I have a blog entry all written up and ready to copy/paste, but it got usurped this morning by something else that happened on the way to the bus stop.
On the route down to the main road that I walk pretty much every day to get to Agua Fría or grab the bus, there is a high pass where I almost always stop and rest for a little while. The wind likes to blow through there even on the stillest days, cooling you off after the climb, and it's also a point where there is cell phone signal so I can check my messages. I stopped there this morning for about five minutes (you have to wait awhile for the company's system to detect your phone and send messages sometimes), then I realized that I was in danger of missing the bus and started off again. Just a few steps beyond the high point where I was sitting, I heard some leaves rustling in the forest up to my left and I looked just in time to see a medium-sized spotted animal with huge eyes. It was an ocelot! I think it heard my footsteps in exactly the same moment I heard its, because I only got an instant's good view of its startled, wild face before it turned tail and disappeared.
I had heard from various people that there was a tigre around (jaguar), which I didn't believe because that mountain doesn't have nearly enough wild range or food for a cat that size. Other people said there was a tigrillo ("little tiger", or ocelot), and I sort of believed it but had been REALLY hoping to see the animal, although I didn't really expect to. Where I saw it was exactly the same spot where other people told me they'd seen it. If I had sat there with my cellphone a few seconds longer, I might have actually seen it cross the road in front of me.
I was walking on clouds all the way to Agua Fría, punching the air and whisper-yelling words of triumph. Just as nothing upsets you quite as much as unexpected catastrophes, nothing makes you feel quite as happy as the unexpected or unplanned good things that can happen in life. It's important to recognize those moments and I feel like I had one this morning. Just last week, too, a hawk landed in the trees right next to my house and I got to take a really good look at it. This may not seem like a big deal but hawks are extremely rare around here, because people shoot them every chance they get (they commit the unpardonable crime of eating baby chickens). Maybe I'm just in a lucky streak.
Alright, back to your regularly scheduled programming:
It’s been awhile since I’ve said much about what I’ve been working on, and I guess now I finally have some activities worth talking about. The Maestro en Casa classes are in full swing; fun times with negative numbers and graphing linear equations. We’ve already had three tests, and, as I should be used to expecting by now, about half the students are passing and most of them are copying. A few of them have already gotten zeroes for copying and I hope the idea finally gets into their heads that I don’t tolerate that kind of thing (they have had VERY ample warning). The problem is that the other teachers always have tolerated it, because otherwise some of them won’t pass, and that means (gasp) more work for everybody. Hence, I’m getting tests back with answers like: 9 - 6 = 15. I’m not making this up. SEVERAL students missed this problem on the negative numbers section of the test, and we’re talking about ninth graders here. A second test on basic arithmetic with negative numbers hasn’t improved the situation much, if it all. Luckily we have a pretty decent amount of time for math (until May) and the book isn’t too extremely long. But still, damn.
Lately I’ve been working with Isaí on some more proposals for financed projects, which is almost like a bad joke for me at this point, but circumstantial evidence indicates that there’s a lot better chance they will pass while I’m still here in Honduras so I can at least help the cooperative get them off the ground. Also, there will probably be another volunteer here in Agua Fría after me (there SHOULD be one, anyways) so even though I might not see all the work being done on these projects, my efforts will have resulted useful for something at least.
The proposals, specifically, are two – one to the Fondo Cafetero Nacional (National Coffe Fund) and another to this NGO I talked a little about earlier, FORCUENCAS. The Fondo Cafetero project is relatively small; producing a bunch of grafted fruit trees in one nursery to give to the cooperative’s members (a very good family income-related project around here because this area is excellent for fruit). There are tons of mangos and avocadoes but they’re almost all wild and aren’t hardly worth anything in the market.
The other project, which we hope that FORCUENCAS will fund, is a whole lot larger. It’s also oriented specifically towards the cooperative and its members (rather than various different communities in a large geographical area, like the interminable Banco Centroamericano tree nursery proposal). We’ve talked to FORCUENCAS a few times about what we’re doing and they seem to be all for the idea, but on the other hand we handed them a piece of paper with all the activities we’d like to do over three weeks ago now asking them if they’d just take a look at it and tell us which they can fund and which not…. and they still haven’t managed to do it, despite the fact that it can’t possible be more than an hour’s worth of work. AND we keep calling and pestering them. So, who knows. I’m not even going to talk about what the project is right now because I’ve learned my lesson about that kind of thing, but maybe in a month there will be good news.
Sometimes I feel a little bit annoyed by the route things have taken during my course of work here, and from day to day it often seems like I’m not really doing anything. However, looking back at the state of things around here (especially with the cooperative) before/after I started working, things have actually changed. This place where I work in Agua Fría was four cement walls and a roof; now it’s a fully-equipped meeting room and office with a small library of technical materials. The cooperative had sold one year’s harvest of certified organic coffee, but it ended up going to the internal market as conventional coffee along with all the other crap. Now, they’ve sold two harvests of coffee to a German importer, getting more than 10% cost premium on average for quality and the organic certification.
It’s not like those results can be attributed solely to my presence (95% at the very least corresponds to the Hondurans), but I unquestionably was closely involved with things. The certification was especially difficult - although they managed to get that before I came here, it was managed by an agency in Honduras of the international company Biolatina that was almost comically inept and lax. When they were folded into the Nicaraguan branch last year and THOSE guys started doing the certification, it was a sudden and major increase in the amount of paperwork and the adherence to the rules. I may have even managed to enforce Isaí’s knowledge, despite how good he is at acting like he knows everything. :P
We’ve also gotten a computer and been working professionally. We have done a crapload of proposal-type stuff, which mostly hasn’t shown any results yet but I’m starting to understand how badly I underestimated the time needed to go through this process, and none of it had been started when I arrived. The Maestro en Casa program, too, as I’ve gradually learned was about ready to go tits-up in 2005 when I got here with incompetent teachers mainly doing it as a for-profit activity and lots of friction between the people running the program. Some of that friction still exists, but between myself and the two new teachers who signed on in 2006 we’ve turned it into something that actually resembles an institution of learning and we are applying academic standards, something you don’t see in almost any of the public schools.
The main thing, I guess, if I want these advances to feel like an actual success of some kind is to look to how I can shore up what I’ve done so far to ensure its sustainability (now there’s the hottest buzzword in international development these days) rather than trying out a bunch of new stuff that I no longer have the time to start. The organic certification, for one, is a continuous process that I’m going to keep helping out with on the level of the producers, trying to work on how to manage registries and the other kinds of basic paperwork they need to fill out. I need to keep working on computer classes as much as I can possibly get people to come to them, because, even though there’s no guarantee that anybody I teach is actually going to stick around here and work in the area, it’s the best I can hope for and SOMETHING needs to be done.
We’re also going to submit a proposal (I know, ANOTHER proposal) to the educational system for a “centro básico” (grades 1-9 school) here in Agua Fría, to take the next logical step from the Maestro en Casa program since there’s obviously so much demand for it – this year there’s over 80 students in our 7-9th grade program, practically twice as much as you see in a lot of the rural primary schools. That same project has been submitted for a nearby community but they haven’t actually gotten off their keisters and done much to make it happen, so people in Agua Fría are starting to talk about building it here. Maybe in a couple years there will be 7-9th grade classes five days a week in this town, with paid teachers and everything.
Working with the Hondurans to make sure they are building the skills necessary to continue on their own after I leave is the most important thing to focus on, I guess, but I’d also really like to make sure this community gets another Peace Corps volunteer after me. Not only that, I’d feel a lot better if they could be given some support during the first period here, because the 3 months of training don’t really adequately prepare you for the specific work you find in your site. The volunteer who was in La Palma was supposed to be the backup plan for that, but now I’m considering applying to extend my service for a couple months so I can work with the theoretical new guy for a bit. I need to talk to some people in the main office and see what they think.
Several days ago I got visited by another volunteer who lives a long ways away and she helped me get a slightly better perspective on my situation. She also taught me a whole bunch about the birds around my place, so it was time very well spent. This week has been the first one in ages, maybe since I finished training, where I actually have a pretty good idea what I’m going to be doing for the next while and a sense of purpose about it, which is not a bad feeling at all. Those two new proposals are practically done so my next mission is to enjoy the crap out of Semana Santa. I think I can handle it.