Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hola Todos!

We've safely arrived in Honduras and have so much already to share with you about our experience. Our stay in Miami was brief, but enjoyable. We met the 53 other trainees (we are not officially volunteers until we pass training and are sworn in) and had a few of those silly role-playing and ice breaker sessions to get to know one another. We also received a lot of information about what is expected of us and what we should expect as well as some logistics. Most of the other trainees are near our age, 22 to 27. There are two older volunteers, and by older we mean about 50 probably, and two other married couples. Miami was very humid and a little rainy. It was almost like a primer to Honduras because most of the signs and instructions on the plane etc were in spanish. We had barely enough time there after our session to eat dinner with some new friends at a Cuban restaurant before falling into bed with exhaustion. We woke up at 4 am, checked out of the hotel at 5 and boarded a bus at 5:30 to the airport for our 10:20 am flight! I guess they expected it would take us 5 hours to check in and find our gate...

The flight to Tegucigalpa (Teguz), the capital of Honduras, was uneventful. The flight was only half full and PC trainees were at least half of those on board. I guess not too many people are headed to Honduras these days. The first thing you notice right away are the beautiful green mountains that circle the city. We knew there would be mountains, but there are really more than we expected. The rest was not too surprising. Concrete low-rise buildings in pastel colors, not many tall buildings, cars, trucks, a Burger King and Church's chicken. It reminded us a lot of Puerto Rico. The wait to get through customs was extremely long and Nicki's passport didn't scan correctly (like many other trainees) so she had her picture taken.

We were greeted at the airport by hot weather (but not as humid as Miami surprisingly) as well as our training staff who had some Dominos pizza, water and fruit for us for lunch. We took a 60 minute bus ride (only 15km though) to our training site way up the mountains. We had an afternoon of introductions to staff and then we met our host family for the first three weeks! We have a wonderful host mother (madre), Marcela. She is twenty two, so she's not quite our "mother" but you get the idea. She has the cutest 4 year old son who is so shy. Her mother also lives with her/us. Coincidentally, their house is the furthest from the training site, so we have an extra 10 minute walk from the bus stop with the others. The house is in the middle of the woods and their family owns a large piece of land on which our madre, her uncle/aunt and grandparents all live in three separate houses. They have all kinds of things, lemon trees with lemons as big as cantaloupes, bananas, tons of chickens, a few rabbits (not to eat), and a dog. The initial meeting was a little awkward. We quickly realized that our knowledge of spanish was insufficient to properly communicate, so much of the first evening was silence.

There is no plumbing in the house. They have two types of water. Agua purificada (purified) that comes in jugs like for a water cooler, or that they boil and put in pitchers. This is for drinking, brushing teeth, cooking etc. Out the back door is a 'pila' - sort of like a large concrete holding tank for water that is used for washing (clothes, dishes, ourselves). The bathroom is a sort of separate space you access by going outside. The toilet doesn't flush so you have to throw a bucket of water down it when you're finished. No showers or bathtub - we now take 'bucket baths' where we simply scoop up and splash water on ourselves. We can heat the water up on the fogon, the outside wood burning stove, but we've also been taking very cold bucket baths the past two days! Despite all these differences, it's actually been okay adjusting to new hygeine habits. Let me be clear, not all the trainees have similar situations. Some families have showers and some have hot showers, some even have internet. We don't, but we do have a few channels of t.v.

The food has also been pretty easy to adjust to. Our first real meal was baleadas, flour tortillas filled with frijoles refritos (refried beans), scrambled eggs and this sort of creamy butter that comes in a plastic bag. Those were delicious. We also had small corn tortillas topped with more beans and queso seco, a dry cheese that is very salty and somewhat unpleasant by itself. The tortillas are not hand made, but the eggs are fresh. For breakfast, strawberry milk and more tortillas, this time with some cheese in between, like a quesadilla, but not really. Tortillas basically come with every meal. They are heated up on a little griddle on the stove (they have a normal stove and oven). But, not all the meals are so traditional. One day we had corn flakes for breakfast and chicken lasagna for lunch (that Nicki and our madre made the night before) and fried salami for dinner. Our madre makes us a lunch every day for our classes. It's like going back to elementary school. A big yellow school bus comes to pick us up in the morning at our different neighborhoods (its about 30 minutes to the training site) and we all hop on carrying lunchboxes, thermoses and tupperwares with our lunch. Hilarious!

The action at training this week has been draining. We wake up at 5 so we have time to shower and eat before we catch the bus. From 7:30 to 4:30 we have hours of sessions on saftey, expectations, rules, customs, banking, money, medical needs, emergency info, new people etc. We also have a few hours of survival spanish a day which is thoroughly exhausting, the profesors speak no english. The spanish thus far has been the hardest part of everything. It's difficult in several ways. We can generally get the gist of what we hear, but subtleties are totally lost on us. And it's hard to respond because we don't have the confidence or vocabulary to say much. But we're not the only ones in this position. Some trainees are much better, fluent even and others are much worse, so we don't feel too bad. We had interviews Friday where we had to just talk in Spanish so they can assess our knowledge to put us in our classes for the rest of training. We have to reach a minimum level of competency before we can 'pass' training and be sworn in. But we can say that in just a few days, we already feel like we're making progress - helping cook, do the dishes etc and our host family's little boy loves the card game Uno, so we've started to play with him in the evenings and even this is improving our Spanish.

I guess we'll leave you all with that for now. If you have questions or comments or want to know more about anything, just let us know and we'll get around to responding!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

So long, farewell...

On the eve of our departure, we wanted to say goodbye to everyone and leave you with a few important parting words.

This may be our last post for a few weeks (even though it's only our second post). We've just learned that our training site outside of Tegucigalpa (the capital, and henceforth Teguz) does not have good internet access, so for the first three weeks or more, you may not hear anything. Don't be alarmed, we'll keep track of our initial impressions and update you as soon as we can!

Please also take note, we've posted our mailing address on the right side of the blog page. We would love letters, postcards or care packages if you have time. We ask that you try and follow a few guidelines when sending us any type of mail to ensure it arrives safely:
1) Date and number your letters or postcards, this way we'll know if we missed one you've sent
2) Don't send anything very valuable, expensive items are subject to taxes and import fees and may get stolen or damaged, or simply not arrive.
3) If asked to declare what a package contains for customs purposes, simply say 'personal items' to minimize taxes and fees.
4) If you do send cheaper items, ship them in padded envelopes as opposed to bulky boxes. Boxes are more suspicious and thus more likely to be searched and seized, preventing your package from arriving.
5) Include in your package a list of items you're sending, this will allow us to know if something has been removed from the package.

Also, to reiterate, if you have a gmail, twitter, or yahoo account, you can sign up to follow our blog and you will automatically get emails when we make an entry. To do this, simply click the "FOLLOW" button on the right hand side of the blog page below the disclaimer and follow the instructions.

Thank you to everyone who has sent us messages and well wishes. We greatly appreciate all your support, confidence and faith in us as we begin this journey!

Adios for now!