Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Here comes the sun....

These last couple weeks the weather has really started to improve. It still rains in copious amounts every once in awhile, usually at night, but the days are almost entirely sunny now and it´s been wonderfully cool up on the mountain. This morning was almost chilly, maybe somewhere in the realm of 55 degrees fahrenheit when I got up just before dawn. Sweet!

I´ve almost finished with the training events here in my community over the same material I was learning a couple weeks ago at the IHCAFE center in La Fey. They have gone surprisingly smoothly from my end, although it´s hard to know what exactly the campesinos are thinking about me when they leave since it would be an understatement to say that I´m new at this compared to them. Basically, I drew together a summary of my notes from the training in La Fey (19 pages of them) and condensed it into what I thought I could get through in one day, without putting anybody to sleep, and still get the most important information across. I made a few visual aids on big sheets of paper with some text and some pictoral representations to help out the people who can´t read (and there are plenty of those). I didn´t get a chance to plan too much with Guillermo, the cooperative member who went with me and who supposedly had to do the presentation, because he´s been super incredibly busy with work to secure a project of bringing electricity to his community. He came to one capacitation and I did two others essentially by myself, with some help from Isaí (especially in the realm of answering questions).

The reason we did three capacitations is because it would have been difficult/impossible to get anything real done with 50 people at once, both in terms of spacial logistics and crowd dynamics. This helped me polish my presentation a bit, which I must admit was not awesome at the first event. I didn´t really think too much about getting nervous or having trouble with the presentation beforehand, because the truth is that even though my Spanish isn´t perfect, it´s pretty good and I´m probably more experienced at this kind of thing than anybody else in the community. However, picture this situation: You spend four days learning as much as you can about a completely new subject, which is a rather technical form of agriculture. You have to assimilate all that information and present it to a bunch of people who are not only older than you, they have spent their whole lives doing things that you are trying to explain to them how to do properly, and all in a language which you speak at the level of your average 9 year old. The first day I stood up to begin the presentation and all this finally occurred to me. I was like ¨oh yeah, that.¨ I´m not the kind of person that gets all worked up before having to do something really important. I just don´t think about it at all until the moment arrives, THEN I get nervous. So I stammered a bit and forgot some stuff, but I think they had the general idea that I was talking about coffee and the commercialization thereof. And the next time it went much smoother.

Today I´m in town to type up the exam I´m going to give my english students on Saturday, and once that is over I will probably be working quite a bit with the cooperative to help out people with their beneficios during the coffee harvest which is now in full swing. Despite all the activities of the harvest, I think I will have more free time because the school year will be over. I´m planting some tomatoes and sweet peppers and then whatever arrives in mom´s package in my garden. I also gotta finish up this map I´m drafting for Isaí of the area so they can hang it on the wall of their new building and put little flags where the farms of cooperative members are located.

In the realm of soccer, it has sort of faded into the background of everyday life for me, but I am still playing games on Sunday and, amazingly, my team seems to win more than they lose. This alone makes them almost the winningest team I´ve ever been on, woot.

A long time ago I promised more good expressions and slang terms, and so here they are. Most of these I have picked up now in Agua Fría although some are from the ¨slang dictionary¨ they gave us in training. Still, you hear them all being used.

¿Se halla aquí? - Do you encounter yourself here? The first time a guy asked me this, and when I gave him a blank expression he realized that might need clarification and said ¨what I mean is, do you FIND yourself here?¨ Apparently that means ¨do you like it here.¨

Para que le cuento! - Why am I even telling you this?! (i.e. because words could never adequately describe it). This is like an extreme superlative along the lines of ¨unbelievable¨ to describe how amazing something is. It could be good or bad.

De miedo - scary! Used a lot like ¨awesome.¨ So good it´s scary.

Da pánico - It causes panic. Like de miedo, but moreso even.

Tiene tres huevos - He´s got three balls. i.e. That guy´s a real man.

ahora/ahorita - Trying to get exact expressions of time is a joke here. Partly it´s because nobody has a watch, but also because there´s no emphasis whatsoever on punctuality. The literal translations are ¨now¨ and ¨right now¨ but ahora more commonly means anytime during the current day, and ahorita is anytime within half an hour in either direction of the current moment. It can be more depending on the propensity to exaggerate of the person you´re talking to.

Un POCO. - The words literally mean ¨a little bit¨, but when you hear that kind of emphasis on ¨poco¨ it means a heck of a lot.

Me agarró: la noche, la lluvia, etc. The night/rainstorm/whatever grabbed me. Means you got caught outside in such an event. If you end up walking home after dark and forgot your flashlight, that´d be a good time to use ¨me agarró la noche.¨

Vaya pues - Go on, then. Means basically the same thing as OK or allright.

No, pues si - No, well, yes. It´s like ¨well, yeah.¨ or ¨I guess so.¨

Ya estuvo - It already was. Means something is totally finished, like a piece of work perhaps.

Jalón - A big pull. Means a hitch, as in with hitchiking which is very common here and generally quite safe. Nice to be in a country where people actually pick you up and it´s already saved my bacon a couple times.

Pacuso - It describes a bad odor, specifically how people smell who don´t bathe. The word comes from the first two letters of pata, culo, and sobaco... foot, ass, and armpit.

Ir en el bus de las once - Go in bus number eleven. i.e. to walk (two legs look like 11).

I´d like to mention here that I absolutely do not have time today to give more news or reply to your emails so I figured the best thing to do would at least be to update the blog to get some stuff out to everybody. Keep it real. :)

Friday, October 14, 2005


I did a lot of traveling in the last few days, and the Honduran transportation system (as I was forced to spend as much time traveling this week as actually doing the stuff that I was traveling to do) reminded me of this one story I wanted to tell earlier but forgot. When we were in Tegucigalpa to get sworn in as volunteers back in mid-August (hard to believe it was already two months ago) there were a few presentations by the ´official´ US agencies at the embassy, such as USAID, the embassy itself, and the guys in charge of security for American citizens in Honduras. The security dudes were both newer to Honduras than us, and their presentation about the security situation in Honduras was without a doubt one of the most unintentionally hilarious things us trainees had witnessed.

Keep in mind, we had already been preached at innumerable times about safety here. With good reason, for the most part - the crime situation is fairly serious and there´s a greater potential of things like natural disasters and highway accidents here than in the states. However the peace corps training was very thorough about all this. At this point we had all gotten fairly comfortable with Honduras and more or less figured out what to do to avoid trouble.

So these two military or police-type guys got up and just paint this picture of Honduras that made it look worse than Iraq a year ago. They didn´t make it sound like every other Honduran was looking to rob you, they literally said so.

About motorcycles: ¨motorcycles are commonly used in robberies. If you see a guy on a motorcycle, he´s probably going to rob you.¨

About the gangs: ¨The gangs are bad in the smaller cities, but the situation hasn´t yet reached the sheer level of madness and chaos as in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula¨.

About the poverty: ¨You´re a target because you have money. There´s some guy sitting around in his hut who wants what you have.¨

The memorable moment for me was the one guy´s tone of voice and the look in his eye when he said ¨madness¨. You could swear the embassy was 15 minutes away from being overwhelmed by hordes of crazed gang members. We kept it together through the presentation, but recounting it afterwards at dinner had us crying with laughter for at least twenty minutes.

Anyways I remembered this because I had to pass through Tegucigalpa twice this week and regardless of the fact that those security guys are most likely unbalanced and anything they said should be taken with a grain (or a shovelful) of salt, Tegus is scary. It´s big and fast and very crowded, there are no signs whatsoever and it is very hard to get real information from people. I´m still learning not to ask yes or no questions because they WILL tell you whatever they think is a more pleasing answer. You run into this problem anyways, but it´s better if you make them provide the informatio themselves. I´m not sure why they think I´d prefer to hear the bus is coming in 15 minutes as opposed to an hour when I´m stuck on the side of the road and I´m not going anywhere regardless, and when the bus fails to show in 15 minutes I´m going to keep bugging them until they tell me the time at which it usually passes.

So why was I traveling this week, you ask? Well, there was a capacitation (like a training session) over wet coffee commercialization up north near the Lago de Yojoa. I learned about it a couple weeks ago, but I didn´t think I was going to go up until the day before. The fact is I needed to start learning all I can about coffee pronto. The harvest is only a few weeks away now for us, because we´re at a lower elevation than most coffee producers.

A word about wet coffee commercialization (beneficio húmido): Basically it´s one of the two common processes to get coffee from the little red fruits with a seed inside to a state in which it will be sold. The other process is called ´beneficio natural´ I think and it basically involves picking the bean and letting it dry as-is. Beneficio húmido is a lengthier process that takes the coffee to a state called ´pergamino seco´ in which the outer husk and the sugary fruity part have been removed and the coffee washed and dried to a point where it can be stored without deteriorating. It´s pretty darn technical and there are a lot of ways you can screw it up and damage the flavor of the bean, which is why it´s probably the most crucial part of the process for people that want to get quality prices for their coffee. We spent three whole days in the main center of IHCAFE (Instituto Hondureño de Café) taking notes in a classroom and around IHCAFE´s really nice beneficio. They also gave us room and board there for free, and the food was awesome. This was all funded supposedly by USAID, although supposedly the funds were only for coffee producers and the volunteers were going to have to pay. However, when were leaving and it came time to pony up, they just told us not to worry about it.

This would be one thing if IHCAFE was a government institute recklessly throwing away tax dollars like every other branch of the government, but it actually broke free a few years ago and is an independent private institution. They fund the whole thing through training events and their own production of quality coffee and a whole variety of produce on integrated farms. Any producer can go there and they will give away parasitic wasps that they developed in their lab to combat broca, the worst coffee pest, or pheremones to attract broca into soapy water traps. They also give away seeds for various coffee varieties if anybody asks and whatever else they have growing around the place for people to take back and plant. Compared to other officials I´ve run into around the country, I just got an overwhelmingly good feeling about the people there and the work they do, and Josh, a good volunteer friend of mine who went as well, feels the same. These guys are scientists and professionals who are motivated about the work they do and really feel that it is for the benefit of Honduras. They are not only working to develop the coffee industry here, but more than any other organization, sustainable agriculture and environmentally-friendly practices in everything they do. If there´s any institution I do not want to stiff, it´d be this one, but they just told us to go and they´d fix the money situation with someone in Tegucigalpa.... so oh well I guess. There is another capacitation the 5-9 of November and I´m already looking forward to it.

There are some other uninteresting details about my trip, and that brings us to right now - I got into Choluteca this morning and I´m waiting for my bus to leave back up to Agua Fría.

About last week: It rained a whole bunch more and I bought a CD player/radio that is already messed up - I think the CD spinner doesn´t work. Bummer, it was $50 which is a whole bunch of money for me. There was some stuff in the post about the radio stations; to make a long story short, the only good ones on FM are from Nicaragua and while there are many more stations here than in the states, the ratio of quality to crap is about the same or even lower. Latin pop is pretty intolerable to my ears. :P

This coming week, I´m going to get started immediately planning a day or two of working with cooperative members to relay the information I learned this week about commercializing their coffee with quality of taste foremost in mind. That is the only way they´re going to get a decent price here, because the coffee comes from such a low elevation. The fact that it´s organic means nothing if it doesn´t taste good, which is fairly obvious when you think about who makes up the niche market that is buying organic coffee.

Also I am supposed to do a couple auxiliary classes for my 9th graders since the school year ends in two weeks and they aren´t coming back next year. I was going to try and do a quick phonetics course, but after sitting down and trying to map out the phonetics of the english language, it became obvious to me that putting the word ´quick´ in the same sentence as ´english phonetics course´ constitutes an oxymoron of the first degree. Anyone who wants to find out what a freakin mess our language is need only take such a class. I´m sure they exist but you probably have to major in English at college to find them. So anyways, we´re not doing phonetics heh. It´s a shame because that could be a useful language tool for them to have; that is of course if it wasn´t the linguistic equivalent of a wrench made out of glued-together popsicle sticks in the greek measurement system.

Time´s short today. It was nice to get emails from those of you that sent them; and keep it real everybody.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Hey so um

I just wrote a whole post and THE ONE FUCKING TIME I forget to copy it all before I hit the post button, Goddamn Internet Explorer borks and loses the page. And I don't feel like spending 45 minutes to type it again, sorry guys. There wasn't much interesting anyways. I'll summarize next week.