Monday, May 21, 2007

Hey, what d'you know

I just clicked on my Blogger profile by accident and it says I was born in the Chinese year of the Dog. I never knew that. Seems about right, though.

Since the wet season started, rain has been off and on in about equal portions but last week several days passed where nothing fell from the sky. I'd hesitate to say "dry" days, because there was still so much humidity that you'd have to wring a towel out after flapping it around in the air for a bit. It kept getting warmer and warmer, too, because the evening storms are absolutely essential to cooling things down at night at this time of year. A few days last week were some of the hottest and sultriest I have seen yet in Agua Fría. I didn't dig it much. Almost everything else about life in Honduras has gotten to the point of being pretty much normal to me now, but the heat only seems to get more intolerable. Blah!

Something I forgot to mention in that last blog entry was that I signed on to help out with the training of new volunteers during the last 11 weeks of my service. This means that I will be working in my site and in Santa Lucía (near Tegucigalpa), alternating every two weeks and travelling home for two days in the middle of the volunteer-training periods to give classes in Agua Fría. It's going to be a ton of work and will take away a substantial amount of my time for working with the cooperative, but the fact is that I have to separate myself from them at some point and this way they'll get a chance to practice filling in the stuff I used to do but still have me sort-of-around to help out. It will also be an awesome thing to put on my resume, I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Here's another good animal story. The day before yesterday, I was just sitting around in my kitchen packing up my bag to get going for the day and this animal bounded right in through the door as if it owned the place and ran over to the table area where I was sitting. It was a ferret! I had no idea they lived around here. I stayed as still as possible while he checked around the various corners of the room and ran right up to within a foot or so of my leg, at which point I got a little nervous that he was going to climb up me and made some slight movements. He backed off a little but stayed there watching me, the insolent little bastard. I made as if to get up and he finally bounced back out the door, like he was in no particular hurry. By the time I had walked outside, he'd disappeared completely. I was thinking about putting out some meat or something and see if he comes back, but I'm probably just asking for trouble. I hope I see him again, though. His attitude kind of reminded me of Baron Weasel, an animal described in the book My Side of the Mountain (which I have read at least 3 different times).

It's been awhile since I've posted much decent news, so I better do that. The most relevant thing that has happened lately was my COS conference (the acronym is from Closure of Service), where we start doing all the things necessary to wrap up our service and prepare for life after the Peace Corps. This was last Wednesday-Friday in Tela, a town on the north coast, which was kind of an interesting coincidence because that was the same place we went as trainees on our very first vacation on a 3-day weekend during the first month in Siguatepeque. They put us in a nice beachfront hotel with great catered food, which was a nice way for Uncle Sam to show some appreciation for all the work we have done, I guess. During the conference we spent about a day and a half in various different activities, such as preparing for the job search, hearing about possibilities for Returning PCVs, and going over all the formats and other things we have to turn in before leaving. This includes doing our Description of Service report, kind of a final wrap-up summary of what the hell it is we did exactly, that is going to go and rot in a file somewhere in Washington.

I also met the new Peace Corps director, who is stricter than her predecessor in terms of adhering to the Peace Corps Washington rules and guidelines, as many people trying to end their service a little early or extend have found out. My friend Joe almost had to cancel his wedding plans, and my petition to stay until the end of October was shot down out of hand, because apparently it's bad to have two volunteers in a site at the same time, even if it's just for a month. There is a certain rationale behind this, although I think I can make a stronger argument in favor of my idea (especially since it was essentially suggested by my community partners.... and who are we doing this work for, exactly?). At any rate, I just got an email stating that my extension has been approved until september 28, so I'll just have to make the most of the extra month and a half. And there you have it, everyone who has been asking.... the date when I will officially be coming home.

Besides that, I'm still plugging away at with my 9th graders - we finished Math and are already getting close to the end of Natural Sciences. I have been impressed with their responsiveness lately, which is heartening because since the beginning I have been insisting on running my classroom with some significant stylistic differences from the Honduran teachers, which caused difficulties. Maybe after all this time they're finally adapting to the way I do things, which is what I was hoping would happen.

Work continues with the cooperative as well, still polishing this grant proposal that we're going to submit to FORCUENCAS (although it's actually just about done, I think). I'm going to turn in what may be a final draft today, after I burn it to a CD. We're also plugging along trying to improve the coffee producers' documentation of the work they do, which is essential for organic certification. I'm about halfway done with the maps of fincas, but the other ones should be a little easier because they are all closer to me. They also have to keep registries of all their applications of fertilizer, de-weeding campaigns, all the days worked by the laborers they employ, and all of their incomes and expenses. As you can imagine, this is a significant challenge for those guys, some of whom are barely literate, or not at all.

As some of you may know, that bus ride from Agua Fria to Choluteca or vice versa is a huge bummer. It's long, hot, bumpy, and can be ridiculously crowded, which was the case this morning. I counted at least 70 adults and maybe another 15 babies and small children (this is on a US school bus, mind). It was so bad that I was desperate for something to get my mind elsewhere, and came up with.... anagrams! My name, if you use the full first name and no middle (Gabriel Hensold) is damn-near perfect for making anagrams. The possibilites are endless. In two hours, the best I could come up with was:

I shall b geo nerd

Which takes some liberties with the spelling of the word "be", but is pretty satisfactory otherwise. Nonsensical results that I like nevertheless include "Beheld L.A. groins" and "Greased hill nob".



Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I keep pretty good tabs on my overall health - how I feel physically (energy level, fitness, illness/injury or lack thereof), mentally (concentration, creative energy, etc) and emotionally. The state of those first two factors can almost always be explained by outside events. Do I feel exhausted and crappy in the morning? Maybe I'm coming down with a cold. Do I just sit there and stare at the wall after dinner and not feel like picking up a book? I probably wore myself out so much during the day that I can't even summon the mental energy to read. Those kinds of days, the best thing you can hope for is a thunderstorm for some front porch entertainment.

My emotional state, however, is not often as easily explained. I can feel like crap because of a cold, be bored and without work, and still keep a generally positive outlook. In other moments, I might have a great day working, the weather could be fantastic, and everything could be generally peachy and sometimes I still feel sorta blue. I don't know if it's still the wierdness of my 'new' life that I'm adjusting to, although I think in general I've always sort of been this way.

The main truism about me is that I seem to have a pretty hard time keeping a bad mood or any kind of negative mindset for a significant amount of time, and if this is a simple fact of my character then I also know that it's something to give thanks for. Mom spent many years struggling with depression and later described it carefully to us kids so we would know what to look for - lack of energy, lack of motivation, a general feeling of being worthless, etc, and how it colors the entire world, even though from a practical point of view maybe things could be a lot worse. It's hard to understand this kind of testimony if you haven't been through it yourself, especially because we like to think that fixing emotional problems is just a matter of changing your attitude. For me, it sort of seems like I got the opposite end of the stick, then. I'm relentlessly, irrepressibly, irresponsibly, and naively optimistic, even when I'm in a situation that should be acknowledged as problematic.

In the large scheme of things, I know I don't really have anything serious to complain about, but then, does anyone? I can't help but feel that if I were a poor Honduran I'd probably be just as happy-go-lucky, maybe moreso. There are difficult aspects of my life that could probably get me down if I chose to dwell on them. My childhood was quite a bit more unusual than I used to believe, but then how could I have the perspective to notice that until I'd left it far enough behind? I could ruminate about being by most accounts a pretty average person when I used to imagine that I was somehow special, or about having half-assed several important goals in my life like my college experience and now, getting on to grad school. I could depress myself thinking about the fact that I don't really have any close friends that I can visit with on a regular basis and I almost never have. I could whine about my apparently permanent lack of female companionship.

But why bother? Most of those 'problems' just have to do with who I am. That's me. And nobody else is much better off in the long run. When I think about where I've been and where I might be going, I can never manage the effort to really feel dissatisfied. I'm always reminded of a quote from the movie American Beauty, which comes right at the end and I think more than anything else was what made me love that film, because I immediately identified with it:

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst...
...and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life...

That's me when I get philosophical. Amazed and grateful. Is it possible to not be all that impressed or even necessarily satisfied with yourself; who you are and what you've done, but love life anyways? Well, I'm going to give it a try.