Thursday, May 18, 2006

Honduran look-alikes

Maybe it´s just because I haven´t seen you guys in forever, but I have started noticing Hondurans every once in awhile that bear an eerie resemblance to somebody I know from the states.... except, you know, darker-skinned, wearing cowboy hats, and sometimes missing a few teeth. Just in case you´re interested, here are the people who I know for sure have dopplegangers here:

Kevin Ritzer: I see this guy often, he lives in a community near mine.

Joe Hundley: The ayudante (¨helper¨, i.e. guy who collects fares) on a bus near the El Salvador border.

Pauly Shore: This dude is my neighbor, and he not only looks just like pauly shore, he even has the same goofy way of talking! It´s scary.

Bruce Campbell: It must be the Latin chin. I´ve seen at least 3 Bruce Campbell look-alikes.

More to be posted as they are discovered!

This last week I have made two separate trips to Tegucigalpa, because our tree nursery project proposal finally got passed on by the Costa Rican agency that was reviewing it to the actual Central American Bank itself, and they sent it back with a bunch more corrections (these mostly regarding money-related stuff, like having to show all values for everything in dollars as well as Lempiras). I think we got it back a week ago (last Thursday) and they said they wanted it by Monday. This turned out to be impossible, but we did turn in what I fervently hope will be the final draft of this thing, weighing in at well over 200 pages with all the annexes (the project profile, which is what I spent the most time on, is 45 pages). I went to Tegucigalpa on Friday to work on it with Juanita at her place there, then back to Agua Fría on Saturday, and we failed to get anything done on Sunday because the computer was locked up in the house of somebody who had gone to Choluteca. Monday was a very full day fixing things up in Agua Fría, on Tuesday I went to Tegucigalpa and we put the whole package together in the afternoon/evening, and yesterday morning (wednesday) we turned it in. Then I came back down south, which is where I´m at right now.

While I was in Tegucigalpa, I turned in some information to the peace corps office about two different communities near mine where I think it would be possible to send another volunteer. The next group of PAM (Protected Areas Management, my project) is going to arrive for training next month and start working in September, and my project manager asked me to suggest some information about other communities in my area where I thought they could send somebody. The two I have been most impressed with are La Palma and San Judas, which are both reasonably close to my site but you pretty much have to make a day out of it to visit, so I went and visited them and talked with people from their Patronatos (this is like a town council) about the opportunity and what they would have to do to take advantage of it. I brought my own observations to my project manager so we´ll see what they think. The people in La Palma at least are super excited about the possibility because they´ve had very good experiences with visiting peace corps volunteers in the past, and people from San Judas also have told me that they´ve always wanted their own volunteer. From my point of view, having a companion in either place would be a big help so the peace corps will have to decide which is better. Dare I hope that two more people come?

The weather has definitely taken a turn for the better since my last posting..... the rainy season officially arrived the monday of last week and it has been raining almost every day since then, with much more livable temperatures. The forest exploded in leaves and small flowers after the first 2-3 storms, and now everything has greened up beautifully as well. Isaí's coffee finca, which looked ready to kick the bucket at the beginning of this month, is vibrant and green once again, and also flowering liked crazy. Coffee puts out a ton of small, white flowers that smell really good but wilt after only a couple days.

We´re also just about at the best time of year for all different kinds of fruit to be ripe (except bananas). There are mangos everywhere as big as your freakin head, and softball-sized avocadoes with rich buttery-yellow meat. My favorite fruit that I have found here, called Mamey, is also in season (these are totally unknown in the states, and even in most of Honduras).

To be honest there isn´t all that much more to tell this time, except that we finished up science class (I think all of my students passed) and I will be moving on to teach english next. I have to teach english 3 times (to my own class of 9th graders and also to both classes of 8th graders) because the other teachers really can´t do it, but they are going to cover for my class while I am teaching theirs.

Next up also is getting a road-repair project rolling that we planned as a component of the tree nursery project, to assure that the communities we´ll be working in are accessible. Soliciting help from the the World Food Programme was unbelievably easy to do by comparison to the Central American Bank (fill out three one-page forms) and I believe it was already approved, so we just need to go to the communities and get them to organize some workers and a couple people to oversee the distribution of the food rations that people will be getting in compensation for their work. The idea is not for it to be like a payment, but simply a motivator. Ideally the government SHOULD take care of local infrastructure, but it never seems to have money for it so usually the communities end up having to maintain their own roads, which they aren´t always able to do. Getting some food rations and organizing the work will assure that it gets done this year in the communities we will be working in.


Monday, May 08, 2006


This week I´ve got a pretty fair amount of time free to plan my activities (how novel!) and a friend of mine informed me on Saturday that there was a soccer game in Choluteca on Sunday - the local professional team (Valencia) versus one of the bigger pro teams from Tegucigalpa (Motagua). Valencia usually gets eliminated fairly early on, but they have been doing good this year and are currently in the number 3 spot in Honduras, plus I´ve been here in Honduras for almost a year already and haven´t seen one professional soccer game, so I figured I had to go. It was definitely worth it.

We hung around Agua Fría all morning waiting for a ride, and finally got one just in time to get to the stadium 30 minutes before the game started. All the good seats were already gone of course (or should I say ¨places to stand¨) but me being a tall guy here has its advantages and I didn´t have a hard time finding a person to stand behind that was short enough that I could see over his head without any problems. The crowd was crazy. The little stadium got absolutely jam-packed full, and it seemed like everybody had some kind of banner or noise-maker. Ther was lots of drum-pounding and a small horse show while the players warmed up (since Valencia´s mascot is a horse). Motagua seemed to have at least as many fans as Valencia (maybe more!) because most people in Honduras, sick of their local team never winning, end up choosing to root for one of the two Tegucigalpa teams, Motagua or Olimpia, who always seem to face each other in the finals.

The game started right on time at 4, and at first it looked pretty bad for Valencia. They were almost never controlling the ball, and making a lot of errors like passing poorly and kicking the ball out of bounds. Motagua, which is backed by a lot more finances, played much more in-control, passing more smoothly and controlling the ball for more time. There domination of the ball would continue for the rest of the match, but after about 15 minutes Valencia got into their groove and started making some nice attacks on the other goal. It was interesting how much difference in style there was between the two teams, Valencia playing a lot more agressively and losing the ball more, but also getting some really nice fast breaks. They also clearly had a better defense than Motagua, especially their sweeper.... he was this enormous black guy who towered over everyone else and looked like he should be playing american football rather than soccer. Despite his size, however, he was quick, and he totally dominated Valencia´s end of the field.

After about half an hour, Valencia had a nice attack where four or five of them got a fast break on the goal, and they scored. I screamed a bunch and the rest of the crowd went nuts too, mostly telling the other team ¨salite!¨ (Just leave already) or ¨Fuera!¨ (get out!). The game pretty much continued in the same after that, with Motagua controlling the ball but not managing to get past Valencia´s D. With about 10 minutes left in the game, Valencia scored again and the Motagua fans started leaving, getting harassed by the Valencia fans I was standing with as they walked by. Judging by the general fervor I expected to see at least one fistfight, but nothing happened. I think everything was pretty much par for a central american soccer match.

The other interesting thing I´ve been doing lately is helping the community prepare for a little environmental festival that Juanita envisioned and mostly planned for the 3rd of May. This day, for the Catholic church, is ¨día de la cruz¨ (day of the cross) and traditionally they do mass on top of Cerro Guanacuare at the big cement cross that the church built about 50 years ago. Lots of people from the aldeas around Agua Fría come, and people even show up in cars from bigger towns like El Corpus and Choluteca. Juanita´s idea was to use this large group of people as an opportunity to do our own event and be guaranteed a crowd, in order to start promoting Agua Fría as a touristic possibilty... not necessarily for tourists from the states and Europe, but more likely locals, because Choluteca is hot and crappy and the Cerro Guanacaure already has a lot of local fame as being very cool (ha! that´s a relative term) and beautiful.

We planned a few meetings at the outset, getting together representatives of all the important community organizations (the catholic church, the water committee, the patronato, guys from the new military post, and representatives of the Maestro en Casa program) to brainstorm activities and delegate responsibility for them to various groups. The church ended up agreeing to organize some stands of organic produce that members of the cooperative could bring from their fincas, I decided to organize a group of people to do a cleaning campaign and get rid of all the trash on the road into and through town (helped by the Patronato and water board) and the students and teachers from the Maestro en Casa program decided to do most of the work putting on a presentation of environmentally-related poetry, music, theatre, and some traditional dansas (dances).

After meeting again with the Maestro en Casa students and other community members, we fixed a date for the cleaning campaign and asked an NGO that´s been working in our area if they could help out by bringing us some plastic bags to put the trash in, which they agreed to. The day of the event rolled around, and we had a huge force of Maestro en Casa students - maybe 60 - and 12 or so community members. I´m sure the students showed up because they assumed they were going to get points for it, and it was a good thing because otherwise we wouldn´t have had nearly enough people. Even less community members showed up to clean than the ones that came to the meetings, and I told them to tell everybody they could about it and bring as many people as possible. That was pretty disappointing, but at least we didn´t lack for manpower. I split the volunteers up into four groups, each assigned to a different part of the road, with certain more responsible individuals in charge of each group. The group I was with started in Agua Fría and went down the hill towards Choluteca, covering about 2 km down to the community of San Juan Arriba. It took us about 3 hours and I was quite happy with the job we did and the enthusiasm of my group. All you had to do was wander 10 meters from the road to find massive amounts of trash that we´d never have had the time to clean up, but the idea this time was just to make it look good for the event.

The cleaning campaign was on Thursday the week before the festival (which was the following Wednesday), and after that I concentrated on trying to make a video of all the beautiful areas and wildlife that one can find in the Cerro Gaunacaure to show at the presentation. Sure, the people were going to climb the mountain themselves, but they wouldn´t see a lot of my favorite places in the area where the biggest trees are, and they sure as heck weren´t going to see any wildlife with the huge groups that were coming. I spent a couple days getting footage around my house, then passed the camera off to another teacher from Maestro en Casa who took it down to his side of the mountain to get some better shots of the nice trees and scenic parts of the stream that they have down there. He sent the camera back on Sunday and I took it in Tuesday to get edited (mostly just cutting out the bad parts and adding some music, text, and transitions), which I knew wasn´t going to leave us enough time but that was what we had to work with. I ended up having to stay the night in Choluteca on Tuesday to wait for the editor to finish it on Wednesday morning and try to get back up to Agua Fría in time on the afternoon of the festival. We still didn´t have enough time and I had to take a half-finished product, then I ended up missing the bus and getting back to Agua Fría through a mixture of hitchiking and walking in the suffocating, dusty heat, and missing part of the festival in the process. Luckily I actually didn´t miss that much of it, being as they started two hours late (nothing ever starts remotely on time in Honduras).

We didn´t have a projector like we wanted, or a TV, so I set up our computer on a table where most people could see it and tried to play the movie. It didn´t work. I had told the guy at the video editing place the format I wanted the video to be in, because I knew all we had on our computer was an outdated version of Windows Media Player, but apparently he misinterpreted me or something. Well, that was the rotten cherry on the dog-turd sundae. I´m actually going to go back to that place today because the same guy said he would finish up the editing job right and give us a finished product. Maybe I can also get the codecs we need for our computer so it can play these videos.

Besides my glaring failure to deliver, the festival actually went pretty great. Josh randomly showed up, great friend that he is, after going back and forth between Choluteca and El Corpus a couple times in buses trying to find the turnoff for Agua Fría, and walking 4 or 5 kilometers in the aforementioned smothering heat. He´s been to a coffee festival that another town put on with the help of their Volunter last year, and he said that in most regards, the event that we did was better organized and had a LOT more community participation. I would have to say that the Maestro en Casa students totally saved our butts, but you know it´s not necessarily a bad thing that the younger generation is involving themselves even if their parents seem kind of disinterested. My favorite part about the event was the ranchera band that we paid to come up from a nearby aldea and grace us with their tunes, ¨Los Pérez¨. They were awesome! I hope we have an excuse to invite them back before next year´s environmental festival.

Josh spent the night at my place (my first real vistor at my house!!!!) and it was really nice to have some gringo conversation for the first time in awhile. He didn´t have to worry about taking a packed school bus back to Tegucigalpa, either, because he got a ride the next day with couple of my supervisors from the peace corps who swung by to check up on me and talk about the possibility of putting another Protected Areas Management volunteer in the area. I had already been thinking about this and I know some local aldeas I would recommend, which I´m going to visit this week. The next group of volunteers starts training in June, and will be going to their sites in September. I can´t wait!

The next things on my burner are that, start teaching Isaí how to use a computer, and fix my termite-rotted door and roof. whoo! I can move at my own pace more, though, and I´ve decided to just put this tree-nursery project out of my mind for awhile until we either hear yes or no, and continue on either way. It´s not like I´m going to be bored around here if the project doesn´t pass, and it was certainly a great experience working on that proposal.

Hope THAT update satisfies the complainers.

Cheers all,


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Semana Santa and other stuff

I got about thirty minutes into typing this entry and then the computer I was working on froze and lost it all, so I´m going to summarize:

I see it´s been exactly a month since my last blog update, not much happened the first week of april, and the second one (Semana Santa) I went to El Salvador with my friend and co-volunteer Chris from Orocuina to surf. I left on Tuesday but planned badly and ended up spending a night in San Salvador rather than making it all the way to La Libertad, where he was already set up and surfing happily.

Back to normal flow:

I rolled into Playa Tunco, about 15 minutes west of La Libertad by bus on Wednesday at about 10 am. Chris and another guy from my training group, Sid, were just rousing themselves from their hangovers to head out and surf (or in Sid´s case, as was soon to be my case as well, to head out and eat salt water for two hours). I got set up in Papaya´s Surf Lodge, where they were staying, and then went out to check out the beach. Compared with every other beach I´ve seen in Central America (omitting Costa Rica) this one was amazingly clean and well-kept, not to mention uncrowded and had some really nice black sand. The temperature wasn´t too hot either.... considering the time of year, it was actually rather pleasant, maybe 85-87 degrees or so but dry and with a nice constant sea breeze. I met my compatriots later for lunch, then we headed back for some reading, movie-watching, and chess-playing at the lodge. I also made an agreement with Sid to share the board he was using and pay half the rent for the rest of the days I was there, since neither of us really felt like using it all day every day. Personally, my lack of enthusiasm had mostly to do with the burning salt water that was forcefully injected into my nasal cavity and throat every time I fell off the board, which happened every time I tried to ride it. I think one thing is that I need to be a better swimmer first before I can be serious about learning to surf. Maybe if I had a nose plug or something, I dunno. I reckon I will try surfing again sometime (In theory, it´s a sport I would like: it´s physical, it´s outdoors, it requires skill and there´s a lot of room for personal improvement, and it´s totally eco-friendly) but this time I think it´s safe to say that I won´t be the next Kelly Slater.

As it turned out, the money was mostly wasted. I was at Playa Tunco for five days, and of those I maybe surfed a total of 10 hours. On the other hand, I got in a ton of quality time watching movies, reading ¨Jayber Crow¨ by Wendell Berry (the best book I have read so far in Honduras, and that is not an exaggeration, it is AWESOME), and generally doing a whole lot of nothing. I was discussing with Sid how it was interesting and unusual for me as far as vacations go, because the traditional method in my family for recreation was to try to pack as many meticulously-planned activities into a week as possible and get all stressed out when those plans got screwed up. However, I have to say I really enjoyed myself. Considering that I´ve been fairly busy working on a lot of different things, it was a change of pace I really needed.

Another cool thing was the company we had at Papaya´s Surf Lodge. During my time there, we met and visited with people from no less than eight different countries and four continents. There was a group of three surfers from Victoria, B.C. that had driven down in their truck surfing all along Mexico, there was a group of three Swedish surfers (I guess it is actually a sport there), there was a young couple from the states who taught in Guatemala, there was a group of peace corps volunteer girls from El Salvador (that unfortunately left the day after I arrived), there was one guy from Germany, one guy from Australia, and one guy from Uruguay. We did not lack for interesting conversation. The guy from Uruguay was especially cool and now I´m thinking I would love to visit that country someday. It sounds like a very nice place, kind of similar in climate to western Oregon and northern California actually according to his description.

We all headed back on Monday to Choluteca and spent the night, and then parted to go to our respective sites the next day. I spent the next three days working hard to polish our project proposal to be ready to turn in as a final draft (FINALLY they´re ready to evaluate it for real) and adjusting all the numbers to work on a different timeline since the tentative date for getting money (if it passes) is now August and most trees will have to wait til next May to be planted.

There is more stuff to talk about, namely an environmental festival that we´re going to put on tomorrow, but I just lost my most recent work where I had written about that for the third goddamn time today and I don´t have any more patience for this piece of crap computer. I will be in Choluteca until tomorrow so I´ll try to post again and leave a description of all that, and other recent events.