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Archive for October, 2010

…meaning, if you are the type that checks out food blogs (or maybe I’m the only one that does that), you will not find any daring new recipes or exciting new ingredients in this post.  But maybe you’re curious about what we’re eating so here are the basics of how we keep our bellies full in Trinidad.

There are no conventional grocery stores in our site.  Instead there is an abundance of what is known as a “pulperia.”  A pulperia is most closely related in both variety and randomness to a gas station convenience store.  Here are some things you can find in all pulperias: soda and chips (probably 90% of their revenue), vegetable oil/margarine, noodles/instant soups, milk and eggs, a variety of condiments and packaged flavor enhancers (consommé, tomato paste, etc.), and toilet paper.  Aside from the food offerings there are almost always other random items like notebooks, dolls, cowboy hats, house wares, hair accessories, underwear, and many other fun gifts.   Another characteristic of the pulperia is that everything is behind the counter or behind a barred window and you must ask the attendant to fetch each and every thing (imagine reading your list out loud to a stranger next time you’re at the store).  Also the prices are never marked and rarely does the attendant actually tell you the total at the end, you must almost always ask.  Luckily we are friends with the owners of all of our favorite pulperias so they are a bit more patient when we point and grunt and objects that we do not know the names of.

Although we live in an agriculturally productive area our town does not have a conventional street market.  Pickup trucks with loud speakers routinely troll the town blasting their offerings, “bell pepper, onions, tomatoes, potatoes”, in an almost indecipherable jumble of words and static.  Aside from the trucks there is pretty much only one pulperia that routinely stocks (in plain sight) a variety of vegetables.  I am sure other stores have vegetables but it is much easier to go to a store where you can pick your own produce instead of paying for a pound of rubbery carrots from somebody’s home refrigerator.

In terms of produce, we have constant access to onions, bell peppers, carrots, plantains and cabbage (the last two we do not eat).  Almost all of the time we can get really good tomatoes (usually for less than $1/lb) and garlic is fairly common as well.  On rare occasions broccoli and cauliflower will show up and we also occasionally see squash.  Mangoes, bananas, pineapples, and avocados are seasonal items that are harder to come by right now.

The Freshness

The meat department is a little bleaker.  A commercial chicken vendor sells breasts and legs by the pound but for some crazy reason runs out of breasts early in the day, every single day.  Although the producer is a large brand name and not just some random small farmer, the chicken is stored unwrapped in chest freezers in a rather unhygienic store.  When making your request the attendant retrieves your chicken from the freezer (with his bare hands) and places it on an old metal balance to weigh it.  It’s then placed in a plastic shopping bag for you to tote home.  If you know me then you know I’m a bit of a germ-a-phobe so the whole process is a bit unappealing.  For that reason we eat considerably less meat here than we did in the States, averaging probably only one or two meals per week with meat.  Commercially packaged ground beef can also be found which we eat occasionally.  Of course most pulperias have (unwrapped) racks of ribs and other strange, bloody cuts of meat spewing out of chest freezers but the chicken is about all I can handle.  For protein we eat a lot of eggs (cheap and available everywhere) and beans (bought from our neighbor who cooks a huge pot to sell every few days).

It should also be noted that there are very few spices available in our area.  Other PCVs have noted that the only spices Hondurans use are salt and sugar, which is pretty close to accurate.  Truly the only spices we can find in our town are salt, garlic salt, cumin which is always mixed with pepper, and something called “aichote” which Hondurans admit adds nothing but a strange orange color to a dish.  Oh and hot sauce.  Therefore whenever we happen to be in a larger town with something that more resembles a grocery store we prowl the aisles for spices and other impossible-to-find-in-Trinidad goodies.  Most common purchases are lentils, peanut butter, jelly, whole wheat pasta, chocolate chips (a rare find), and wine.

The nicest pulperia in our town is run by a presumably more well off family.  I presume this because the owner went to South Africa for the World Cup.  He does his shopping for the store in San Pedro and brings back many American brand items to sell.  If we were so inclined we could buy Honey Nut Cheerios, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or olive oil all of which are very expensive.  We finally sprung for a tiny bottle of olive oil and use it extremely sparingly.

Although our options are limited we are able to make a lot of familiar dishes as well as some new favorites.  “Chismol” is a homemade condiment of chopped tomatoes, onions, and bell pepper and we have come to enjoy putting it on just about everything.  Scrambled eggs, refried beans, and chismol is a very common lunch offering in our house.

"Chismol", kin to Pico de Gallo

The go-to meal; David likes his dripping in hot sauce

Stir-fries, pizza, spaghetti with meat sauce, and chicken and rice dishes are also quite common. I have also perfected an awesome oatmeal raisin cookie recipe that makes an appearance when we really need baked goodies.

Mmmmmm

And when we really don’t know what to eat there’s always ramen noodles and popcorn 🙂

Finally, a few things we will be sure to gorge out on when we are back in the States – fresh salads, good hamburgers and not soggy fries, lean, grilled chicken/fish/pork, and all of the vegetables we can’t get here like mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, and sweet corn on the cob.  And of course good wine and dark beer!

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FAQs

We have realized that lately all we’ve posted is blogs about work and our projects.  So in hopes of giving you a bit more insight into the rest of our lives in Honduras here are some FAQs and responses…let us know if you think of any others!

How do you get around?  Do you have a car?  Can you drive?

PCVs are not allowed to own or operate automobiles for reasons of safety and liability, nor are we allowed to drive or ride on motorcycles.  The most common forms of transport used by PCVs are bus, bike (with a helmet of course), Moto taxi, and “jalón”.  Jalóning is basically Spanish for hitchhiking, and is highly common here among Hondurans and PCVs.  Where buses do not run, many small communities run scheduled pickup truck routes into the larger towns where passengers pay a small fare to pack themselves into the bed of the truck.  Personally, I have ridden in the bed of a late-nineties Toyota Tacoma with 10 other adults (this by no means, is “maximum capacity”).

The emptiest, cleanest bus we've ever been on; add 95 people, 10 chickens, and luggage and you have a more realistic picture

The famed Moto taxi; this particular model was equipped with amplifier, 12" sub, and Sony speakers

What’s the laundry situation in your town?  Is there a laundry mat?

We wish!  While other, larger sites have laundry mats, Trindad does not L.  In the Lee household, all laundry is done by hand using one of two methods (or a combination for especially dirty items).  1) Kristi rubs a bar of laundry soap on the article of clothing, scrubs it on a washboard, and then rinses using water dipped from our pila with a pailita (large plastic bowl).  2) Using powdered laundry soap and a small tub of water, David, evoking the spirit of the washing machine, swishes clothes around, then rinses in the same fashion employed in method 1.

What’s there to do in your town during your free time?

Hmmmm, not a lot.  We read, as seen from our Book List page, a ton of books.  We also read magazines sent by friends and family (hint, hint).  We both have 250 GB hard-drives that are nearly full of movies, TV shows, and music.  We exercise several days per week; running/walking, yoga-ishy stuff for Kristi, pushups, pull-ups, etc. for me.  We also enjoy playing tricks on our cat, Leona, like trapping her in a box and watching her try to escape (a fellow PCV has told us we should try putting aluminum foil on her feet for entertainment, we’re holding on to that one for more desperate times).  Other things: mini-garden, fix stuff, sweep, stare at the wall, plan our future.

She drew blood with this strike!

What’s a common day-to-day schedule?

Office Day:

2:30 am – wake up to Leona gnawing my feet, throw her outside

5:45 am – let Leona in and feed her

6:30 am – go for a run/exercise

7:30 am – breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana, and coffee or tea

9:00 am – to the office (after a shower)

12:30 pm to 2:00 pm – lunch at the house, more coffee, read something (book or magazine) unless we are in the campo

2:00 pm to 5:00 pm – back to the office

6:30 pm – dinner

7:30 pm to 10:00 pm – reading, watching TV on the computer

10:00 pm – bed

Campo Day:

2:30 am – wake up to Leona gnawing my feet, throw her outside

4:30 am – get out of bed, get dressed, eat PB&J

5:30 am – catch jalón into the mountains

7:00 am to 3:00 pm – work, campo-style

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – find a jalón back to town

5:30 pm – shower

6:30 pm – dinner

7:30 pm to 10:00 pm – reading, watching TV on the computer

10:00 pm – bed

This is only an example and varies greatly day-to-day.  If this sounds like “the life”, quit your job, sell your stuff, and join the Peace Corps!

What modes of communication do you use in-country and to the US?

We have regular access to the internet at my office so we keep in touch with fam and friends via Facebook and email.  We also have two cell phones each.  One predominately used for in-county calls, the other for calls to the US at a rate of about 50 cents for 15 minutes.  We also use messenger pigeons when necessary.

Do you have a TV?

Negative.  We use the computer to watch movies and TV series that are widely traded among PCVs.  We could certainly buy a TV and pay for cable, and many PCVs do, but there is a lack of good programming and no DVR to record the stuff that is actually worth watching (hmm, sounds similar to home).  And once the hand tremors and night sweats subside it’s actually nice living without a TV.

Do you bathe in the river?

Only if I feel the need to get a rash.  We have a “shower” consisting of a jet of icy water that is either refreshing after a long run or demoralizing and miserable at all other times.

Do you have a translator?

No, we have been trained extensively in Spanish and learn more and more everyday.  Kristi is superior to me, but I get by just fine minus the occasional humiliation of forced speeches at co-workers’ birthday parties.  “Ummm… I don’t know you very well, but you’re pretty cool, I guess.  Sucks getting old, huh?”  I don’t know if I’d do any better if asked to do the same thing in English.

What are the most common forms of wildlife you encounter?

In order of abundance: 1-ants, 2-mosquitos, 3-chickens, 4-geckos, 5-centipedes, 6-spiders, 7-whale-sharks, and 8-puppies.

Shameless campo-puppy pic

Are there restaurants/bars?

There are no great restaurants, only a couple very small “comedors” where they serve typical Honduran fare.  A comedor could resemble a very small fast food joint with an order window and some tables or it could be the front room of somebody’s house.  There are definitely no bars where we’d be interested in going to.  I’ll speak about the drinking situation in a minute.

What’s the alcohol situation in your town?

Unfortunately, drinking is usually considered an all-or-nothing sort of deal in our town (and most parts of Honduras except for bigger cities).  If you drink, then you must be a raging alcoholic who sleeps on the sidewalk and speaks in tongues, a.k.a. a “bolo”.  To avoid being labeled as so, we only drink in our home and only purchase alcohol at strategically discrete locations, the veterinarian for example.  I am sent on all undercover beer runs because a woman buying/consuming alcohol is so risqué that I’ve never seen it here.  The choices are limited in our town.  There are three types of beer in our town that all taste, more or less, like Bud.  There is liquor but the only choices are bad to decent rum (which we don’t really like), unaffordable American or European brands, or guaro which is very cheap corn liquor (bolo-juice).  As mentioned before, all these can be found at the veterinarian who will disguise your purchase as chicken feed or horse vaccinations.

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This week we made our first (of many) trips to La Fragoza.  As we told you *here* we most likely have some solid funding to begin a potable water/health education project.  David has been to Fragoza several times on fact-finding missions but this was my first time visiting the community.

As mentioned in the previous post, the main obstacle to this project is the transportation issue.  As PCV’s we are not allowed to drive (cars) or ride on/drive motorcycles which leaves us 100% dependent on others to get where we need to go.  This has proven extremely frustrating in the past because relying on work partners for a ride always seems to turn out bad.  So with some help from Don Celso (Fragoza contact) we found out that a man from Trinidad runs a car load of people to Fragoza and back three days a week.  Only downside is the carpool wagon leaves at 5:30 am meaning we had to get up in the 4 o’clock hour (or what we like to call “going to the airport time”).  But we got our butts up and piled on the back of the truck (which has after market wooden bench seats) and made the hour long trek through the mountains to Fragoza.  The ride is beautiful and very serene in the morning – interrupted only by the sounds of machetes clinking the bed of the truck as more workers pile in.

The goal of this trip was to begin assessing the community needs through a simple questionnaire we created.  With only roughly 40 dwellings it may seem like a simple task but I assure you it was not.  For a little more context, Fragoza is completely surrounded by coffee farms, cloud forests, and fruit trees and many of the houses were completely invisible from the dirt road.  Don Celso was our guide and a huge help throughout the whole process – he literally knows the names of every man, woman, and child in Fragoza!

Celso (hidden in tree) tossing down oranges

Here is a bit of what we found out…(again this was an informal survey)

22 families were surveyed (so far) consisting of 95 people total

Of the 22 houses….

  • 8 have and use a latrine*
  • 10 have a pila
  • 16 have an “improved” woodstove (with a chimney)**
  • 10 reportedly treat their water
  • 6 boil the water
  • 3 chlorinate the water
  • 1 uses solar disinfection
  • 1 buys water

*The latrine issue: about 6 years ago FHIS (Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Social) did a latrine project in Fragoza.  Most latrines are constructed with a dug out pit below ground where the yucky stuff goes but for some reason FHIS elevated their latrines and just had the yucky stuff landing on the ground and leaking out the side.  Here is a visual…

This latrine no longer functions

The result?  The people think the latrines are gross and unhygienic so instead of climbing up the stairs to shit on the ground they prefer to go in the bushes to shit on the ground.  As we mentioned their drinking water comes straight out of the creek…clearly a (proper) latrine project is a priority.  We are investigating other sources of funding for possible future latrine/woodstove projects.

**It is commonplace in Honduras to encounter woodstoves that lack ventilation.  Women spend much of their time in small kitchens with black walls that are filled with smoke.  Obviously this is a health hazard and somewhat simple to improve by adding the chimney.

Creek water via hose to improvised pila

Another improvised water delivery system

In general I was impressed by the condition of many of the houses – although humble they were very well cared for and neat.  There was also significantly less trash than is often seen around here which was refreshing.  Overall the people seem open and receptive, two qualities that are absolutely necessary when trying to improve health and hygiene practices.

From here the plan is to return every week (when possible) for the foreseeable future to first, continue the community survey then begin the education component.  Then, in the coming months we will know where we stand in terms of funding and can start planning the construction of the combined treatment units.

Here are some more pictures of Fragoza…

This toddler trap works perfectly

How the other half lives...private estate adjacent to Fragoza

Combatting boredom while waiting for a ride home, clown-style

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Melvin (Imox)

Melvin is a Honduran artist that lives in Marcala, La Paz.  Through Fred (see last post) we were introduced to Melvin.  His works are on display in almost every restaurant in Marcala as well as cities around Honduras (and in Fred’s homes both in Marcala and back home in the States).  While we were in Marcala, Melvin actually moved in next door to Fred, so we had plenty of time to get to know the artist, his work, and a different perspective on life in Honduras.  Check out some of the pieces I photographed in Fred’s house, Melvin’s house, and around town.

Melvin teaching Kristi "pyrography" (burning drawings into wood with heated metal)

Piece from the "Serie de Agua" comissioned by Fred

"El Borracho"

"Guy peeing on a Tigo store" (Tigo being the Time Warner Cable of Honduras)

"The Mona Lisa" (5 ft tall)

This piece was gifted to us to make room for "Mona"

From the "Serie de Agua" (made entirely of dirt/soil)

Mural painted on the side of Fred's house (notice the meters used as eyes; Melvin wanted to use them as boobs but was vetoed by the landlord)

All of Melvin’s work is signed “Imox”.  Imox is sort of like a Mayan astrological sign and is roughly “the sign of the dragon”.  Imox means water, change, and paranormal powers. Imox is a transmitter of information.

We ended up with three of Melvin’s pieces; one a gift from Fred and the other two from the artist himself.

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