Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Amapala and HIV

Last week, or was it two weeks ago now, the business group took a trip to the south (pacific) coast. The goal was to study different aspects of tourism. We first stopped at a restaurant on the highway that had created a zoo. The zoo had over 250 animals and was free! It was completely funded by the profits of the restaurant and the owners just really liked animals so they didn’t feel the need to charge anyone. They had ostriches and pumas and some crazy monkeys and snakes. The owners also made rosquillas. They are these kind of skinny donut shaped pastries that you usually dip in coffee, and are absolutely disgusting, but people here buy them by the bucketfuls.

From the zoo we headed to Playa Guayaba Dorada. Guayaba is a popular fruit here and dorado means golden. I’d heard from my family that it was a playa fea (ugly or bad), but it seemed to be nice when we got there, except for the bordering forest which was covered in trash that the beach owners just throw in there to get rid of it. I don’t know if I mentioned before but there is very little trash collection here. Most people burn their trash in their backyard, which usually means that the air is smoky and smells like horrible burning plastic. It’s enough to choke you some days. It’s hard to tell which is worse, throwing it into a stream to pollute the water that people drink, or releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere that people breath – a toss up really.

Anyway, back to the beach. We had brought tents to camp. I, being the most experienced cook of the bunch, was in charge of the food. I managed to make some very tasty guacamole and tuna salad using the dullest knives and can opener in my life. We call it cooking Honduran style – nothing ever goes as you expect it too. But nevertheless my guac drew praises. We played some cheesy team building activities, charades, dizzy bats etc and in the process were covered with sand, sweat and ant bites. Did I mention it was about 90 degrees with 90% humidity – stifling. We stayed up late singing songs by the camp fire, a few of the guys here brought guitars and are really good. No one wanted to go to bed because it was so hot. A lot of people ended up just sleeping straight on the beach which was only moderately cooler than the tents. I think the average hours of sleep anyone got was about 2.5. The people on the beach also ended up covered in sand fly bites. It was a rough night.

The following day we packed up and took a boat to some islands off the coast. The heat again was stifling and I couldn’t muster up the courage to swim in the salty water for risk of the sun burning me to a crisp. We visited an uninhabited island first then Isla del Tigre which has the famous town of Amapala. Amapala was for a short time the capital of Honduras when the president moved his house there. Now it is just a popular tourist spot for swimming, fishing, hiking and eating seafood. I have to say I didn’t enjoy myself much. The scenery was beautiful and the food was good (shrimp and curil (mussel) ceviche – just means the seafood is raw mixed with lemon/lime juice which essentially cooks/kills the bacteria), but the weather was ridiculously miserable for me. A volunteer will be placed in Amapala too, so people were already chattering about who it would be. Overall, it was a fun sort of team building trip. It was just overnight so it made the week go by fast. I’d recommend this spot for a visit – it’s the nicest spot on the south coast, if you can stand the heat, which some people can.

So this past week then, both Nolan and I, and well, everyone in every group had to give charlas (basically mini lectures) about HIV/AIDS to high school kids. High schools are called colegios, and include grades 7-12. HIV/AIDS education is a Peace Corps wide initiative, which means everyone in every country gets trained in it because it’s such a world-wide problem. Here in Honduras, there are 28,000 known cases and 44,000 estimated cases. This doesn’t sound like a lot but the actual population of people living in Honduras is just under 7 million. This makes it about .66%, which again is low, but I think is still the highest in Latin America. Homosexuals and people with HIV/AIDS are shunned here. We’ve heard that it’s less violent in terms of crimes against these groups, that instead people simply ignore them or refuse to interact with them, which is probably just as bad. Although before we came a gay rights activist was murdered, so it’s not completely without violence either.

So we had some health volunteers come to teach us how to give the charla one day, we had an afternoon to prepare, and the next morning we gave a four hour lecture about HIV/AIDS, in Spanish of course, in groups of three or four of us. It was a little frightening at first, but turned out to be a good experience. The charla is very cut and dry and canned for us to use. It also had a lot of activities or dinamicas to get the kids engaged. It also involved teaching them to use condoms, by practicing with some platanos. The kids were mostly well behaved, but also disengaged at times. We may never have to give the charla again, or we may do it as often as we like. It’s good information to know and it was great practice speaking Spanish in front of groups which will be a lot of what we have to do the next two years. Nolan and I think it would be fun to give the charla together to groups, you can’t really do it by yourself, it’s too long.

Anyway, this weekend I’m in El Paraiso with Nolan again for one night, the last time we’ll see each other before the end of FBT. We have just two weeks left of FBT, then one week back at our other house north of Teguz, then off to our sites. We find out in 1.5 weeks where we’ll be going! This time has really flown by!

We’ve heard some people say they can’t figure out how to comment. If you are just reading this on the main blog page (the page you first get to when you go to our link), at the bottom of this entry there is a spot that says “posted at this time, 0 comments.” You can click on “0 comments” it’s a link, and that will take you to the comment part. Also, if you click on the title of the blog entry or the date, it will take you to the page for just that blog entry which has a comment box below the post.

Monday, April 19, 2010

El Matador

Ever since reading Michael Pollan’s An Omnivore’s Dilemma, I have felt the need to take responsibility for my carnivorous habits by manning up and actually killing an animal to be eaten.

This past weekend, the host family of a couple friends had gathered several animals from their finca and brought them to El Paraiso to slaughter and invited all of us to participate. We managed to slaughter 3 chickens and 2 rabbits. The duck and final chicken got lucky. As you can imagine, a chicken is a lot easier to kill, emotionally at least. That’s how I found myself in front of the second rabbit. After seeing the eyes of first rabbits, and hearing it scream, no one else could do it. Since I had committed myself to participating, I had to do it.

I luckily got a sharper knife, so it was quicker, although you wouldn’t know it from movement of the rabbit. It was also messier than the first one. I personally didn’t get much blood on me beyond my hands, but my friend who was holding its back legs unfortunately did.

I have mixed feelings about it. It’s not an experience that I am looking to repeat anytime soon, but I am happy I did it. It gives you the full realization of what is involved in your dinner. I feel good that while it may not have lived a fully wild, happy life, it was life on a Honduran farm, which is nowhere near as bad as an American factory farm life.

As of writing this, I have not eaten the meat. I don’t know who will, but I do know that it will be eaten. I hope to be there as I would like to fully complete the cycle.


I got my chance to eat the rabbit. It was very delicious and topped with a very nice beer based sauce. I also got a chance to see the farm it came from. While the rabbits didn’t have as much freedom as the chickens, they definitely weren’t suffering.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Half-way through training

So this past weekend was our second visiting each other. I went to El Paraiso this time, partly to celebrate my birthday, which was yesterday. Here, for birthdays, the special dish is chop suey. Yes chop suey as in the Chinese food. And if you can imagine Chinese food made by Hondurans, you can imagine that it's not very good, so I’m trying to avoid that.

The bus to El Paraiso trip was actually kind of quick. The bus from Ojojona to Teguz takes about an hour and a half, even though it should only take 30 minutes, because it's a chicken bus that stops every mile or so. The bus from Teguz to El Paraiso is about an hour and a half as well, but it's a nice mini bus called a Rapidito. El Paraiso was beautiful this weekend, not too hot. Saturday we went to the campo to watch some of our fellow compaƱeros play futbol. Unfortunately, the El Paraiso marching band was practicing on the concrete court so they had to wait awhile until they finished. The band was pretty good actually and it was really nice to spend some time with the Wat/San people, since I haven't seen them in awhile.

El Paraiso is huge compared to Ojojona. Ojojona has about two restaurants, one farmacia, a few artisan shops and some pulperias (basically corner stores, literally on every corner). El Paraiso has paved roads, a grided street layout, tons of restaurants and shops, and even some Ropa Americana stores. These stores basically import ropa bulto (clothes in a big bag or bolt) that is from second hand stores or good will in the U.S. and then resell it out of huge piles in the stores. You can find weird stuff, like things from Gap and Tommy Hilfiger for 20 Lempiras (about a dollar). We even found a Michigan basketball t-shirt yesterday, although it was a little stained....
I’m more than a little jealous of all the offerings of El Paraiso.

My training in business has been going well, but has been a little boring since I’m not really interested in business finance/planning. I’m actually going on a trip with my group to visit the small island of Amapala off the southern coast this week for a lesson on tourism in Honduras. Although there are not as many tourists here as in other countries, like Costa Rica for example, Honduras is really trying to promote tourism (and sustainable or eco-tourism) as a way to build its economy. There are a lot of national parks and bio-reserves as well as the beautiful Bay Islands and some interesting historical/cultural tracks, including the Copan Ruinas (Mayan). Plus it is ridiculously cheap here - so you all should come visit!

Things overall have been going really well. It's actually been kind of rainy in Ojojona which is rare for this time of year. The meteorologists have been warning farmers not to plant crops yet because the rain is a 'false start' to the season and shouldn't last long. Farmers usually plant when it starts to rain, but if the rain doesn't continue, the crops won’t survive so they need to be extra careful.

The business climate here is very interesting. People don't have a good sense of what it means to open and run a business. They just think "hey, I can make tortillas, I should start a business", without taking into consideration the fact that 40 other people are thinking and doing the same thing. People are also sometimes afraid to advertise or put up signs, partly because they are expensive and partly because they "don't like to attract strangers" as one lady put it. They don't necessarily understand the concepts of profit or tracking finances or paying themselves a salary much of the time. That being said, there are still some businesses doing really well. But many do fail.

We've also decided it's interesting how Honduras appears to outsiders compared to what it actually is. Houses are a great example. Here, people don't necessarily fix up the outside of their houses like they do in the U.S. Often they are poorly painted, rocks holding down the corrugated zinc roofs, ugly bars on the windows (this is for safety though). But people living in houses that look crappy still lead a pleasant and content existence. They take a lot of pride in their appearance and hygiene and are amazing at cooking on wood burning stoves. And you'd often be surprised by the beauty inside the houses, tile floors, bathroom, normal stuff. Just looking around a lot of the time, you'd assume everyone is leading an impoverished existence. Of course there are desperately poor people, drunks or bolos, and gangs etc, but most people have lifestyles which are pretty similar those in the US.

The "don’t judge a book by its cover" rule goes for people much of the time as well. When walking down the street, people often appear grumpy, upset, mean, rude. But as soon as you say hola or buenos dias, they brighten up and respond with a smile and reply. The exterior does not reflect what's on the inside. We've overall found the people here to be incredibly welcoming and generous and friendly. My family even calls me a miracle because they think I’m such a well-behaved and smart trainee :)

We hope hope hope to post some pictures soon so you can bring our words to life, but the internet connection is so slow that it makes it difficult. But we will try soon!