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Archive for May, 2010

I work for the Consejo Regional Ambiental (CRA).  CRA is what is considered a “mancomunidad”.  CRA is a government organization that oversees infrastructure and development projects within the region.  Its coverage encompasses the municipalities of Trinidad, San Luis, San Marcos, Concepción del Norte, Chinda, and Ilama.  Each municipality has its own mayor and governmental officers.  CRA coordinates with each community to help develop and maintain potable water systems, sewage disposal systems, and roads, to improve the administrative functions of each municipality, and oversee efforts to protect the environmental resources in the region.  It should be very interesting and challenging work.

I’ve been assigned for the first month or so to research and develop a plan for a sanitary landfill for the town of Trinidad as well as preliminary plans for miniature sanitary sewer plants (lagoons) for 4 of the towns in the region.  I will be working closely with CRA’s engineer, Juan.  Juan has about 5 years of civil engineering experience in Honduras; two of those years have been spent with CRA.  He should be an excellent mentor and counterpart.

Juan and I spent two days this week investigating possible drinking water sources for poor communities near Trinidad.  This exercise consists of taking a long, daring pickup truck ride on some very narrow off-road paths up the mountain side with 6 to 8 locals in the back of the truck.  Once we can’t get any further, we dismount and head on foot to the source.  The locals are there to show us the source and provide protection from anyone who might see two engineers in a government vehicle as a possible robbery target.  Once we hike to the source Juan directs the locals to build a miniature dam with a PVC outlet pipe.  Once all the water in the source (typically a stream or spring) is directed to the PVC pipe, a 5 gallon bucket is filled and the time to fill it is recorded.  This is the caudal (flowrate) that will be used for design.  If the flowrate is found to be insufficient to meet the community needs, based on population and other factors, other sources will be sought.  It was a great experience meeting some of the community members and hiking through coffee farms and cloud forests.  I didn’t take a camera these times because they were both spur of the moment, but next time I’ll be prepared.

One afternoon Kristi and I were invited to lunch by the CRA to a beautiful nearby hotel that is located on a huge farm estate (again unprepared without camera).  Lunch was amazing and so was the hotel!  Hopefully we are able to share this awesome local spot with some family and friends in the future.  After lunch we sat through a terribly boring meeting of all the mayors in the mancomunidad.  Boring… but we did get to personally meet and greet with all the officials of the communities Kristi and I will be working in.

Outside of work I’ve found a sweet fútbol game – a group from Cruz Roja mixed with local neighbor teens.  We play in the little covered concrete plaza.  I’ve only played twice but it’s a blast.  They are pretty stoked about a gringo playing in their soccer games.  Kristi was worried I’d embarrass myself out there but my fútbol skills have come a long way in three months.  I’ll keep everyone updated on my league stats.

Game 1 (W), about 8 – 5*

D. Lee 4 gols, 1 asistencia

Game 2 (W) about 10 – 8*

D. Lee 2 gols, 2 asistencias

Game 3 (L) about 6 – 10*

D. Lee 1 asistencia

*Lee left each game early due to old man syndrome (soggy clothes, lack of air within lungs); therefore scores were estimated at his time of departure.

That’s about it for this week besides some landfill research and a couple of visits to a very excellent local ice cream shop, KOBS.  We feel extremely lucky with our site placement and know we are going to love everything about Trinidad (minus the heat!).  More about Kristi´s work next time!

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We arrived in Trinidad Saturday, the 15th of May. Luckily for us, we (and about 15 bags… no kidding) were able to get a jalón (hitch a ride) with Kristi’s counterpart, Melvin of Cruz Roja (Red Cross). He was also kind enough to take us to Lake Yojoa for lunch. We each had a giant fried tilapia with a side of tajadas (fried plantain chips). Check out the pics below. Our site is only about an hour and 15 minutes from the lake. The drive between Trinidad and the lake is beautiful, weaving through the mountains next to a wide, meandering river.

Anyways, back to Week One. As we pulled into town and rolled down the windows of our air conditioned truck, we realized that we are in for a hot and sticky two years. Despite being surrounded by beautiful green mountains, Trinidad is very humid and very hot. Year round temperatures range from 85º to 100 º with plenty of humidity. Basically we have been sweating like it’s a full time job.

Our host family is a retired couple with lots of friends and connections in town. Our papá is a former mayor and coffee farmer and our mamá is a retired teacher who is very active in the affairs of the town, in fact she has been gone the entire first week at a conference in Guatemala. She was even voted ‘mother of the community’.

Our room consists of two beds, a twin and a full; the twin has been converted (by us) into our dresser. It’s a tight squeeze but it’s temporary as we are looking to move out in about two months. Since our host mom has been away we haven’t figured out how we are going to deal with the food situation. We are given a monthly stipend for food and other incidentals so its up to us to figure out whether we want to pay our host family to prepare all of our meals or if we’d like to prepare our own (in the same kitchen space). Most likely we will do a combination of the two; probably breakfast on our own and lunch and dinner with the fam.

Also living in our house is the great-nephew of our host parents and a tenant. The nephew is a super, super polite 14 y/o who helps keep the house orderly and tends the family store (which is run out of the front room of the house). The tenant is a doctor who is living in Trinidad for one year while she completes what basically seems like a residency program at the health center. The only house pets are three parrots and a sweet cat, Felina. So that’s a little bit about our current living situation.

We are settling in nicely to our new town and really enjoying the beautiful views, ice cream cones in the park, soccer games, meeting nice people, etc. Later on this week we will post some more details about the work situation…nos vemos!

Lago Yojoa

 

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Swearing In

A few words on swearing in…the day was spent meeting our work counterparts and getting to know each other. We had an amazing lunch of roasted chicken and real salad, whoa – blew my socks off. Followed by tres leches cake, yum! After lunch we all headed to the embassy for the ceremony. The highlight of the ceremony was a speech by a chico from our training class: way to go Julian! More cake was had, yum, and David and I had our last coffee granita (slushy) for a while (sadly our town has not discovered granitas yet!). We headed back for our last night with our host family which included a mini happy hour with our friends and hamburgers made by our host dad! It was a great day in all but the task of moving the next morning still loomed! We spent the rest of that Friday night packing the final things and getting ready to go. More on our trip West in the next post….

Buddies

We clean up pretty good!

Miss you, buddies!

David and host dad

Thanks for everything, host fam!

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Don´t worry, we haven´t forgotten about you all…just been a little busy during our first week in site getting to know our town and lots of new people!  Kristi has internet access in her office and David will be getting it in his office shortly so we will continue to update the blog.  We are working on a few posts covering the past two weeks and will get them up with a few pictures ASAP!   Hasta luego!

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Site Assignment!

Well we finally know where we will be living for the next 2 years!  After many weeks of speculation and rumors we thought we had a pretty good idea where we were headed…and we were right!  On Saturday, May 15 we will be headed west to a town called Trinidad in the department of Santa Bárbara.

Santa Bárbara is kind of like a state and Trinidad is a municipality, or kind of like a county.  The population of Trinidad is about 19,500 separated into 21 villages and 91 small villages.  The actually city of Trinidad, where we will be living, has a population of about 6,000 people.  Our work will be in Trinidad as well as in surrounding municipalities.  Our town is about 30-45 minutes from the capital of the department, Santa Bárbara (city), about 2 hours from the large city San Pedro Sula, and about 4 ½ hours from the country capital Tegucigalpa.

Other geographical facts: our town is also about 1 – 1 ½ hours from Lake Yojoa, the largest and most touristic lake in Honduras.  There is a US owned brewery/bed and breakfast close to the lake that we will definitely be visiting!  Trinidad is a mountainous area with two large mountain chains nearby including the 2nd largest mountain in Honduras.  These mountain chains are also home to dense “cloud forests” of pine.  At lower elevations there are many tropical plants and deciduous trees.

The farming and production of coffee is the major industry in the area.  The municipality of Santa Bárbara is also known for handicrafts such as hats, baskets, and mats from junco (reeds).

We will be headed to Trinidad Saturday morning with our counterparts.  There is internet access in our town but we aren´t sure how long it will be before our next post so don´t worry if we go off the grid for a week or so!  Nos vemos!

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FBT Wrap Up

Many of our classes during FBT were held, free of charge, in the Culture House of El Paraíso.  To say thanks, we decided we’d try to clean up their courtyard a bit.  Weed their gardens, plant a few new plants and build some new garden paths.  My Spanish class decided we’d contribute a sweet wooden sign.  Here are a few pictures to summarize our effort…

The garden

Volunteers at work

I drew the PC symbol and Mark painted it

Voila!

Latrines and Pilas Project

To get a little hands-on construction experience the Wat/San group participated in the construction of 2 pilas (a place to store clean water for cooking, cleaning, etc.) and a latrine.  For the pilas we had to mix mortar and lay brick.  Once the bricks have been laid we went back with a coating of mortar for a smooth finish and to make the structure water tight.  We had the help of a professional albanil (mason), otherwise I’m sure we would’ve butchered it… I think my father-in-law would be proud of our handy work.

The latrine construction was a bit more labor intensive.  It too included some masonry in the construction of the little house where the toilet seat goes.  But the major labor came from the excavation of the 2.5 meter pit where the wastewater actually goes.  A few of us rotated turns at digging the pit.  It was a really hot day so you went into the pit dry and came out like you’d jumped in a pool.  Another challenge was escaping the pit!  We were only able to finish the pit and the foundation for the little house.  It was a very long day of work but we all learned quite a bit about basic construction techniques.  Check out the photos… I’ll go ahead and explain the belly pic.  This is a common sight in Honduras, in the campo, in the city, in a restaurant, or on a bus.  When you’re hot, just expose your belly and cool down a degree or two.  I’m a big fan although my belly needs a little work to hold my shirt up a little better.

Banana trees

Really strong guy digging a latrine pit

Pila construction

Construction crew

And finally, back at our first host family…

Score!

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Despedida

During my last week in La Paz my host brother organized a “despedida”/goodbye dinner party for me.  He first hinted at it the day before by showing me glitter masks, party hats, kazoos, and a large feather mask that he said was for me.  At the time I had no idea what was going on, how many people would be invited, and why would I need a mask?

So the day came for the party and I still had little idea what the plan was so I decided I better stick close to the house so they wouldn’t think I skipped out on my own party.  Around 4pm I began waiting…and waiting… until about 9:30pm when the invitees showed up!  Around 11pm we ate a delicious dinner of grilled pork, beans, pico de gallo, and tortillas.  It was a very nice party with sweet tunes, good food, and pyrotechnics.   I think the masks were inspired by our Mardi Gras despedida back in February.

All set up for the party

Host brother & cousin

Cousin Javier

Break it down Aunt Norma

Somebody call the ambulance

Still don´t know why...but there were masks

And here is my last sunset in La Paz…

And just for cuteness, Norma´s grandkids…

I asked for this dog...they declined

David and I are now back together with our first host family just outside of Teguc.  We have one more week of training, swearing in ceremony on Friday, and we are off to our new site on Saturday!  We will have a couple more posts this week about the final activities of FBT as well as some details on our new home for the next 2 years!

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