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¡Bienvenidos!

Welcome to my blog! I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras (2011 - 2012) and I created this blog to share my experiences and thoughts with friends and family at home. Unfortunately my time in Honduras ended early due to a deteriorating security situation, but it was an amazing experience regardless. Explore, enjoy and please leave comments!

And now for the required disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are my own and in no way reflect the opinions/views of the Peace Corps or the US government.

Saying Goodbye

January 15, 2012

Tomorrow I fly back to the USA and I don’t really know what I’m going to do.

The last week and half at site was boring at times, but I tried to take advantage of every moment to visit friends, eat my favorite foods, take pictures and just wander around Sensenti. Last Wednesday was a very rough day as reality hit hard. I had people coming and going that day to pick up the things I had decided to leave behind and to say goodbye. By around 10am, I had almost nothing left in my house – my tables, chairs, bed and basically everything in the kitchen were gone. And then it was just Jackson and me hanging out outside, watching the world go by.

I had lunch at Mami’s house and I spent a couple hours playing with María Belen before going back to my practically empty house to pick up the last few things and, the most difficult part, take all of Jackson’s stuff to his new home (and I’m falling apart again just thinking about it). Being overtired from not sleeping well for the past week was not helping me to hold things together as I finished my goodbyes that afternoon.

After retrieving my stuff and sending it over to Mami’s in the mototaxi, I took Jackson’s things to his new home, and then we went for one last walk together. We went over to my host family’s house to say goodbye since I hadn’t seen my host dad in awhile. Every time I visited, he was out picking coffee and I really want to be able to say goodbye. Of course, I started crying as he and my host mom said how happy they were to have had me living with them and how I was always welcome in their home.

And then it was time for, quite possibly, the hardest part. Saying goodbye to Jackson. Even knowing he wouldn’t do well in the USA, not to mention the stress of moving for a pet, it’s still hard to leave him behind. I know the family will take care of him, though he won’t get quite the same level of love as he did from me, and I know he loves them. He was a good friend, a good protector and I’m going to imagine him happily wandering around town and running all over the farm.

I left Jackson with his new family Wednesday night since I was sleeping at Mami’s house and leaving early the next morning. I had baleadas for dinner and spent some more time playing with María Belen and talking with Mami before bed. The next morning was the other difficult goodbye – with Mami. I might have been able to hold it together, but Mami started crying, which of course got me going again. And then it was time to leave, and as we drove out of Sensenti, I looked back on my beautiful community and thought nos vemos.

So now I’m sitting in the hotel in Tegucigalpa and getting ready for one last goodbye tomorrow when all my fellow volunteers and me part ways either at the hotel or at an airport during a connection in the USA. Though knowing I’ll probably be seeing some of them again makes it a little easier. This has been one of the most challenging, most rewarding and best experiences of my life and I’m sorry it has to end early.

One of my fellow volunteers found this quote and I think it’s appropriate for my current situation: “An inconvenience is only an adventure looked at wrongly, and an adventure only an inconvenience rightly considered” (G.K. Chesterton). We’ll see where my next adventure takes me now that this one is ending.

Thinking Positive

January 9, 2012

The other day, in an effort to cheer ourselves up about our impending departure, Maggie and I started coming up with a list of things we would not miss about Honduras. Here’s what I remember, plus some of my own personal additions.

My house. I really don’t like my house – it has way too many problems; I just put up with it so I could live by myself. Though it does have a nice big yard in which I was finally able to have my dream garden full of basil (which I now have to leave behind).

Related to the above, my metal roof. The deafening sound of rain pounding down during rainy season, leaks, feeling like I’m in an oven in the afternoons on hot days, and the constant banging and creaking during windy season.

Bucket baths. Though bucket baths are far better than a cold shower, I’m still looking forward to hot running water.

Doing laundry by hand. Need I say more?

Unreliable electricity. I just love frequent power outages, especially when I’m trying to fix dinner.

The absolutely horrible little ants. They bite whenever they get a chance and then the bites itch intensely for days. Absolutely awful.

Bucket flushing toilets and not being able to flush the toilet paper.

Slooowww internet.

Honduran spaghetti. It’s terrible. The noodles are overcooked and the sauce is pretty darn disgusting. Unfortunately, I’ve had to choke down my fair share of it since it’s not polite to turn down food that’s offered to you (plus I didn’t have much choice when living with host families).

Piropos. Catcalls from Honduran men. There are certain areas of town I avoid in order to decrease the chances of having to listen to them.

Honduran time. I was going to write a blog post about this, but then got distracted by other events. It’s highly annoying to have someone tell you a meeting is going to start at 3pm and then no one shows up until at least 4pm and sometimes later. I felt like I spent the entire month of November just waiting for people to show up.

Roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night. Totally a myth that roosters only crow at dawn.

Honduran baked goods. They think their bread, cakes and other pastries are yummy but they really are not. About the only pastry Hondurans do well is tres leche cake.

There’s probably more, but that’s all I can remember for the moment. However, the number of things (and people) that I am going to miss far outweighs what I am not going to miss. Perhaps that will be the topic of my last blog post from Honduras later this week. Right now I’m doing my best to pack things up and enjoy my last couple days at site.

 

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

January 4, 2012

This post is a little late, but I thought I should write something about Honduran Christmas and New Year’s traditions.

It never really felt like Christmas to me this year, maybe because I wasn’t with my family (though my mom was here in Honduras with me) or perhaps also due to the lack of cold/snow, constant radio and tv input, and decorations everywhere. Regardless, Mom and I had a nice Honduran Christmas Eve with Mami Teresa, Jeny and the kids. Mami Teresa spent most of that day making tamales for dinner, as tamales are the traditional Christmas food in Honduras. This particular ones were made with pork and also included potatoes and peas. Mom and I spent a lot of time with María Belen (she’s five years old) who was absolutely insane with excitement most of the day and evening, asking if every little noise was Santa. Usually, Hondurans stay up until midnight and then open their presents. However, either because Jeny was tired of María Belen’s constant badgering or in effort to get her to bed earlier, around 10pm, Santa arrived at Jeny’s house with María Belen’s presents (María Belen was in the dining room with Mom, Mami Teresa and me while Jeny sneaked off and put the presents in the living room under the little tree they had). María Belen was, of course, ecstatic as she ripped open her presents, exclaiming that Santa brought her everything she asked for. It was a lot of fun to watch her antics throughout Christmas Eve, and I must agree with Mom -  little kids make Christmas a lot more fun.

I returned to Sensenti after our trip to Copán Ruinas just in time for New Year’s Eve. I admit, I didn’t fully participate in the festivities, but it was a good evening nonetheless. I spent some time with Mami Teresa and the kids during the day and again in the evening, eating a tamale since Hondurans make them for New Year’s in addition to Christmas. I also went over to my host family’s house for a bit, where I played with sparklers and some other little firecrackers with the kids before eating yet another tamale (this one also had rice mixed in, along with chicken, potatoes and peas). I wasn’t there very long before I learned that they were all going to church for the approximately the next three hours (my host family is Evangelical, the second most common religion in Honduras). At that point, I decided to go back to my house for a couple reasons: (1) Jackson was an absolute wreak being out and about with all the firecrackers and fireworks going off; and (2) I really didn’t want to be returning to my house late when it was more likely there would be a bunch of drunk men wandering around.

So Jackson and I had a simple evening together in the house watching a movie. Hondurans love their firecrackers/fireworks, so the evening was constantly peppered with booms and cracks that culminated in what sounded like a never-ending finale of a 4th of July fireworks show at midnight (but without the spectacular visual effects). For the first and only time, I let Jackson sleep in the bed with me (we got into bed around 11pm) so we could both relax instead of fighting a constant battle about whether or not he could get up on the bed every time time he got scared. He snuggled right up against me and rested his chin on my chest as we listened to the noisy festivities.

Although this year is turning out quite different than planned, I’ll try to make the best of it. As people keep telling me, everything happens for a reason.

Copán Ruinas

January 1, 2012

I saw my mom off at the airport Friday morning before returning to site and the reality of packing up my life here…but more about that later.

Mom and I had had a wonderful time in Copán Ruinas this past week. Christmas Day was spent traveling to San Pedro Sula, a four-hour long drive with two of those hours on horrible roads, and then relaxing with my host sister, Erika, her husband, Robert, and their beyond adorable 2-year-old daughter, María Louisa. We stayed overnight at their house before continuing on to Copán Ruinas Monday morning. We arrived in Copán around lunchtime and first went to our hotel to check-in and drop off our stuff. The hotel – Casa de Café B&B Inn – was beautiful with gorgeous gardens, simple rooms and, most importantly, hot water. After lunch, we spent the afternoon wandering around the town, doing a little shopping and relaxing in the hotel garden before heading out again to find dinner.

Tuesday we went to visit the Mayan ruins. We decided to hire a guide, which was a good decision since he was able to tell us a lot about the ruins, Mayan history, and the site in general. Apparently only 25% of the site is excavated! During our three-hour tour, we visited the Monument Plaza, which is full of various sculptures (many of the 13th king) still in excellent condition; the Ballcourt, the Acropolis; the Hieroglyphic Stairway, which forms the longest known Mayan hieroglyphic text; and the Sepulturas, an area of mostly elite residences with carved stone benches and a number of tombs.  We also visited the sculpture museum, which has some amazingly well-preserved artifacts, including the famous Altar Q – depicts each of the first 16 kings of the Copán dynasty – and a replica of Rosalila, one of the best preserved phases of one of the temples. There are multiple layers to this site because each ruler would build on top of the structures and temples of the former ruler; Rosalila was discovered intact under later phases of the tomb. Actually, thanks to erosion by the Copán River before it was diverted, you can actually see the different layers of the site (the river was diverted to preserve the site though a number of buildings and part of the Acropolis had already been destroyed). The history was interesting, the sculptures fascinating and the views beautiful. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and even had massages (though we should have saved those for Thursday morning)!

The next day, Wednesday, we decided to do a day trip to the Finca El Cisne, a highly recommended tour that we thoroughly enjoyed. Finca El Cisne is a fully operational family run farm that has been in existence since somewhere around 1870, though they’ve only been doing tours for about ten years now. The main crop is coffee, though they also grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, have cattle for beef and milk, and are currently starting to grow cacao (chocolate!). Carlos, our guide and part of the family, explained to us that each family member is responsible for part of the coffee crop and then are also in charge of one other aspect of the farm (though not all his siblings and cousins live on the farm year round). For Carlos, it’s the tours and the new chocolate venture. Upon arrival at the farm, we took a brief walking tour and visited the coffee processing area before saddling up for the horseback portion of the trip. It was a beautiful ride, though we got rained on during the return trip and most of us were already feeling the muscle soreness before we even got off the horses. Once we got back to the house, we had an amazingly delicious late lunch of typical Honduran foods – including empanadas de quesillo con chismol, beef stew, yucca and salad – all made with ingredients grown on the farm. We then drove a short way down the rode to soak our sore muscles in the hot springs before driving back to Copán. A long, but wonderful day.

Thursday morning we spent more time wandering around the area, visiting Hacienda San Lucas to check out the views of the valley, and doing some more shopping. In the afternoon, we headed back to San Pedro Sula and Erika’s house to spend the night. I loved showing my mom around my site and spending time with her in Copán Ruinas, and I’m glad I got to see at least bit more of Honduras before Peace Corps sends me home.

A Different Perspective

December 26, 2011

Hola everyone!  I imagine most of you reading this will know who I am, but let me introduce myself anyway.  I am Becca, Jenna’s mom or mami.  I don’t know why, but I love the way mami sounds as it rolls off the tongue.  I am here in Honduras visiting Jenna and have been told I will be a guest blogger while I am here.  I don’t really know where to start – this entire trip is full of first experiences for me, as I have never left the country before.  If you have been reading Jenna’s blog then you must know that she has fallen in love with Honduras, her site, and the people within her village.  You also know that she is being sent home and does not know if she will be able to return due to security concerns.  My first reaction as a parent was that of course she should come home if there are security concerns, but after spending time here I also understand why she wants to stay and find myself hoping that she is able to return to her site and finish her assignment.

There is poverty, hardship, and safety issues here of course, but there is also beauty, community, and a sense of belonging to a community.  Jenna, or Yenna as they call her, has become a part of her community.  I cannot begin to express how happy I am to have had the opportunity to meet the families that have welcomed her into their homes, the children she has taught in the schools, the people she has worked with in the community, and to have experienced some of the same firsts that she has experienced.   As crazy as it might sound, I have enjoyed bucket baths, washing clothes in a pila, doing dishes in a pila, making tortillas from freshly ground corn, and dodging cows, horses, chickens, oxen carts and cars in the streets.  I have also learned a great deal about the woman her father and I raised, not just from what I have seen but also from what I have been told.

Her Honduran mami tells me she is a very special person who is humble and genuinely caring and that this is why the people accept her.  I have learned what it is like to enter a country in which I don’t know the language, but I least had a built-in translator.  What was it like for her and the other volunteers when they were plopped down in a home with little to no knowledge of the language and no one to translate for them?  It is easy for me to say I have enjoyed all of my first experiences in Honduras because I know that I will be going home to all of our American luxuries.  For Jenna and her fellow volunteers that was not the case; they experienced all their firsts knowing that this would be their life for the next 27 months.  I have decided that the Peace Corps is no place for wimps!  Hats off to all of you who give yourself over to the experience.

I’ll be back with Jenna to write about the touristy side of Honduras once we finish our trip!

¿Adios?

December 21, 2011

Yesterday I received news that Peace Corps Honduras will be temporarily pausing the program while they reassess the security situation. Due to this, I will soon be coming home for at least thirty days while they decide whether we can return or not. While I’m trying hard to be optimistic, I don’t have much hope that I will be back (hopefully I’m proven wrong). Even if they decide we can return, there’s a chance it won’t be all of us and we may not be able to return to our original sites since they will probably be decreasing the number of volunteers in country and redefining the geographic areas where volunteers can be placed.

We had already been informed that the next training group had been canceled, which definitely caused some worry. As I mentioned, the reason behind this pause in operations is the deteriorating security situation, though we knew going in that Honduras is the most dangerous Peace Corps post in the world. However, I have never felt unsafe in my site and I love my town. The people here have been wonderful, and I will greatly miss my friends and family.While it has rarely been easy, this has been a fabulous experience and I will never regret my decision to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras.

There is so much more I wanted to do here and I had a couple large projects planned for early next year, including a project to build 120 improved stoves in three of the villages surrounding my town. Now there’s a good chance that won’t happen because if I’m not here, my community won’t get the funding. I was also working with a maternal waiting home to develop a health education program for the residents. The majority of the women who pass through this home are from rural, inaccessible communities and they and their families could have greatly benefited from this program. I had plans to work with more of the schools in the villages next school year, do more work with teen pregnancy prevention and STI awareness with the high school, and form a community service youth group. Now all of this probably will not happen.

At the end of our thirty day administrative hold in the U.S., if I cannot return to Honduras either because the program closes or because of the decreased size of the program, my time in the Peace Corps will be over. While I would have the option of starting service in another country, I do not think I will do this. So at this point, all I can do is wait. And those of you who know me, know how much I hate not having everything planned… Vamos a ver.

Cortando Café

December 12, 2011

‘Tis the season for cutting coffee, so I finally went out to give it a try. Let’s just say I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity, but never again…

Coffee picking season starts in November and can run until late February (maybe even into March). It’s a very big deal here since coffee is one of Honduras’ main exports and the money from the crops supports a lot of families for a portion of the year (though for the other part of the year, getting enough to eat can be a problem, especially for families without other resources). The people who don’t have their own coffee farms make money picking coffee for the farmers and just about everyone, including the kids, goes out to do this. One of my sixth graders told me the money her family earns from picking coffee is used to pay for school fees and supplies, as well as food for the holiday celebrations.

So today I went out with my host dad, Juan Miguel, to his farm up in the mountains. With us, there were seven other (experienced) coffee pickers, including two kids, who were working for Juan Miguel that day. He picked me up at 7am and we started the 30-minute drive up the rocky dirt road to the farm. His farm is just past one of the aldeas of my site, called Cones (pronounce co-nays), where another volunteer is located. Despite the rough ride, I always like going up into the aldeas because the views of the mountains and valleys are so breathtakingly beautiful, especially in the mornings when there are wisps of fog around the tops of the mountains slowly being burned off by the sun.

I got my first clue as to how much work this was going to be as we made our way down the mountain-side to our starting point. To put it mildly, it was very steep and slick thanks to the mud – not a good combination assuming one does not want to fall on one’s ass numerous times. My host dad gave me a “tumbia” (not sure I have that word right) to use, basically a basket with a string attached to anchor it around the waist, gave me some instructions as to which coffee cherries to pick, and assigned me some trees. The fruit of coffee trees is red when it’s ripe and it’s called a cherry (the coffee beans are inside). As we were getting started my host dad mentioned that at this time of year he usually has more ripe coffee than he currently has, noting that climate change and deforestation are affecting his coffee crops.

I was quite slow compared to the rest of the coffee pickers and I think they found me amusing at times, but it was a good experience. It’s a very tedious process, going from tree to tree picking ripe cherries, but the workers were all very upbeat – talking, laughing (sometimes at me) and occasionally singing. The area in which we started our coffee picking had a strip of relatively level ground that made it easy to walk around and pick coffee. However, when we finished there, we had to go up. And here I ran into that whole steep incline and slickness problem, sliding back down the mountain a few times here and there. My legs got quite a workout climbing around on the mountain and I’m already feeling it – I don’t think I’ll be able to move tomorrow.

While the others had already filled and emptied their baskets numerous times, I finally managed to fill up my basket about two hours into the morning. At this point, my host dad asked me if I wanted to go back to Cones and hang out with my friend there. Originally, the plan had been to spend the whole day on the farm, not coming back until 3 or 4 in the afternoon (my host mom had sent lunch for everyone). I debated whether or not I wanted to put an end to this new cultural experience, but I was a sweaty, dirty, beginning to sunburn, and sore mess already and I decided that I was ready to quit. Of course, this meant climbing all the way back up that very slick mountain; I literally resorted to crawling at times. When we got back to the truck, my host dad noticed that he wouldn’t be able to get it out due to the mud, so I ended up walking down the road to Cones. Luckily it wasn’t far and it was mostly downhill; there, I hung out with my friend for a bit before catching the bus back to site. I got home a little after 12pm, took a hot bucket bath, had some lunch and broke my no napping rule (which I will probably regret when I can’t sleep tonight) because I was totally wiped out.

In case you’re curious, here’s a little more information about the coffee process. The coffee cherries we (mostly they) picked today were taken to my host family’s house and placed in a water bath to ferment. Later they’ll be taken out and spread out to dry before separating the cherry fruit from the coffee bean inside. This is done using a simple, hand-cranked machine that squishes the cherry and shoots out the bean. The beans will then be cleaned (apparently not an easy process due to the thick, sticky coating they have) and spread out to dry in the sun over the course of a few days; the drying beans have to be taken in every night and during the day if it rains. Once the beans are dry, my host dad sells them and from there, they go through the roasting, grinding and whatever else processes before ending up in your morning cup of joe. So when you’re drinking that coffee, take a minute to think about all the work that goes into getting it to your kitchen or favorite vendor.

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