Friday, September 28, 2007

I'm a volunteer!

Yesterday was our swear in ceremony at the US embassy. The Ambassador was there and the country director and all the training staff and we had the ceremony in the lawn of the embasssy. The press was there and there was an article about us in the paper today and we were on the news. Everyone gave speeches and it was really inspirational. It really felt like graduation again. After the ceremony we went to the ambassador's house. There was a pool, tennis courts, and sand volleyball. The house and lawn were huge, literally bigger than a lot of the sites we are going to. We played sand volleyball and it was a lot of fun. It was really sad saying goodbye to people because we won't be seeing each other. I've had to say so many goodbyes in the past few months. I am really excited that we're finally volunteers and I'll soon be starting projects and getting to know new people.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

my host family (the little girl in front is a niece, the others are part of the immediate family)

view from the house
view of the house

my room, still under construction
me with the previous volunteer and my counterparts

Site Visit

Recommendation: PRINT THIS ENTRY, it’s pretty long, and you’ll have a better chance of reading it all if you print it, and it will be easier to read.

My new address:
Kristyn Oldendorf
Rdo. Angel A. Soto
Cucuyagua, Copán
Honduras, C.A.

(This is the address of the local post office, and when I get letters or packages they will let me know and I can go pick them up. Make sure you use this address and not the previous addresses I gave you. Please feel free to send me stuff, just don’t send any really big boxes, and nothing perishable.)

This past weekend was our site visit, from Thur-Sun. Counterpart day was Wednesday, all the counterparts from our sites came to the training center to meet us, and the directors gave some speeches. It was interesting seeing all the different counterparts from all over. On Friday we traveled back to our sites with our counterparts. I took all my stuff with me, except enough clothes for this week.

My counterpart is also my host family. My host dad is Arnulfo and my host mom is Yesenia. They are really energetic and involved in the community. They have a small, new NGO, and it’s part of my assignment to help them organize and get things going. Also, my host mom/coutnerpart is president of the caja rural (rural micro bank). My host mom is also part of a group of 7 women who crochet shirts and bags and things, and make wedding dresses. They have four kids, aged 14-9, named Karin, Kevin, Kristian, and Kelvin, which is funny because my name just fits right in. The kids are beautiful and it’s nice having kids in the house. Also, they have a computer and the previous volunteer installed a game which is all the original Nintendo games, onto the computer. So all weekend the kids were playing original Super Mario Brothers, which was exciting.

The house is basically on top of a mountain; it’s about a 40 minute drive from San Pedro, the town, up to the house. It’s a beautiful drive up the mountain, and there are a few rivers, which are really pretty. The road is terrible, all muddy and rocky and full of holes and bumpy. I live in caserio, it’s called, because there’s our house and a couple other houses and that’s it, it’s so far out in the middle of nowhere. Also, it’s a farm. They grow coffee and have chicken coops, pigs, tilapia ponds, cows, turkeys, ducks, geese, sheep, and goats, all right outside the house. It’s crazy. It is nice that we get tons of fresh food from all the animals. The tortillas are really good, and my host mom makes good homemade pizza and cake.

I was also really surprised and happy to find out that they have running water all the time and it’s drinkable right out of the faucet, which is very unusual, but they get it right from the source, since they’re on top of the mountain and the water doesn’t have to make it down to the town. Also, they have a washing machine, which makes things so much easier. I knew they were building me a room, but I was shocked when I saw it. They built me my own little apartment, minus a kitchen. There’s a large front room, a bedroom, a good size bathroom, a closet, and a little patio area. It’s really amazing. They were still finishing it up when I was there but it will be done by the time I go back at the end of the week. I have a bed and little fridge from the previous volunteer but I’ll need to buy a desk and chair and whatever else I want. I’m paying about $150 a month for rent with all my meals included.

I only am required to stay with them 2 months, but they want me to stay longer and I’m considering it, but I’m worried about transportation because I’m so far up the mountain and my only way of getting around is to get rides from my host dad/counterpart. There’s a bus into town once a day at 6am, and it returns at 2pm. But if I’m working more with aldeas in the mountains, it would make more sense to live in the mountains. So I’ll have to wait and see how it goes. A big negative is that I don’t get cell phone service in the house. I can receive text messages, but I get them a couple hours after they’re sent. There’s a little hill outside next to the house where the water tank is, so I can go there to get reception and make calls. I might buy an antenna for my phone, which might help. When I stand outside the house and look around I literally can’t see anything except trees and mountains, there’s not one house in view. It’s really pretty, but it was kind of a shock. Usually people from the Municipal Development program are in municipalities, close to the mayor’s office. I can move to the municipality after my two months home stay, but I’m not sure if I will.

Also, I’m replacing a volunteer, and I was able to meet her, we spent all weekend together. She’s leaving this week though because she just got a job at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD. So that’s kind of funny because I just came from Bethesda, so it’s like we’re switching places. She’s from Maryland and went to UMD. It was really helpful hearing her experiences and suggestions, and she’s really nice. She gave me lots of tips. We’re really close to Guatemala and El Salvador, so it’s easy to travel to both, and she gave me some info on buses and hotels for when I travel. On Sunday we traveled together back to the capital, because she has to do administrative stuff this week with Peace Corps before she leaves on Friday for the US. She lived in the town of San Pedro her whole service, and she started out with a different counterpart before she found my current counterpart, so I will have a different experience. She had a cat while she was here, Tigre, and she decided to bring him back to the States with her, so it was an interesting trip back to Tegucigalpa, traveling with all her luggage and a cat. The cat was really good though, and very calm the whole day. We left San Pedro at 5am and got to Tegucigalpa at about 4:30 pm and I got back to Santa Lucia at 5:30pm. It was a long day. We did get to stop at Wendy’s for a quick lunch, which was exciting.

I had a good weekend. We spent most of Friday driving around to different aldeas and meeting people. Saturday evening we had a goodbye/welcome dinner and cake for the old volunteer and me, which was nice. It was really sad watching her say goodbye to everyone, it makes me think about how hard it is going to be to leave here after two years.

The big project my counterpart wants to start is a latrine project, so hopefully we can get that going in the next month. There are a lot of possible projects but I think it will take me a while to find my place. I’m also kind of worried because the coffee crop is from November through Jan or Feb and everyone’s going to be busy in the fields all the time, so it will be a challenge finding projects to do. I’m really excited to get going. The other people in my group had good visits. Almost everyone has some concerns about something, but everyone is still committed. Thursday is our swear in ceremony at the embassy and our reception at the Ambassador’s house and Friday we travel to our sites for good.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

my site!

My site is San Pedro de Copán! It’s in the west, near the Guatemalan border, near the town of Santa Rosa de Copán, which is a popular tourist site for the beautiful Mayan ruins that are there. You should really google pictures of the ruins of copan, honduras, you´ll get some beautiful pictures. I´m a few hours from the actual ruins, but it is really cool. There are some indigenous groups that still live in the area. I am so excited. My site description sounds amazing and it’s supposed to be absolutely beautiful there, and I’m near a national park. I was expecting to be extremely hot for the next two years, but my site is actually really cool, with an average tempearature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, because of the high altitude, so I was surprised about that. I’m going to need to buy some more jeans. I have all kind of possible projects to work on. There is a volunteer there now, Nicole, and she wrote me a very long, very informational letter about the projects she’s worked on and about possible projects I can start, and about all the people I can work with. It’s really helpful. It turns out she’s leaving her service early to start a job in the States, so we won’t be overlapping at all. I’ll get to meet her Thursday when we go to visit our sites, but I think she’ll be gone be the time I get there for good. Hopefully I’ll get to inherit a lot of her stuff, which will make it much easier when I go to live in my own house. We swear in the 27th at the embassy and then we leave the 28th for our sites.

For the first two months I have to live in a homestay, which will be in an aldea (small town) of San Pedro, probably like 500 people or so, but I’m not sure. My conterpart is my homestay. After two months I can keep living there or I can move to San Pedro, and I can even take over Nicole’s house there. I’ll be about a 10 hour bus ride from the capital, Tegucigalpa, which is hard, but at least I’m near a popular area to visit, so hopefully other volunteers will be in the area visiting, and when people come visit me we can go there and go to my site. There is another volunteer about 20 minutes from me, and from our training class, there is another volunteer, Brianna, about 2 hours away, and Rachel, about 2 or 3 hours away, I think, and they’re both really great, so that’s exciting we’ll be close. Most of the others will be really far away from me.

Some of my possible projects are working with a group of women who crochet sweaters, shirts, skirts, dresses, and bags, and are looking to market their products. I’ll have the opportunity to work on fair trade initiatives with them, which is pretty exciting. There is also an interesting latrine project my counterpart is just starting, and an improved stove project in progress. My counterpart is an NGO (non government organization) that is working to develop the munincipality. Also, there are several active schools that I can work with. She listed a lot of other possible things I could look into. I basically have a lot of freedom to explore and work on what interests me and what I think I could be useful in. My site sounds pretty much perfect, hopefully I stay this excited when I go visit it. We meet our counterparts on Wednesday and then go back with them on Thursday to visit for the weekend. I’m soooo excited.
Most people are pretty happy about their sites. There were some surprises about people who thought they were going somewhere else. One girl is going to La Ceiba, which is a really touristy, fun city on the North Coast, on the beach. So that’s pretty exciting. Five people are going to the South, where it’s really hot. The others are near the El Salvador border, but southeast of my site.

We also had our goodbye party today, which went really well. We made American food, like deviled eggs, hotdogs in a blanket, potato skins, veggie trays, cheese and crackers, guacamole and salsa, stuffed jalepenos, ricekrispie treats, cookies, and blackcows (because there is no rootbeer for rootbeer floats). Everything was so good.
I’m really sad to leave here, because I really like the town and my family. I’ll miss Brayan a lot, he’s really sad I’m leaving. I told them I’d come visit, but it would take me days to get here from my site. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to come. I’ll miss everyone in my training class, too. It was really nice being all together here, and we got pretty close.
I can’t wait to go see my site, I couldn’t stop smiling while I was reading my site description and my letter, it sounds so amazing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

left- planting trees with high school students
below-me in front of my house

left- the cemetary in town
below-me, Alice, and Dan

left- me during our field trip to the countryside in my friend´s hat. i´ve decided i need to buy a hat.

below- us fishing with our home made poles

left- brianna in a cool tshirt her friend sent her with the tiny fish she caught
below- a baby cow

Last week, on Thursday, we had a field trip in Spanish class to a tobacco factory just outside of town. It was really big and we got a tour about the whole process. It was really interesting. We watched the whole process and learned a lot. The place smelled really strongly of cigars, though. I think my favorite part was seeing all the pretty wooden boxes they get sent out in. After the factory, we went to this woman’s house were she makes vino del café, or coffee wine. I didn’t understand what it was until we went and tasted it. It actually tastes like a mixture of coffee and wine, it’s a strange combination, I prefer the two separate, but it wasn’t bad. She explained the process of how she ferments the café, it really is a unique idea. This woman also makes wonderful cakes with coffee. We had some, and it was so moist and chocolately, with a taste of coffee. It was definitely some of the best cake I’ve ever had. It was a really fun day.

Monday we had cultural day, so we each made a typical dish with our families and then we all got together with the families and had a little party. We each had to explain in Spanish the recipe of what we made. All the volunteers had to come up with games to play, like we had pin the tail on the donkey, the hokey pokey, and pictionary. It was really nice. We had it in the evening, and the house we had it at has a big patio with lots of plants, and it reminded me of Lord of the Rings in Hobbiton, with the mossy trees and the lanterns. It was so peaceful. Some students performed some traditional dancing for us. We only have five more days here, and I’m really sad about it. I’m going to miss my buddy Brayan. I plan on coming back to visit, if possible. I really like my family here and the town.

We had our third technical interviews Monday with the project directors and they gave me some clues about my site. I’ll be in a small site, near a city, and after my two month home stay, I can move to the city if I want. My counterpart is working in developing the municipality, and his wife is working with a group of women who want to start micro enterprises, so I’ll have lots of project options. They told me that my counterpart called Sunday to check when to come pick me up and he´s really excited to have a volunteer, so that’s exciting. My counterpart will also be my homestay family, and they actually just built me a room, so they’re really getting ready to have me. I found out I’m replacing a volunteer, which makes me a little nervous because I won’t be blazing my own path, I’ll be following their projects and expectations the community already has. But it will make integration easier and it should give me more freedom to start and expand projects, hopefully there will be less setbacks. We will have three months overlapping, of working together, so I really hope we get along well. I meet my conterpart in less than a week. We find out our sites on Monday and we meet our counterparts on Wednesday. It’s so crazy. I’m getting nervous, Peace Corps is really about to begin. So far it’s been pretty easy going, just going to Spanish class and working together on little projects, but in a few weeks we’ll be all alone and responsible for integrating into our communities and starting our projects. I’m excited though.

Tuesday and Wednesday we had our rural tourism field trip to Los Llanos and it was a lot of fun. We slept in this big room which used to be a restaurant and the property was really big and there was an empty swimming pool and a fire pit. Tuesday we rode horses to a farm and learned about cows and pigs, and we went to a sugar cane farm and got to cut down the cane with a machete and then we ground it to make this sugar cane drink. Riding horses was really fun and it was exciting getting to use the machete. In the afternoon we made hand-made fishing poles out of sticks and fishing line and used screws as weights and we went fishing in this pond out in the countryside. A couple people caught fish but they were about the size of your little finger. It was really pretty and relaxing. When we got back, we played soccer in the empty swimming pool. Then we all sat around the empty pool and talked and it was really nice. Saturday night we had a campfire, which took a while to get started since all the wood was wet, and we roasted marshmallows. We couldn’t find normal ones, we could only find the colored tropical flavored kind, but they were still really good. We have a really fun group. I really hope I get stationed near some of them.

Wednesday we went to a different cow farm and a saw a fish project in Las Manos, on the Nicaraguan border. The farmer was a good speaker and explained things well and had good insights about the environment and the importance of agriculture. Jorge, our project director, gave us a speech about how people are malnourished from lack of knowledge or change of thought, and we have to show them how they can start fish projects and things like that. He’s so motivational. Then we went to a café finca and learned about the café harvest, which really begins in December. Then we picked some corn and roasted it, and it was excellent. That was pretty much it, I love field trips. We leave El Paraiso on Tuesday to go back to Santa Lucia, where we started off. I can’t believe we’re almost done with FBT!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

HIV/AIDS charlas, strikes, tamales, and corn festivals

We’ve been working on our field based projects for a couple weeks now, and they’re going well. I usually walk up at 5:10, go running, shower and eat, go to Spanish class, and then we have self-directed projects or tech sessions. For our Self-directed projects, we’re in groups and we have to work on our own in the community. My group of five is working in Jacaleapa, a nearby town. We’re working with the mayor’s office, the schools, and some community based organizations. We have certain objectives we’re supposed to achieve and we don’t have much time. In the mornings we have Spanish class and a couple afternoons a week we get driven to Jacaleapa in Peace Corps vehicles. The other afternoons we have training sessions here.

It’s frustrating trying to schedule things, because of this tight schedule and other setbacks. We’ve had a lot of setbacks. For one example, this past week Monday and Tuesday the teachers went on strike in the whole country so we couldn’t do any talks in the schools, which we need to do. The strikes are really frequent. The teachers just announce they’re going to strike certain days and then there are no classes. It’s such a shame because the students are suffering. They don’t get the greatest education as it is, and then when they lose all these days of class, they get more set back. Also, there was a road block Monday, so we couldn’t even get to Jacaleapa. There were three simultaneous strikes going on, one was a bus company, one was the teachers, and the other was Hondutel, the national government phone company. It seems like there’s always someone striking. Sometimes it gets violent. Last month there were incidents during the miners’ strike.

Anyway, we’ve done some interesting things in our project. Last week, on Wed, the 22nd, we went to a meeting with the mayor for a program called atención a jóvenes (attention to youths). The senior citizens in the town spend time with jóvenes a riesgo (youths at risk) once or twice a week. So we got to sit in the meeting with all the senior citizens and with about 12 or 14 teenagers. At first the mayor had us sit at the front of the meeting hall and then we had to introduce ourselves. It was an interesting meeting and I really like the program. In the afternoon we had Spanish class but it was an exciting day because we all had class together and the other classes taught how to make recipes. First, Brian and Susan taught how to make tamales. It was really fun. We had to shuck a lot of corn and then cut the corn off the cob and then we all went in the Peace Corps van to the molino (small hand-operated mill) to have the corn ground. Then we made the tamales. It was really fun. Next, Rachael, Dan, and Brianna Bailey made guacamole, which was delicious.

Last weekend we went to Danli for the corn festival on Saturday. We met up with people from another project, Protected Areas Management, who are doing Field Based Training in another town. It was really fun to see them. There actually wasn’t much corn at the festival. There was a mountain of clothes and shoes though. People were just lining the roads with there stalls of clothes and shoes, some of them were just piled up several feet high. It was an interesting site.

This past week was good. On Wednesday, the 29th, my Spanish class, which is me, Alice, and Carmen, went to the health center to give a self-esteem talk to a group of pregnant women. Our teacher came with to watch us and see how we did with our Spanish. It went really well. We talked about self-esteem in yourself and your own life, self-esteem in relationships, and teaching your children self-esteem. At the end one woman said we did a good job and another said it was really good to be reminded of these things and she was happy we came. That was my first charla (talk/lecture) and I was happy it went well.

On Thursday some current volunteers came to teach us how to do an HIV/AIDS charla. Although we’re not the Health program, HVI/AIDS education and prevention is a main goal of Peace Corps and it’s everyone’s responsibility to work toward this goal. The charla we did is a pre-planned charla and it’s mostly dínamicas (games/acitivities) so there’s not too much prep work to do with it except preparing the materials. So Thursday morning the volunteers did the charla with us and in the afternoon we got in groups of 3 or 4 and prepared to give it the next day.
Friday we went to one of the high schools and each group had a different class of 17-20 students ages 13-16 . It was about a 3.5 hour charla. Jordan, Brianna Bailey, and Susan were in my group. There were activities like: a race to find the HIV/AIDS vocab word that matched the definition, a true false game about AIDS, an activity with pictures in which the students have to say if the activity can transfer HIV or not, a game in which the students had to put in order the steps of using a condom, and then we had to demonstrate the steps, and have each student practice all the steps. Honduras has a high HIV/AIDS rate, the highest in Central America, I’m pretty sure, so these talks are really important.

It was definitely one of my favorite activities that I’ve done so far. I think the kids really enjoyed it and got something out of it. It was exhausting doing the charla, even though there were four of us giving it. But it was really loud in the room, because of outside noise, so we had to yell just to be heard, and even when someone else in my group was leading the activity, I was making sure the kids were paying attention or explaining it to kids who didn’t understand. It was also really hot, and by the time we were done I was so tired. That was the first time I’ve worked with a class or a big group of kids and I really enjoyed it. I’d definitely like to give the AIDS charla when I get to site, but I don’t think there’s any way I could do it alone, or even with the teacher, because it’s so tiring. I’d need another volunteer to do it with me. But it’s definitely a good activity to do.
Friday afternoon a women living with HIV came to talk to us and share her story. It was really emotional and really brought to life the problem. So it was a good day, but difficult.

Two more weeks until we find out our sites! I feel like half our conversations are about our sites and where they could be and what we want them to be like and if we’ll be close to each other. It’s hard not knowing, but it’d also be hard knowing. I have kind of mixed feelings about going to my sites. I’m ready to start working and I have lots of ideas of what projects I want to do, and I can’t wait to find out who I’ll be working with and what I’ll be doing. I’m so excited to go. But on the other hand, Field Based Training is really fun, and we have such a good group and we’re all friends, so it will be hard leaving everyone when we disperse all over the country. We’ll get opportunities for some of us to meet up, but it will be hard for all of us to get together again. We don’t actually leave for our sites until the 28th, so there’s still time. It will be so exciting to see our homes for the next two years.
So, that’s all for now, it’s been an eventful two weeks. ¡Hasta luego!