Monday, June 20, 2005

Volunteer Visit

This past weekend, we all had a ¨volunteer visit¨ which entailed traveling somewhere in Honduras to visit an existing volunteer at their site for two days, living with them and checking out how things are gonna be once we´re out of training.

I went to a site that´s maybe 60-70 miles directly north of Siguatepeque as the crow flies, but it took an hour and half by bus, then 20 minutes by taxi, then another hour and a half by truck to get there. The volunteer, Andrew, lives in a small aldea of about 500 people called El Palmital right next to a Parque Nacional with some pretty sweet mountains. I met him down in the larger town of Santa Cruz de Yojoa, we did some shopping, and then we took the aforementioned truck ride up a dirt road to his site. In the town of El Palmital, maybe 2 people have vehicles and they use those as a business venture, running people down to Santa Cruz and back for basically everything that a person would need to buy.

It was pretty nice just visiting with Andrew, who has been at his site for 6 months now and has been pretty isolated from the world because of its location and because it´s really important to stick close to your site in the first few months while you´re building confianza (trust) with the people in your community. He definitely seemed happy to have some company that spoke the mother tongue.

On the first day we took a hike out to an abandoned farm, ate some green mangos (pretty good, tastes like a granny smith) and forgot to bring water.... big mistake. It´s not painfully hot around here in the mountains, but you overheat fast in the muggy weather. Lesson learned. We mostly spent the evening visiting and he showed me around El Palmital and introduced me to his ¨host country counterpart¨, Roberto.

Roberto was a really interesting guy. He´s 100% campesino, but he had a very different outlook than the majority of his community. I think it´s partly because he spent his youth traveling, so he´s actually seen the world and knows what kind of things are out there. His coffee, bananas, corn, beans, etc are probably the most integrated in the community, he actually uses soil conservation techniques, and he talked about bringing electricity and ecotourism to the aldea, which other residents barely know the meaning of. The thing that struck me the most about him though was his attitude. He had a certain pride about him that most of the others lacked. I think they have been exposed sufficiently to city culture, especially from America, that there is a general sense of worthlessness in being a ¨lowly¨campesino, substance farming, having land but not a lot of it, etc.

One of the big problems in El Palmital, Andrew told me, is that the smart, motivated men almost invariably go to the United States. In fact a significant majority of the adult population there was female. A lot of the men that still live there are bolos (drunks) and/or gamblers that don´t grow anything but corn and beans, have malnutritioned kids, and waste their money. I know these people live a much rougher life than we do, but El Palmital is a clean town with great soil and growing conditions, and most people own enough land to comfortably feed their families. It seemed like the largest problems were definitely social.

At any rate, it was nice to meet Roberto (and a few other people) who were smart and motivated and thinking big thoughts. For the most part, the visit was very inspirational. The chances that I will be living in a small, beautiful mountain town are pretty good and I´m psyched about that.

The rest of the visit we mostly did touristy things. The second day I helped him fight weeds in his little milpa (corn and bean field), then, unbelievably, beat him at chess (he has a chess club in his town and I had played once in the last 10 years or so). Later another volunteer, and two trainees from our group visiting her, came up and we walked out to a beautiful clean pool up in the mountains and swam for a bit. The water actually didn´t smell like manure! Incredible.

That evening we had wine and lentil soup by candlelight, did some yoga, and I played soccer barefoot for about an hour with the campesino kids. Man those little guys are tough. There was one little dude who couldn´t have been more than 12 who was just burning everybody.

The next day we got up at 5 am, did the three stage trip in reverse, and made it back to Siguatepeque by 10:30 am. I have to write a four page report on the experience in Spanish by tomorrow so I suppose I should get my ass off the computer and go do that. =) Resume translated to Spanish and a bs project also due this week. Argh.

oh p.s., they switched up the spanish classes this week and I moved up from Intermediate Medium to Intermediate High. Sw00t.


At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you got out to a site,
both for your and Andrew's sake. His situation sounds like what Carl has described as pretty typical for a placement in Honduras. Gee, Gabe, playing chess and doing yoga and playing soccer barefoot...what a life, eh? How did it feel to finally be that remote? Carl also told me about the problem with so many men coming to the US to work, so many getting involved being mules for drug runs, so many women desparate back home, drug use by the young folks, etc. I hope your town has a little more balance than that. Dad used to talk about how it seemed there was often a forward-thinking person in most communities, like Roberto, that could see beyond the life in front of their noses and think about the future generations.Seems like the trick for Honduras is going to be to get people to want to stay on the home front, isn't it? So like Mexico in many ways, I guess. What do you see as the differences?
Good job on moving up in Spanish proficiency! Wonder how I'll do in Spain. Been spending a lot of time reading and meticulously translating Spanish novels, practicing phrasing, so I can get the most out of my classes in Spain this summer, para que yo puedo hablar un poco mas bonito que los ninos en el programa del Centro Linguistico. (I have no idea where the accent or tildes are on this machine!)
Am visiting Marsha and family this week. They are all well. Went to Powell's bookstore for the first time. Got a bunch of stuff about northern Spain. Back home by tomorrow night. I'll call this weekend if you're going to be home.
Con Carino,

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Ender said...

Hey man - sounds like great times. I'm really happy you have this blog and can keep us updated. I hope you can get the most out of this experience and bring it home with you.

Looking forward to the next entry. - Nathan

At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nathan! Great to hear from you man. =) Should I check BLE for news updates on your status?


At 5:44 PM, Blogger Slice/Chris said...

Thanks for the update Gabe. You represent America and pdX well. We're all proud of ya. Keep up the good work.

At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pine i love you. i really do. Hope you're doing well.

-mitch "impurity"

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Ender said...

Yeah you could check there for updates, though I don't really say much about what's going on with me. We've moved to utah now and I'm helping maddeh with goodgame, and I'll be finishing school at the university of utah in a couple years. other than that, nothing real huge. Playing lots of UT of course, and we're working on getting the review site/magazine off the ground too. I'll be doing the editorials there, so I guess that may turn into a blog of my own of sorts. ;) Hope you are well. Looking forward to the next entry.



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