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Archive for July, 2010

Home Invasion

This week our sense of security was rocked to the core.  Suddenly, in a matter of minutes, our cute little casita lost some (quite a bit) of its cute little charm.

It was a peaceful weekday evening and we were just lounging around watching a movie when I went to the bathroom.  A few seconds passed before I noticed a smaller version of the creep that bit me staring down at me from the door jam.  Trapped in the somewhat narrow corridor that is our bathroom, I sounded the “spider alarm” (which consists of me yelling “Spider! Spider! Spider!” until said spider is dead), and waited for help to arrive.  I knew these guys were fast….and I also knew they could jump; so I knew he wouldn’t go down easy – I just hoped it didn’t end with him hiding under our bed.  Luckily, David has become a very skilled insect/arachnid killer and took down Creep, Jr. without breaking a sweat.  Crisis averted –  todo cheque!

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here.

As the movie ended and we starting getting ready for bed, I once again entered the bathroom to brush my teeth.  It should be noted that upon entering any room I generally take stock of the ceiling and all four corners, looking for spiders or other scary creatures.  Those who know me well can attest that I can usually spot a spider within moments of entering a room.  Well after 5 months in Honduras my reflexes had dulled a bit in this area.  So on this particular night I didn’t see him right away but after a few seconds, a large, dark, hairy figure entered my peripheral vision.  There, on the molding above the shower, was the biggest f@$%!*g spider I have ever seen in my whole life.

A tarantula.

The Beast

In the house.

Stunt double for the Home Alone spider

This time I ran and screamed (and gagged a little).  I couldn’t even sound the spider alarm because no words would come out!  David got the idea, looked for himself, and nervously agreed that it was the largest spider he’d ever seen.  We wondered what to do…would Raid even put a dent in this guy?  It was decided that a Raid/shoe approach would be best to subdue him and get him to drop off the wall so that a proper smashing could occur (ewwwwww).  I couldn’t take a chance of him escaping in to the bedroom so I broke the news to David that I would be shutting him in with the beast.  “But I’m scared too,” were his last words.

David post-kill

A few days later, I spoke with David about the incident.  He was still a bit on edge, we both were, but he had this to say, “It was crazy.  Things got pretty wild in there, primal.  All I can remember is thinking about my wife on the other side [of the door], and my family back home and wondering if I’d ever see them again.”

Well we both survived, but it was pretty tough to fall asleep that night. I also now have to duck when entering the bathroom and fully inspect the toilet before using it (have you seen Arachnaphobia?!).  Wtf spiders…Please stay out of the casita from now on!

For the record…in our first week and a half in the casita we: 1) had a flood, 2) I suffered a freak spider bite, 3) the same spider’s little brother tried to come back for revenge, AND 4) a tarantula thought it’d be cool to hang out in our shower.  Ease up Honduras, we’ve got 2 years left.

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PCVs in-site find themselves with little or no direct oversight; therefore, self-motivation and personal time management skills are important to our success and sanity.  Unlike my previous job as an entry-level water resources engineer, where the majority of my work was assigned to me by more senior engineers, here I am responsible for developing most of my work.  As I have discussed in previous posts, counterpart agencies do help volunteers find some work but mostly they are expected to help PCVs make the contacts required to secure their own projects.

As a result, we become our own project managers, chasing leads that we’ve sought out, developing relationships with the different project stakeholders, searching for sources of money (government grants, NGOs, Rotary Clubs here and the US, and others), coordinating the work that needs to be done (or doing the work), creating budgets, and creating project schedules and timelines.  This is not an exhaustive list of to-dos but it gives you an idea of the general scope.  The last of the aforementioned tasks, scheduling, can be a major source of project related frustration as Kristi and I have experienced recently.

We have been trying to keep a calendar documenting events/meetings/goals of the upcoming weeks and months.  So, at the end of every week we take a look at the next week to get an idea of what’s ahead and make sure we are prepared.  According to our end-of-week calculations, last week was shaping up to be a tough one; we had various meetings, presentations, and trips lined up and we anticipated being quite busy.  As the week unfolded, however, not a single thing that we had scheduled actually occurred!

Kristi had two presentations that were canceled (only one rescheduled).  Canceled for me were a presentation, a topographic survey, as well as a site visit to a non-functional wastewater treatment plant that was to kick off a study to identify necessary improvements to bring the plant back into service.  Instead of having a jam-packed schedule, we basically chilled around my office and our house waiting for our scheduled events to occur only to receive news at the last minute that, fijese que*, something else came up: transportation fell through, so-and-so had something more important to attend to, or whatever.

*fijese que – Honduran term used as a precursor to an excuse as to why something that was supposed to happen is no longer going to, or did not, happen.  Ex) Fijese que, we were excited to have you come give this presentation, but yesterday was Dia de Lempira so today instead of having the presentation we’re not going to have the presentation.  Notice in this particular, real-life example, the crystal clear logic.

OK, now, a not so surprising revelation: the stress-free week was pretty nice.  Of course, we’d have preferred to accomplish the goals that we had set for ourselves, but it just wasn’t in the cards this past week.  Fortunately, Peace Corps isn’t a corporation that loses big money when things fall through; and eventually, we will get done what we set out to do, it just probably won’t be on the schedule that we originally envisioned.  For better or worse, we are changing our expectations to conform to the standard mode of operation here in Honduras where success isn’t always measured by meeting deadlines and profitability (however, I’m still figuring out what the measure will be).  Even with the minor setbacks that we encounter weekly and sometimes daily, Kristi and I are still encouraged to keep plugging away at our personal and project goals because eventually, we’ll get ‘er done.

Since there are no pictures to include with this blog, here is a random assortment of photos that didn’t make earlier posts including actual photographs of “The Interview”….

"Is that poo on your tape recorder?"

Passed with flying colors

Our little friends playing 'Salto Largo' - Long Jump

He won

These little boys come running full speed whenever they see us...notice David and Antonio's matching '23' jerseys

Hooray for a birthday package!

Juancito with his crazy eyes

PCV nightstand

Homemade calendar for the casita

Kristi bought this blanket b/c it was a pretty purple color...after getting it home, washing it, and hanging it to dry she noticed it was covered in dogs...awesome

Most of the mangos from our tree were picked before we moved in. Those that remain usually plumet to the earth at incredible speeds and are therefore blown to bits. Every couple of days we wake up to find one that somehow gently landed unharmed (this day we had 2)!

Improvised gym

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Although Monday marked the official beginning of my 25th year*, a little celebrating took place the past week.  It started last weekend with our host dad’s b-day party which included carne asada, delicious salad that did not include iceberg, trail mix with m&ms, and a delicious tres leches cake.  So it wasn’t technically MY b-day party but whatever.  Our host dad celebrated with 2 more cakes that week (and we happened to be around for both) so that fulfilled my quota for birthday cake.

*Actually, it is the end of her 25th year… she’s already trying to shave years off her age!  -David

Then came the weekend and our trip to San Pedro.  The main objective was to hit a real grocery store to stock up the new casita.  We ate lunch at the mall…pizza hut (so good) and later baskin robbins.  They actually had cookie dough ice cream…it was heaven!  Then to the grocery store where we scored some good finds including my favorite beer, Stella Artois.  What this fine beer was doing 1) in a can, and 2) in a random Honduran grocery store that only stocked 4 beers, I don’t know but we definitely took advantage.   We also found mozzarella cheese, peanut butter, jelly, delicious locally made wheat bread, kiwis, lentils, and some other good stuff.

The trip home was like driving through a hurricane:  wind, rain, fog, flooded roads, fallen rocks and large limbs, etc.   Juan dropped us off at the gate and we excitedly carried in all of our goodies only to find our bedroom flooded!  It’s a bit of a mystery what exactly happened as there are neither ceiling leaks nor obvious points of entry but about an inch of water covered the back half of our bedroom.  Luckily there was no material damage (our laptops were sitting in backpacks in the puddle but both are unharmed).  About an hour of sweeping, mopping, and mucking out the water later and all was cool in the casita once again.

Then came Monday, my actual birthday.  It was a little bittersweet to celebrate here in Honduras so far from my family but my husband and familia of amigos here did a pretty good job filling in.

Here’s the recap: We started the day bright and early with our first 6am run.  We had been running off and on in the afternoons but as you can imagine the sun/heat/humidity was a crazy combination.  We vowed that when we moved into the new place we would switch to early morning…so off we went.  It was really pleasant weather and we enjoyed the early morning quiet.  Along the way we saw the mail lady who said she had something waiting for us!  What could it be?!

After a freezing cold shower I put on my new dress (thanks, mom) and some earrings David’s host sister made for me and even a little bit of makeup and headed out to the pregnant women’s club.  On my way to the health center I received several texts from friends around town wishing me a happy birthday which was a very nice surprise.  After the club meeting (as I was coming back from the restroom) the preggers surprised me by singing happy birthday, ha!  Then it was off to David’s office where the coworkers decided they wanted to have a birthday lunch.  Score!  So we rushed to the post office to collect our loot and drop it by the house.  (Thank you, Megan, for the treats!)

We were in the midst of a mini photo shoot outside of the birthday girl…and then it happened.

I got bit by a giant spider.  (I think he was kin to this guy)

As I went to move a shirt hanging on the line I felt a stabbing pain and as I jumped back a giant spider fell off the shirt!  Literally my worst fear realized.  I freaked out, cried a little, and ran inside to wash THE BLOOD off my hand as David ran out with the Raid.   The little creep retreated to a crack in the foundation after drinking down the poison where we assume he later died.  After the panic subsided we came back to the office to consult the locals.

Which turned into the joke for the afternoon – a countdown of how long I had left to live.  Thanks, friends!  One coworker suggested that now my fear of spiders would go away.  Wrong.  Every irrational fear I’ve ever had about spiders has now been confirmed.  They do hide in seemingly innocent places only to jump out and bite unsuspecting victims.

Had it not been my birthday I might have lied around and pouted but there were people waiting for me to eat!  So eat we did – roasted chicken, avocado, salad, and the obligatory (delicious) 3 liter of Coca Cola.  Yum!

Office Birthday Lunch

After I dried my tears

Later in the evening David, armed with some essentials we scored in San Pedro and a bit of spousal supervision, set out to cook dinner for the very first time.  The result was a super delicious pizza!  We literally stuffed ourselves with garlic bread, pizza, Stellas, and later chocolate pudding with oreos and reese’s pieces.  It wasn’t my usual funfetti birthday cake but it was the perfect Honduran birthday dinner!

The face of fear

Learning to knead

Voila - pizza dough!

Dough fingers (he ate it off)

Garlic pizza (tester so we didn't burn up the real thing)

It came out so good we had to eat it!

Pizza #2...roll it out with a nalgene

Pizza toppings, birthday presents (scented candles), San Pedro loot (red wine and Stella), homemade candle holder

Loaded up, ready for the oven

David's masterpiece

Other birthday present - locally, handmade straw fan (just one of the many awesome handicrafts made around here) Did I mention I found my favorite beer?

The elegant set up (with my crocheted centerpiece)

Thanks for all your birthday messages, packages, e-mails, etc.  It is difficult at times to be so far from our family and friends (especially on a special day) but knowing that ya’ll are reading our blog and rooting for us makes it that much easier.  Thank you!

So…now that I know David can cook…what will I request next?

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After 5 months of host-family living, Kristi and I are OUT!  With a little help from our friend Juan (and his surprisingly spacious Suzuki Grand Vitara) we hauled our mountain of bags three blocks to our new house.  The move only took 2 trips, the first of which we filled every square inch of the Suzuki (me on the roof, Juan driving with head out of the window).  Earlier that day we semi-furnished the place with a double bed, mini-fridge, mini gas range/oven combo, and three pieces of furniture for clothes and other storage needs.

In many cases volunteers are lucky enough to have had a previous volunteer in site with all the requisite furniture; we, however, were not so lucky.  Peace Corps gives its volunteers a modest amount to start a home which came out to approximately half of the money that is needed to start a home.  We had been relatively frugal with our dinero to this point so luckily we had just enough saved up to supplement what PC gave us.  Even after going way over PC budget to get set up we still were short a table, chairs, nightstand, and hammocks.  As we’ve discussed previously, the folks here are extremely kind, and a pair of sisters, who have adopted Kristi and taught her crochet (more on that in a future blog), have lent us a plastic table and an awesome bookshelf.  More or less our little house is all setup and ready to roll.

A quick description of the joint:

–          One large room (bedroom)

–          One small room (storage room, library, dining room, exercise room, and other uses not yet realized)

–          Kitchen

–          Porch

–          Alley with pila for washing and hanging the clothes

–          Large yard with mango trees and 7,540 potted plants (house is adjacent to a dry creek bed that hopefully will never pose a problem during large storm events)

It’s no mansion but we are more than satisfied with what is our first actual, stand-alone house together (we’ve shared a townhome and apartment previously).  As you can see from the photos, we still need to pick up a few things to complete our house (like a nightstand to replace the stacked cardboard boxes we are currently using).  Also, we are brainstorming things to decorate the walls with and add to the feng shui: photos of family, friends, and Honey-Dog, a monthly calendar, a large piece of white paper for brainstorming (I just realized how much we like to brainstorm).

So for our first meal (cooked by Kristi): hot dogs and mac’n’cheese!  Not just any M&C either, some fancy stuff mom sent us in the mail.  I also had my first mustard in 5 months, and a lot of it.  Still lacking chairs, we dragged our table up to the bed and downed a pile of American-style cookout food, and it was amazing.  The meals will get more complex as we figure out what ingredients are readily available and Kristi remembers her cooking skills (it’s been 5 months since she manned the stove).

Other amazing things: sleeping in, mangos that literally fall in your front yard, private bathroom, ample space to put away our crap, loud music, eating on our own schedule, having a place to invite your friends over for dinner or ‘hora alegre’ (as drinking is quite taboo here, happy hour doesn’t really exist…but we’re determined to get one going with close friends).

Here are a few pictures if you’re curious as to what a PCV house might look like in Honduras…  Notice the shower curtain which Kristi bought for about a dollar.  It ended up being basically the thickness of crappy toilet paper and 2 feet short.  I was able to use the plastic straps that came with the packaging from our plastic dresser to fashion some extensions; it’s pretty classy.

The Lee House

Future site of 2 hammocks

Library, storage room, dining room, gym, etc.

La cocina

Bedroom (from the other room)

Bedroom (from the bathroom)

Bathroom with $1 shower curtain and aftermarket extensions

Pila Alley (pila hidden by wet clothes)

First solo dinner! Thanks to the parentals for the black pepper!

Oh, and…                 !!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KRISTI !!!!!

(details on the 25th b-day festivities and the flood later in the week)

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This week, after living with host families for the past 5 months, we will finally be allowed to move into our very own place.  To say the least we are very excited and ready to regain a bit of our independence.  While we are very grateful to all of our host families for their hospitality, it’s time to move out!

As our personal independence day approaches, we have spent some time reflecting on the host family experiences of the past 5 months.

Although host families are paid by Peace Corps, their generosity and willingness to open their homes to strangers is inspiring.  Of course, host families range in quality – some fully adopting the PCV as a member of the family in every sense and others merely providing room and board.  We have experienced a bit of both within the 4 different families we have lived with here.

Looking back, we have identified a few key factors that can make or break the host family experience – house/room/physical environment, family dynamic, and quality of food.

Physical Environment

Keeping in mind this is Peace Corps and not Spring Break, when we say physical environment we aren’t talking about 5 star accommodations.  We had a private bath inside our room at one point which was great for privacy and convenience but was also much harder to keep clean.  A clean bathroom with a locking door has proven invaluable.  Our most recent bathroom is clean but does not lock, or even close entirely, leaving us a little ‘blocked’.  Things were going pretty well until David was walked in on by the 16 year old girl that occasionally helps out around the house.  Our final days will be spent standing guard for each other.

Another must is storage space – living out of a suitcase sucks.   At one point we each had a dresser which literally changed our quality of life for the few weeks we were able to enjoy it.  In preparing our new house, storage space has been a top priority.  Unfortunately, there aren’t exactly places to buy used furniture which means we will have to spend more to buy new things (most of them low quality plastic or metal contraptions that still manage to start around $50).  But again, storage space is a must and since we plan to live here for 2 years we plan to make it comfortable!

Family

Family dynamic is a bit harder to define in terms of what works and what doesn’t when hosting a stranger in your home.  It goes without saying that it helps if the family is kind and patient, especially in terms of language barriers and dietary requests.  We also really appreciated the host mothers we had that acknowledged our independence and allowed us more freedom when coming and going from the house.  These host mothers also happened to have children around our age so that probably helped.  It can be fun to be a part of large family get togethers – but selfishly, we preferred when we were notified in advance before waking up or walking in to a house full of people.

Religion is a very important part of Honduran life along with a sense of general conservativeness.  We found it easier to interact (openly) with our families when we weren’t roped in to religious or political conversations.  We were advised in training to tread lightly around these themes but that doesn’t mean we weren’t asked about our beliefs on God, gay people, alcohol, women’s rights, etc. on more than one occasion.  We found conversations more enjoyable (and useful) when our families told us more about Honduran culture, food, geography, history, etc.

Food

Our experiences with food here have been interesting.  I remember being horrified the first time I was given boiling hot soup to eat on a boiling hot day.  I still get that dreadful feeling when I see soup for lunch but now I just give in to the sweating.   I imagine David had the same feeling when he was served soup…with chicken feet floating in it.

There were also the times when one of our families made yucca for dinner.  Nothing but yucca.  An entire plate of yucca.  I am sure yucca can be prepared in delicious ways (I have enjoyed it fried), but generally it is boiled here which makes for a consistency akin to the driest potato you have ever eaten; it literally absorbs all the moisture in your mouth.  Certainly not filling or satisfying.

But there were certainly highlights along the way, too.  Like the time our first host family made us hamburgers and toasted us with red wine on our last night with them.  Or when our most recent family threw a birthday party for their father which included (real) steak, organic lettuce salad, trail mix with real M&Ms, and tons of other food hand carried in from San Pedro.  And of course the peanut butter and blackberry jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and honey pancakes, and basically anything else they gave us that we could put peanut butter on.

Overall we have been very lucky with the food situations and have only found a couple Honduran foods that we truly hate – yucca, malanga (dark gray vegetable, enough said), and ‘spaghetti’ aka noodles with weird ketchup and stinky cheese.  I still choke down the spaghetti when I have to but David is on full boycott.  It’s hard to express how we will feel when we can finally decide what, when, and how much we eat!

Needless to say, living with a host family is a unique experience.  It was awkward, fun, annoying, rewarding, informative, helpful, reassuring, difficult, but in the end worth it.  But…we can’t wait to have our own house!  More info and pictures later this week!

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Living in small town Honduras has reminded us how lucky we were to have a car back home.  In the states when you are bored you have total freedom to jump in the car and go somewhere!  Obviously, we aren’t so lucky here.  Whenever the weekend rolls around here and the idea to go somewhere comes up with it come visions of hours on a bus with 200 sweaty people each playing songs at full volume on their cell phones. 

However, when you start making friends and becoming closer to those friends, all of the sudden some invitations to go somewhere in a car arise.  And when someone with their very own car invites you to go somewhere, you go!  Hence how we made our first trip to San Pedro Sula a few weeks ago and visited 2 malls and the Honduran equivalent of Wal-Mart, aka awesomeness. 

Our super nice friend who took us is David’s co-worker, Juan.  Juan is from Teguc and usually spends his weekends there so we haven’t had much time to hang out with him since we’ve been here.  Luckily for us, Juan has been swamped with work lately and has been forced to stay in Trinidad for the past few weekends.  While chatting this past weekend we mentioned that Sunday was July 4th, so Juan suggested we head to Lake Yojoa to eat fried fish with the heads still on to celebrate.  Count us in! 

We headed out on our mini-journey with Juan and two other women from David’s office.  The road to the lake follows the river then snakes through some hilly green mountains passing horses, cows, and soccer matches along the way.  About an hour and a half later the lake came into view along with about 75 fried fish restaurants in a row.  One of which we visited with my counterpart on our initial journey to Trinidad

Turns out this time we were looking for something a little more high class so we continued driving for a bit before curving around to a more secluded section of the lake dotted with hotels and a few really nice houses.   Long story short…we pulled in to a hotel with a restaurant, tooled around the grounds a bit which included a rickety bridge and two boats turned into one, tried to eat fried fish with the heads still on but there weren’t enough for all of us so we had to order a fried fillet instead and….drum roll….to celebrate July 4th to the fullest, David and I drank our first beers in over 2 months.  Nothing crazy, just an icy cold, tasty beer with some delicious fried fish and french fries…well wait, that does sound kind of crazy.

To add to the madness, upon returning to our house that evening we were served yummy hamburgers for dinner thanks to our host family’s daughter-in-law.  So even though we weren’t in the good ol’ USA for July 4th this year we did manage to eat french freedom fries and hamburgers and drink a cold beer while overlooking a large body of water.  I’d say we did pretty well!

Cloudy day at the lake

Rickety bridge...to say the least

Your fav PCVs

2 become 1

Everything is under control

Juan with the assist

Hello

How could you not be friends with this guy?

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Save the Monkeys!

The next couple of posts cover recent daytrips Kris and I took up into the mountains and down to Lake Yojoa. Along the way we made some new friends while getting to know a few coworkers a little better.

As you all know, this weekend included a very important holiday – Honduran Earth Day (I think there was a national holiday in the US too?). As part of an early celebration, a guy from my work, Kristi and I took some high school kids up into the mountains as part of a campaign to protect an important watershed that supplies water to Trinidad and other nearby communities. The kids, with the support of Fundo Cristiano, made sweet metal signs with different pro-environment slogans like “Agua is the Source of Life” and “Protect the Monkeys”. That’s right, monkeys. Although we did not personally see any monkeys (to Kristi’s extreme disappointment), we were assured by everyone that there are, in fact, monkeys in this particular forest.

At first we kind of thought this was a mediocre campaign, but it didn’t require a lot of resources and, if nothing else, the kids had to have learned something (like some awesome tree-hugging slogans). They put up about 25 signs throughout the watershed and afterwards we ate a fried chicken lunch which was fantastic (a little soggy, but fried chicken rules). In the end we decided it was a good project that could’ve benefitted from a bit more on the education side, but all-in-all was a success. It was a good example for us to learn from if in the future we want to do something similar.

Saving the environment one metal sign at a time

The day included wonderfully cool weather and a 360º view from the top of a mountain, which also seemed to be the perfect spot for 1,349 radio, TV, and cell phone towers. Also, all over the mountain were Kris’s favorite flowers (hydrangeas), blackberries, pear trees, and butterflies (but no monkeys). Also, Kristi made a new friend; the cutest little girl in Honduras, as you can see in the photos below. She loved having her picture taken, dancing for us, and naming colors. Kristi asked her what color her dress was and her reply was ‘bonito’ (pretty). As we were walking away the little girl turned to her mom and said she wanted a hug from Kristi. So Kris turned around and the little girl gave her a huge hug along with a fat kiss on the cheek.

Beautiful view

Not so beautiful view

It was posing for the camera

Trixi was dancing for us in this picture

New friends

The trip’s highlight was when the guy from my work called Kristi and I over to meet a man he was talking to. When we walked up I greeted the man and introduced Kristi and before I knew it the man stuck a tape recorder in my face, said he was from the local Catholic radio station, pressed play and asked me a bunch of questions I vaguely understood. Needless to say, I made a full jackass of myself and represented my fellow PCVs very poorly. I’m pretty sure I didn’t answer any of his questions but just rambled on about how important water and monkeys are. Next time this happens, I have planned to say, “No comment.” (Kristi’s note: I think it’s worth mentioning that my interview went quite nicely. I think I may have to be the family spokesperson from now on)

Enjoy some other random photos…

Tastes like chicken

Sweet gutters... Beat that FreeRain.

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