Monday, April 25, 2011

Work and Woes

I feel like we haven’t made too many work posts so I thought I’d write about some of the good and not-so-good things going on.

I think around the one-year mark, you sometimes get into a little slump. In February, we started saying we’d been here for one year, which was true, but that meant really only 9 months in site. Then we just kept saying one year, one year, even now when it’s still not one full year that we’ve been in our actual site. It was like a countdown that wasn’t counting down, a little depressing, like time wasn’t moving. I think around now you start reflecting, thinking that you’re halfway done, wondering if you’ve achieved anything so far, thinking now you only have one year left and what you can accomplish in that time. The group before us is also heading out so people close to us are leaving. I, for one, started questioning if I’d had any positive effect on my women’s cooperative. I still haven’t even visited every individual women’s group in the organization, let along done anything to help most of them. Sales at the store seem about the same. Plus, we hadn’t had a board meeting in months because every time we scheduled one, no one would show up. I also had planned a bunch of teambuilding charlas with the groups, half of which fell through.

While February and March seemed busy, I can’t quite put my finger on why. We did have two week-long medical brigades which take up all your time. I finished up my Chemistry class and started an English class. For me at least, having regularly scheduled classes keeps me going. Even though at times half the students might not show up, you know that it’s something planned every week that you have to prepare for. It’s also improved my Spanish (and Nolan’s) a great deal. I’m looking forward to starting another chemistry class in a few months.

Things seemed to be picking up again after a visit from the new class of trainees. We had one wat/san and one business volunteer come to visit us as part of their training so they could shadow us for a few days. We showed them around town, took them to work with us and fed them the best baleadas in Honduras. It was nice to have some company and meet new people, and also to chat with them and share some of the wisdom we’ve gained in this past year.

Hearing some of their starry-eyed ideas and goals made me feel more positive and invigorated to get going with some new ideas in my own work. My women’s group had a meeting two weeks ago where they finally, FINALLY!, decided to elect a new member of the board to replace a woman who hadn’t participated in the organization in almost a year, but had never officially left. The group as a whole decided to replace the woman, and I pushed for an immediate vote of a new member which turned out awesome, as they elected a smart, well-informed and level-headed new woman to the board. We also had a discussion about loans, interest and artesania sales at the store. One women’s group that had taken out a loan was petitioning to not pay interest based on the fact that they sold products to the store and thought that would garner them favorable treatment. Normally not that vocal at meetings, I had to chime in on this one, explaining that the store and it’s sales was completely separate from the loan part of the organization and that everyone had to pay interest in order to 1) be fair and 2) grow the loan fund for future funding! I was afraid I’d be shot down, but several members of the assembly immediately voiced their agreement with me and backed my logic. It was like they wanted to say that themselves, but were too shy until I said it. It was a big step forward in getting them to realize the importance of keeping the two parts of the business separate and in reinforcing the importance of paying interest, which has been a continual problem. The women also decided to keep going with the chip bag purses we started months ago and we planned a few dates to do more training sessions. We also planned two more organizational management charlas for this coming week. Through talking with a supermarket manager, we came up with the idea to make advertisement flyers for one group that sells roses to distribute to store owners, banks and hotels. I’m hoping it will work out that people can call to make orders to the group in advance then pick them up at our artisan store in town. I’m also trying to get the group going on making a website and we’re in the initial phase of deciding what the website will contain. Things are looking up!

On a separate note, Nolan and I are starting a world map project at the school where we teach. The idea is to have the 8th graders draw and paint a 7x14 ft world map on the wall in their school courtyard, partly for their art credit and partly to help teach them about geography. I love love love maps so I’m really excited about this project. Nolan’s mom’s school in Michigan was able to raise money to donate to the project for paint and supplies so we’re hoping it’s going to be a great connection between the two classes. I just pitched the idea to the kids here a few weeks ago and they seemed interested. We hope to start painting the background as soon as we get the money in the mail. I also got roped into organizing an international potluck dinner event bringing together all the foreign workers in town and some key Honduran citizens to form an advisory committee for the school. Since the director of the school is not here at the moment, I get to be in charge of a powerpoint presentation explaining the school’s history, projects and future goals at the event, basically the main speaker, sort of ridiculous, but it feels nice that they think I’m capable and qualified for something like that.

I had a great “working” birthday a couple weeks ago. The girls at work gave me not one, but two sort-of surprise parties. They sang and we had tres leches cake at the office in the morning and they gave me some really beautiful roses. We then packed a picnic lunch to take with us up to two communities we were visiting. We stopped at a random spot to eat and they pulled out a huge pot of chop suey (a traditional birthday treat) which we tried to quickly wash down with more cake, singing and coke. It was really sweet that they remembered and went out of their way to make it a special day. Nolan helped me with teambuilding charlas in two different communities which were really well-received by the groups, and we arrived back in La Esperanza around sunset, covered in dust and stuffed with cake. I finished off a great day with Nolan making us delicious pasta carbonara and we splurged on an expensive ($18) bottle of wine. It’s strange to think this is already my second birthday here in Honduras, time flies.

Girls at work singing Happy Birthday

A second round of Happy Birthday at our picnic lunch

Chop suey...luckily the dogs helped us finish it off

The human knot

As if the first two weeks of April couldn’t already be packed enough, the day after my b-day, we headed out to Yuscaran on the other side of the country where I was set to give a presentation to the new training group about my work with artisan groups and a tutorial on how to make recycled chip bag purses. It ended up being a really lovely trip. Yuscaran is an old mining town perched on a mountain ledge with nice colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and some interesting tourist sites. The most famous thing in town is the aguardiente factory where they produce the most well-known brand of sugar cane liquor that bolos everywhere love. We got a quick but interesting tour that involved nearly being stung by hundreds of bees since the mixing containers are not covered. The town also has a great old mansion converted into a local history museum where we learned about the mining boom and Yuscaran’s famous families. We stayed at a great hotel where we randomly met a Canandian ex-pat goldsmith who now teaches paragliding in town, the most random but interesting guy. The presentation to the new group went well, they are of course anxious to know their sites and get out of training. It felt more than a little weird now being the experts and talking to a group of newbies, it made us feel old and accomplished sort of. All in all, it was a nice quick trip, all subsidized by PC of course, which always makes it a little better.

The guaro factory behind the police station, you can smell its pungent odor from any point in town

Nolan ready to perform a Mayan dance

Teaching the trainees how to make chip bag purses

We finished off April with a Semana Santa trip to Comayagua, but I’ll leave that for the next post.

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