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.



At 6:24 AM, Blogger John said...

Ah Gabe, you're one of my heroes man.


My news is minor. I've been inspired to write and I think this may actually be the draft that I finish. Therefore, you may get a novel sent your way to read when you get bored! :D But that's still a while off. I won't be sharing the work with anyone until I finish.

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you know why I NEVER start an ESL class with phonetics. It just serves to frustrate the teacher and totally scare/confuse the students. I always begin by teaching useful words with which to communicate (Hi,my name is...Hey!...Where do you live? Where does your sister live?) and then teach only the patterns of vowel sound combinations they're already familiar with in context. So, after a week of 'howdydoo', we begin with the various patterns we've encountered that sound like long 'a', and stick those words in there. The next week, short 'a', and maybe, just maybe, the broad 'a' that is most familiar to them. I love your analogy to the popsicle stick model, as that's how I and they often feel! More in my e-mail. Glad you're home. The trip up north sounds wonderful.
Tu mama

At 8:51 AM, Blogger pineconeboy said...


Do it! I'm puttering away here on my retarded UT fanfic (darn pencil and paper is so slow hehe), so show me up! :)

A note for clarification, it turns out I was incorrect about IHCAFE's funding. Most of the money comes from a national coffee fund that taxes a dollar or two from ever quintal (100lbs) of coffee that they export. That makes more sense I guess. They money really goes back towards supporting coffee producers, which is what taxes are theoretically supposed to do for a country but I don't think the Honduran government can be counted on for that kind of thing.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Jose said...

I ran into your blog and it made me reminice about growing up down there. Are you near Jicaro Galan? I'm from Tegus...but Choluteca was on the way to your anual Spring Break holiday. But I digress. Regarding CAFTA, the results are more positive than negative. It will force national companies to come up with better ways of producing, and to diversify. There are some factoids that are startling however. Poultry: A year's worth of Honduran poultry production is accomplished in 45 minutes in the US.

Remmitances are floating much of the economy at the moment and the people running the government often profit from this in the form of fees. Send 100 bucks to Tegus from Miami and wiring service gets around 6 to 9 dollars in fees. The secret fee? The exchange rate. By doing an on the fly conversion from dollars to Lempiras, they pocket another 10 dollars. How to avoid it: Use your ATM card issued by an American bank. Most ATMs in Honduras will honor them, and for every 100 bucks you send, the transaction is a flat 2 bucks on the average. I think as you go around the country, you'll find it interesting to note how many relatives live up here and send money back to Choluteca...


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