Monday, August 23, 2010

Beachy Keen

We had what you might call our first real vacation this past weekend, and it was even Peace Corps subsidized. We are part of a ‘support group’ called MARV for married volunteers. We get together twice a year in different locations to talk about issues we might be having with the Peace Corps, counterparts, our sites etc and PC gives us a little money to cover expenses. There are also groups for religious, gay/lesbian, older volunteer, and racial issues. So our first trip was this past weekend to Omoa, a small beach town on the north coast of Honduras, almost due north of San Pedro Sula and near the border with Guatemala. The road north from San Pedro to get to Omoa just opened up for Peace Corps volunteers a few months ago (used to be pretty dangerous, probably still is) so we wanted to capitalize on our new freedom in this area. It took us about 6 hours to get there, which is actually a relatively short series of bus rides. The bus terminal in San Pedro where we changed buses is actually more like a big mall outside of town with tons of shops and a food court. From there we hopped on a busito (little bus) that was actually air conditioned to Puerto Cortes. It took an hour and half to Puerto Cortes, mostly because the bus stops every 5 seconds to let someone new on. Busitos are almost always at 50% above capacity, every time you stop to let one person off, two more get on in his place.

From Puerto Cortes, we took a chicken bus to Omoa then walked in the baking sun for 20 minutes to our hostel, Roli’s Place. The rooms were simple, shared bathroom, twin bed accommodations. The place had nice grounds with table tennis, hammocks, a kitchen, tables and bunnies roaming free. The talk of the weekend were the signs that Roli had placed on every wall in the place with rules about what not to do, no mosquito coils, no eating in your room, no liquor (but beer is okay), no candles, etc etc. We understood it was probably because less cultured backpackers had trashed the place in the past, but they were still funny.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it was hot, but surprisingly not as hot as my prior visits to Catacamas or Amapala. There was a nice beach breeze. Friday we went swimming for a bit to help us cool down, then had dinner. We were searching in vain for a place to eat among the 50 or so almost identical restaurants that lined the beach, when a guy approached us and started offering us food deals. We got him to offer us fried fish and a beer for L.100 so we headed over to his place. They looked like they were already closed for the night but promptly brought tablecloths, speakers for music and fans for us. I ended up getting a delicious garlic fish filet and Nolan had garlic shrimp, probably not the best seafood we’ve ever had, but a nice change of pace from our normal fare.

Saturday we had homemade yogurt and granola at Roli’s for breakfast then headed to Fortaleza San Fernanado, a Spanish fort built in an unusual three-sided fashion. Because we had residency card, we got in for half price to the small museum plus the fort. Aside from defending the coast for a few 100 years from pirates, the fort was also used as a jail in the 1950’s. We took some beautiful pictures there with huge leafy mountains in the background. It was so hot our shirts were literally soaked with sweat. I was expecting that the gobs of sunscreen I had put on were basically useless because the sweat was rolling off me, but I didn’t get sunburned!

In the afternoon we rode bikes around a bit (free at Roli’s) to check out the ‘other beach.’ Omoa used to have tons of great beaches but the construction of a gas refining plant somehow altered the ecology of the area and the town is losing more and more beach each year. What’s left is a few meters of undeveloped beach that is blocked from the water by three feet of trash. The land could probably be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if cleaned, as evidenced by the lujo resorts just a bit farther down the beach, but this is how Hondurans take care of the environment. We learned that on the smaller beach closer to town, men come out and rake up all the trash each morning to get rid of it so people can swim there. Makes you wonder what we were swimming in.

Tropigas - the reason the beaches have eroded

Beautiful Caribbean Beach

Saturday afternoon we had some delicious baleadas from a stand that included chunks of fried chicken, mmm mmm good. The lady kept calling me ‘amorcito’ and telling me I needed to eat more to fatten up my panza (belly). We took another swim, played some table tennis and then had our MARV ‘meeting’ watching the sunset on the beach. We didn’t have much to complain about. Things are going well for us, married or otherwise. Our second dinner, Nolan tried caracol (conch), a local specialty, which was a little chewy but otherwise good. We spent the night chatting and playing card games at the hostel.

We woke up really early Sunday to catch the sunrise, which actually rose from behind us but still made the water look pretty. We slept a few more hours then headed out around 9 am to get back home at 4 pm. While not really beachy people, we had a great time in Omoa. The scenery was stunning and it was nice to have a real vacation and just spend some quality time together. We also got the chance to meet one other couple that we hadn’t met before and to see our other married friends from training. While we don’t have any plans to go back (we pretty much exhausted all there is to do there), we can see ourselves spending more time on the north coast in the future if anyone wants to join us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Power to the Women

Last week I was invited to an opening ceremony of sorts, a ceremony recognizing the opening of 5 new Oficinas de la Mujer (Offices of the Woman) in 5 municipalities throughout Intibucá. These offices are part of the municipal government and are a place when women can go to report issues from unjust treatment to domestic violence. Domestic violence is a very pressing problem here in many parts of the country, most likely a result of the high rates of drunkenness and extreme poverty. It is therefore important that women have a safe place to come to express their fears and get advice about what to do. The offices also sponsor training for women in self esteem, women’s rights, entrepreneurship and basic health. So it was truly a joyous occasion to celebrate the opening of five new offices that can better serve women in more rural communities.

The ceremony was sponsored by INAM, the Instituto Nacional de La Mujer and the European Union. The Casa de la Cultura in La Esperanza was full of women in their brightly colored traditional lenca attire and important persons from the municipalities as well as the Señora Ministra herself from INAM. Brightly colored balloons were hung everywhere, including all over the boxes of electronics that were stacked in the one end of the room for no apparent reason, and festive music played. We all listened patiently to each of the mayors from the municipalities speak, all men. The presidenta of the organization I work with (UMMIL), Doña Maria, gave a moving speech about women needing more opportunities to earn income to feed their families. The Ministra herself spoke as well, wearing an Intibucá t-shirt she had just purchased at UMMIL an hour earlier. While I trusted her sincerity toward women’s issues, her appearance and mannerisms suggested that air of indifference so common in politics. Following the speeches, we had a brief lunch before the morning event ended.

To be sure, I was pleased new offices were opening and that so many lenca women had come from the communities to bear witness to the event. The whole event resonated with empowerment and dignity. The only problem for me was seeing the INAM logo posted all over everything:

Take a good look, notice anything odd? Perhaps that the woman who is supposed to represent the “women of Honduras” looks like a Caucasian movie star from the 1920’s? Now, I love the logo design as a whole, I think it’s incredibly creative, but couldn’t they have at least given her a darker skin tone, if not facial features that more accurately represent a latina woman? What Honduran woman would identify with this image?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Home Improvement

My new relationship with the hardware store owner began today when I picked up a pound of masilla (like grout or putty) and a spatula for about a dollar. The masilla was such a success that I returned less than an hour later to buy two more pounds; the owner was pleasantly surprised. I happily spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon puttying up holes in our bathroom and bedroom.

Honduran workmanship leaves something to be desired. The grout around our bathroom tiles near the door was so full of holes, bugs were having a heyday. When the windows (all the windows in the house mind you) had been fitted in, a 1/8 inch gap was left to the outside, not so great for insulation or insects. Plus, whoever had painted the walls last had also coincidentally painted half the tiles as well. Do people even think about these things here? Well I did, and I needed to do something about it. I have to say I was impressed with my own skills, having never been much of a puttyer. I used up two of my three pounds of masilla then proceeded to use my spatula to scrape paint off the tiles. The results were quite good, although to the untrained eye, you probably wouldn’t be able to notice the improvements, because the result is just a regular looking bathroom. I felt like Hank the Handyman. Next weekend, I tackle the kitchen and dining room.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Minor Successes

Now that we have internet at home, I might get carried away with blogging every day.

Today I did my first “activity/charla” here in La Esperanza. It wasn’t much. My counterpart asked me to give a short presentation at the monthly meeting of representatives from each of the women’s groups in our organization about the importance of saving in order to motivate them to contribute. I used an activity we learned in training. At the beginning, I gave each person a piece of candy and told them they could eat it or save it. At the end of the meeting, I asked if anyone still had their piece left, and if they did, I gave them an extra candy. The point of this is to show that if you can save your candy for a little while and not eat it, your candy pile will grow. This is of course supposed to mimic what would happen if you saved your money and put it in the bank to gain interest or to grow as you save more and more each month.

I was a little skeptical that either none of the women would eat the candy, or that all of them would, and then the lesson wouldn’t be as apparent. But it worked perfectly and the women loved it! A few women saved their dulces and were rewarded with an extra piece. I explained to them more about the importance of saving for emergencies and large purchases and that they could avoid interest and prestamos (loans) by saving up for something rather than borrowing money. I also told them to repeat the activity with each of their groups to spread the message. I think at least some of them got the message and the activity garnered me a round of enthusiastic applause.

While I guess this technically isn’t the first ‘work’ I’ve done, it’s the first presentation/activity that I led and I’m happy to say that it was a success in its own small way.

New Furniture

We recently got a bunch of new furniture, so here are a few pictures of our newly furnished apartment:

New couch, tv, and dvd player

Finally a fridge, along with a new kitchen table

Nice big bookshelf and another wooden table

Wood furniture is very expensive here, so it's rare to have so much of it, but we bought our stuff cheaply from old volunteers who are leaving. It's actually some of the nicest furniture that we have owned here or in the US.

We also bought a modem from the other volunteers, so we should be able to Skype with people. Just let us know what your Skype screen name is and maybe you'll get a call all the way from Honduras!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mas fotos

4th of July BBQ

Regular daily deluge

Host family´s dog

M&M Granola Muffins with our new muffin pan

Feria de Chorro y Vino

Cute little chorros in the parade

Us at the festival

View in the Valle de Otoro

Lychee berries from the market

This is how you crack them open to eat

La Gruta - famous landmark in town where Chief Lempira hid from the Spanish

Gouda fondue

Landscape near Barrio Llano de la Virgen

Nicki and the surviving dinosaurs of Honduras

Us with a view of our city above La Gruta

Monday, August 2, 2010

Now we´re getting fancy

So the other night we were making gouda fondue, yes, you read correctly, gouda fondue, and we went to the store to get some cornstarch, an essential ingredient. Oddly enough it turns out they sell cornstarch in single serving packages. It’s fortified with vitamins because it’s meant to be drunk, yes as a beverage. Apparently it is a common baby meal, and any other type of person meal, to have a glass of watery cornstarch. Can anyone out there confirm that this makes sense? I mean, I understand that starches are probably good for you, and they have a lot of corn here so heaven knows cornstarch is easy to come by, but still. They sell it in the aisle with baby formula. The fondue still turned out great.

In other news, we received a bunch of new furnishings for our apartment. A few of the volunteers who are leaving in the coming weeks sold us some stuff for cheap and then gave us another bunch of stuff for free. So we now have a huge new bookshelf, a beautiful cedar table for the kitchen, more chairs, a t.v. and DVD player and a spice cabinet (along with about 80 new spices). Later this week we’ll also be getting a couch and modem. All of this for the price of $165 US dollars. Granted the stuff is used but still, dirt cheap. Thank you Grandma for the money you sent, it covered a good portion as you can see J We’re still waiting to get a stove and fridge in another 3 weeks when the other volunteers leave.

We heard that no new volunteers from the next group are coming to La Esperanza, which is kind of sad. We won’t have any site mates to hang out with regularly. I guess that just means we’ll have to travel more J

We were in Teguz this past Monday and Tuesday. I went to the dentist so the Peace Corps paid for my part of the trip (my teeth are A-OK). We splurged by going to a fancy sandwich place near the office which set us back 300 lemps (15 dollars) for a delicious sandwich of salami, pepperoni, olives, feta and oil and vinegar with homemade potato chips. It was worth it. You can’t get sandwiches like that just anywhere. The weirdest thing was, the restaurant looked like it belonged in NYC, chic and polished with trendy décor. We forgot we were Honduras for a minute. We also splurged on a trip to Mas por Menos, a grocery store (we think maybe owned by Wal-Mart unfortunately, or perhaps Costco) which sells imported items from America, including Kirkland brand items. We bought Nestle chocolate chips, real parmesan cheese, canned pumpkin, Campbell’s tomato soup and they even had Celestial Seasonings Nutcracker Sweet Tea, our favorite! It was unbelievable; we were like kids in a candy store.

Of course the happiness of the trip came to an end when I had my phone stolen near the bus station heading home. No worries, it was a nonviolent, non premeditated attack. Some random guy just ran up as we were getting out of our cab and reached into my pocket. It was sheer luck that my phone, and only my phone, happened to be in there. He just ran off. The funny part is that here, none of the bystanders care. In the US, someone else probably would have run after the guy and caught him. Here, no one even seemed to notice. Luckily, the cell phone companies here are used to dealing with this sort of thing, so a quick phone call later and my number and money that I had on the card were saved, I just had to get a new phone. We basically were told in training that your phone will probably be stolen at least once, so just be prepared. At least it’s out of the way and in probably the safest way possible. We’ll just be more careful next time.

So aside from the stolen phone, we’ve had a pretty good (but expensive) week. We’re not sure you’re supposed to live this well in the Peace Corps.