Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I need Gringos(?)

Well, it´s been a very long time since my last blog update, and for that I apologize. I have been to town, but with only a spare hour or half-hour here and there which isn´t enough time to write a full entry, and I like to sit down and get everything out at once.

I´ve been kind of lonely again lately (I´m like a yo-yo! Any more changes of mood and you can call me Maya! hehe. Love you sis!) and I feel like maybe it can be attributed to having so little contact with my paisanos (countrymen), or maybe it´s just a yearning for North American culture. I ate at Wendy´s twice yesterday and it didn´t help.... then again, fast food was never really a part of my culture. What I really miss is things like music, and discussing it with my friends, finer foods and wine/beer (don´t get me wrong, I love the plato típico here but but it´s pretty much the same 10 ingredients in absolutely everything). I also miss outdoor and indoor sports/pastimes other than soccer and pool, and probably most of all, connectedness. The lack of options for communication is definitely frustrating - we have radio, two very expensive public telephones that work 50% of the time, and of course good ol´ physical delivery.

These feelings of lacking certain things from home don´t necessarily mean that I have had trouble adapting to the local culture. On the contrary, in terms of relating to the Hondurans I at least feel fairly comfortable. One thing is that, despite all the training we received about adapting to the differences in a strange land, things are not THAT much different here than in the U.S., culturally. No doubt this has a lot to do with the way we´ve been exporting our culture for several decades already through American companies, products, and media. The other reason I think cultural adaptation hasn´t been extremely difficult for me is related to me personally. For one, I have a very respectbable amount of Spanish training under my belt and a certain facility with language (If I have a personal strength, it would probably be communication). The other personal characteristic that has helped me adapt is something that I have sort of known for a long time and recently had more evidence to back up; that I´m a bit of a social chameleon. I tend to change my own behavior and habits more easily to fit my surroundings than other people, I think.

This facet of myself has bothered me in the past, because I´ve always admired the type of principled person who knows what they believe in and sticks to their guns and their ideas despite criticism or the disapproval of others. However, I have found that I don´t have to compromise on too many things that are really important to me to fit in here. What´s happened is that the role I play here is quite different than in the states.... I keep being myself, stationary in my own position, but the space I occupy relative to other people is different because the background has changed.... if that makes any sense?

Relating to all the business that I hinted at, I might have had time to update my blog last week if an unexpected event hadn´t occurred. First, I need to mention that Elsy, the wife of Isaí (my counterpart) found out she was pregnant about a month ago. She still wasn´t really showing or anything, but she was supposed to stay home and rest instead of going out and working like usual, advice which she disregarded.

Last Thursday, I had gone to Agua Fría to work for awhile and wait for Isaí to get back from Siguatepeque on the afternoon bus (he went to sell the last lot of coffee), and he never came so I headed home, did some cooking and reading, and hit the sack at like 9 pm. At 10, Isaí woke me up talking to me through my window. Semi-conscious, the first thing that occurred to me was ¨oh, he got a ride back after all....wonder how the coffee sale went? What´s so important I need to be woken up?¨ Then he told me there was an emergency with Elsy and that we needed to get her into Choluteca right then.... that nigth. Well that got me up in a hurry. Isaí´s not the the kind of dude to exaggerate a serious situation or panic. He told me we needed a car up to the house because Elsy couldn´t make it down to Agua Fría, so I threw some clothes on and took off running for the house of Josélino, the treasurer of the coffee cooperative and great guy (and most importantly, owner of a car). I made the 2 km in about 10 minutes and woke up Joselino, discharging my story in between disculpeme´s and asking if his car was there. It wasn´t; he´d loaned it to some guy a long ways away. I ran down to the next house with a car and molested them for a few minutes, before somebody got up and I again hurriedly explained the situation to the best of my ability, and with the limited knowledge I had. They agreed, took about 10 minutes to get their rears in gear, and we headed up the hill. When we got their Isaí had heard the sound of the vehicle and was walking Elsy down the hill, who was complaining with every step ¨I can´t endure this Isa! careful! No, not there! This way!¨ I took charge of keeping the dog out of their way (very important duty there) and we loaded her into the car. I had been sort of vaguely imagining the worst of what could have happened but I really didn´t have a clue what was up, so I asked Isaí ¨so, uh, is this one of those...?¨

¨Es aborto¨ he said matter-of-factly. ¨She´ll be all right.¨

We got down to the Choluteca hospital by about... I think it was 12:30, and they took Elsy in right away. We ended up having to wait all night there, since we arrived too late and all the safe hotels were closed (and the two girls were with us). I snoozed on a cement sidewalk inside the hospital grounds, Honduran drunk-style, for a couple hours and the next day we all went back up to Agua Fría, minus Elsy. She had to stay a little longer so Isaí came and got her the next day.

Not too many other super interesting things have happened; the friggin´ bank still hasn´t responded with respect to our project but it looks like we are going to present it in Choluteca on Friday in front of all the other projects to be done with the Central American Bank funds and the mayors of 7 municipios present. Woo. Going to do up a nice power point presentation tomorrow. Hopefully this means something is happening.

Today, I am in El Corpus for a meeting with a mining company that is in a bit of a fight with the mayor. Supposedly they discovered a new and very large deposit of gold on their land (Corpus used to be a big gold-mining town, but most of the veins have been exhausted or are no longer profitable), and started taking it out with no permit to start an open-face mining operation. The mayor, (again, supposedly), knowing he couldn´t really stop them, turned the public loose on the mine. Now there are all kinds of people running around in there and Corpus is caught up in old west style gold fever. Kind of wierd since this is such a sleepy little town where nothing much happens. I left early from the meeting because I just couldn´t take it anymore. The thinly veiled greed emanating from both sides of the argument to the rights of that area was just too much for my stomach; the miners with their injured air, sporting huge number of facts and figures about everything they had done for El Corpus and their demonstrating their clear legal right to strip-mine that site, and the people representing the public saying that those scrambling to take what they could get from the mine were doing it solely out of necessity. I think someone even used the word ¨starving.¨ What a load of crap. The people here are poor, but they´re not the ones organizing the public entry into that mine, and they are not starving. You can´t find anyone in Corpus these days who doesn´t have a cell phone.

In the soccer world, I got involved with trying to organize the Agua Fría team, which I played with a few times at the beginning of the year but have neglected because of poor organization.... when the team from El Zapotal had a game already set up and asked me to play for them, that´s what I did. But there are really a fair number of good players in Agua Fría, so we´re going to dedicate some time to getting them playing together regularly. Last Sunday we had our first game (and lost) but it was very, very close. We played a double-header and tied the first 3-3, lost the second 4-3 with the winning goal being scored in the final minute (according to the ref, according to us it was 12 minutes over time).

I´m wondering if I´ll be able to go anywhere for Semana Santa, a big holiday coming up the second week of April, since it appears we will have to absolutely work our tails off to get this project running on time. Maybe a couple days off anyways.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Photo contest

The Peace Corps recently had a photo contest with submissions from volunteers, in categories ranging from humor to ¨my site is better than your site¨. These are some of my favorites. Not much right now in the way of news.... went to a small town´s Feria this weekend, got to see a cockfight. It´s actually pretty exciting, though the way they barb the roosters´ ankles to make them fight is cruel, and the fights usually continue until one is dead.

Still no news on the tree nursery project. We´re waiting to hear anything from the Costa Rican agency evaluating the proposal (they should have contacted us a LONG time ago) and now trying to plan ahead, assuming we will be getting somewhere before April. If not we will have to consider starting next year, which would suck.


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