Monday, December 27, 2010

Artisan Fair and Family Health Charlas

December felt like my most successful month thus far in Peace Corps.

Tuesday the 7th was the annual artisan fair at the U.S. Embassy, which I think I mentioned before is a shopping event held for embassy workers which brings together small time artisans that are working with Peace Corps Volunteers as well as professional artisans from all over Honduras. Since I work with small women’s groups, many of whom make artesanía, I was able to bring two groups to the event, one that makes woven items like scarves, shawls and tablecloths and another that makes interesting home décor items our of woven pine needles.

Nearly everything I’d done in the last two months had been leading up to this event. The business project organizes the event and I was on the task force, my job was to assemble the catalog which displayed a biography, pictures, products and prices for all of the 21 Peace Corps groups coming. It was a huge task which took weeks to compile, but I did get many comments on how great it turned out. In addition, I had to prepare my two groups. I gave them each charlas on basic business planning then helped them make some promotional material. We also had to figure out what they would bring and how much, how we would get there, who wanted to go etc.

Tuesday, Nolan and I woke up at 3 am and met the two participating women at the bus stop at 4 am. The bus ride was long, but we slept most of the way. We barely fit all four of us and all the boxes into a taxi to the embassy. It was surprisingly easy to get us all checked in, except for Nolan. Somehow his name hadn’t made it onto the ‘approved attendees’ list so he had to sit outside the embassy for about an hour until they finally agreed to let him in. The embassy is pretty strict on who they let in, and many groups who had switched attendees at the last minute had to wait for awhile too, so it wasn’t just Nolan.

We helped the women set up their products and the fair began at 10am! Of all the groups, I think my two did some of the best business. Their items were popular and affordable. The women were dutiful in attending to clients, despite having had very few opportunities in the past to participate in these kinds of events. They barely wanted to leave their tables to eat anything, worried they’d miss out on a sale. I felt such a great pride and relief to finally have the event come to fruition after so much hard work. It was a beautiful day with many amazing artisan products.

Nolan and I did some Christmas shopping, mostly for ourselves. The professional artists had items that were way out of our price range, but we were still able to sample some delicious wine and chocolate, two things we are often deprived of here. Most of the Peace Corps groups had affordable stuff. We bought a ton of beautiful Lenca pottery that was dirt cheap. A lot of other PCV’s showed up to buy gifts as well and it was great to finally see people whom we hadn’t seen in months. The day passed in a flash and before I knew it, we were packing the women up to head home. We stayed overnight to do some grocery shopping and came home Wednesday, exhausted but fulfilled. Despite it not being Nolan’s project, he did a lot of work to help me out, for which I was very thankful. What a great husband I have.

It also looks like I’ll be taking over as head coordinator for the event next year! Sadly, the coordinator this year, my amazing friend Harrison, will be leaving. I’m already looking forward to planning the event next December!

Then this week, just when I thought I was off for the holidays, the other organization I work with called and wanted me to finally implement my much awaited nutrition and family health charlas. Having pushed them back from October, I thought they might never get done. But at the last minute the proposal had been approved and the organization needed to spend all the deposited money by the end of the month, which actually meant in one week since they all take the last two weeks off. So Monday I was instructed to give the full 5-6 hour charla to the staff in order to train them to do the charla in 5 communities Wednesday and Thursday. They then solicited me to do the charla in two other communities Tuesday and Wednesday. Needless to say it was a long week.

I didn’t expect to be doing the charlas by myself, but they basically dropped me off and said, hey, we’ll be back in 6 hours to get you. While at first on the brink of tears, I realized this was an opportunity to show my strength and push myself. Despite freezing cold temperatures and fog the first day, the charla went smoothly. I had a group of about 20 women with kids, and we went over things like diarrhea, pneumonia, water purification, hand washing, nutrition/malnutrition and then did a cooking demonstration (which was the most fun and stressful part). I left feeling totally drained and smelling like fogon smoke, but also feeling satisfied that I had transferred some important knowledge to these women, and that I had done it all by myself. Day 2 was easier with another group of 20 women, I felt more comfortable alone and it was much warmer.

It always amazes me how much the women love the simplest activities. We do an opening activity where we throw around a piece of fruit and you have to say your name, how many kids you have and your favorite food. They laugh so much during this cheesy game, it’s hard to control them. Half of them also said their favorite food was spaghetti, go figure. We also did a taste test of different methods of water purification which they totally got a kick out of guessing which was which. I was also surprised to learn that they didn’t think cuajada (a kind of salty homemade ricotta-like cheese) was cheese at all. They never really said what they thought it was, but they didn’t think it was cheese. I’m not sure exactly what all this means, but it felt good to be sharing activities and knowledge that was new, exciting and important to them. Hopefully we’re still on schedule for more of the same charlas starting again in January, because this is one thing I have really enjoyed thus far. It’s combining my own passion for food and healthy living with a great need that exists in rural areas to educate people, especially women, about the most basic health topics.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

…In every way except for that little thing called snow, although it’s almost chilly enough for one to imagine it could snow (39ºF a few nights ago). The shops are all stocking fake Christmas trees, ornaments (all plastic here), kids toys, singing icicle lights, sticky window décor, rainbow colored garland, Ferrero Rocher chocolates (out of our price range), even candy canes, and have been since before Thanksgiving time (which they don’t celebrate here so Christmas starts even earlier than in the U.S.). All the grocery stores are decked out with big Christmas trees and have special promotions going on. We’re hoping that we have a good chance to win a new stove or large refrigerator with all the shopping we do at our favorite Mini-Super Esperanzano. We’ve even heard some Christmas music around, mostly Feliz Navidad and English songs.

We’ve gotten into the Christmas spirit at our house too. We bought a little fake tree which we decorated with some pine cones, bulbs, candy canes and two unique ornaments – one a bird from El Salvador, the other a Lenca pottery piece. It’s nicely complimented by a navideño colored pañeulo from one of my women’s groups. We hung some blinking lights around our window. I took it upon myself to embroider some stockings which are hung by the front door with care and full of small trinkets we bought for each other. I also decided to make some homemade wrapping paper out of charla paper I had lying around. We splurged on a huge pointsettia for the house, but I think it’s a little too cold here, the plant is already losing many of its red leaves. We’ve started playing our loop of about 75 Christmas songs non-stop, which in addition to the decoration makes the house feel much more Christmas-y.

Here the big night is Christmas Eve, Buena Noche, when people go the evening mass then stay up all night eating things like nacatamales (variant on a tamale) and gallina india (native hen) then set off fireworks at midnight. We bought some of our own fireworks to set off and already are planning our two-person feast. Deviled eggs, stuffed cabbage and fried potatoes for the eve (if I can find ground pork). Then eggs benedict with mimosas for Christmas breakfast followed by a roast turkey or chicken with all the trimmings, as well as some pumpkin spice cupcakes. Mouth-watering just thinking about it. Of course our fridge is not working at present so it’s all contingent on that being fixed soon.

It’s still been more than a little depressing to realize that this is the first Christmas that we’ll have away from any type of family. And our first snow-less Christmas also. We want you to know we’re thinking of you all this time of year, missing you a lot and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!