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.


At 2:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the newsy post. Sounds like your days are going to be full from now on. I wondered if the tendency to skirt around the truth would get to you. This will be a good lesson for you in couching the truth when necessary. You´d love the northern Spaniards, as they are known for their blunt honesty. When you enter a store, instead of saying ¨How can I help you?¨they say¨¡Digame!¨ in a loud and commanding voice. Really puts you off at first. Now I'm an expert at the same...You'd be proud of me. Have you seen the movie, El Mar a Dentro? It takes place in Galicia, only about 20 kilometers from here, and is a great depiction of these simple folk. Do go if you get the chance in the city.
My weeks have been as full as yours, replete with local holiday representing a holy day celebrated by a wider region, as St. James symoblizes conquest of the Christians over the Muslims, which in turn represents the conquest of all enemies, present and past. The exception is that folks in this old city stay up til 5 or 6 AM (really, I thought that dawn would deter them, but no such luck), and pass by our windows singing in large groups ala fraternity style til said hours. The population goes from about ten thousand to ninety thousand for the week.
Went to Portugal for a day and got to see another saint´s day celebration in a smaller town, reminiscent of the processions in Guatemala during holy days, only dozens of saint icons are carried by different groups, decorated ala float style with hundreds of flowers meticulously arranged at each saint´s feet. There must be no other place in the world with so many representations of Christian saints as in Europe. My favorite is St. Francis, of course, as he represents humility, service, and love of animals, all important to both my dad and my grandfather.
Classes here are very intense, and, as Spaniards like to correct any little blunder you might display in the use of their language, you are on your toes for all 4 and a half hours of class each morning. Because it is about a half hour walk each way, and we cover this ground at least once a day, what with the being in class under these conditions and the walking, I'm beat at the end of each day. In spite of this, we usually go out to pasear en la calle, como todo el mundo each night, cuz if you can´t beat em... Should sleep for a week when I get home next week.
Gotta get back to class.
Thank you thank you for the long post.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Slice/Chris said...


Very educational. Wish I had a shock rifle to toss to ya, so you can take out frustrations properly. :P

At 2:01 PM, Blogger pineconeboy said...

Hey mom, sounds like they´re working you almost as hard as me. ;) Call me in siguatepeque when you get home, k?


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