Friday, November 24, 2006


Last week, we were working in the office and I heard a strange, high-pitched sound from near my feet... almost like a cat crying. I looked down.... nothing. Heard the sound again. Man, that's wierd. It was definitely like a kitten's cry. Checked around my feet some more and finally saw it, a tiny little grey tabby kitten with the pinched-eye look you typically see in cats here that indicates malnourishment. It must have wandered in through the cracked door of the office, from who knows where… there are no houses that are what I would consider within walking distance for such a tiny animal. I reached down to pet it and it responded immediately, showing no fear and reaching out to rub up against my hand. As soon as it got the idea that I was going to pet it, it started crying more and kept it up as long as I wasn't touching it. Finally I pulled the noisy little ball of fur onto my lap and resumed working.

I haven’t had any pets here and didn’t have any plans to get one. They’re trouble to maintain, and I don’t have the patience to put up with ¨accidents¨ in my house and destroyed personal items for long enough to train them. Plus, pets are always a form of roulette… sometimes you get a really great one, and sometimes you get an animal that appears to be possessed by Lucifer himself, like several cats we’ve had. So I was just hanging out with this stray kitten for a little bit while I worked, but the darn thing took to me so readily that by the end of the day it was desperate anytime it wasn’t in my lap. What was I going to do? Leave it there to get eaten by a stray dog? So I stuffed it in my messenger bag and took it home. That night I fed it a little cheese and by bedtime I already wholeheartedly regretted my decision to take it home because it was the noisiest cat I had ever seen. Anytime it wasn’t in my lap, it cried. It cried and cried and cried some more. After I went to bed, it kept up the wailing for about half an hour before finally quieting down.

The next day I fed it again and left it in the house with a plastic pail full of sand, not knowing what else to do…. When I got home, three objects in the house were peed upon, two of which luckily were sheets of plastic but the third was my bed. Little fucker managed to get my pillowcase, sheet, cover, and a spot of the foam mattress in one shot. Since I got home late, I had to sleep in the hammock with a sleeping bag over me, rebuffing attempts by the kitten to climb in with me all night long in a state of half-consciousness.

The next morning was Sunday. I was planning on feeding the wretched animal to Isaí’s carnivorous dog, Tigre, but got sidetracked with cleaning up my sheets first and then I went on to sweep out the house. While I was doing my bedroom, the kitten suddenly got a bee in its bonnet to crawl behind my bookshelf. It was back there for all of three seconds, and then suddenly emerged holding a mouse that, I am barely exaggerating here, was 2/3 as big as the cat was. It stopped kicking in another couple seconds, its neck snapped. I was amazed, considering the kitten looked like it had passed the point of being old enough to eat solid food maybe three days previous (although I think its tiny size fooled me; it was probably due more to malnutrition than age). At that point I decided she could stay (Pretty sure it's a female), although she’s still in the red for those sheets. I haven't named her yet and don't really plan to.

So today I have to pick up some cat food and figure out a better litterbox arrangement while I'm in Choluteca, recovering from the massive amounts of food I ingested yesterday. Soooo good! We had a Thanksgiving feast at the house of Levi and Megan, two volunteer friends in Choluteca. It was much smaller than last year in San Marcos de Colón, but nice... and all the important food items were there: Yams (yes!!!), pumpkin pie, mashed potatos, squash, and a turkey.... sort of. I was the dude this year who brought the turkey, which sort of made me feel proud at first but over the course of yesterday that feeling slowly evaporated in a tepid wash of disappointment about the quality of the bird. I need to learn how to judge a turkey while it's alive.

What happened was, I heard a woman talking the other day in Agua Fría that she had a turkey she wanted to sell to someone who was supposedly going to breed them. Cool, I siezed the opportunity to cut into the conversation and said that if she didn't sell it to the other person first, I would buy it to eat for Thanksgiving. A few days ago, a local guy came to my house to tell me that they would bring the turkey to my house if I was interested in buying it. I hadn't heard back from my friends in Choluteca at that point so I couldn't commit to anything because I didn't know if we had an oven or not. They text-messaged me that same evening, so the next day I just walked over to the guy's house and bought the turkey - he wanted 350 lempiras for it, I offered 300, and he agreed to it without more argument. That should have been my first sign of trouble. Well, also and the fact that he told me it was two years old. It looked pretty big anyhow. All those feathers do that.

I took it to a neighbor's house and said I'd pay her some money if she would kill, pluck, and clean the turkey since I don't really trust myself to do that right. She was agreeable, and I went to Agua Fría right away to see about getting some freezer space reserved to store it in. That was Wednesday, so the very next day in the morning I took the now-frozen turkey out and hopped on the 6:30 bus to Choluteca to start cooking early.

When I finally took the turkey out of the plastic bags it had been wrapped in, I began to sense that something was wrong. Where was the breast? It looked like a ribcage with legs stuck on it. Well, whatever. We poked some holes in the sinew and put in garlic cloves, rubbed some spices on it, and stuck it in the oven. It was done in less than two hours and came out smelling awesome. The I tried to carve it, and there was nothing to carve. Most chickens literally have more breast meat than this stupid turkey did. It had some leg and thigh meat, but it was like tough beef. Ripping the bones apart and then trying to pick what meat there was off them was more effective than using a knife. Eating it was like chewing meat-flavored gum.

I apologized to my friends, but they all praised the turkey anyways despite the fact that it was like some kind of cruel joke. We had a good time visiting and playing Boggle. A lady from one of the spanish NGOs in town came over, and so did a JICA volunteer (the Japanese equivalent of the peace corps) so we even had some diversity. It was funny talking to a Japanese girl in Spanish, you could really hear the difference in her accent.

Going to take that turkey home before I catch the bus and make soup out of it hehe. Happy thanksgiving everyone.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Everything's busted

Well, my cell phone finally stopped working completely. I guess the honey was too much for it. The computer in Agua Fría seems to have gone on the brink too, and I am pretty sure we need to at least buy a new power supply, if not do more. Today I was hoping to buy a new phone (they are on sale right now, the cheapest phone that exists here for $30). Since there are no special deals and no real phone ¨plans¨, the hardware itself is usually pretty expensive. I kind of like the way you buy minutes though, it's basically a ¨phone card only¨ system where you buy a card when you need to and it lasts until you run out. No wasted time, no overcharging. It runs a bit on the expensive side, but I don't use my phone much so it's the best for me.

Incredibly, one of my projects seems to have gone somewhere. Then again, maybe it wasn’t what I did. Need clarification? Read on….

I mentioned in a previous entry that I had spent some time putting together a note to SOPTRAVI, the Honduran national road construction and reparation thingy. Suddenly, when I came back from my barely-planned vacation in Copan Ruins (more on that in a bit) I found out that SOPTRAVI had approved the reparation of the road – all the way over the mountain, through Agua Fría, and down the other side to the neighboring municipality. Woohoo! The reason I kind of suspect that it might not have been the results of my work is twofold:
1. Neri, the owner of the general store, went directly to the capital with a politician friend to put some pressure on SOPTRAVI to fix the road at about the same time I sent that note, and
2. I sent the note to the wrong guy at SOPTRAVI.

Nevertheless, it’s good to see that things are going to happen, and there’s another way that I can contribute with this. The piece of road that they are going to repair is not actually the same one we asked for; it’s more of a connecting route but doesn’t get close to quite a few small villages that could really use the access. However, the SOPTRAVI guys said to Neri that if these other communities want to get their road included in the project, they need to make their own little proposal (didn’t I already do that?) and present it as an add-on before the 17th of this month. Yesterday I was talking with some guys from these communities and they apparently have no clue what they need to do (there was a ridiculous amount of misinformation circulating already) so we’re going to work on that next week.

The school year is coming to a close, and with it, we are wrapping up the Maestro en Casa classes. Saturday was the final exam for the last class of the year, English, a tough subject that I have been fairly impressed with my students’ performance in. I think that my class has several students who are quite talented in language and have good creative abilities, which may explain why they seem to have done well in English and Spanish – even though a couple of them can’t solve a math problem to save their lives, which is one of the reasons we have class next Saturday: more ¨recuperations¨. I have to give three of them – two to a couple students in my 9th grade class (math and geography) and another English test to the 8th graders, more than half of which are still failing. I might have to give another English test to my 9th graders too, who knows, but my hopes are high.

Coffee season is upon us, and I’m looking forward to getting immersed in that. One reason for this is that I like doing coffee related work – it’s fun and interesting and technical; there’s a lot to learn and talk about. The other reason is that I’m still feeling kind of down and I need to keep occupied. Before I go into the details of that, let me say that it’s a bunch of crap that I wouldn’t really expect anybody but my mom to be interested in reading. I’m officially against whining about personal problems in a public forum such as the internet because it’s pure hubris to assume that anyone else gives a crap, but I think that my family members like to know about my mental/emotional state, and since they are so awesome and caring and supportive, I try to keep ‘em entertained.

Many months ago, around February or March I think, I was talking with a couple of veteran volunteers in Choluteca (both of which returned to the States awhile ago) and one of them mentioned how strange it had been when he’d visited his hometown during his service. ¨You don’t notice until then how much Peace Corps changes you,¨ he said. ¨It’s kind of depressing, actually.¨ That piqued my curiosity, because it seemed to go against other things that I’d heard. ¨Why’s that?¨ I asked him. ¨Is it, like, the culture shock?¨ ¨No,¨ he replied, ¨it’s just kind of… depressing. You’ll see.¨ The other volunteer agreed with him, but I couldn’t get any more details out of them about it.

This bothered me so I kept pondering it, and I think I have begun to better understand what they meant. It was my misinterpretation to think that they were saying the Peace Corps experience changes you in ways that are depressing. The Peace Corps, like any difficult/interesting life experience, simply changes you – assign a value to that if you wish. What’s depressing is that you start to feel like you can’t relate to your old life anymore – your old friends, old places, even the memory of your old self. It all starts to feel foreign and unnatural. On the other hand, you don’t really feel at home in the new place either, because twenty-two years of cultural training can’t be done away with in two, especially as an adult. So you end up feeling out of place everywhere, lacking a solid cultural context to help define your identity.

Don’t get me wrong; this is liberating. Everyone should try it. It makes you more capable, independent, and best of all (for me anyways) more fearless. But the truth is, most of us human beings need our home base, with its comforting absolutes. In a landmark bad move, God burdened us all with a need to belong to a group, be a part of an Us that provides its own self-approval because We’re the same, I’m like You and You’re like Me and We’re different from Them, and from there of course it’s a real small step to the conclusion that We’re better than Them.

Holy tangent, Batman. Anyways, what I’m groping around to try and get at is that this feeling of rootlessness seems to be the source of my unease, more than something as simple as a lack of work, which I’m stressing myself out less over lately because I was taking myself too goddamn seriously. I even have the fantastic luck of having a dad who was also a Peace Corps volunteer, and understands what it’s all about (insert joke about teenage angst and ¨nobody understanding me¨ here). But he’s in the States, and I’m here, and getting to see him in August was great but I still miss him and the rest of my family.

So there are other Peace Corps volunteers, and we certainly do have quite the informal support group going (there’s a formal one or two also actually). People who have been in the Peace Corps or have jobs related to it comment about how volunteers tend to cling together, and now I can see why they say that. We’re quite the clingy bunch. We stick together like covered wagons in Apache territory. Getting together with other volunteers usually results in a group bitching session or a group gushing session (more often both) about all the funny, frustrating, or just plain surreal experiences we share. For me, this is useful for about an hour a month, then I want to talk about other things – what kind of projects we’re working on and stuff like that. I think that I get the most out of hanging out with other volunteers when it’s in the normal context of our lives here – visiting friends’ sites or seeing them in mine, hanging out with gringos and Hondurans alike and talking about projects or cultural differences/similarities. That’s when I feel like I have an ¨Us¨.

Unfortunately, there’s times when I feel like I can’t relate to anyone, not even my fellow volunteers (Well, moreso than the stuff that’s a consequence of my simply being a seriously weird person). That really sucks. Usually it’s when we try to have a big Gringo Party and recreate our lost college-era Gringo Paradise here for a weekend. I have a problem with big noisy parties in the first place… it seems like the more people there are and the more mixed-up and crazy it is, the more I tend to retreat into myself. I can’t handle that much stuff at once, then I start to get depressed because everyone’s having a good time but me. Some of my loneliest moments ever have been at parties. Strange but true. Add that to the fact that such an event here, in the context of my new life (such as it is) is just really weird and gives me a what-the-hell-am-I-doing feeling, and you have a recipe for a bad time.

If you’ve guessed by now that I’m alluding to my weekend in Copan Ruins, congratulations. The funny thing is, I thought I was having a good time all along up until the morning I had to leave, then my frail wall of self-deception crumbled and I was left feeling lost… homesick for the home I don’t seem to have anymore, heartsick for the woman I apparently never will, and a little sick to my stomach from drinking more than one beer for the first time in over a month. I got on the bus feeling like the whole trip had been a mistake.

I don’t think I’m a particularly outstanding example of the human species, but one thing about myself that I thoroughly approve of is a distaste for wasting time with self-pity. As the bus wound back through the lush green countryside I was already beginning to regain a sense of perspective and feel better. Vacations are therapy for me not because of the escape from responsibilities (which if anything only makes me feel guilty) but simply because I’m traveling. Going new places. Watching the land change. For me, looking out the window of a bus or car as the country scrolls by is like what relaxation music or meditation or spurts of drunken debauchery are to other people – just the act of doing it unburdens my mind, makes me feel better.

To be honest, there were many good things about the trip. I stopped in Siguatepeque on the way there and on the way back to visit Vilma Valladares and her kids, the host family I had way back in the days of training. It was really a great experience seeing them again and I had even more fun than I'd expected visiting with Vilma. Now that my spanish level is pretty decent, we could talk about a lot more things that weren't possible before. She's a really sharp lady, something that I kind of missed during the whole two months I was there last year.

Also, it was great to see my friends again, no doubt about that, and it was important to take that opportunity to visit the ruins (not exactly what I'd pictured, but beautiful nevertheless) because I probably won't get another decent chance to do it during my time here. So, I eventually came around to the point of renouncing my feeling that I shouldn’t have done the trip. Sure, I could come up with a few things I regret, but what would be the point…. mostly they have to do with not getting to sit down and have a real conversation with friends I hadn’t seen in almost a year (but I’ll get a chance to rectify that in February if not sooner) and the usual girl-related regrets as well… heh, whatever. Damn women, giving me a bummer in my head. They were less of a problem when I had access to my family for heavy-duty emotional support. :p

Bleh. I pity the foo’ who read all that. Hasta la próxima.