Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Five minute friends

The last blog entry about traveling got me going on a track towards another theme I've been thinking about expounding upon, the conversations you have with random friends you meet traveling in Honduras.

First let's define ¨traveling¨ as going anywhere beyond the 2-km or so zone where absolutely everybody knows you. Now, as soon as you get outside that radius, you're eligible for Random Conversations. Some of these are random not because of their content, but because of the people or places involved. For example, when I take the bus to Tegucigalpa I can more or less expect to discuss the following things at least once, and more likely several times:

Where I'm going (the opener that never, ever fails)
The weather
Someone's relative in the states
The ten words of English that my conversational cohort knows
Whether or not I like Honduras
The corrupt government and how it's to blame for absolutely everything
Hurricane Mitch and how it's to blame for absolutely everything

The reason I refer to this kind of small talk as five-minute-friends is because people are so darn friendly. I talked with dad about this a little when he was here and came to a funny conclusion - that I actually like having these conversations, and that they almost never get old. Thinking about it I realized that what bothers me about the triteness of most small talk that I'd participated in before wasn't the lack of content, it was the lack of feeling. If I meet someone who's genuinely enthusiastic to talk to me, it doesn't really matter much if the topic is stale. People here, especially in the really local areas, are more skilled in talking about stuff than Americans. That's what you do when you get bored in the evening and there's no TV, no computer, no car to take you to the movies and no way to work once it gets dark.

I suppose I probably have a certain advantage as well for being an american, an outsider. But then, it's refreshing to be in a place where outsiders are actually treated with friendliness and respect. Some people go out of their way so much to be friendly and get a conversation going, they'll bring up some pretty goofy things.

A few weeks ago I was in Choluteca, and a fat middle-aged guy approached me who I'm pretty had had a few, but then it's hard to tell sometimes because you run into a lot of super-friendly people who say things that don't make a lot of sense. He held out his hand for me to shake, and asked me something about what I was doing there. So we got into the explanation about the peace corps, he gave me some fruit he was selling from Nicaragua, etc. Finally I had to go and, wanting to part as friends, he said:

¨If you're ever in Nicaragua, just ask for Mario!¨

Just like that. I loved it. It was almost the title for this blog entry. After a question or two I managed to get the name of the city he lived in (I forget its name now). Apparently if I ask anyone there for Mario, they'll know who I'm talking about.

Just this week, I was walking from El Corpus back to my house and passing through one of the aldeas on the way, I crossed paths with an older guy I'm fairly sure I'd met before. He said:
¨Hey, it's going to rain.¨
me: ¨Nah, I have time to get home.¨
him: ¨So, when are we going to go to Choluteca to eat some POPSICLES?
me: uh....
him: ¨Hey, do you read the Bible?¨
me: ¨Well actually...¨
him: ¨That's great! God knows everything! Well, see you later!¨

I also like the questions people ask about the United States, which are sometimes either inane conversations starters to kill a dead space in the talking or demonstrate a surprising amount of ignorance about the outside world. But then, a lot of these people have never been farther than Choluteca.

¨So, do they have rubber boots in the states?¨
¨Do people work where you live in the states?¨
¨Are there animals in the states?¨
etc. I like telling stories about snow (that's a sure way to get everyone's attention riveted).

In the news, I've been a little unoccupied lately. Awhile ago I started to pursue some extensionist-type contacts with a few of the cooperative's members, going to their fincas and checking out all their crops and making maps and talking to them about their concerns and stuff. It didn't really work out as well as I thought, perhaps because there seems to be a general assumption that there's nothing they could possibly do to improve their fincas besides waiting for God or an NGO to intervene. I try to start talking to people about what they could do to make more money, for example, and apparently they fail to see the connection between the idea that getting more income out of their finca is theoretically possible, and the reality of them trying new stuff. Gah. Next week, hopefully, we will do some grafting of avocadoes and mango trees, so I guess that's a step in the right direction.

With the tree nursery project, we had a meeting last week and finally got the assurance that our project has passed by the Costa Rican agency charged with revising the proposals once and for all with their seal of approval, and is now getting a final inspection from the bank. They said we might know this week what's up, and supposedly they're trying to get the projects rolling by October 15. I think November is a little more realistic, but this looks like we might make a real breakthrough pretty soon and actually *gasp* start working. Woohoo!

I haven't been playing soccer lately because the team is sort of disorganized right now, and although I could probably step in and get them rounded up, I don't want that to become my job, especially because i don't have the time for it. SUPPOSEDLY there is a game scheduled for next Sunday, but that's what they said last week and then there was no game. I should talk to the captain at least, see if he wants me to go take a note to another team's captain (I am the secretary, heh).

This Saturday there is a party of sorts in Choluteca to welcome a new group of volunteers that showed up, and say goodbye to another that is leaving by November. This time, there are PAM volunteers (my project) both coming and going, so it has a special importance for me. I will be saying goodbye to all the Chuck and Vince from San Marcos de Colon, and welcoming a new companion in the community of La Palma named Patrick, just down the hill from me. He came to my site to say hi on Saturday and seems like a pretty promising volunteer. He's good with Spanish and patient with a lot of the adjustments he's had to make. There's also a female PAM volunteer going to San Marcos de Colon who I haven't met yet, and probably a couple people from other projects coming to southern Honduras. The people around Choluteca are the ones I see the most, since it's pretty hard for me to travel outside that area.

Enough blogging for today. I hope this entry finds you all well, especially grandpa.



At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guess who's coming to visit you?????-you're favorite sista


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