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Archive for March, 2011

Newbies and Oldies

Leaving the security and comfort of our newly fortified home in Trinidad, Kristi and I set out on a weeklong trip that included stops in Tegucigalpa, Zarabanda (volunteer training grounds), and Olancho.

Invited by the PC training staff to present on US cultural diversity to the newest PC training class (H18), we joined several other current volunteers for an afternoon of sessions in Zarabanda, outside of Tegucigalpa.  Representatives from each PCV support group were on hand to share experiences and difficulties related to cultural differences between ourselves and Hondurans.  The support groups include:

+COLORS – Supporting racial diversity

+GLOBE – Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Experience

+MARV – Married Volunteers (our group)

+REF – Religious Equality Forum

+Third Chapter – Volunteers over 40

In small groups we discussed various uncomfortable or difficult situations that arise related to the themes covered by each support group.  This also gave the trainees an opportunity to ask current volunteers general questions about volunteer life.  Based on their questions, trainees main sources of anxiety are travel restrictions (PCV’s receive 24 vacation days/year; weekends are not technically days off) and the possibility of involuntary abstinence over the two-year service.  How about personal safety or work related issues?  I guess that’ll come once they’ve overcome the more pressing issues.

It was a lot of fun meeting the new class.  As a group they made a great impression on us and I look forward to getting to know them better in the future.  We also heard some H18 parents read our blog – hi! Don’t worry about your kids, they are doing great!

While in Tegucigalpa we were fortunate enough to meet up with several volunteers from our own training class (H16) as well as other old hats.  Over beers and real restaurant food, we laughed it up about how we are slowly transforming into Hondurans.  During one conversation the group got a good laugh about Kristi’s adopted Honduran habit of sweeping our dirt yard (Honduran raking) only to be one-up’d by another volunteer who admitted to watering the dirt road in front of his house with his new hose (to quell mucho dust).

It was nice to have a big-city restaurant dinner but neither Kristi nor I was expecting the food hangover as a result of rich US-style food (bacon cheeseburger, California club, piles of fries).

Daygucigalpa

Sun going down over the capital of Honduras

Being in Tegucigalpa put us relatively close to our friends, Mark and TJ, whose site is Salamá, Olancho in the eastern part of Honduras.  Before heading back to Trinidad we took the grueling yellow school bus trip on mostly unpaved highways four hours east for our first visit to the department of Olancho.

Olancho is known as the wild-east in volunteer circles due to the similarities between the American west of the late 1800’s.  Gun toting cowboy types are the norm in a lot of Olancho and family vendettas are often settled outside the law.  While this is the stereotype, we found the pueblo of Salamá very peaceful and enjoyable.

Our trip included a little hike to climb the pueblo’s water tank, a few cold beers, and lots of beef (like the American west, Olancho is known for its cattle).  It was great to kick it with Mark and TJ, share some stories, and relax.  We hope to get back to Olancho in the next few months to visit other volunteers in the region as well as visit some locally famous caves.

On top of the water tank

As we walked up our street to our house in Trinidad, I still had that nervous feeling that we’d return to a looted house that I used to have before the casita fortification project.  I was relieved to find our abode still filled with our stuff and our metal portones securely in place.  Next step, bear traps and kung-fu trained monkeys.

He's stronger than he looks

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One of the most common questions we get (especially from our families) is, “Do you feel safe in your town/Honduras?”  The answer is yes.  The reality, however, is that Honduras is a dangerous country (petty theft is common as is drug related gang violence).  As part of our Peace Corps training we were educated on the safety & security situation in Honduras and given many practical strategies to reduce our personal risk.

There are two aspects to PCV safety: general travel safety and home security.  Strategies for traveling safely are pretty obvious and apply to travel anywhere: keep your bag with you at all times, don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables, avoid traveling alone, take a taxi when in big cities, do not travel at night, be aware of your surroundings, etc.  We also hide money in several locations on our person, we never put our bag in the storage compartment under the bus (even if it means sitting uncomfortably with it under our feet), we pack as light as possible, and we don’t travel with valuable electronics.

On the home front, prior to receiving housing approval PCVs must fill out a security checklist.  Things to look for in a safe dwelling are: general location, proximity to neighbors, street lighting, fence or wall, secure gate, sturdy doors with good locks, sturdy bars on windows, etc.  We lucked out and were able to find a place that fit most of the requirements.  Although our landlord lives next door and keeps an eye on our house we were still very nervous whenever we had to leave town for extended amounts of time.  Due to the amount of time spent traveling and the likelihood of valuables in the house, PCVs make pretty appealing targets for home invaders.   Furthermore, living in a small town it generally doesn’t take very long for the entire pueblo to figure out the gringos are out of town.

So back in February, looking ahead to a March full of traveling, we finally decided to make the final adjustments to fully securing our house – metal doors or portones.  Our landlord was nice enough to pay for half (in the form of a rent-free March) and she also gave us a referral to a local iron worker.  Things started off on the right foot – the man showed up on time and measured the doors, gave us a reasonable quote, and scheduled installation for the following week.  As things often go around here, he was unable to find the materials and it took an extra week and a half to finish the doors.  At this point he already had ¾ of the payment so we were really hoping he hadn’t run off, but he is well known and we trusted him.

Finally he came with his helper to install the doors.  After installing approximately 2 screws the drill died and could not be revived.  Ample time was spent brooding and lamenting over the drill.  It was not expected that anyone would lend out an expensive power tool but surprisingly our old plumber buddy Tito saved the day.  After acquiring the borrowed drill, the first door was installed in about 20 minutes with no further problems.  The second door, however, did not fit…at all.  The guys stood around and scratched their heads for a while and eventually decided to start hacking away at the wooden door frame.  Splintered wood began piling up and hours passed and still they were no closer to making the door fit.  In the U.S. we clearly would’ve been outraged that these men were hacking at the door frame (without even asking, mind you) but that’s just how things are here, unfortunately.  One look at the cracked and uneven cement floors in our house and we knew there was no way our landlord would be either surprised or upset at the door frame.  So, on they went well into the evening until finally everyone was too hungry and frustrated to continue.

The guys returned the next day renewed and began again, this time with an electric sander.  There were some serious sparks flying and the house smelled of burnt wood but finally they were able to slide the metal door into the frame.  Success!  Or so we thought.  But then came the giant screws to secure the door which then made it impossible for the door to shut because the screw heads stuck out too far.  Fear not, more electric sanding ensued until the screw heads were sufficiently smoothed down ensuring that 1) the door would shut and 2) the door could never be removed.

The “casita fortification” project also included installing metal brackets on the inside of the side door so that a plank of wood could be inserted to secure the door.  Think medieval castle.

In the end the project ran us close to L.5000 or $265 which included: 2 metal doors with metal screen, 2 new padlocks to secure the doors from the outside, a new deadbolt for one of the interior doors which previously did not open, the medieval contraption for the third door, minus one month rent free (L.2000).  So we essentially spent an entire month’s PC salary securing the house but we now feel much safer and less worried about going out of town so it was definitely worth it for the peace of mind!

Before

After

Third door with interior "tranca"

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The ceramic water filter project and school water treatment system have been a great success so far in La Fragosa!  Even though this project will have significant health benefits for the community, what they still greatly need are sanitary latrines and a permanent potable water system.  This type of project requires tens of thousands of dollars and is beyond the fundraising capabilities of Kristi and me (even with assistance from ADEC and IRWA).

Ceramic Filter being used in one of the homes

Maybe a little paranoid about having their CTUs stolen, but better safe than tankless

We have been in contact with an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) student group from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania about pursuing a latrines and water system project in La Fragosa, and recently six representatives from this group made their first visit to the community.

First the students and one faculty adviser held a meeting with the community leaders (members of the patronato, junta de agua, and comité de salud).  The group informed the community leaders that the intention of this visit was to get to know the community so that EWB would be able to decide if the community would be a good fit for an EWB project after which they fielded questions from the community leaders.

Your Humble Narrator introducing EWB to the community leaders

In order to get to know the community the EWB students created a number of survey questions about demographics and community health then set out in two groups to visit every family in the community.  The group had two members on this trip with Spanish language skills so Kristi and I only needed to lend a hand occasionally.  Each survey team was guided by a community member.

Kristi translating for Paquito, one of the harder to understand community members

The sometimes shy community members welcomed the EWBer’s into their homes and seemed to make a great impression on the student group.

The next day we visited the community again so that Kristi and I could share a charla with students at the community school about the importance of clean, treated drinking water.  The kids were fantastic, participating with enthusiasm in each activity.  Hopefully, they learned something and were able to take that knowledge home to share with the rest of their families.

Student participation in one of our potable water educational activities

After our charla, the EWBer’s introduced themselves and shared their hope to bring a latrines and permanent potable water project to the community.  They also brought a small toy for each student.  They came up one toy short so one of the EWB members sacrificed a sweet little LED flashlight to fill in the gap.

Team EWB

Score!

We and the community are very grateful for EWB’s interest in pursuing a very worthy project in La Fragosa!

Which are cuter, puppies or kittens?

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Kristi and I have been tied up with doctor appointments and other administrative tasks lately, but we should have a new post up by the end of the week!

Excuses for not posting:

Kristi:

  • Dangerous skin disease on face that required a doctor visit in Santa Bárbara, another in Tegucigalpa, and laboratory visit for blood work (don’t worry, she’s all cleared up!)

David:

  • Dengue symptoms that required a doctor visit in Santa Bárbara and laboratory visit for blood work (my white blood cells – 1, Virus – 0)
  • Plantar wart removal on each foot by liquid nitrogen machine gun in Tegucigalpa (I had NO CLUE how bad this would hurt!)

We are mostly recovered (I am still hobbling)  and will be back in action ASAP…

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