Saturday, September 26, 2009

We're home

Alice and I flew in last night on the first flight that left Honduras since Monday. Any other airline and we'd still be sitting in a hotel in Teg. Thanks Continental airlines for getting me home.

We can be contacted through our parents, or email (

I plan on wrapping this blog up in some way, so this isn't the last entry you will ever see, but I wanted everyone to know that were home safely.



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

English class project completed, memories made

(Some of my III Ciclo comun kids)

About 8 months ago, Drew and I were asked to teach English classes in a nearby pueblo called San Juancito. We had worked at the high school before doing project citizen, and I had always wanted to see if I could teach ESL and saw it as an opportunity to learn, teach the kids about my culture, and have as a major project my last few months.
(The teachers that gave me free rides to class, about a 3o minute drive from my town)
Drew went to DC for knee surgery and I started the classes. Ok, so I had five classes, my biggest class had 52 kids and my smallest about 18. I had some books to use as guides but made my own curriculum, quizzes, homework assignments and tests. At first it was overwhelming but it kept me busy while Drew was gone. When he came back, he helped me make tests, create a system to record the grades, and even came to a few classes. With each month it got easier, though there was one day I walked out of my class of 52 kids and told them I may not come back. I gave them another shot, they calmed down, they are 12-13 but good kids, think 6th grade in the states….. (a few of my 53 kiddos in I Ciclo comun)

This last two months was hard due to the “coup” or golpe de estado, or change of government or whatever you want to call it. We missed about half the classes. So, I just finished up with three of the five classes, all ciclo comun or middle school grades. I wrapped it up with colors, numbers and clothing, fun yet functional things to know. The second to last week we did a cultural day where they had to present on several cultural themes of Honduras, and I did a presentation for them about Oklahoma (and used some of those great postcards people had sent me for my collection!). It was tons of fun and a learning experience for both me and the students.

Today was the last day of classes. It was also dia de la bandera, flag day, so it started off with some presentations by the teachers and students, including hanging the flag, a poem and a rap about Honduras among others.
(Doing a regeatton rap to celebrate Honduran patriotism)

Afterwards, it was time for the final test. Since I feel kids in this country don’t get enough creativity, I drew people in bright clothes and they had to write on their test papers the clothing type and color. I had also made them do homework over the past few weeks including cutting out things in the primary colors and drawing rainbows, as well as silly numbers games such as bingo to put learning back into a fun environment. After the tests, I got pictures taken with most of the kids, got a cake and a song and several hugs. (Taking the final exam, and afterwards, enjoying my goodbye cake!)

It was an amazing, if not exhausting and learning experience. I learned I can teach and manage several youth at once, they learned a bit more of English, a little about US culture, and hopefully I made a positive impression on them. They sure made one on me. So much so, that I convinced the youth development project to place a new volunteer there when I leave….hope they drive them as crazy as they did me, yet also touch their heart.

My favorite class, who I also did Project Citizen with, II Ciclo Comun

Friday, August 21, 2009

June's recycling fair and a few fun pics

I haven't posted any pictures recently, and since we are wrapping up our Peace Corps service soon, I figured I should get to it. The last two years, we have had an anual "Recycling Fair" in our town that Drew andI participated in putting on. This year my mom got to be there for the event, which included several sculptures made with recyclable materials, the motorcycle being our favorite. Anything that promotes environmental awareness in Honduras is a great thing, since the country is plagued by bad habits including throwing trash out of cars and buses, dirtying water supplies, not using trash cans or having trash service, or burning trash containing hazardous materials. I've seen little old ladies to young kids just throw their trash along the road, without a second thought. These fairs have been fun ways to improve "conocimiento" or awareness, use creativity, and get the community talking about how to better take care of our mountain town. Instead of using disposable plates and cups, community groups sold foods such as tamales that didn't need it, or used real cups to serve homemade juices using local fruits. They had music and traditional dancing, and activities for kids and adults alike. Also, local groups sold products made with recycled and natural materials such as the chip bag woven purses, bags made of leftover materials from t-shirt factories, and baskets using pine needles. It was fun to have my mom there to see the event, and see my community promoting such a good cause.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An odd story to happen this close to the end of service.

I helped someone today. It cost me $5. I neither taught a man to fish nor gave him a fish, but rather, I bought him a fishing pole. I suppose the cause was worthy of my $5, but I'm still struck by doing what I did.

I don’t give money nor lend it here. It is a bad policy. One 5-year-old gets a nickel and the following day your front yard looks like recess at the kindergarten. Adults are better, but not always. If someone comes by asking for money, it is usually just the town drunk looking for food or more drink. Sometimes people come by asking for money for food, but rarely appreciate a couple bananas and a best of luck.

A middle aged man came by on a Sunday, probably 40 years old, but looked 60 with front teeth completely MIA. Thus, he was immediately twice as hard to understand as anyone else in the world who has front teeth. Alice is outside with the dog and shouts for me. She informs me there is a man asking for me. This happens occasionally, but not often. She thinks I worked with him. I’m hoping to walk out and find one of the people from my stove community smiling at me so I could invite him in for a coffee and discuss unimportant matters to pass the day.

I don’t recognize the face. This doesn’t mean I don’t know the person. He has the look of a man weathered by 25 years of working in the sun. The skin on his face looks like leather and his eyes droop. He’s wearing a blue checked shirt like a Kansas farmer from the 40’s, and khakis that look ironed, but stained more times than I can immediately count.

He starts talking to me like we’ve known each other for years. I assume he must know me since people from the country here won’t even say hi, let alone will they start a conversation. He’s saying something, but I am missing most of it, partially because I can’t figure out why I know him and I am concentrating on that and partially because the man has no teeth and mumbles. Eventually I give up on trying to figure it out and start listening full time; hoping clues in conversation will give something up.

It’s not long before I figure out what the man wants. He used to have some steady work and the people he worked for would lend him a machete. He’d work for them most of the time, and when he had a day off, he could use the borrowed machete for work. The people recently moved and he’s out of work and he’s out of a machete. He wants me to give him one.

Usually this would have been the end of the conversation, but the community I did stoves with was so nice to me, even though I was doing work for them for free, I still feel like I owe them any help I can offer. I am not going to give money to anyone. If 2 years of my time can’t help, my money can’t either, but he man had me curious and I didn’t want to ask outright why he came to me specifically.

I didn’t know what to do. I was in a situation where under certain conditions I would want to help, while under others, I would tell the man I was sorry, but I couldn’t help. Regardless, I had no idea what to do. I had to up the stakes. I tell him I don’t have any money, but he can pass by my office Wednesday morning and I’d try to work something out for him. I had no idea what the something was going to be.

He thanks me, tells me a little more about himself, and thanks me again. He is from a village, but not the one I thought. He has no idea who I am, he just stumbled upon me. I don’t know why he chose my house, but he did. Luckily I’m already in a position to put off decision making, so I don’t worry too much. He would likely not pass by my office and I would not have to make any further decisions.

I forget about the conversation for the most part. Tuesday night it occurs to me that he may come by, and my plan is to refer him to the microfinance organization in his area, that would lend him enough to buy a machete without much question. The $5 he needs is not a ton of money for them to lend a first time borrower.

Of course I wouldn’t be writing this if he didn’t show up. I try to determine a few things before I carry out my plan. I ask him if knows my name, and he does not. I am not surprised. I figured he didn’t. Now I want to determine that he did not come to my house because I am an American. People who beg from me from for that reason annoy me to no end. They see my skin and assume I am rich. In comparison to most people here, I could be rich, but I put those dreams aside to work here for a few years. He passes that test too. He was asking everyone. He actually passed a test I didn’t know I was giving too. He wasn’t begging for money. He had asked every house up the street from me, but as soon as I told him I would try to work something out for him, he stopped asking. It made me feel better about him. I don’t entirely know why. Perhaps it was just because he didn’t take any pleasure from asking for things, and he didn’t ask any more people than he needed to. He just had a need and as soon as it was filled, he was done with that.

His answers confirmed a variety of assumptions I had made. He was the sole worker from his family, and he had a wife and kids. He’d worked outside his entire life. School and dental care were far from his reach. I couldn’t get a hold of the people from the microfinance organization and at this point I was starting to realize I didn’t want to. I wanted to help him find work.

I don’t know what made me think about it except I was at the office, but a year ago the group I work with planted some trees, and they are responsible for keeping the grass around it trimmed, at least until the trees are established and water competition between the trees and other plants is a non-issue. I ask the person from the office when the last time the grass had been cut. She thinks I am about to complain at her, so she tells me it had been 2 weeks (this means it’s probably been 2 months), but also acknowledges that it needs to be done again. Usually the kids from the high school do it, but with school being so random right now, the kids are hard to locate and usually busy. If we wait for them, it will be another month.

So I decided that while I had no hope of providing permanent employment to the man, I did get a chance to see if he was serious about being willing to work for the machete. I propose to him that I will gladly buy him a new machete and sharpening stone (about $5.50) if he would agree to chop the grass around the trees (using a machete to chop grass is a standard job around here, and the $5.50 is about a normal wage, though that depends on if the person is using a using a borrowed machete (about $3 a day) or has thier own (about $5 a day)). I kinda expected the guy to realize I was not going to give him money, and I was going to give him a crappy job to get his machete, and he would going to groan and say he’d rather just have some money and leave. But I was surprised by him again. He didn’t get upset. He got really excited.

So, I went and bought him a machete and something to sharpen it with, and the lady from the office told him that our group would pay him another $5 when he was done (she heard his story too, and also felt the guy was pretty genuine). She took him to the trees, and he is there chopping grass now.

After reading this over again, the whole story seems like I am a stingy guy working in the wrong field of work, but this is the dilemma of a Peace Corps volunteer. We’re not a funding organization; we don’t have money for projects. We really only offer our knowledge. Every time we consider giving a handout we have to remind ourselves what happens when you give a mouse a cookie. When we do go out of our way to help an individual the whole thing can go one of two ways. We can feel like I did today, like I didn’t do all that much, but rather just put him on the right track, or we can feel taken advantage of. It is a tough call every time. In the long run being ripped off for $5 isn’t awful, but in the short run, it’s my food budget for 2 or 3 meals. I can’t help everyone who needs it, and when I do help someone, the only outcome I want is to feel like it was worth it. In this case the man already knew how to fish, but poverty stole his fishing pole, and I happen to be in a position to replace it. Now he can find work on his own. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him outside my house again, but this time I expect he would offer to cut my lawn for a few bucks.

I admit openly it was a hard decision to make, and I may have made a mistake, but I feel pretty good about things anyways. I’m curious… In my position how would you react? What would you have done? In the end, was giving the machete the right thing to do? Or does the whole moral conundrum make no sense to you?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Interesting last vacation

So Drew and I took our final vacation this weekend. We only went away for four days, off to the north coast to enjoy the beach one last time. We have a volunteer friend there, so we had a place to stay right on the beach for free.

We headed out before 5am and got a lucky taxi ride for just a bit more than the bus with a guy heading into the capital to work. We caught a 5:45am bus and thought luck was with us. The trip went smoothly and we made it near the coast and were only about 3 hrs from our destination, after travelling about 4 hrs. Then. the bus stopped. And stayed stopped. People got off, there was a hot dog cart man, people selling bags of water. We were about a kilometer away from a roadblock protesting the new government. (Below is a pick of one of the roadblocks this weekend, I didn't take it but it illustrates it well) It was hot and sticky, and it was only 11:30. We texted peace corps and let them know where we were and waited it out, hoping it wouldn't last too long. After an hr and a half, i convinced drew to go with me to the hot dog cart, I was starving since we hadn't eaten all day. The dog I received was covered with mustard and ketchup, then fresh cut cabbage, more mustard, ketchup, some white sauce, and parmesan cheese. I skipped on the onions in beet juice and vinager. I added some hot sauce for kicks. It actually tasted really good, which was either my hunger or I am adapting to the strange food combinations....

Soon after we heard the roadblock was to be over about 1pm. It also started to sprinkle which helps. Sure enough, about 1:30 we started moving along again, but in a slower paced line all the way to our final destination. We finally made it to our friend's house around 5:30, about the time we had left that morning and we were famished and worn out. We ate some fish and shrimp, had a beer, and slept quite well.

Next day we got to enjoy the beach alone, though the water was a bit choppy. It was still the ocean and we enjoyed the sunshine and balmy weather. Our host made some amazing food and we enjoyed the evening and relaxed.

Our third day, we were joined by a group of other volunteers also wanting to get out of site and enjoy the beach. We were quickly cramped into a single bed between the two of us, but it wasn't too bad. I started to develop a bad throat cold the night before, but found some medicine. We went out to the beach again but this time I guess I didn't do as well on the sunscreen. I got a bit burned on the shoulders and back, and was feeling dehydrated. We headed back and all cooked up burgers, I made pasta salad, there was gauc and chips and hummus and it felt like hanging out in the states. After dinner though my stomach decided it was revolting against me, my shoulders burned, and my throat had caused me to lose my voice. I was quickly becoming aware that my body was falling apart on me. OH, I forget to mention I was also battling a month-long foot fungal infection (I finally got an appt for that with a specialist after the creams I had gotten from the PC doc's just weren't working). Anyway, I was a bit surprised it was possible to have four different things wrong with you at once, none so serious that you would feel that bad, but all together is overwhelming. I said goodnight to the party and went to bed early.

Our day headed back we got a bit of luck again. The beach loooked beautiful as we headed out, and then when we got to the highway the first bus that passed we could take was a bus directly to Tegus, and it was a relatively new and nice bus at that. We sat back and cruised into Tegus late afternoon. Again hungry, but feeling proud of the good time we made on the road, we treated ourselves to Chili's that's by our bus station home before heading back to site. It was DElicious. I actually was able to finish all my food (my idea of normal food size portions has thankfully shrunk to reasonable in this country, but sometimes American sized is just right). I got home , found my puppy alive and happy to see us, and was in bed by 8:30.

Whew. So, that's been life for us. I tried to work today, but classes were cancelled again, for some unknown I am sure not necessary reason. I have only had class with that school once since the whole political "situation", and they have only been in session a collected wk and a half since that, so I have about given up on them. The other two schools I work with have faired much better and hopefully I will be able to finish my projects with them before we leave. September 25th, it's almost here!!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Three week staycation!

There is a bit of a crisis going on in the country right now and I still can't really talk about it. Fortunately, I can still explain my work and the like.

Actually, that won’t take much time at all. The crisis hit and I’ve been on staycation. Since the capital is the epicenter of the current goings on (or was until recently) I’ve not really been able to travel anywhere. We have one backdoor route we can take to visit a friend, but what would be an hour drive turns into between 3 and 5 hours depending on how often the bus stops, which is a lot. For July 4th Alice and I ignored this slight inconvenience and made the trip to a barbeque another volunteer had. It was a little weird having a barbeque and not having to cook all the food as I have become quite accustomed to doing, but it was also kinda nice.

Anyways, back to staycation. Alice and I work mostly in schools, and this month school has had 3 official days of class, which sucks for both us and our students. This means any work we had obligated ourselves to is at a standstill, and if we take on new work we risk not being able to finish the new work or the old work. We’re taking advantage of our free time by doing things like making tasty soup, reading, and watching seasons of the office a friend lent to us. Sometimes we go for walks just to go for walks. I like to think this is like a short preview of what retirement is like, except I still have the vision and clarity of mind to really enjoy it.

The good news is that things are getting closer to normal. The three official days were Monday to Wednesday of this week, and some schools went ahead and had class yesterday too, though not all teachers or students showed up.

The best news I have is that my interns showed up. One of the local high schools has a focus on tourism, and since I really wanted to develop a website for my town that would be sustainable, I had classes with 2 students and then as their required internship they are making a webpage. They are getting pretty good at it. Their biggest barrier is the language, since HTML and CSS both rely on an English vocabulary, but they are starting to recognize important words faster and be able to change the properties. So far we have a main page, an example for a restaurant and they are working on an artisan shop. They like to use colors I don’t love, but it will be very eye catching, which is good. Overall, the point is that they understand web design and we get some more publicity for my town, which could really use a few extra tourists right now.

So that’s all I really have to say. I figure I should try to spice this whole thing up with some pictures, but I don’t really have many great new pictures. I am going to search my hard drive now for something interesting.

Okay, I can't get the pictures to upload.... Sorry. Sadly this will be just another boring pictureless blog.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Standfast, bird pics, and random update

We are doing well here in Honduras, and since we are bored and in limbo as we wait to see what will happen over the next few days, I figured I'd post some pictures from our recent activities.

In May we were lucky to have Drew's parents come visit. We took them to Roatan Bay Island, Copan Ruins and our site in a ten-day whirlwind adventure.Here John and I are sailing in a bit of rain after snorkeling on one of the best reef locations in the world.

My favorite activity was while we were in Copan Ruins. We went to a bird park where they rescue tropical birds. The small fee to enter the park helps maintain the park, and they had birds in almost every color. They also have a coffee farm near the park and you can buy fresh beans and enjoy a hot cup of java after the tour. They also let you hold some of the birds and see them up close, and they are quite friendly. One liked me so much it nibbled at my shirt and then poo'd on my shoulder, all while cooing in my ear. My shirt was orange, I guess I looked like tasty fruit.
I couldn't get the pictures to move to correspond with the text, but I know you all can figure it all out. We are currently under a national curfew and not allowed to leave our sites except for emergencies, but we are safe and doing well. Our town is very quiet, schools are out, so we are mostly bored and working on job applications. We've been cooking a lot and trying to hang out with our friends here ,just in case. We are avoiding large crowds, keeping our opinions to ourselves, and hoping that in the next days things get better and life goes back to normal, whatever normal may be! Keep us in your thoughts, and I will try to post some more pretty pictures over the next few days.