Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Shrimp Hunter

Well, I´m back in Choluteca again, chilling in an internet café while the temperature nears 100 degrees outside. We came into town to try and coordinate some support from the World Food Program with their ¨Alimentos por Trabajo¨ (Food for Work) project, in some areas of our project that had to be cut due to budget considerations. It seemed to go pretty well and I think we can count on at least a little support from these guys. We have also been trying to get a permit to cut a tree down so we can fix my roof and have not been able too.... all these improvements in environmental legislation are coming back around to bite me in the ass, because apparently (did I mention this last week?) the president signed a bill or whatever you´d call it here canceling ALL permits for woodcutting and suspending harvest of all non-registered trees. This is a terrible move for the campesinos, because they absolutely need that wood for house repairs and cooking, whereas the big profiteers in wood harvesting are least affected because they have the land and the money to do plantations or register areas of trees for cutting. It seems to me a good idea applied in a completely senseless way. It´s mind-boggling how out of touch this government can be from its own people.

We´re still waiting to hear back from the Costa Ricans that are supposedly evaluating our rough draft, and now starting to get a little nervous about the time frame. To that end, we´re currently planning to start the project (present it to communities and organize meetings to plan the activities in each village) on March 15, so we can get going on everything instead of waiting until after the money comes. Besides that, however, everything seems to be going quite well and based on the suggestions Alejandrina gave us in Tegucigalpa a couple weeks ago, we now have the proposal in pretty much a finished form.

On Saturday, we had our first day of math class. I am assigned to teach the 9th graders (the highest of the 3 grades in the program) and the subject is essentially algebra. I´ve got a class of 7 girls and no guys, and none of them have a clue about variables or equations so I´m going to have to go somewhat outside of the book´s plan to get them up to speed. The first day went really well though and I have hope that we will get somewhere. I´m certainly more effective at teaching math than English (sorry mom!) even though I was kind of tired from staying up late the night before hunting camarones.

¨Camarones¨, or shrimp, is a big industry here in the south of Honduras. Lots and lots of acres of mangrove swamp have been reclaimed to make shrimp-farming ¨lagunas¨ and, in fact, the mangrove habitat system is in danger of disappearing from the country. These are normal, average - sized saltwater shrimp. Up in the small creeks of Cerro Guanacaure lives a species of freshwater shrimp that is like either a skinny lobster or a horrific mutant crawdad. They get to be like a foot and a half long and people like to go out hunting them at night in the deep, sandy pools with a flashlight and a machete. A couple of my young Honduran friends Alex and Osmaris had been bugging me to go out and try this with them, and so Friday night we did. We were out for about four hours, following the course of one creek down to where it joined with another one, and then following the second creek back up. Almost right away we found a couple crabs, which Alex informed me was good luck. It seems he was right because we were practically tripping over enormous shrimp most of the time. By the time we got back we probably had a few pounds of seafood, which Osmari´s mom made into an excellent soup the next day.

Chopping gigantic shrimp in half was fun, but my favorite part of the whole experience was being out in the forest at night, especially along the creeks because in this dry summertime forest it is a corridor that just teems with life. We saw several nocturnal animals, including an armadillo and what Alex called a ¨perro de agua¨ (water dog). I basically only saw its eyes shining in the flashlight, but based on their size and spacing, the name, and its running movement I think it may have been some sort of otter.

I´m back to playing soccer again after a month and a half hiatus. Our team headed down the hill 5 or 6 kilometers a week and a half ago to play a team called Palo de Agua (water tree or water pole) on a field that was more reminiscent of a volleyball pit in terms of size and soil consistency. I played crappy (pick a fault: the heat, the field, my lack of practice) but whateva. We´re going back to Palo de Agua next Sunday and the week after that also because they´re hosting an 8 team tournament and some pretty excellent teams are supposed to show up. Based on who we are playing in the first round, we are most likely going to lose right away but it´s double elimination so we´d still have a shot at 3rd place. But who knows? Maybe we´ll kick butt all the way.

I´ve been feeling really light of heart lately, and it´s hard to say why exactly. I guess it´s nice to have a pretty good vision now of the projects I will most likely be dedicating most of my time to here, but also I think I have just become thoroughly infected with the pleasure of travel and interaction with other people in the world. I´ve been reading a lot of Newsweek magazines (free subscription from the Peace Corps, I think I´m probably more in touch with world news now than I was in the states) and it seems like all the trends with new technology and successful companies and scientists are moving towards less and less restriction of the flow of information. I´ve commented here on the effect this can have on isolated cultures of assimilation and loss of identity, but more and more I think this trend is fundamentally a good thing. Why? Because it´s much easier to hate and fear other people when you don´t know anything about them. It´s a lot easier to build barriers, slap labels, be a bigot, and start wars when you can define an ¨Us¨ and a ¨Them.¨ What if there was only Us?

I remember dad being surprised at me when I described to him how pessimistic and jaded my generation is. It´s like we´ve become too well-educated and ¨big picture¨. We now know how huge our universe is, how small and ephemeral our lives really are in the large scheme of things, and worst of all, how limited and ignorant we all are. With so much advance in the world of knowledge and world interaction, why are we still blowing each other up in the name of God (the same God, most of the time.... what the hell?) and reverting to embarassingly flawed theories masqeurading as science in our public schools? *cough*KansasBoardofEducation*cough* Based on all current knowledge in physics, it seems to be more or less logistically impossible to travel to other planets as I think we all assumed would happen back in the 1960s. So many other species have had their moment on earth and eventually become extinct, it seems inevitable that we will too.

I mention this by way of contrast to how I have been feeling lately, which is decidedly a turn for the optimistic. A growing perception of this global realization of the power of information sharing has helped, but I think more importantly my attitude has changed because I´ve become so absorbed in my little microcosm here and forgotten to look at the big picture. Life is pretty darn fun as it turns out, if you can forgive yourself for being a dumb, emotionally-unstable creature without much power to make a difference in the ultimate Big Picture and instead sit back and enjoy the ride.

To quote a great song dad sent me: ¨The sad thing is I´m so damn happy¨

edit: Almost forgot, mail received.

2 postcards from Dad (one that says Bellingham, Washington on it and has a few nice pics from the area, 1 that has a photo of him and Daya)
1 long letter from mom
1 Valentine´s day postcard from Grandma and Grandpa
1 Chicago Sun-Times magazine with an article about coffee importers in it
1 box from with 3 books in it: Harry Potter in spanish, an Isabelle Allende book, and 100 Years of Solitute in Spanish.
1 box from Jake and Maggie, who apparently spent $26 to send me beer. I have only two things to say about this:
- You guys obviously know me far too well


At 1:53 PM, Blogger young at heart said...

Enjoyed reading your post, very envious of the hot weather! Here in England we have snow and ice. You are a very perceptive young man obviously doing one hell of a good job. Well done.

At 8:42 AM, Blogger m b said...

i am so happy you got the beer! we were worried it would never get there (because we weren't sure it was legal to send....). We claimed it as "candy" on the customs form. So... did you drink them yet!?


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