s office web design. Apparently there’s a new law that every city has to have a web site. And, finally, I visited the school and said I would like to teach English and maybe advise the computer classes in February (school ends at the end of November and there’s a two month break).

 

The other day I was sitting at my “desk” in the afternoon and suddenly felt like some ice cream. So I decided to go across the street and get some. Being a well-bred person, I started asked my neighbors if they wanted me to get them anything. Oops, half way across the office, after half a dozen people said they would like ice cream too, I remembered that in Honduras if YOU initiate remarks like that, then YOU are expected to pay. None of this, “Hey, want me to pick you up an ice cream?” Unhunh. Cost me L.75! But everyone loves me today!!

 

October 27, 2003

Yesterday a bunch of kids came over to my house. It was kind of fun trying to come up with ways to entertain them. First I gave them each some orange. There were two pieces left over though, so I put the kids into teams and asked them to tell me a number from one to 10 to guess the number I was thinking of. I don’t think they had every done that before and enjoyed it. Then I had them stand up in birthday order. That was fun, too. Remember that my friend had been unable to get them to do it on their own while standing on a 2x4. But by simplifying the game--removing the2x4 and giving them a bit of help—they could do it, well a couple of the older ones understood. They ranged in age boy: 5, 6, 2 sevens, 3 eights, 9, 12 or something like that. I was amazed because in the U.S. I don’t think mixed ages ever hang out together. After that I invited them to watch television (already I needed a break!!), and, happily, the Harry Potter movie had just started—in Spanish (my TV is almost exclusively Spanish). So most of them really enjoyed the movie. Finally, I had a real brainstorm and made paper dolls. I told them that when I was their age I loved paper dolls. You could dress your doll any way you want. So I drew out some “dolls”, cut them out, drew out some “clothes” and cut them out, and they were off and running, coloring and cutting. One little girl actually drew a “doll.” I was so proud of her. Then a little boy wanted to have a doll, too, and the girls were teasing him. I said, no, he got to have a boy doll, and told them that half the clothes designers in the world were men anyway. So he had a neat boy doll and colored and cut some neat trousers and a shirt.

 

November 11, 2003

This past weekend I went out east to Via Santa in El Paraiso to visit my friend Lynda. Great trip. Via Santa is a little town up in the piney woods, and hour and a half up a dirt road. At one point the bus drove through a small creek. Guess Via Santa can become isolated when it rains a lot! I took my Langue friend Angel along to keep me company on this 6 hour voyage. I had lost the directions Lynda had given me, and I couldn’t even remember the name of the town, but I was undaunted because she had drawn me a picture of the place where the buses to her city waited. We actually arrived right on schedule with no trouble at all. Lynda is in love with her Honduran boyfriend. He is a real sweetheart, but I had to tell them that, honestly, I didn’t recommend the marriage that they are contemplating. They have nothing in common. Oh well, they’ll do what they will. Angel is also getting married. He came up a week ago asking to borrow L.500 because he needed to impress his girl friend’s family. At least I THINK that’s what it was all about. My site mate Charissa and I were totally perplexed by his meandering story, but it seems that he—he’s only 18 remember—has been keeping company with a 16 year old in a town near Langue, and they had sex. This is statutory rape in Honduras as well as the U.S. so the father said “marry my daughter or I’ll have you thrown in jail.” So Angel is getting married. This is pathetic; he can’t support himself let alone a wife. He has no house. I asked him where they would live, and he said in his family’s house. So I said, “you’re going to hang up a 6th hammock?” and he said yes. I said doesn’t this girl have a bed, why would she want to marry you? He said she only had a hammock as well. Angel doesn’t WANT to get married, and he’s already the biggest “womanizer” I know so there’s not much doubt in my mind about the possibility of a successful marriage. Clearly, this is the kind of thing that perpetuates the problems in Honduras. The men hook up with a woman, make a couple of kids, and take off to go somewhere else and do it again. Oh well.

 

Saturday night in Via Santa we all—Lynda, her boyfriend, another visiting volunteer, Valerie, and Angel and I—went to a dance. Typical Honduran. Incredibly loud music, but contemporary, all young people dancing. Bunches of mothers sitting along the wall “chaperoning” their daughters. Lots of little kids who came with the mothers I guess.

 

November 29, 2003

The other day I was riding in a taxi in Tegus, and I got another lesson in city driving, Honduras style. It was very crowded, bumper to bumper traffic going in our direction, nothing going the other direction. So my taxi just pulled out and drove in the lane for opposing traffic. When the traffic light ahead changed and some cars came at us head on, they just had to wait until my taxi squeezed back into his line. He did this maneuver again periodically as we traveled on. Interesting. He wasn’t the only one doing it, or things REALLY would have come to a standstill, but I’ve noticed that the drivers kind of help one another in a practical sort of way. If someone tries to cut in, cars let them (unlike the US!). No one seems in a hurry, and everyone is mindful of what can happen if they don’t cooperate. The transit police don’t have cars so there’s no one giving out tickets for moving violations. No one ever stops at stop signs, but everyone’s very careful, beeping to communicate. After all, there’s no car insurance so if you wreck your car, you’re out the thousands of dollars it costs. So, while they’ll pass on a blind curve or a blind hill, everyone will move over if a vehicle comes from the other direction. Then too, the city roads are as full of chuck holes as the road to Langue used to be, so drivers habitually drive all over the road seeking the “channel” of good pavement. Driving on the shoulder or even the sidewalk is therefore a good way to avoid chuckholes and traffic, as my taxi demonstrated that day.

 

December 4, 2003

This morning as I walked to work I passed by a butcher shop, and a number of women were lined up at the window. So I stopped to see what was going on. Turned out they were buying pork. The lady behind the window just sliced off some meat from the hanging haunch of pork, weighed it, and off the customer goes with her meat. We would go berserk at the unsanitary conditions, but it IS kind of back to basics, yes? You can probably get exactly what and how much you want, that is, IF you know how to say it. Then again, I know how to ask for chicken breast, but too often, such as yesterday, I end up with leg instead of breast. They sell “portions” of either breast or leg quarters of chicken, but I guess it’s hard to tell the difference when they’re frozen. I could buy a whole chicken (again frozen), but it doesn’t fit too well in my pot. Here in Sabanagrande I never see the live chickens like I saw all the time in Langue. I guess we’re so close to the capital that we “benefit” from the market advances like frozen chicken.

 

December 15, 2003

Yesterday my friend and site mate, Charissa, asked me to accompany her on a long walk into the aldeas to invite children to this week’s toy giveaway (courtesy of Continental Airlines). It was very interesting. We walked up the highway a ways and then turned off onto a dirt road and walked up, and up, and uuuuppppp, catching one ride along the way. Then we went to each house, telling them what we were doing and asking if they had any children between five and 12. We recorded the names and ages and gave our little “tickets” for admission. These aldeas are considerably poorer than the city of Sabanagrande. We walked past a water pump where children were energetically pumping water into large buckets. Charissa (who is in the water project) explained it all to me. This water pump is how the folks get their water. They literally pump water into buckets, big and little, and carry it to their house—however far away from the pump it is. Richer people have a truck and can carry large containers or hire someone to fill it up and bring it to them. This community (and many others) wants Charissa to design a water system to pipe water into their individual homes. But the design is not the limiting factor. A water system requires a pump and a drilling that costs MONEY. The community is too poor so they always want someone else to pay for it. Unfortunately no one else will, partly because historically when the community does not participate in the support of the system, the system will pretty quickly fall apart (due to no money for or knowledge of maintenance). There IS money for water systems if the community has a water source already (river or spring) because then they can design a gravity-based system requiring no pump or maintenance parts. Anyway, the community we visited has no water source. Needless to say, the children looked pretty ragged, but I suspect there’s more prosperity there then is obvious. I saw lots of dental work as opposed to holes in the mouth, and there was a little factory for making tiles and a reasonable amount of pickup trucks riding by. The houses all appeared pretty sturdy, usually the basic 2 or 3 room concrete bungalow. It was also BEAUTIFUL! It was a kick to get up so high behind Sabanagrande. Lovely vistas. Wish my camera was functioning. Anyway, it was an interesting, if tiring, four hours.

 

January 6, 2004

The toy giveaway was a disaster! First, it’s always a mistake to have something for only SOME of any group. So the 300 chosen children went into the social center where the affair was to be held, and then 10 trillion OTHER children—or rather their mothers!—clamored at the door to get in. It was a real zoo. I explained til I was blue in the face that this was for POOR children, but everyone hung on the door anyway. I chatted with one woman and told her that this reminded me of what I went through when Cabbage Patch Dolls were the rage. Mothers don’t want to deprive their children of ANYTHING!

 

Secondly, the Continental folks arrived 2 hours late. Can you imagine 300 children from infant to 12 years sitting quietly for 2 hours? It was a zoo, but I must say the Honduran children are a lot more patient.

 

Thirdly, someone didn’t have any organization or communication skills because after they had insisted that we record everyone’s name and age, they had identical toys for each age group and just handed them out. It was more than chaotic. They demonstrated that the people who hung around were smart afterall, cause if they simply got in the door, they would get a gift. The gifts weren’t too spectacular, but—whereas our kids in the US would have been ticked to have waited around for two hours for that—the Honduran kids seemed pleased. Nevertheless, both Charissa and I said “never again.”

 

I think it’s one of the big problems here. And that is that people in the US want to help and there are a zillion people in poor countries who could use help. But how to bridge the gap? It’s very difficult. I am continually reminded of Ropa Americana, which is the store that SELLS all the clothes and stuff we Americans DONATE to charities in the US. The poor people I know here in Honduras—people like Angel—can’t afford to buy even used clothing.

 

I also think that it’s difficult to get CLOSE to needy people—I mean it’s pretty easy to donate money to an organization, but although they always do good work and certainly need money in order to do their good work—they deal in generalities not particulars. They don’t interact with Angel and Gabriela and Rudy and Tingo. I especially felt this when I came back from Christmas in the states with two suitcases jammed full of as much as I could bring of clothing and shoes. I was overwhelmed. I said to the children, who needs shoes? They ALL raise their hands and show me their bare feet or the flopping soles on the pair of shoes they’re wearing. It was really another nightmare trying to distribute what I had in an equitable manner. 

 

Former French volunteer Alexandra sent me more than a thousand limperas (proceeds from selling jewelry made from Honduran seeds) to buy the children a gift. So I asked them to write down what they wanted. I can hardly wait to see the list. I’m afraid from some of the comments I’ve heard that I’m going to see things like pants and shoes.  I’m probably going to have to go back and say you each get 20 limps. However, I was curious. If you could have one present, what would you want?

 

New Year’s Eve here in Sabanagrande was fun. I finally saw some real cultural traditions. First, they burn scarecrow men, or effigies, at the stroke of midnight.  One person told me that the one I photographed was supposed to represent Maduro, the President. Oh well… anyway, the effigy was full of fire crackers so as it burned, it set of a continual stream of fire crackers. Actually scared me to death as I was standing too close. Fire crackers themselves are another cultural tradition. People are setting them off continually throughout the holiday which culminates on New Year’s Eve. Some of us can remember when Fourth of July was like that. The Hondurans haven’t yet come to accept our reason for not having that stuff any more so the Honduran newspapers are full of pictures of children and adults who have blown off their hands or burned their faces, etc. I don’t think anyone was injured in Sabanagrande though. The last tradition I saw was at the house of a friend who invited me for New Year’s Eve dinner. Again at the stroke of midnight she filled a bowl with a mixture of beans, rice, some kind of seed, and some coins. She said she will leave the bowl on the table all year as it’s supposed to bring good luck.

 

January 13, 2004

Last night Pavel came to collect his shoes. Pavel is a young (28 years old) doctor who works in an aldea and lives in Sabanagrande. He speaks fluent English, and I think he’s a really nice young man. Anyway, he had asked me to buy him some shoes while I was in the U.S. for Christmas so last night he came by to pick them up. We had a nice visit while he was there, and at one point I mentioned that my term would be up in nine months but that I would probably re-up for Southern Mexico. Oh, Chiapas, he said, and proceeded to tell me that Chiapas used to be a part of Central America. Actually, in the early 1800´s, he said, all of Central America considered becoming a part of Mexico but decided instead to form their own state. He told me that in the 1820´s there was a country of Central America for eight years. Francisco Morazan (after whom the state I live in is named) is a famous patriot who practically single-handedly formed the country. Unfortunately, some conservatives raised an army of there own and ended up assassinating him. That was pretty much the end of Central America as first one and then another of its parts seceded.

 

So what do you think your kids would say if you said you were going to give them a present and what would they like to have? That’s what I did to the foundation kids this week. A previous volunteer had sent me L. 3000 odd to buy them each a present. Anyway, kid after kid wrote “shoes,” or “shoes and pants.” One little doll wrote “a surprise basket of snack food and sweets.” Then when I broke the news to them that they each got to spend about L.50, everyone wanted a watch. What kind of a watch do you think you get for the equivalent of $1.75? Oh well, they were happy. So I had a bunch of kids selecting a watch plus underpants and/or socks. Can you imagine your kids spending their present buying themselves underwear? One little girl caught on really fast and ended up with a watch, some lip gloss, some underpants, some hair ties, some little girl thingy, and some jacks. Some boys combined their fund and bought a soccer ball and had money left for a watch each. One kid said his mother could add fifty limps to his fifty limps and this would buy a pair of shoes he had seen at the “Used American Clothes” shop. So we went over there, but unfortunately the boots were a tad too small.

 

Someone had told me to just buy them all the same thing, but I couldn’t bear to. They’re always treated as a number, simply one of a group, and I wanted them to be individuals for once. It was, however, a real chore. These are VERY undisciplined children, so taking 10 or fifteen to the store was exhausting.

 

And this was AFTER I started an English class for the sixth graders and 1st year collegio students. These kids were light years different from the Langue sixth graders. They are little wild things. Unfortunately, I haven’t the patience or skill to deal with that so I ended up kicking them out one after another until I had six kids left who were able to “stay on task” as my school teacher sister would say. So we’ll see how it goes. Today there’ll be more shopping and more English class.

 

And I wonder how many watches will still be working today. The proprietor warned them that these watches were not waterproof. We’ll see. Already two boys lost their brand new soccer ball to a bully boy who took it from them on the street. I said, can’t we tell the police or something? Because the boys know the kid who took the ball. The day care worker at the foundation, Olga (a real go-getter and a very sweet lady), said wait awhile. I think she feels that the ball can be retrieved without going to the police. Again, we’ll see.

 

January 15, 2004

Well, we’ve finished the buying. Final result: tons of watches, underwear, socks, couple of shirts, several soccer balls, several jacks, several cars, several watch caps (believe it or not baseball caps were way too expensive!!)

 

Considering that the FHIS project has also just come up with 100 assorted toys, it’s been interesting to watch the kids. Not enough dolls—all the girls want to play with a doll. They also like the jump ropes and the jacks. The boys like the little toy people (like soldiers but I think these are farmers) and the leggos. Several of the older kids take out the games—checkers, Parcheesi, and chess—but I found out they’re not playing the game that goes with the board. I think they’re playing some strange version of checkers with the chess pieces. And of course they have no interest or patience to learn the games. I finally confiscated the monopoly games because they hadn’t a clue how to play and were just going to lose all the pieces. The director bought too many educational games, I think. There are some neat multiplication and division things that you push a button to check your answer, but the only ones to play with it are tiny tots who just like to push the buttons.

 

January 19, 2004

There was a tragic accident this weekend that killed four people in Sabanagrande. A young man, his wife, an infant, and a 12 year old were killed and a 6 year old is in the hospital after a semi truck lost control on the highway on a curve and flipped on top of them. This happened about 5:30 pm on Friday but it wasn’t until the next day that the bodies could be removed. How do you lift up a semi? By the way, the highway is really just a 2-lane road (one lane each direction) that goes from Tegus south to Choluteca. This highway is the only road south so everyone uses it. I’ve mentioned before how similar driving on it is to Highway 1 in California, well at least how Highway 1 USED to be—curves and hills and slow trucks and scary passing.

 

Well Sabanagrande is, of course, a reasonably small town, so most everyone knew someone in the family so devastated. The bodies were laid out in the town social center (the same building where we had the toy giveaway), and everyone paid their respects—a wake—until Saturday afternoon when they were interred.

 

Apparently, the mother of the infant had just arrived (illegally) in the U.S., and they have no way of contacting her. Very sad.

 

January 24, 2004

A couple days later I found myself walking along self-same highway—ooooh, scary. Those cars and trucks whiz by at up to 60 miles per hour.

 

My phone has been dead as a doornail for the whole month. Interesting because I was thinking recently that the thing I like best about Honduras is the fact that you can never be in a hurry. There’s no stress because there are no deadlines. Well, you get used to it: everything takes longer, maybe 10 times longer, but you get used to it, and if you are to survive, you learn to go with the flow. If three buses pass you by, wait for the fourth bus. If the person you want to talk to isn’t in, come back another day. If no one comes to fix your phone, wait until someone does. Of course, THAT's where the rubber meets the road. Same thing with the Internet. It was down for three weeks at the end of the year. How can you do business this way? Well, it’s difficult. And for the same reason, it’s very difficult to make positive productivity changes in Honduras.

 

February 12, 2004

Some engineers from Mexico moved into the apartment upstairs from me. They’ll be here a few months installing some fiber optics for a new telephone company. An interesting thing though—one of the engineers asked me if I could translate the installation manual to Spanish from English. If installation manuals are always in English (and it often appears that they are) then it’s no wonder so many things don’t work properly here. English rules the world.

 

Some of my friends have been experiencing the complications of love in Honduras. Surely I’ve mentioned before that Hondurans are well known to be looking for an American to affiliate with so they can be taken to the U.S. Both men and women need to be very careful because the Hondurans will say and do anything for the opportunity to go to the U.S. The worst case I ever heard of was when a young woman who became engaged to a Honduran, and got him a visa for the U.S. When they parted at U.S. immigration, they planned to reunite in the baggage area. Sadly, the young woman never saw her boyfriend again. She was nothing but his ticket to the U.S. Now I’m sorry to say that I have a close friend who is in love and plans to marry her Honduran boyfriend next month. He seems like a nice boy—but he is five years younger than her, probably five inches shorter than her, doesn’t have the college degree she has, or her religion, culture, financial status, or language. And doesn’t work. Odds are not good, but biology will out.

 

Another friend, Charissa, took up with a Honduran boy, fully intending to leave him behind when she leaves, but her “adventure” tells the tale of the role of gossip (chisme) in a small town. The boy (I can hardly call him a man since he’s only 20) lived with a local woman for several years. She ended up having a child but claimed that the father is one of the high school teachers (this is financially advantageous because he has money for support—so who knows who the true father is…) No sooner had the young man taken up with Charissa then the other woman (30 years old to his 20!!!) began harassing her, accusing her of stealing her man. Before you could say Jack Robinson, the whole town is talking about Charissa and her boyfriend and not in a complimentary way either. And this is after she’s lived in the town for over a year and works harder than any other volunteer, and everybody likes her. Charissa feels that the town “doesn’t know” her boyfriend but have lumped him in with the rest of his family who everyone regards as no good and lazy. She also grants that it may be true that he’s lazy considering that at 20 he has no high school diploma and doesn’t work… I’m so glad I’m post-menopausal.

 

The woman who works as a day care worker in the foundation—I like her very much—asked me the other day if I could help out two kids who want to go to high school but don’t have the money for the uniform (which includes closed shoes). I asked her for an amount, and the next day she came back with L. 800-1000, and I told her I would do it. I believe that this small amount of money should never keep a hardworking kid from high school or even university. We’re talking, total—including fees—of less than $100 A YEAR!! Would any of you care to join me in setting up and funding a scholarship fund? More than 50% of Honduran children leave school at age 12, but kids who are motivated and can maintain good grades should be able to continue.

 

March 16, 2004

Charissa told me another sad story of politics here. Seems that someone was hired to help get people to pay their water bills. (No one pays their water bills.) So he sent out a note saying “pay your water bill or your water will get shut off. Then there were many complaints about the note so they fired the man. Today of course no one pays their water bill.

 

School started up again in February, so this past month I have been going over to the high school trying to set something up. This is the first time I have spent any time in one of the high schools. Eye opener! I started assisting in an English class, and the first thing I noticed was that about 15 kids had to sit on the floor cause there were not enough desks. Needless to say the teacher doesn’t have a desk or chair either. No big surprise that the teachers don’t have a teacher’s lounge.

 

I thought the English teacher did a pretty good job, not like the stuff I had seen in homework coming out of Langue’s English classes. But, again not surprisingly, they have no books or even dictionaries. The teacher had some Xeroxed hand-outs which weren’t bad. He said next month he will begin Xeroxing pages from a real book. The sad thing is that the kids have English 2 hours a week. Who can learn this way? When the teacher asked the students to list 25 action verbs (these are not beginning students), the best student from last year could list only three verbs.

 

Next I signed up to help the Commercial Career director with her equipment class. This high school offers only one “career.” (In Langue they offered tons: commercial, teaching, woodwork, metal work.) So if a student wants to learn to weld, for example, he has to find another high school somewhere that offers it and then travel there. So here they offer only Commercial. Guess how many computers they have? Four. The teacher hasn’t even been teaching the students computers because she has only 2 hrs a week of a workshop in typing, adding machine, and computers. Plus the computers have English software that she doesn’t understand. So starting tomorrow, I’ll be teaching groups of 4 students in 20 minute segments. This will be interesting. I heard from the mayor that the elementary school has a bunch of computers but that the teacher knows nothing about computers. I’ve been over there a couple of times, but the director’s not been there. Supposedly, he is arranging for me to teach English.

 

Anyway, back to the high school. They have a guard at the gate, and they LOCK the gate!! When I first went there, the guard had to go find the person I wanted to talk to and get the OK to let me in. They won’t even let in students who don’t have classes. Now, I have a written pass that the director gave me. Of course, now the guard knows me, and I don’t even have to show my pass. However, this morning I had to wait at the gate for 20 minutes because the guard was absent. Oh well.

 

March 18, 2004

It’s that time of year when water becomes scarce in Honduras, and I recently learned that I am once again in a favored position. There are 8 apartments in my building, 4 on the bottom floor and 4 on the top floor. All water is delivered to the cistern on the bottom floor. Last week all the apartments were full, and one of the apartments upstairs had, shoot, about 5 Mexican engineers. Charissa, also upstairs, tells me that she can’t take a shower any more because there’s not enough pressure to pump enough water upstairs. She says that when the Mexicans leave, the situation will improve. Meanwhile, the only people in town who have water all the time are those who have a cistern.

 

Adios for now!!

Love Camille

 

March 22, 2004

Oops, what was it I said about being lucky to have water? Saturday night as I was brushing my teeth---the flow of water trickled to a stop!! Sunday night more water was delivered to the cisterns, but this morning my shower turned into a trickle after my hair was all soaped up! Oh, dear. It may be time to start filling my pila for emergencies.

 

I believe I’ve mentioned the Cuban doctors who live in apartment 4 (I live in 2)? People are always coming to my house inquiring where the doctor is… anyway, yesterday there was an accident. A horse, frightened by a car so I hear, reared up, knocked off his rider and then stepped on the poor man. His family brought him to the Cuban doctors who pronounced him dead, so I, hearing sobbing women, got out of bed to see what was up. Pretty soon an impromptu wake was going on next door, with more and more people milling about, eventually reaching out into the street. A coffin sat in the yard for awhile; and there was a policeman, too. I heard that they were waiting for an “autopsy,” but by late afternoon we were back to normal in our courtyard.

 

March 25, 2004

Wow, real problems with water! No water at all in the apartments yesterday. Am starting to think I should store some. Holland says he always keeps a bucket of water in his Tegucigalpa apartment because “you never know.” Last night I had water, but Charissa didn’t, so she came down to my apartment to take a shower.

 

No classes yesterday at the high school because the teachers were on strike. I have always heard that the teachers go on strike every other minute, but now that I work at a high school, I’ll learn about it first hand. Already I see a problem. The English class only meets on Thursday and Friday. Last week they didn’t meet for some reason or another, and now this week there are strikes. Hummm. I heard that the teachers were striking because they were short one teacher. So today the STUDENTS went on strike demanding their teacher and blocking the entrance with their pickets. I doubt that the national department of Education pays any attention, but I’ll keep you posted.

 

Yesterday, the teacher in the 6th grade at the elementary school where I teach English told me “no class Thursday or Friday because I have a doctor’s appointment.” I guess they don’t have substitute teachers here… But the 6th graders are delightful, and so quick. I’ve decided to offer myself to the director of the elementary school all afternoon, and he can decide if he’d rather have computer classes or English classes. THAT should keep me occupied!!

 

April 2, 2004

Wow! No water again. Now I hear that April is the worst month. We’ll get water every four days. Sooo, it’s time to readjust. I’m going to start using the pila, meaning I’ll clean it and allow it to fill with water. Then, when there’s no water in the apartment (which will be usually), I’ll at least be able to wash dishes and clothes outside and collect water in a bucket for a bucket shower. Wow! After a year and a half I’m going to be taking regular bucket showers???

 

Planning to go up to visit a friend over Samana Santa, and it is becoming a problem. Why? Because no one can tell me about the buses. (Last Samana Santa I was vacationing in the Mesquitia for the whole week.) Anyway, Samana Santa (Easter week) is a big holiday here, bigger than Christmas. Schools are closed the whole week, and businesses are closed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. So are buses: some people say they won’t run on Friday, others say Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So if I go somewhere, I might get stuck for three days. I’ve decided to go anyway. Might as well have nothing to do somewhere new as nothing to do here.

 

LOVE teaching English to the 6th graders! I always did like middle school kids. Anyway, they are delightful, and I’m having a really good time. Originally I had told the director I would teach only one class so would teach a month in each section and take the best 10 students from each class; but after a week of teaching section A, I felt that I couldn’t bear to leave any of them out because they were all so good. So I told the director I would teach all three 6th grade classes. And so I discovered that I believe they’re tracking. Section A is noticeably better than section B, and section C is a nightmare. You teachers will totally understand. This last week, after we had spent a week going over I eat-you eat-he eats-she-eats-it eats-who eats-we eat-you eat-they eat (and 9 other action verbs), I threw up some food nouns, almost all of which they knew already (chicken, chips, milk, juice, etc.). Then, after we practiced for awhile (I eat chicken, I drink milk) I asked them to write five sentences using the food (like “I eat chicken”). A group had no trouble with this. One kid even came up with “I drink juice orange” (which is fantastic and understandable because in Spanish adjectives follow verbs. However, B group gave me blank looks. They simply could not think independently. Rote learning is a major, major problem here. Actually this made me feel really good because I feel I am contributing something. So I led them by the hand. First, identify their favorite food and write the phrase “I eat (or drink) [that food].” But they couldn’t do that either. So I ask a kid what his favorite food is and tell him to write “I eat [that food].” They were thrilled. After I did that with a couple of kids, more caught on. Then I said, now ask your friend what his favorite food is and write “He eats [that food].” Again, they didn’t get it until I went through the exercise of saying ask you friend what is his favorite food, getting an answer, and telling him to write “he eats [that food].” Again, after a couple of times more kids caught on.

 

C group is like all C groups, but unfortunately I’m not like all 6th grade teachers. I left early the other day and told the teacher I didn’t think I would be able to handle it. (Funny, but C group’s teacher is the only male teacher in 6th grade!) Then too, the class is immediately after recess. He must have had a talk with them, though, because yesterday I made it through the whole class.  One boy in B group is deaf and dumb. Talk about mainstreaming. He’s such a little cutie with a delightful attitude, but I wonder how he can be learning much. The other kids communicate with him with some kind of very basic sign language, and I watched him play kick the can with another kid during recess. He is obviously lucky to have been born into a family that isn’t poor. With schooling he’ll have some chance in life. (I met an American lady a few months back who adopted a little deaf and dumb boy she encountered 10 years ago. He was so neglected he was practically dead from starvation. Today he’s even learning to talk and is happy and doing well in school. )

 

I sit and watch the kids at recess (4th, 5th and 6th graders) and believe that kids are the same everywhere. They run and scream and laugh. Lots of running. The boys kick a ball and run around. The girls jump rope. I’ve seen a few girls playing with the boys and a few boys playing with the girls. Everyone (well, I guess, except the poor kids) buys snacks—chips, cookies, donuts, cokes. These are sold by, I guess the poor kids, and one teacher sells stuff, possibly a school fund raising deal.

 

April 14, 2004

Wow, I had a lovely Easter vacation. Here in Honduras Easter is the biggest holiday, bigger than Christmas. In fact, EVERYthing closes down for three days—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. No buses. So wherever you are on Wednesday, you’ll stay there til Sunday unless you have a car. This year I went to visit a friend in El Porvenir. On Thursday I accompanied him and a whole family group of his friends to a family picnic at a nearby river. Just like fourth of July in America! Except in Honduras everyone travels by pickup truck. There’s a new law that only 6 people can ride in the truck bed and supposedly you’ll get a fine if you exceed that.   The police were all over the place throughout the holiday. Every so many miles there’d be a bunch of them checking ids and registrations, and there were banners across the highway saying something like “have a good and safe trip.” The people really like this presence, I guess because it cuts down on the robberies.

 

On Good Friday my friend and I were driven to Comayagua (we paid for the gas and lunch of the friends who drove us in their truck). Here they have a contest every Easter. It reminded me of the Pasadena Rose Parade. All kind of groups and clubs or civic groups or whatever create a “rug” made out of colored sawdust. They call it a rug, but actually it’s just a drawing of a rug, with religious and resurrection themes. Some are quite beautiful. At the end of the day, the rugs are all destroyed. We hear that people come from all over the country to see the sawdust rugs. It’s one of the few indigenous cultural activities still remaining in the country.

 

On the way back from Comayagua, my new friends dropped me at Talanga to visit other friends. On Saturday this family, too, planned an outing to a river. I think everyone spends all their time, even weekends, working, so Easter is the only time people can actually get away. Saturday night all the cities have a candlelight procession to the church, and Sunday the buses start running again.

 

Great holiday!

 

 

 

Hi All,

 

My computer got stolen a couple of days ago along with my digital camera and my 35mm camera. This was a houseguest--a friend of a friend! They keep telling us not to trust anyone, but who wants to live that way. The pathetic irony is that the digital can’t be useful without the cable (in my purse) to take off the pictures; the 35mm was broken; and the computer was not working (although I had hoped my brother could fix it sufficiently to retrieve stuff from the hard disk). So, who knows, maybe I’ll learn the intricacies of the Honduran Justice system. I did provide the police with the guy’s name and the phone number of his mother!

 

Still having great fun with my classes. I’ve spent the last two weeks teaching a business simulation class at the high school. The kids form a little business, produce something, sell it, etc. It’s been fun.

 

The 6th grade English class is more fun, probably only because I’m more comfortable with the age group. I have been somewhat surprised by the fact that neither high school nor 6th grade does the homework you assign. As a matter of fact, the 6th grade isn’t able to follow instructions, period. On more than one occasion I wrote a verb conjugation on the board and asked them to copy it into their notebooks. Later, the example is not to be found. Yesterday, again, no one could show me the verb conjugations in their books. So I said OK, we’ll write them on the board AGAIN, but this time you can’t leave the room until you show me the 6 verb conjugations in the correct form in your notebook.  Believe it or not, even then, several kids didn’t do it until I wouldn’t let them leave the room when the bell rang, and many others didn’t do it correctly until I wouldn’t let them leave the room. I don’t think they get enough work, but the problem is that there are no supplies. I would like to give out worksheets every day, but to do so I would have to pay for the copying. The alternative is to have the kids copy a worksheet from the board, which means errors upon errors, and it takes forever.

 

Both high school and elementary school don’t have classes waaayyyy too often. ´Course, apparently they have plenty of reason. There are no substitute teaches, for example, so whenever a teacher has a doctor’s appointment or something--no class. Plus, when the teachers want to get paid--THEY have to travel to Tegucigalpa to the Dept. of Ed office to collect their check! Such efficiency. So the high school kids go to school for only 4 hours a day and are lucky if they get 4 days a week.

 

Last week I loaded Sabanagrande’s new website on to the internet. Check it out at http://www.geocities.com/sabanagrandefm/ except that it’s in Spanish. An employee of the mayor’s office put it together and I made some enhancements and fixed it up a bit, found the free site, and put it up there. I also started teaching two of the foundation’s brighter students the concepts of web site maintenance. Hopefully, by the time I leave, they’ll be able to maintain the ambosfoundation.org site.

 

The foundation opened its new internet cafe last week, and it immediately began earning money. This wouldn’t have happened without my brother Bob’s technical help. Thanks again Bob!! Believe it or not in the same week, a second internet cafe opened two doors down! Wow, what a shock. What a shame. The other cafe is probably going to have real problems because the family hopes to support themselves on the proceeds whereas Ambos hopes only to provide "funds" of some kind to help support the children.

 

Well, I’m off to New York tomorrow for Gina’s graduation and thence to California for her graduation party. Enjoy!

 

Love Camille

 

 

Hi Ya'all!

 

Honduras is ending a second week of a national teacher's strike. (and the telephone company is on strike, too.) It's sad. The strike followed a week of school vacation, so the kids are really missing out. And they can't afford to. The high school seniors that I gave a business simulation course to turned in totally unacceptable reports. Either they copied general information straight from handouts or provided material worthy of no more than an appendix. Oh well. I decided to write up a "sample" report for them but because of the strike they still haven’t had their test. Oh well. The teachers want better pay, but the government says they are but one needy group in the country.

 

The other week as I was walking to work I saw a man decorating the outside of his house with cloth hangings, kind of like an alter, so I asked him what was up. Turns out it was some kind of religious holiday, and some folks decorated their houses because, as I later observed, a procession from the church walked through town, stopping to pray at the decorated houses. The procession was led by the priest carrying something and a half dozen little boys in red and white altar boy clothes. A couple of men set up rockets in front (fire works) of the procession which consisted of about 100 people. When they stopped at a house, they sang some music accompanied by a guitar, and then the priest said a prayer which said something about "the workers."

 

My 19 year old friend from Langue, Angel, stopped by the other day and told us all about his abortive attempt to "mojado" into the US. ("Mojado" means get wet, hahaha, but that's how they refer to the folks who go illegally!) Anyway, Angel had himself a great adventure. He and a couple of friends got as far as Juarez before they were picked up by the Mexican police. They were spotted because of their accent! And we think all Spanish sounds the same!! Angel has a brother in the US who wired him $500 when he got as far as Chiapas in the south of Mexico, but unfortunately the Juarez police stole the $300 he had left. And they weren't very nice to the boys in the prison either. But the government did transport them comfortably, including food, to the Honduras border. Juarez is just a day out of the US. However, Angel IS aware that you can get picked up at any time even in the US, so you're never safe. He doesn't care. He had himself a great adventure.

 

Well, Dominican Republic has said they want me to come there. The Education IT program that interests me starts in February, so I have the option of staying on here til then or reapplying so I can have a month off at home. (Calm down Sherry! It isn't a done deal yet.)

 

That's it for now, guys.

 

Love Camille

 

Hi Ya´ll!

 

Basically only a month to go because I’m taking a 9 day vacation to Guatemala next week and have 2 weeks Close of Service stuff to do in Tegus. As I’ve said before, everyone in my group is ready to go--not to say that we won’t miss things in Honduras.

 

Nowadays I spend all morning maning the internet cafe. We don’t do much business in the morning, but every limpera helps. This, of course, is contrary to Peace Corps philosophy, that is, working a job as opposed to sharing-teaching a Honduran, but if I didn’t do it, no one would because the foundation can’t afford to pay someone. It helps allay the boredom. I spend a lot of time sitting on the front steps watching the world go by. Yesterday, I watched some men down the street offload a bull from a truck. They were none too gentle, no ramp or anything, and the bull must have sensed he was going to be meat within the hour because he wasn’t cooperating attall!! They resorted to tail-tweeking a lot, but I guess that’s no worse than a cattle prod.

 

When I think about Honduras I believe the most overwhelming insight, horror, or whatever it might be, is the child labor. I’m always aware that even in the pouring rain, in the dark, my young friend Cristian and a zillion others like him are walking around selling cheese or tortillas or cookies or tamales or anything their parents can get ahold of to sell. I see these youngsters with cases of Coke or beer on their backs, or loads of wood, or what all else, but I never see them playing except in the few hours of school. Last month I told Cristian I would like to give him a present for Children’s Day (coming up in September) and what would he like. After the universal shoulder shrug, when I insisted he tell me, he said "a bicycle." Oh my God! I said how about something cheaper, and he said "shoes." Now I’m really torn. Even if I could afford a bicycle, for sure his parents would sell it. As I’ve said a million times, Americans are soooooo lucky.

 

In my final weeks I’m going to try to set up a process for a scholarship fund. I can’t bear the thought of bright kids leaving school after 6th grade when a few bucks would keep them in. Holland, foundation director and owner of Atuto, said if I could come up with an endowment and workable procedures, Foundation Ambos would administer it. I’ll keep you posted and hit you up for money later!!

 

Well, that’s it for now. Sorry about the pictures, but hopefully I’ll do better in the Dominican Republic!

 

Love Camille

 

 

Howdy All,

 

It’s been raining daily here for some weeks, and consequently power goes out every day for hours at a time. Since the sun sets around 6:00 I’ve been playing like Abraham Lincoln and reading by candlelight! When there’s nothing to read, I go to sleep REALLY early. Also, there’s still no water in the taps so usually it’s a bucket bath for Charissa and me.

 

My English class is still delightful. I’ve been teaching the kids songs--Row, row, row your boat and, currently, Mary Had a Little Lamb. They love it. Also, we’ve started a special project: I’ve asked them (in groups) to write a little "play." What a kick! And revealing!! One group has a play about a little girl and her father. The father tells the girl to go out and sell tortillas, the girl goes out to see, a customer buys, she returns home and says "No one wanted to buy tortillas and I only have 5 limpiras." So the father yells at her, smacks her around and says go back out. Wow...! A couple of groups are doing a scene from Red Riding Hood. One a scene from a story I read them about a mouse freeing a lion from a trap, and another interesting one is a father, daughter again, wherein the daughter wants a certain color flower from the garden, but the father says, no, I want the other color because it reminds me of your mother’s lips. There’s more to it but we haven’t translated it into English yet so I’m not sure. Romantic, yes??? These are SIXTH GRADERS!!!

 

I also learned something very interesting about school: the teachers start with a class of first graders and stay with the same group, changing grades every year, through sixth grade. Again, wow! Every year a new set of lesson plans, and you can bet they don’t save anything for six years!!

 

The other day they had a holiday because the principal was retiring (leaving 3 months beFORE end of term!! They’ll have no principal for the rest of the year). It was interesting. Picture an entire elementary school in the auditorium (course here there’s no auditorium, just classrooms surrounding a central paved area), sitting wherever they want without teacher supervision. Little kids are running all over, across the "stage" or whatever. Hummm. Anyway, there were performances--a couple different groups of girls performed "dances," not folk dances, just movements to pop music, but they wore little costumes more or less and got experience in the spotlight. One little boy about 8 sang a popular song with a recorded accompaniment, darn good. Except that they do not have a "sound system" like we're used to; they had a single hand mike that kept cutting out. This made it a bit interesting when a group of kids tried to recite something or sing a song.

 

Well, that’s about it for now. Real soon I’ll send you news about the scholarship fund. The procedures are almost ready.

 

Only a couple weeks left!!

 

Love Camille

 

  Next: Peace Corps Dominican Republic