Friday, September 30, 2005


These last couple weeks have really been wet as hell. It was foggy and drizzly for like four days at a stretch once, and for the last little while it's been sunny for awhile in the day, but it seems like the more sun we get during the day the bigger the thunderstorm that rolls in at 3-4 pm every single afternoon. Everyone says it's been an "invierno muy copioso" in terms of water, which is a good thing. There have been some dry years lately and this is much better. Still it's kind of annoying when drying your clothes out becomes impossible. I keep thinking "The south.... is supposed to be hot. And dry." Wait til the summer I guess.

Work continues to develop. Tim, the nearest Volunteer to me who lives in La Fortuna, had to go to Tegucigalpa to retake a Spanish test because he didn't do well in training. He took another week of classes and is back now. But his counterpart hasn't been around and community integration is giving him troubles so we're going to spend a couple days together next week checkin out his community and mine, talking to people, etc. Tim's probably one of the best agricultural techs we've got in my PAM group (he's a whiz at hydroponics and wants to try introducing it to people who produce small plots of vegetables for sale).

Spanish classes continue to roll along. We're doing plurals, and the Am and Are forms of To Be in my high school classes. With the elementary kids we're learning how to say please and sorry and sing "Head and Shoulders." :) Despite my best efforts, the high schoolers seem to be learning a thing or two. I guess I need to try harder.

We also had another meeting with USAID/MIRA where they did a survey of the conditions of water systems in the communities around the San Juan micro-watershed with the community representatives present. Also, a North American named Luke was there to talk with the coffee cooperative and try to figure out the situation with fruit growing in the area. He seems to be pushing an organic fruit project for the growers more than coffee, because of the constraints the project places on him to produce certain results.... He's already working with a lot of coffee cooperatives in other watersheds that can produce at higher elevations and have a better chance of getting real prices for their coffee. According to taste tests, the coffee that COCAGUAL produces is as good or better than coffee grown at higher elevations, but the way the industry is it is pretty much impossible to get a really good price or market for lower elevation coffee.

So anyways, Luke talked about the possibility of drying fruit for use of some of the things (especially mangos) that just lie around rotting mostly and getting them to a different market. Also what COCAGUAL has wanted to do, and I'm going to start working on later today, is a study of the market here in Choluteca for organic produce. The eventual strategy is to get all the organic coffee producers certified organic for their fruit production also, set up their own transportation system, and get their own special booth or section here in town to sell their organic produce. They sell stuff to coyotes up in Agua Fria for literally half (or less) than what they could get down here, and that's at the price for normal non-organic stuff. They want to set up here and get market awareness by selling their stuff (which really is high quality) for normal prices and then gradually trying to get some better prices out of the people who have a real interest in organic food specifically.

I had been sort of wondering how I was going to work directly with COCAGUAL, and as I find out more about their operation it is becoming more clear to me. First, I will have to spend some time learning a lot more about coffee production and organic farming, but eventually I will be training new producers, inspecting fincas, doing talks, and lots of things like that. It isn't that there aren't people in the cooperative trained to do this, but they are all producers as well and nobody has much time. Also I will be trying to reach other communities and generally spread the word.

Today I'm going to ask around and find the prices for all kinds of different fruit that is produced and sold commercially in my area, and see also what it costs to find and set up your own spot to sell here in the Choluteca market. Then I'm going to spend the night with Jon Youngman, a Water and Sanitation volunteer here in town, and go to a meeting with what I guess you could call the school board here tomorrow.

So that's news and stuff. I've been having fun lately paying attention to the different kinds of voices that people use in different situations. The language here is very emotionally expressive. They are less articulate and specific than we are, but they communicate lots more with hand gestures, expressions, tones, etc... many of which are comically exaggerated.

For example, the mothers' "I'm yelling at my kids or the dog" voice. It's like The Voice that the Harkonnen women (is that right?) from the Dune book used. It's so commanding you do the order without even realizing it. When we yell, our level of seriousness/anger is generally expressed by two things... volume and tone. They add a third dimension, which is speed. The faster they talk, the more trouble you're in. When you hear things like
"VAYAFUERATIGRE!!!" (the dog)

That's when things are getting serious.

The younger guys, especially in the 17-25 range, have this way of conversing between themselves that is very unique. I can't understand them for the life of me either. It consists of putting a ridiculous amount of emphasis on every third or fourth word. Like a description of something that happened in a soccer match:

"... y PUCHica era una patada TAN dura que no puede CREER! Se FUE la pelota en la esquina y el portero se quedo PARADO!" This would be more realistic if I understood any of the slang they typically use, but that is not the case.

Older guys when they're recounting stories do this thing where the tone of their voice varies fluidly between high and low like a sine wave as they talk. There is no possible way I can do it in text. Mom probably knows what I'm talking about.

They have this one gesture I really like that looks like somebody packing a can of snuff. They hold their thumb and middle finger together and snap their hand, smacking the pointer finger on down. It adds emphasis to whatever's being said or can be a sign that hurrying up is needed, like the way we snap our fingers.

But my favorite, oh my absolute favorite is pointing with lips. Instead of going to all the trouble to raise the hand and then a finger and point, they turn their head in whatever direction and purse their lips like a monkey once quickly. I still try not to laugh when I see it.

I gotta get moving here. Really nice talking with you on IM, Sam. Dad, see the email I sent you. Stay safe and don't do drugs kids!!

check yall later,


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Well, I'm back after almost two weeks. There was work to be done last Friday and every day since then, so I've had to wait until today for my next trip into town. It's quite surprising how busy I have been. The school has me teaching the elementary kids now, which adds two more days of english classes to my week. Things have been a little more active with the coffee cooperative as well. Right now I have activities planned every day until the Friday after this coming one when I will presumably head to town again.

It's almost too much for my mind to keep up with right now to think about all the news and whatnot. Let's see... I played soccer the 15th (independence day here) and the following Sunday as well. Between those four games we won three. The first team we played on the 15th wouldn't let me in because of some obscure rule that I'm not quite sure even applies to me. They beat our guys 2-0 and I'm sure my presence would not have made any difference. The second team was nicer and let me play. It was quite possibly the largest crowd I've played in front of (not that that is saying much) and I had a pretty extreme save when two of their forwards got the ball past our goalie and I intercepted it right on the line. Lots of cheers for that. Felt awesome. We ended up tying 1-1 and winning in penalty kicks. The team we played on Sunday is the same one we beat in my first game and we beat them again. Nothing real dramatic to report there.

Yesterday I accompanied some water techs from USAID/MIRA around the local water systems while they were sampling to test for fecal coliform bacteria and chlorine levels, if they were in fact chlorinating the water (which at this point, they weren't). I think even without chlorine my community has pretty great water though. Stomach problems seem to be quite a rarity. Anyways, this watershed project wants to set up a monitoring system and train some people to do it after the project leaves to keep an eye on quality, and I think I can probably help out with that which is cool.

I have been trying to track down and sample all the fruits they have here in the last couple days. Many of them can't be found right now due to the fact that they aren't in season. Supposedly this mountain can grow any fruit that is found anywhere in Honduras, which might be a slight exaggeration, but it's certainly not far off the mark. Here's a list of all the fruits I have found that I never knew of before coming here (most of them probably don't even have English names). Stars are ones I've tried, two stars for the really good ones.

"Limon real"* - like a lemon but big as a grapefruit and sweeter
Nance** (though it should be noted that 95% of gringos absolutely hate these things).

Maracuya or Grenadia might be what we call Passion fruit, but I'm not sure. Then there are of course that many again or more of fruits that we do have in the states. The only things they don't have here that I know of are blueberries. Apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, and absolutely everything else is present.

Sorry for a short entry today, but after a long time away I have even more to do in town right now. I will try to get a better entry in next time.


Friday, September 09, 2005

My carrots

They're so dead. I planted 'em almost two weeks ago and still nothing's showing. Isai, however, says they can take up to twelve days to germinate so I'm still harboring a little hope. The radishes on the other hand are kicking ass, and we've got sweet peppers going in a little nursery. Also bananas are coming on strong right now. I mean, specifically minimos. What we call bananas are here called minimos, or the little sweet kind, as opposed to platanos, the big gnarly kind that you have to cook and taste kind of like a potato but way better when they're green, and kind of like a sweet potato when they're ripe. They make a snack bags out of green platanos that are almost exactly like potato chips but are way the hell better. My PC friend Josh and I are already planning to make our fortunes when we come back to the USA by taking the snack industry by storm with platano chips. Anyways I'm psyched about the minimos because I haven't had a banana in forever. Here I am in the banana republic too, it's kind of wierd. I just can't get 'em back to my place from the market in Choluteca without completely destroying them.

I haven't done a whole heck of a lot this week. I taught more spanish (went better this time, I'm getting a feel for the pace now) and had another soccer game on Sunday. This time we hiked about 8 km one way to the game from Agua Fria, plus the 2 km from my place to Agua Fria for me. I'm pretty sure I hiked at least 20km, (12 miles) plus we had two games again. This time I got to rest more though because we had a ton of players... I totaled obout one game's worth of playing time. There were three teams and we played a round robin. We won our first game in penalty kicks and lost the second, ending in second place. Our real goalie showed up this time (he must have been busy before) and was the main reason we won at all. He is one of the best goalies I've ever played with or against.... nice having that peace of mind knowing he's always back there. Oh and my teammates are already telling me I'm ok but I need to be more aggressive. Sound familiar dad? :)

I'd like to be telling you all about the sweet projects I've been working on, but soccer is almost the most interesting thing in my life right now. So that's what I got. This weekend I'm going to Nacaome (a town in the southwest part of Honduras, close to El Salvador) to visit some other volunteers and take a boat tour of some mangrove swamps. They're trying to develop the tourism industry there as an alternative to the shrimp farming that has all but wiped out the mangrove swamps in Honduras, which are supposed to be a pretty unique environment. Looking forward to that. There's no english classes or soccer game this weekend so this trip came in nicely to give me something to do.

Other interesting tidbit is that I went to the town El Corpus, where they have what you might call the county seat (here it's the municipalidad) to check it out. There wasn't much going on in the municipalidad, but Corpus is a totally beautiful colonial mining town. I happened upon a "community communication center" which was actually a phone terminal and internet cafe with some really nice computers. I wonder where they got 'em. There were some kids playing Need for Speed Underground (a popular racing game, for those of you who don't know) and the computers also had Unreal Tournament 2003 which is part of the series of games that I used to play the most. It was kind of surprising. This internet cafe that I go to here in Choluteca is also a gaming center. Community gaming centers are a lot more common here than in the states because people can't afford their own equipment and they're obviously a popular social hangout for the schoolkids. It's yet another instance where I've been struck by the extent to which some technology has become cemented here, and some is still lagging. There's computers that can run UT2003 smooth as butter in this small colonial pueblo of El Corpus, but the entire country has alomst no garbage disposal system. It's interesting.

Til next week. :)


Friday, September 02, 2005

One armed referree

It's that time again!

Barring other happenstances, I think Friday is going to become my day to go into town. The bus is not very crowded and there usually aren't important events scheduled on this day.

I somehow got sucked into a soccer team, but it's cool because it's a good bunch of kids and a couple 40 year olds with potbellies that play offense and cherry pick. Probably half the team smokes and a couple them bring pistols with them. This is fairly standard though because the mountain roads can be dangerous. There's desperaders in them hills, for real.

So last Sunday I headed down to the pulperia to buy groceries and the kid that lives there was like "want to play soccer?" And I was like, "sure." So I fetched my tacos (cleats) and we walked like 6 km to the field, got there an hour late, and started an hour and a half later when the rest of the team showed up. The ref, as my title indicates, had one leg and got around the field on crutches. We played two full 1:30 minute games because the other team had a crapload of players. So we played half of them first and then the other half. We tied the first game, but won the second one which is what counted. I played all but the second half of the first game on defense. Other highlights include a ridiculous thunderstorm with lightning that came within approximately 300 yards (counting seconds), the ball getting stuck in an absolutely enormous strangler fig that overhangs the field (we threw sticks at it until it came down and played it as soon as it touched the field) and having to chase cows off to start. The field was tiny, maybe half the size of a regulatio one, but they said it was "macizo" (great) because it's so flat. Oh, I also scored a goal (against my own team... it was going in anyways). That was the game we won, so whateva. All told I probably walked 8 miles that day at the very least and played 2:30 hours or so of soccer. I could barely move on Monday. I would say overall that my skill level is about the average of the team and I know strategy better, so I don't feel useless playing with these guys (my high school team for example would probably roll them). We have another game on Sunday that is supposedly a two hour hike away. At least there's only one game this time heh.

Not a ton else has happened since my last posting. I planted some carrots and radishes in my garden, worked a bunch on my compost pile (carrying manure in grain sacks from the horse pasture, chopping up plants with a machete so they decay faster and whatnot) and went to another meeting with the USAID guys. This time there was an older dude there who works specifically with protected areas who was really friendly and patient and knew his stuff. I really hope I get to work with him. We brainstormed some problem-solving strategies to start working on within the community and got free pop and sandwiches. The same day (yesterday) a journalist from Mexico who's been living in Honduras for awhile came up to work on a story about the state of coffee production in Honduras. She's Danish and named "maja" (pronounced "Maya") and was a very interesting person to talk to. Her spanish was absolutely excellent and English not bad either, so we chatted a bit in two different languages. It's a real pleasure once in awhile to speak a language you don't suck at when you're deprived of that privilege for long periods of time.

The other thing I wanted to talk about and forgot to mention last time is how I get money out of the bank. It's pretty funny. Get this: I write checks to myself. That's how all the peace corps volunteers do it. I go up there, pull a check out of my checkbook with my name and account number on it, date the check, write it to "Gabe Hensold", sign it Gabe Hensold, and then endorse it by Gabe Hensold. I love it.

Last piece of business, I have a better number to be contaced at. It is the pulperia where I go for groceries, the son of the owner is the guy who invited me to play soccer and we seem to be pretty good friends now. Supposedly I can also make calls from there to the states and I think the line is better. The number is 754-1225.