Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bak 2 skewl

Well, happy (Honduran) back to school everyone, classes officially start next Monday, although in the Maestro en Casa program that I´m working with we probably won´t get going for real until the following week due to a lack of textbooks and general organization. I was at a meeting today with the people here in Choluteca who run the program regionally, and it was nice to finally get that contact and feel a little more cemented in what we´re doing and not so much showing up randomly to give classes. Nobody ever really let me in on the overall plan last year and I think maybe they didn´t so much know what it was themselves, but this year there is a schedule of ¨modules¨ that run for about a month a piece between february and november. English is the same length as the other modules, only running for about a month (but with 4 hours solid every saturday) so I will be teaching other subjects as well and probably have help with English from a guy from a nearby village called La Cuchilla (¨The Knife¨) who knows a thing or two. The teachers who do this program are unpaid volunteers too, so it is kind of impressive that we have three committed to work on it with me, even though it is only Saturdays. We are going to need them. This year there are 33 students in 7th grade, 39 in 8th, and 7 in 9th. Should be interesting.

We went to Teguigalpa last Tuesday to turn in the proposal rough draft, which I´ll admit I got a little nervous about because of the amount of work it represented for me and everyone else. It was received with compliments by Alejandrina, the señora from the Central American Bank that reviewed it and sent it on to Costa Rica, where it will get reviewed for reals by the group that has to approve it eventually, and returned with everything that lacks. The 28th is what we´re shooting for to turn in the final copy. If it isn´t finished by then, we´ll have to wait til the next year to start because it will already be too late to build nurseries and get the trees planted in time for them to have enough rainy season in their final spot in the field. (They take about 90 days to be ready to plant, and if that doesn´t happen by September they won´t survive the next dry season).

So we´re going around fixing little things and I´m making some maps and working around the house, taking care of all the things I neglected while we were burning the midnight oil for weeks running on the proposal. I had a couple supposedly slow days Thursday and yesterday, but my luck being how it is.... it seems like things fall in my lap when I am least trying. Thursday I went into Agua Fría just to call Juanita and ask about some notes she took from our meeting with Alejandrina, and on the way back to the house I ran into a group of 8 guys from a rotary club from Tennessee, hanging out in Agua Fría, looking comically out of place and resting a bit before going up to fix a water system in Agua Fría Arriba (the part of Agua Fría farther along the road and up the mountain) that they had donated and installed the previous year. Agua Fría Arriba is so high that they can´t get a gravity-fed water system from a decent spring, so they put in a well with a pump up to a tank high on the hill. The pump had burned out and the pipes were leaking so it didn´t get much use, but I tagged along with them and we fixed it right there, new pump, new pipes, everything ready to go. I turned out to be extremely useful as an interpreter because only one of them spoke any spanish and he did know a thing or two, but lacked practice. Was nice to speak english a little though, and I must confess I have always liked southern dialect (educated redneck that I am) so it was doubly fun.

The next day I didn´t even leave the house and more work walked right up to my doorstep, wearing army fatigues and carrying M-16s (10 of them, to be exact). Apparently, the new president of Honduras has taken immediate action in putting the army to good use as guardabosques (¨forest guards¨) to prevent fires and illegal woodcutting. I visited with the guy coordinating their activities and showed them around Cerro Guanacuare, up to the very top and the paths around my place. The guy from COHDEFOR, which is the Honduran equivalent of the forest service, was considerbly less knowledgeable than the lietenant in charge, who seemed to have a specialty in environmentally-related stuff and was relatively friendly, for an army type. I reckon we will be in contact and they might even be able to help us out with our project, especially with respect to transportation of materials. Another nice benefit is the area is now going to be as secure as a swiss bank having the soldiers around. A real shame they got here just a little too late to dampen the enthusiasm of the guys who robbed Tim. Speaking of which, he is installed now close by in the department of Paraíso and apparently doing fine. Haven´t seen him since he left, but I´d like to go up and visit there sometime. It sounds like a nice part of Honduras.

That´s about all for this week, weather is getting really remarkably hot now and when I get some time off I´m going to try to go to San Marcos de Colon (where I spent thanksgiving) and check out the national park there which is a lot higher (thus cooler) and supposedly has a cloud forest.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Finishing.... the darn.... proposal

Well, I planned on updating my blog once I had officially completed the activity that inspired my previous entry´s title, but I just couldn´t wait that long. We got another extension by the bank and now the sucker is due Feb. 15 (rough draft) but it will be more or less complete at that point and we´re just looking for minor corrections. I think after that we only have a couple more days to turn in the final anyhow so we are going to travel to Tegucigalpa on Monday to present it and get feedback. Incidentally, ¨we¨ is myself, Juana María Ponce (Juanita) and Isaí, Betanco. They are they president and vice-president of the coffee cooperative COCAGUAL, respectively.

Over the last week approximately I´ve pretty much been parked in front of COCAGUAL´s shiny new computer crunching data from the community surveys that we did and the costs of various things, analizing everything that we are asking $105,000 for with respect to timeframe because the BCIE will not pay out all the money for the project at once, so we divided it into 4 sections. I really really hope that quantity is ok with them, because it took me over 2 days to analyze all of it. It´s been like pulling teeth getting help from Isaí on this too, which is starting to piss me off because this isn´t my project, it is theirs. Supposedly I am just helping out. Now there is no way they could do this correctly without me, and that´s not being arrogant just stating a fact.... it is probably one of the most complicated works I have had to do. And I know that they are up to their necks in other problems related to the sale of their final Lot of coffee. Apparently Biolatina, the organization that certifies organic production ´round here, screwed up and sent their certification to the Honduran government as being part of a different cooperative so they have had one big headache trying to fix that problem. Still, we need to work on better communication because most of the time I have no idea what they are up to and when I can get some help with the stuff I don´t understand relating to design and logistics of the project and whatnot. I´ve been working 8 to 7 some days and I get frustrated when I reach an impasse and I´m just sitting there stewing wondering what the heck Isaí is doing.

Other than that, I have been up to little else... the other activities being things like hiking around in communities collecting surveys, promoting the project, and things of that nature. Due to Isaí and Juanita´s other obligations, I have been doing most of the work actually writing the proposal myself, and when it is finished it will be about 80% my work. This is kind of cool to think about if it gets approved, because it´s been a big challenge for me (writing in Spanish and everything, although at least 50% of the work is managing numbers) and it´s a fair chunk of change not to mention a big and rather ambitious project (too ambitious if you ask me, but everyone else involved seems to want that, so who am I to argue? I´m just here to help out :P ). Besides some small tweaking, to finish it up I need to make some watershed maps, which I´m getting started on today... going to photocopy some new topo maps that Juanita bought in Choluteca which I am psyched to have.

I have been kind of lonely lately, they say the 6-month mark is typically the most difficult time of service for volunteers and I can understand why now. I´m not really sure of the reason, but it´s just a moment when homesickness pegs you the worst, maybe a transitional stage between feeling as though everything is temporary, an adventure of sorts (which is a very comfortable feeling for me) and adjusting to the new place as an actual home. This I´m probably more adept at than most people also, but it is still difficult. I have been getting around some despite all the work, which helps..... last week I spent a night in Choluteca (I think it was Monday, I guess almost 2 weeks ago now) and went to a ¨circo¨ with some other volunteers. This means Circus, but it wasn´t really much like that..... just some mediocre acrobatics and lot of half-naked dancing women plus three transsexual guys they called ¨sirenas¨ which is considered great entertainment. It´s sort of hard to wrap my mind around how this fits in with their conservative machisto culture, but supposedly the deal is it is only gay if you are the guy on the receiving end of the situation. Being on the other side of the table is like, the most manly thing ever. ooooooooookay.....

I also went to the anual Feria in El Corpus, which, for such a sleepy, deserted town in which nothing ever happens, was pretty awesome. There were tons of fireworks, lots of great things to eat, and big dances three nights running. I was only there for one day but I think I caught some of the best firworks. During the moment in which there were the most people packed into the central square, some guy with a fantastical device over his head barreled into the crowd and everyone ran screaming. What he was wearing was like a big wooden box sprouting wires from all angles that ran to thick, short cardboard tubes attached to the sides of the box. The function became apparent immediately when the tubes started spitting fireworks in all directions as he ran through the crowd, leaning over and charging like a bull, box-first, scattering onlookers left and right. As Dad would say, this was the antithesis of state-sanctioned fireworks... Unsafe and Insane. But so much fun.

From there, not much else to report... I haven´t played soccer in forever which sucks, but I think I´m going to get a game in tomorrow. The weather is getting pretty hot now in the day, but at night it´s still really cool and my morning bucket showers are the coldest they have ever been, as the water coming out of the spring now is only the clear, cold, year-round rivulet that comes from deep inside it the mountain. The weather on the whole is still very excellent in Agua Fría but the trips to Choluteca are a bummer.... well, more so than before. It´s easily 36 celsius every day here now, which is well into the 90s... almost 100 I think.

Last order of business is mail report.... I have now received the following items since my last post:

1 book from mom - La Sombra del Viento (which I have been reading..... VERY slowly)
1 postcard from Dad w/mt Rainier on it
CD player from mom
CDs from Sam

Thank you guys very much for this stuff; having my own music is really a welcome retreat to nostalgia for home when I need it and I´ve been reading that book... really really slowly due to having to look up every fourth word, but I like it so far.

signing out,