Monday, July 30, 2007

view from my house
futbol field
So it’s time for an update about Honduras and about training. Santa Lucia, where we are, is very hilly, has cobblestone streets, beautiful views of the mountains, a lagoon, and two soccer fields, I consider these the highlights. The lagoon isn’t very big, but it’s pretty cool, it’s actually a pretty green color, and there are ducks and swans in it, and on weekends people have little rowboats and paddle around it. Also on the weekends there are soccer games all day on both fields. Our first weekend here, I went to watch one of my brothers play on his team, which was fun. A lot of trainees play casually after class. I’ve played a few times and it’s fun, but I’m really bad. I also have run a few times. There’s a dirt path/street that goes up into the mountains, and isn’t very busy, so it’s good to run on. There’s another trainee who runs at a similar pace as me, so her and I run together, which is really nice. This path has breathtaking views of the town below and the mountains. The only bad part is that sometimes there are many barking dogs, and although they don’t seem like they’ll hurt us, it’s still alarming.
Usually I wake up around 6:15, get ready and eat breakfast and leave around 7:10. Some people live like half an hour from the center, but I’m pretty close, so I can get there in like ten minutes if I walk fast. Training starts at 7:30. Everyday is a little different, but we always have Spanish classes in the morning, lunch at 11:30, and sometimes more Spanish for an hour or two after lunch.
There are five people in my class. We do a lot of narration, do skits, take turns presenting a grammar topic, and present a news article, that kind of thing. It’s a little frustrating because over the past two years, I haven’t really had grammar, I’ve just taken classes taught in Spanish, and it’s hard sitting in a classroom for that many hours. I also feel like my Spanish should be better than it is, but my issue is really using correct grammar when I’m speaking. Costa Rica was the only time I really had to speak a lot of Spanish, and although I did fine, and had tons of conversations and could take care of things, people wouldn’t correct my grammar. And now I’m going off alone to my site to be a professional and it’s important that I really know the language to be as effective as possible. I’m sure I’ll improve a lot before I become a volunteer, but it’s a process.
After Spanish, we either have CORE, which is like safety and security or health, or we have Project Training, where we split into our respective projects (I’m Municipal Development) and we go over things respective to that. I think there are 15 people in Muni D. We talk about things like the structure and functions of the municipalities, the roles of different government officials, public services, transparency, social auditing, citizen participation, etc. For Security and health, we’ve had info sessions on diseases, how to prepare food and water, how to deal with unwanted attention, transportation safety, etc. Sometimes current volunteers come and talk to us about their experiences.
After training, I like to go run or play soccer, unless it’s raining really hard. After, I go home and shower, do homework, eat dinner. I’m usually asleep by 9:30 or 10. There just isn’t much to do at night.
The food isn’t too bad, although a lot of people are having serious issues with it. I was expecting mainly rice and beans, but I’ve only had rice a couple times, and I’ve had beans a few times, but not served with rice. Hondurans fry a lot of things, which does get hard to eat. I’ve had some good things and some not so good things, but nothing that I absolutely couldn’t eat. I get a lot of tortillas though, and I don’t like them that much. In Costa Rica I got really sick of rice, and here I’m getting really sick of tortillas. I eat like 6 a day sometimes. They’re corn tortillas, and are small and kind of dry. For breakfast I usually get Cornflakes, or sometimes toast, and fresh orange juice. I bring my lunch to school, and I get spaghetti, or some meat with tortillas, and sometimes and apple, watermelon, or papaya.
Some typical Honduran food:
Tacos- tortillas filled with meat, rolled tightly, and fried
Pupusas-tortillas fried, filled with pico de gallo, with cabbage and onion on top
Baleada- tortillas folded and filled with beans, cheese, and either eggs or chicken.
Fried plantains
Anyway, it’s not bad.

My host family is good and we’re getting along well. The little girl is really cute. We color and draw together. She had two little rabbits in the house, but then one died, and she just told me that she can’t find the other one, so we’ll see what happens with that.
wednesday we went to Tegucigalpa to the market for Spanish class. My group had 7 people and we took a bus to Teguc and then a taxi to the market. We had to ask prices of things, buy some stuff, and find out bus schedules. It was a good experience. They keep warning us how dangerous the city is, but it doesn’t seem too bad. The market was neat. I bought a pineapple and some oranges for my host family. We then met up at the Peace Corps headquarters, and then they took us to Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins, so that was really exciting. i wrote my reaction about the market visit for class.
on Thursday, we leave to do our volunteer visits. Each of us will go visit a current volunteer in our own program and see what they are working on and the life of a volunteer in the field. We come back that Saturday. i´m going to a town about four hours south of here where it is warmer. i´m really excited. In two weeks, on August 8, we leave for Field Based Training (FBT), where each program goes to a different site. Muni D is going to El Paraiso, which is a city a couple hours from here. It will be interesting to live in a different part of the country for a while. While there, we will still have Spanish but will also work more with people and the government. We don’t find out our permanent sites until Sep. 17, but we’re all wondering what the sites are, and thinking about where we’d like to be placed.
saturday was fun, some of us hiked around the mountains around here for about four hours and we saw some breathtaking views of the city and the mountains. after the hike about 12 of us played soccer for a couple hours, which was really fun.
So things are going well. On the down side, we’ve had four trainees decide to leave. It’s very unusual to have so many people leave, especially in the first two weeks. The last training group didn’t lose anybody. I think the reasons are more personal than having anything to do with the program or Honduras. It’s still hard seeing people go. I really can’t imagine leaving. I’m so happy with everything and I’m excited about the upcoming travels! I <3 Honduras!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Welcome to Honduras, help yourself to some Dengue!

So after a week of being here, I get dengue. Well, it might have been dengue or it might have been some other virus, I don’t know yet for sure. The point is, I had to spend Wednesday night until Saturday morning in the hospital. Don’t worry it wasn’t very serious and I pretty much felt fine. Sorry for not letting anyone know I was in the hospital but I wasn’t allowed to make international calls from the hospital. And it wasn’t that serious. This was my first time staying in the hospital, 2 and a half days in Honduras. Luckily it was a nice hospital and I was well-taken care of.

So this is what happened. On Tuesday we got vaccinations for rabies and typhoid, and one of the side-effects of the typhoid vaccine can be a fever, so they gave us medicine to keep the fever down. I felt ok on Tuesday and went running with some other trainees, which was awesome. We ran up this dirt road that goes up into the mountains and has beautiful view. Tuesday night around 7:30 I was studying and watching tv in the living room and I got really cold so I went to my room to get a sweatshirt. The thermometer on my alarm clock read 72 degrees and I thought, I should not feel this cold. I had several layers on but I was still really cold and shivering so I went to bed, but I still felt cold, even under the blankets. But my host mom and I thought it was a bad reaction to the typhoid vaccine. Around 12 I woke up hot so I took off some layers and I felt fine.

Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat and during class I felt kind of sick, like I had a cold. I called the medical office and they said I probably just had a cold and a reaction to the vaccine and they would send me medicine. At lunch time I got really cold again. I hardly made it through the afternoon and when I got home at 5 I went right to bed and slept until 8, when I woke up to go eat. I was sitting and eating when I suddenly felt really faint and hot. I got up and went to the kitchen where my host mom was and I fainted and had a really hard time breathing. It was awful. So then they called the medical office, which then sent a driver to take me to the hospital.

I got to the hospital around 10pm. I still didn’t think anything was wrong with me. I thought I’d be there an hour and they’d send me home, but then the doctor said they had to do some tests and I’d be there 3 or 4 hours. I was upset about that but I just fell asleep. When the doctor he said it looked like I had dengue and they’d have to keep me over night. So then they moved me to my room. The driver who brought me left so then I was all alone. I had a bad fever and felt dizzy and sick. Thursday was hard because I felt really alone and I missed the US. I began to have some doubts, like this is just the first week and it’s so hard. My time here hasn’t even really started and I want to leave. But I knew it was just the circumstances. By the afternoon I began to feel better. Sometime on Thursday they said they’d have to keep me overnight. I didn’t have anything with me of course, but I talked to a Peace Corps doctor on the phone and told her things I wanted from my house so they driver brought them to me.

Friday morning the Peace Corps doctor visited me in the morning and told me it was probably dengue but it just wasn’t testing positive yet. But my doctor in the hospital came later and said it probably wasn’t dengue but that I might have to stay until Sunday because my white blood cell count was low and he didn’t want me to get more sick by being around people. Friday around 6 or 7 I had an unexpected but very exciting visit. Katie, a current volunteer who has been helping out with training activities, came in. I was so excited to see a familiar face! It was awesome having someone my age to speak English to after 2 days of not really talking to anyone. She kindly offered to get me whatever food I wanted and I had really been wanting a milkshake and some chocolate. Katie came back in 5 minutes with a strawberry shake, some candy, and some other snacks! She stayed about an hour probably, which was awesome. That visit definitely made my day.

Saturday morning I felt absolutely fine and I as beginning to get really frustrated about being there. The doctor came in around 10 or 10:30 and told me everything looked better and I could go. I was so relieved. Then the PC doctor called and said she sent the driver to pick me up. And now I’m back!

I don’t know how I would have managed another day there. I’ve never watched so much TV. I had 102 channels, in Spanish and English. I also read some and studied Spanish. I got through Thur and Fri ok, but I don’t know how I would have handled today, too. And it’s a good thing I can understand Spanish well, because no one spoke English and the doctor was going off about white blood cell counts in Spanish and I was all alone. I was fine, though and I never felt scared or anything, mostly just bored, and frustrated at times.

Now I have time to rest before going back to training on Monday. Good thing it’s the weekend, so I only missed two days of training. I don’t think I missed too much. One good thing about the hospital was that it made me really appreciate my house here and all the people here. If I could get through those days in the hospital not talking to anyone and not doing anything, I can get through any other periods of loneliness or boredom. I miss everyone and I love hearing from you all.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Well, I’ve been in Honduras a few days now. So far, everything is going well. This is going to be very long, so just read what you want. We arrived Wed the 11th in Tegucigalpa. It was so exciting getting off the plane. We walked down the steps onto the runway into the beautiful day and I looked around at all the mountains and clouds and I was so happy and excited to finally be in this new country which would be my home for the next 2 plus years. We were met by Peace Corps staff and we all got on a bus to the training center in Santa Lucia. It’s a mountain town, very pretty and hilly, and about 30 minutes from Tegucigalpa.

When we got here, we had a very brief orientation before our host families came to pick us up. My host family is nice. In the house, there is a mother, father, two sons, ages 20 and 17, and a daughter who is 26 and has a 4 year old daughter. The little girl is really cute, and I pretty much hang out with her the most. I haven’t talked too much with the family yet, mainly because I have a hard time thinking of things to talk about and because I’m just so tired by the time I get home.

We have training starting at 7:30 each morning and we go until 4:30. Friday we had Spanish classes, vaccinations, received information about our bank accounts, had placement interviews for the level of Spanish class, a session about safety and security, and a session on culture. Also the country director came to talk to us. So it was a pretty full day. We will find out Monday or Tuesday where we placed for Spanish classes. The classes will be about 4 hours a day I think, and there will only be about 3 people per class.

The other trainees are all levels of Spanish. There are a couple people who don’t really know any and a few who are fluent. The rest are somewhere in between. This morning we had team-building activities, which was really fun, then a whole lot of us went out to lunch, so I´m getting to know people better. There are 48 people in my training class. It’s a good mix of people and although I’m still getting to know them, I’m getting along well with everyone. There are 4 or 5 people from Illinois, a few people from the DC area, and one girl who graduated from AU in 2004. Some of the volunteers just graduated, some graduated a few years ago, and some are a little older, but I think everyone is in their 20s except for a couple people.

The training is really good. All of the directors and teachers are really excited about their jobs and make the training less tedious than it could be. They are sincerely happy we’re here and are doing everything they can to prepare us for service. There aren’t many jobs or organizations that will give you 11 weeks of intense training. They assure us that everyone’s Spanish will substantially improve by the end of training.

I am in the municipal development program with about 16 others. The other programs in our group are youth development and protected areas management. Most people are in youth development. In mid-August we split up by program and go to field-based training. I’m pretty excited about that. My program, Muni Dev, is going to a community south of here. We will be with a host family there and will stay for 5 weeks. Language classes will continue and training will be more hands on.

I like that they integrate all the things we have to learn. During all of training we have classes on safety and security, culture, language, approaches to development, and our specific programs, among other things. These things are taught together, for example we will do skits on safety in Spanish. When we return from field-based training, we will find out our site assignments and then we swear in as volunteers September 27 and leave for our sites the next day.

In training, we also talk a lot about Peace Corps policies. As trainees, and once we become volunteers at the end of training, we represent not only ourselves, but also Peace Corps and the US. Many of the people we will meet will not know anything of the US and its people beside what they may see on TV, so the image we portray is really important. We must dress professionally at all times, unless we’re just sitting in our homes. We must respect the culture and be very careful not to offend anyone or to have anything less than a good reputation. We are professional development workers and we have to portray that.

The approach to development is also very important. Whatever initiatives or programs we begin or work on must be sustainable- they must be able to continue once we are gone. Our goal is to improve human capacities. Some of the effects of our work might not be seen until after we leave, but if we do our work correctly, there will be notable effects. The goals of the Muni Dev Program are to help citizens increase knowledge of and participation in local gov and civil society and to help municipal governments improve capacity to deliver public services in a transparent manner.

That’s all for now. I’m in good spirits and am very excited about everything. There are moments when I stop and think, “am I really doing this,?” or I get sad about everyone I left. But these moments pass very quickly. This will be a challenge, there’s no doubt, but I like challenges and I want to extend myself and grow. I have no doubt that the rewards of my work, my experiences, and my relationships will outweigh the hard times.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

peace corps eve!

our flight to miami leaves in 6 hours! we have to have all our luggage ready to go in the lobby in 1.5 hours. that's right, we have to be ready to go at 2:30 am. it's going to be a loooong day.
staging has been great. i'm so happy it was in dc because i got to spend time with and say bye to my friends here while meeting all the trainees who i will be with for the next 27 months. it's a nice transition. plus, the hotel is on dupont circle, my favorite part of the city. i feel so lucky.
my training group is great. there are about 50 people and they all seem very nice and i'm sure i'll form very strong relationships with them. it's hard right now because there are just so many people and it's hard keeping track of everyone and their names. but there will be lots of time to get to know everyone.
tommorrow we land in honduras in the early afternoon and go to our host families. i'll probably just have to say 'hola, nice to meet you, i'm really tired, i need a nap.' i'm so curious about what my famiy will be like.
right now i feel excited more than anything. i don't think i've ever been so excited about anything in my life. that also has to do with the fact that this is the biggest decision i've ever made. i feel like Peace Corps is the absolute perfect fit for me. if i didn't do Peace Corps now, i would get a job in DC. so being in DC now and seeing the two side by side- PC and DC- i can for sure say that Peace Corps is what i want. although i would love to live and work in DC, i'm not ready to do that yet. i feel so lucky to have the opportunity to go to Honduras and benefit from all my time there will offer and i hope i can give back. there is honestly nothing i'd rather be doing now.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Five more days in the US!

After years of contemplation, a year of planning, and almost a year of applying and waiting, I am finally leaving for Peace Corps! On Saturday I leave for DC and I'll get to spend time with my friends there and say goodbye to them and say goodbye again to my campus and apartment. I'm really happy I'm leaving out of DC. On Monday Peace Corps staging begins at a nice hotel in DC. We go over various orientation things Mon and Tues and then leave early Wed morning for Miami, and then on to Honduras. I'm very excited to meet the other volunteers.

I think I'm finally good on packing. I have everything I need, I got it all to fit in the bags, and the bags aren't overweight! The Peace Corps sent guidelines for packing, and my 2 checked bags have a combined weight limit of 80 pounds. So it's been difficult deciding what to bring.

For the training period, July 11- Sep. 27, we will be in Santa Lucia, which is in the mountains, so it's chilly. There are about 50 volunteers in my program, and we will have training together. We each live with a host family during this time, and have classes together during the day. The Spanish classes are broken into groups of about 3, and are pretty intense. There is also a field-based training during this time.

After training, we swear in as official volunteers, and all of us get spread out across the country. I think I will have some say in choosing my site, like how big of a town I want to be in, what part of the country, etc., but ultimately, the coordinators choose it for you. This also makes it difficult to pack, since some areas of Honduras are very hot all the time, while others are cooler. I will probably be the only volunteer in my community, but there's a chance someone else will be stationed with me. For the first 2 or 3 months of service, we're required to live with a host family to get settled in the community, but after that, we can decide where to live.

So, I have a few days left. It's been hard saying goodbye to so many people, but all the good thoughts and wishes mean a lot to me. I will stay in touch as much as a can. Christmas of 2008 I will come back to visit, if not sooner. Please email me with any questions. I'll miss you all!

Honduras, here I come!