Saturday, July 30, 2005



We finished up our last sessions in Gracias this week and are going back to Siguatepeque tomorrow. The content of classes and other general news since my last post isn´t all that interesting.... another really busy week with lots of stuff to worry about, the main thing being a ¨fiesta de despedida¨ (departure party) for our host families in gracias, where we cooked them food and presented them diplomas for their good work in being host families and whatnot. They tell me that diplomas are handed out for damn-near everything around here, which seems about right. Every family has a picture or two in their house of their children in tuxes for their graduation..... from one grade to the next.

So the party was kind of fun; I made dad´s chili which turned out pretty well (I thought) which makes it a success by my standards. We hit a piñata and made some speeches and thanked God that the week, along with probably the most stressful part of training, was over. Today, we hopped a bus to Santa Rosa de Copan (where I am now). We´re going to have a little party at a house here that some PCVs rent as a communal gathering place. Supposedly a lot of the PAM volunteers from around the country are going to come over to meet us, so that should be cool. Then we´re heading back to Sigua tomorrow.

I feel like I´m getting boring with all this straight news so I´ve been thinking about a few random topics I´ve wanted to talk about here.

Things I like About Honduras

Openness. People like meeting, talking, sharing, and things like that. A lot of the personal questions that we might consider overly curious or prying are seen as friendly, and I kind of like that.

Family togetherness - their family ties are a lot stronger here. Maybe part of it is because you just don´t move across the country when you grow up, you get a job in your hometown and most likely do the same thing your dad/mom did. However the way they keep in touch with and especially look after each other within families is something I wish we had a little more of stateside. Parents spend more time with their kids too, I think.

Humility. This can be seen as a good trait and also as a drawback, but it´s refreshing being in a place where you hear people using the word humble all the time as a compliment. ¨Es un hombre muy humilde y sincero¨ is one of the best things you can say about another person.

People here are also very easygoing. You hear the expression ¨tranquilo¨ a lot, which people use to describe Honduras in general, their little town, or as a positive response when you ask them how they´re doing. They´re almost never in a hurry and don´t stress themselves out much.

The last and most important thing for me is generosity. And this is specifically something I found interesting to contrast with the United States, because for all our money we´re twice as reluctant to share anything with other people. People will share their house and food with a stranger - not just a few very open types do this; it´s how people are. It´s like all the money and stuff that we have in the US ends up dividing us from other people. We value independence so much we never like accepting help from other people, and in turn we´re reluctant to give it. People in harder circumstances know they need each other.

My Boots

I am of course talking about the Red Wing work boots that Dad bought me as a birthday/going-away present before I left. I try to be anti-materialistic and not be too attached to things and whatnot, but it´s interesting the psychological effect certain objects can have. I´ve always had kind of a fascination with shoes - I used to be obsessed with my feet size as an indication that I was growing up. Ditto when I got my first baseball mitt.... the smell of the leather and the way it looked on my hand was like the coolest thing ever.

This sounds really stupid, but these boots has a similar psychological effect in that wearing them just makes me feel more like a grown man, ready to face the world. It probably has something to do with all the years growing up and knowing that when Dad put on the high leather boots with lug soles, it was time to go to work. Maybe it´s just the fact that they fit me so great and I love leather too, I dunno. When I lace these things up and step out the door I feel invincible.

ps - no, Red Wing, you may not put this in an advertisement.

Actually I can´t think of a whole lot more right now. I started writing this stuff down in a notebook but I forgot to bring it with me. Til next time then. =)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Busy Week


First off I want to apologize for being so tardy in updating, but man has a lot happened in the last week. Also, for those of you with short attention spans or limited amounts of time, consider this your warning that a very long post is to follow.

Grandma and Grandpa - I got a postcard from you guys today, dated the 6th so that might give you an idea how long it takes stuff to get here. I still haven´t gotten anything from anybody else. Thank you guys for writing, it was very nice to be one of the people that got mail when they were passing it around this time.

So what all has transpired? In short, a ton, so I will break this down into some of the most notable stuff.

La Feria/Dia de Lempira

I think I mentioned this in a previous post, but La Feria is the annual fair that a lot of towns have, and for Gracias it´s a pretty big deal because they also have a national holiday, the Dia de Lempira (a famous national hero - indian war chief that put up a good fight against the spaniards - until of course they assassinated him during a ¨treaty talk¨.) So anyways there were a ton of cultural events going on last week. I saw lots of traditional ¨danses¨ which are a lot like country swing dance but a lot more demure. They also had some beauty contests, games, fireworks, chicha (basically corn cider or sour mash), and a big parade last Wednesday. There were tons of little kids with bows and indian costumes, dancers, drummers, etc. The costumes they make here are really just awesome. Actually, beyond the cultural stuff it was exactly like a fair in Spokane - lots of food stands, traveling stands selling knicknacks and crapola, some gambling games and a few rides, and a fair amount of drunks.

La Feria was also nice because all the other volunteers in the area came into town for it, so I got to meet a bunch of them. Most interesting was George, or ¨George of the Jungle¨ or ¨gringo loco¨ who I´d heard a lot about but not met. He rode a bull in he rodeo (I hear he got bucked pretty fast) directly after some guy who got trampled and had to get CPR. More about him later.

On the other hand, La Feria was not so nice because every night for like four days in a row there was unbelievably loud music until like 2 am, which I could easily hear from my house because it´s so close to the park. It was fun, but I was very glad when it was over.

Dia del Agricultor

This is something we did last Thurdsay, where we all individually went to the home of a producer (campesino) and hung out with them all day, helping out with whatever activities they would normally have planned and talking about the way they farmed their land and whatnot. It was basically like a ¨day in the life¨ for us to see what it´s like for the people we´re going to be working with in just a few short weeks. They set us up with some people in the area that are already working with agricultural improvement organizations, and have also met and worked with Volunteers in the past, so it wasn´t too wierd of a thing for them.

When I got to the house of my producer, he was out getting firewood on the mountain with his horse so I stuck around the house and helped the mother make bread. This even turned out to be hard work, mixing the dough and sugar/butter/egg mixture and stuff.... although it didn´t actually take that much longer than it does with a mixing machine. Through the experience I started to notice how completely non-essential most of our cooking tools are. We made some pineapple tarts and sugary cookie things for eating with coffee.

Don Rufino came home at around 11, so we ate lunch, talked about rocks a little bit and went out to his plot of land. We planted some gras as a live barrier, and a few plants of yuca (casava), but mostly he just wanted to visit so the second half of the day turned out to be easier. We talked about agricultural practices, politics, and geology. Next week we´re all going to go back with a few materials to implement two tech improvements in their plots... mine was live barriers with a specific type of grass that is superior to what he has now.

Although there were a few things about the experience that surprised me, a lot about the experience reflected what I have learned about and come to expect from this culture and the campesino life. They were very polite, ran a tiny puleria in their house, and (I thought) seemed to be doing all right for themselves. I was very surprised to find out, however, that they don´t sell their crops. Why? Because Don Rufino only has enough land to subsistence farm. That blew me away. They really did seem to be eating well, but I had to wonder where they get money to buy clothes and other small necessities. I´ve heard the same sentiment expressed from other volunteers, and I think in this particular case the mother was the major breadwinner.... with her pulperia, home baking, and contribution to a baking cooperative in town. Their 18 year old son is going to school (what we would consider high school) and that is a really big deal. They are very proud of him. He only goes a few days a week and has to help in the farm the rest of the time, so it is going to take him awhile to finish but I think there is always that hope that someone in the family will make it into a profession.

Camping in Celaque

Yesterday and Friday, we were in Celaque National Park doing sessions on wildlife inventories, ecotourism, and trailbuilding. We went up at like 1 pm on Friday and came back much later than we wanted to on Sunday because our Cover Crops session got eaten by the Feria and we squeezed it in after trailbuilding. The park is really beautiful, and contrary to many others in the country, fairly well protected. Gracias gets its water supply from Celaque, and people are quite well educated on the effects of losing trees from your watershed and having animals/humans pooping in the water, so there´s a lot of pressure and awareness to keep it clean, especially the Rio Arcagual watershed (which is a pretty good sized portion of the park). They actually relocated some inhabitants when the park was formed, and we saw remainders of their farming.... rock walls, old trails, a coffee plant here and there.

Camping in the cabins at the visitor´s center was fairly uneventful, but the trailbuilding session was neat. George (previously mentioned) led it and dragged us a fair distance up the moutain with picks, hoes, and machetes. With 17 of us working we fixed up a pretty fair section of trail (following old agricultural trails) and had time to hike up to the top of a ridge later. Then after that we did a session on ecotourism, and George led another session on cover crops. I was friggin´ beat after all that. The cover crops session was kind of inspiring though, because it seems to work very well and be one of the techniques that catches on the best. We also visited George´s house, met his horse Pendejo, and checked out his garden. It got me really excited to rent my own house and start one, because his looked awesome.

There is a lot more that I´ve been doing in the last few days, but I can´t seem to remember anything else really interesting right now so I´ll leave it at that for the news section. My spanish keeps improving and I´ve gotten to the point where I´m pretty confident in conversations now once I get warmed up, and I can really talk about a variety of subjects. I gave a presentation to my spanish class about different types of volcanoes on Friday and it went really well. As I´ve gotten more and more used to Honduras and the culture, I´ve finally started to figure out some of the little things that get on my nerves.... even being the ruthless optimist that I am. So, for a closer....

Things that bug me about living in Honduras

(not in order)

Pan Dulce. My stomache turns every time I put it in my mouth, and they eat it all the time. It´s horrible stuff.

Garbage. They have trash cans, they all know it´s bad to throw garbage in the street, but they still ALL do it, all the time.

Indirectness. Everything has a hidden meaning, and nobody really says what they mean either. They will never, ever criticize you in any direct way but talk chisme (gossip/trash talk) behind each other´s backs a ton. You can´t say anything that might theoretically disappoint another person.... you have to make up some bullshit reason why you can´t eat it or use it or come to the meeting or whatever. This is not really considered lying, except of course to me.

The education system - already commented on how much it sucks in an earlier post. Also the kids are honestly out of school way more than they´re in it. The teachers go on strike all the time (not that I blame them), they only have half days, and there are holidays like every week. Their kids are just so poorly educated, it drives me nuts.

Alcohol - They have no concept of responsible use. You are either super religious and strict and against it, or a bolo.

Eh, that´s enough whining for now. Will comment on things I like about Honduras next time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Well, FBT continues and It Is Good. We´ve been doing a lot more tech here than before and I approve of this - they are always more interesting than my other classes. We´re also having to do a huge pile of homework, out-of-class projects though.... We had to teach 26 teachers from a local elementary school about environmental education (the first presentation in spanish for some people) and I met with a teacher afterwards to plan an individual 45-minute session at the same school on Friday. We´re going to talk about garbage and what should be done with it besides toss it in the streets. Then next week I have another project I have to do by Friday about the politics of Honduras. Thankfully we don´t have Saturday classes this weekend.

During the two hours before our presentation to the teachers yesterday, we talked about the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and what it will mean for Honduras. From what I have learned now, which is mostly from the perspective of the learned members of the community here, is this:

CAFTA is definitely good for U.S. corporations and the very corrupt upper crust of wealth and power here.

It might be good for your average joe in the USA - depends if his job gets shipped overseas. If not, he may enjoy lower prices for stuff! But probably not.

It will absolutely not be good for the people of Honduras.

Why? There are a variety of reasons. One of the most important is that most of the people of Honduras are highly dependent on the little money they make farming. There are a few maquiladoras (textile/sweat shops) but far more people are small-time farmers. Opening the borders to U.S. companies would allow our mass-produced, subsidized foodstuffs to compete with the small farmers, who would not stand a chance. Really, businesses of all types would get dominated by incoming American business, but the largest negative impact to the economy would be to the Agriculture sector. So the farmers would get driven into the cities once their crop prices were no longer sustainable to work in the new industrial jobs (mostly textiles) and the companies would have to compete with China, which has even lower wages than Honduras right now, so wages would almost certainly go down.

This brings up two other important points. First, CAFTA has practically no labor standards. It will basically encourage a drop in wages, safety, and workers´ rights. Secondly, it will increase urbanization and all the social problems that go with it - drugs, crime, gangs, poverty, health problems, etc etc.

Speaking of health, they treaty makes provisions to allow private companies to start competing with the government for basic public utilities - water, electricity, etc. This would probably result in worse service or lack of service to poor and isolated communities, and increased prices for most people. Also, CAFTA provides no decent environmental regulations, which of course would lead to pollution and resource exploitation as a corollary to development of foreign-owned industries.

There is also an aspect of the treaty that I´m not as clear on that would undermine countries´ rights to legally protect themselves from lawsuits served by corporations when the government interferes with their ability to make a profit. Maybe I´m hesitant about it because it almost sounded too ridiculous to be true. But there was an incident cited where Costa Rica denied some oil company the right to develop an operation offshore, and they tried to sue the government for some billions of dollars that was more than the entire country´s GDP. That was luckily thwarted in local courts because Costa Rica never signed some global petition or treaty that would give corporations the right to do whatever it was that the oil company wanted to do. At any rate, my opinion on this matter is simply that taking away power from these sovereign nations´ governments and handing it to foreign companies is simply not good for those countries.

But it will allow Honduran producers to reach wider markets, right? Sure, but it´s not like they can really compete with the US for any of those markets. What is really going to happen is that Honduras will become more urbanized, dependent on foreign imports, and most likely health, safety, and fairness standards will go down. In other words, please oppose CAFTA. There has been a ton of popular opposition all over central america, and a few of the countries - most notably Costa Rica - have governments with enough backbone to stand up to it. Honduras´s government, however, is relatively weak and corrupt. We need to defeat this in our own congress.

In other news, things are going well at home - I have had some good conversations with Edwin and Jacqueline about various things and the little kids and I are getting along swell. Their mom went to church last night and I stuck around to take care of ´em, so we played some games of hide and seek and hot/cold object searches. When we were playing hide and seek, one of the kids tried to hide in the same spot as me so I waited til the other one was coming and then tossed him out and yelled ¨here he is!¨ This of course was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Been eating a lot of beans and tortillas, my health is good, and I´ve been running in the mornings too. Really nice area to do it in. I´ve actually been watching a lot of TV too, because that´s what this family does a lot in their spare time. It´s not like we the trainees get together every single night to do stuff, so I end up watching TV too just to pass the time. I saw The Deer Hunter the other night, and that was a pretty excellent movie.

Can´t think of too much more to say. I forgot my list of Hondureñisms, so I guess I´ll have to do that next time, but here´s a good quote from my friend Josh:

¨You know, I´ve almost gotten used to the sight of schoolgirls with machetes.¨

and Tim:

¨I can map the human genome, but I can´t tell someone I want a banana!¨

TTFN. :)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

FBT and Gracias

I know it´s been awhile and a few of you needed to communicate with me, but I had a good reason I swear.

Last Sunday our training group split into the two individual projects (Protected Areas Management and Business) and went out to our Field Based Training sites. We´re going to be living here for four weeks and concentrating on spanish and tech training, with cultural stuff mixed into those two subjects rather than getting its own classes.

The town is Gracias, Lempira, which is one of the oldest and nicest colonial towns in Honduras. Plus it sits right at the foot of Celaque National Park, the highest place in the country. So far it´s safe to say I like it a lot. The people are very chill here, and they´re more used to gringos because it´s more of a tourist town. Feels more religious than Sigua too, and there´s less to do at night but it´s much safer - I never ever feel like I have to take a taxi (and most of the time it´s not really an option anyway). There´s a lot of really nice fancy churches left over from colonial times, and even a big white castle that sits on top of a hill in the middle of town. Very cool. Climate is a little hotter than Sigua, but drier. Less biting insects is welcome.

As you might imagine, I´m staying with a new host family and that is going fine. The mom Jacqueline stays at home and runs a pulperia, the father Edwin runs some kind of cable TV business in another town but he´s around a lot, and there are two kids (6 and 7 years old, Edwin and Manuel respectively). I think their economic class is more or less the same as the family I stayed with before. They´re friendly people and good company. Religious, just like everyone else, but Edwin has a more interesting perspective... he says he had many vicios (drinking and smoking pot) that he gave up 8 years ago. He likes fishing, cars, and some american music that is actually good such as The Doors, Pink Floyd, and even some Metallica. :D The stuff from America that they listen to in Sigua makes me want to cry. They took me to some hot springs near town the first night too, which absolutely rocked. I had not felt hot water since I´ve been here. They are called the Aguas Termales, but Edwin told me the people refer to it as the ¨aguas maternales¨ because of the propensity of couples that like to go there.

In our tech training here so far we´ve worked for a fair amount of time on Intergrated Pest Management - different prevention methods, and the making of natural pesticides. Yesterday and today we did extension methods (ways of meeting and starting a working relationship with the community) and improved cookstoves. Got to make adobe, which of course involves playing with mud. That was fun.

There´s been a lot of other great little stories during the interim, but I really don´t have time to recall or tell them all. I´m in good spirits generally, although spanish has been frustrating lately. I had my second spanish interview and they put me back in Intermediate Medium but with a + sign for ¨strong¨ which basically means I haven´t learned anything but I speak with more confidence than before. I know that´s not true. Ah well. I miss the business half of our group too, now I don´t have anyone to be geeky around.

Dad wanted the phone number for the PC main office in Tegucigalpa, so here that is: 232-1753/231-1993. That´s what I have on the card they gave me; I don´t know why there´s two numbers.

More Hondureñisms to come in the next edition, if you guys want... I´ve found some more good ones. :)

As usual, hope you all are well and whatnot. Love from the tropics!

El Boog