Saturday, October 27, 2007


Coffee season is starting.

ripe coffee beans/grains are red

the little coffee procesor at the house

you pour the grains in the top and
the machine takes off the peel/pulp, leaving just the white bean

The white beans, depulped (without the peel)

The leftover pulp (peel)

This leftover pulp is a huge waste issue. It is very acidic, and can easily pollute the water, yet there is no good method for disposing of it, people just dump it wherever they can. And can you imagine the quantity leftover, since everyone is depulping large quantities of coffee for three months. We are hoping to work with the biodigestor latrine to use it to dispose of the pulp and use its gases to cook with.

I don´t know if I´ve talked about this latrine, it´s a project we´re starting next month, which uses the methane gases from human waste to cook with on a gas stove. So it´s avoiding deforestation, since no wood is needed to cook, and it´s a latrine.

Before electricity

1 month down! (23 to go)
Today marks one month in site. It went pretty fast. I did a lot, although not that much work. But no one expects you to do much your first couple months, it´s more of a time to settle in and get to know people and your surroundings. I´ve had a few days where I felt really homesick or I felt like this is just really hard, but overall, I´m happy and positive.
The past 4 days have been really cold, well in the lower 60s/upper 50s probably, but it feels colder because there is no installation or heat, so it´s chilly inside, too. It´s warmer in town, during the day, but up on my mountain, it´s really cold. I´ve been sleeping in sweat pants, long sleeves, and socks, with 3 blankets. I don´t have a comforter, just some fleece blankets, so I just pile them on. And it´s going to get colder. Still, I´m really happy I won´t have to deal with a real winter, with freezing wind, and ice, and snow. This will be the first year of my life without snow.

Tuesday the electricity went out around 4:30 pm. It’s pretty dark out by 5:30 or 6, so we had to light candles and sit in the dark. Apparently a large region of the West was without power and they said there have been times when the power went out in the entire country. The power outage led to a really interesting conversation with my host parents.

I learned that they just got electricity in the community about four years ago. So then I asked what they used to do at night, since now they watch TV at night, but they didn’t have that a few years ago, to which they responded that they would talk, de-grain corn, and go to bed early. They didn’t have fridges, and they didn’t have iceboxes, since there’s no way to get ice, but there were some people with gas-powered fridges. Mainly they just didn’t have things that needed to be kept cold. If they killed a chicken, they would eat the whole chicken that day. Beef and pork they would dry in the sun or else smoke it above the stove in the kitchen to preserve the meat. Since there were no phones, the towns used telegraphs to communicate between themselves, Morse Code style. Then they told me that people in the community only began to get cars recently, everyone used to only travel by horse or walking really far, and they used oxen to transport. There are still many horses in use for transportation, but most people in my community have cars. My host mom said she was in 6th grade the first time she ever saw a car. And she’s only 34.

The conversation got more surprising. They explained how they didn’t have plastic cups or glasses so they used cups made of mud, or gourds, and they wrapped things in leaves since they didn’t have containers. My mouth dropped open when my host dad said that when he was in elementary school they didn’t have pens or pencils so they had to use feathers to write and they had to make their own ink. And he’s only 42. And I didn’t believe him when he told me that they didn’t have matches, so they had to start fires by rubbing rocks together. But he was serious. People carried flint around to start fires. And they didn’t even have candles, they had to make candles out of beeswax. I was really taken aback. Life used to be like that in the US, with horses and making candles, and feather pens, but it was like 100 years ago, not like 20 years ago. It’s amazing how much things have changed in the community in the last few years, since now everyone seems to have a TV and a fridge, and lots of other things.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Food y más

I’m going to write a little about the food, because it’s different here than what I’ve been eating in other parts of the country, during training. The tortillas are much thicker, you can’t roll them, they’re more bread like then other tortillas, and they’re really good. We always eat them warmed off the stove, and I like them a little burnt.

There is a lot of dairy, since we have cows and the family sells cheese and butter. The butter is completely different than in the US. It’s white and liquidy and doesn’t taste like butter, but more like yogurt or sour cream. Some people call it crema. It’s good. They don’t really put it on anything, but just on the plate with the beans and everything, it’s good to dip the tortillas in. The cheese is white and I don’t know what kind of cheese to compare it to, it’s pretty different, but good. So for every meal, there’s some combination of cheese, or butter, or cuajada, which is like cheese, but spongy and more curd like. They drink the milk right out of the cow, they just boil it first. And then the kids drink it hot with sugar and Corn Flakes. I don’t really like the hot sugary milk, but I don’t really ever have cereal for breakfast. We have beans, tortillas, cheese, and butter, usually, sometimes eggs, and sometimes thin pieces of grilled chicken. And always coffee.

We have lots of fruit trees- oranges, lemons, guava, papaya, an apple tree, and other fruits I’ve never heard of before coming here. There’s trees with lemons the size of large grapefruits, it’s really strange. I love guavas.

We have chicken every other day or a little more, and it’s really fresh, like the milk and eggs and pretty much everything else. About once a week we have tilapia from our fish ponds. They cook the whole fish, either fried or grilled. That’s basically the only fried food we ever have. It’s really nice because in Santa Lucia I was eating fried tortillas about every day and I really didn’t like them.

We have a lot of vegetables- tomatoes, onions, white cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, potatoes, squash, carrots. About once a week or so we have soup with lots of vegetables in big pieces, with a big piece of chicken or beef. I’ve only had beef a few times since I got to site, and no pork, mainly just chicken and fish, which is perfect for me. We don’t eat that much rice, sometimes with lunch, but not always, which is fine with me. Every afternoon we have coffee with cookies or bread or crackers. So, that´s basically what I´ve been eating. I think I got pretty lucky with food here.

This past week included a meeting with the mayor and other municipality officials, a meeting about rural micro banks, a couple trips to nearby towns, construction of an improved stove, a meeting about building a high school in the community, and giving a talk in the school to 1st-3rd graders. The mayor was excited to have me and it sounds like there are some interesting things I could do with the mayor’s office. We’re going to be doing a lot of work and training sessions with rural banks (cajas rurales) which are formed by the community members to provide small loans within the community, like micro finance. It’s definitely something I’m interested in, so I’m excited to start that. Also, I finally got in touch about the volunteer about the latrine project, and he’s coming in November to give us the workshop, although I’m still waiting to hear when.

My community, Yaunera, is talking about building a high school since right now there’s not one nearby, so now people either stop school after the 6th grade, or they have to travel to other communities, or like my host family, go to town on Saturday morning. The people in the community have to pay for the land and construct the school and this organization, I’m not sure what it is, will provide the teacher and computers and other materials. It would be such a great opportunity for people. And, personally, I’d really like to have a high school in walking distance because there is a lot I could do with older students.

On Wednesday I went to the school to give the same self-esteem talk to the younger students 1st-3rd grade, It was much harder than working with the 4th-6th graders. Some of them were really slow to understand the games, so I had to explain many times, and even then, some didn’t get it. So I doubt how much they got out of my self-esteem talk. There were a few kids who really into it and seemed to be getting something out of it. The first graders can’t really read or write, so that made it more complicated. It was an interesting experience. I have a lot of respect for teachers, seeing what they deal with every day.

We’re talking about a lot of really good and interesting projects, I just hope we’re actually able to do them all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Two weeks in site

On Wednesday I gave my first charla as a volunteer. I walked to the school in the morning with Kristian and Kelvin, my two younger host brothers. I talked about self-esteem, but I kept it pretty short since it was my first talk and I wanted to know the kids better. I had three games, it was really more games than talking, so they really liked it, but I’m not sure how much they actually learned. They’re really cute kids, and they were well behaved. When I finished, they asked me to teach them the days of the week in English. So I taught them that, and then the numbers. They’re really excited to learn English. I told them to think about what they want to learn in English for my next charla.
When I finished with the students, I looked at the three computers the teachers said weren’t working. These computers have been sitting there for three months because no tried to connect them. That’s not really surprising though, stuff like this happens all the time. For the first computer I just connected the cords to the different parts and plugged the whole thing in and it worked. It doesn’t have Microsoft Works, though, which is a problem, I have to try to find the disc somewhere so I can install it. The second computer I got on, but it kept giving me strange error messages that I’ve never seen before. I’m not sure what to do with it, I’ll try it again next time. The third computer, I got working, no problem, and it has Microsoft Works and a really good Encyclopedia installed. So I’m going to start giving computer lessons to the kids. Some of them haven’t used a computer before, so I’ll have to figure out where to start.

On Thursday there was a community meeting at the school to talk about opening a high school. Right now there isn’t a high school, just two grade schools, which go up to 6th grade. So a lot of people just stop going to school after 6th grade, or others travel to the next closest high school. My host parents, my host brother, Kevin, who’s 13, and my host sister Karen, who’s 14, all take classes at the high school in town on Saturday mornings. They spend all week doing their homework and studying. It’s nice seeing them all work together. So it sounds like they’re going to get a high school for when the new school year starts in January. There’s another meeting next Thursday to talk about specifics. This school year ends in early November and school starts again sometime in January. So I think Nov and Dec will be tough months for me, because it’s coffee season, so everyone will be occupied with that, and I won’t even have the schools to work at. I’m hoping to do something with the mayor’s office during that time. Thursday night, three of my host mom’s brothers were over, and we netted some tilapia out of the fish ponds and grilled them. It was really nice sitting outside with everyone, and the fish was really good. I’ve always been afraid of eating a whole fish, but I’ve done it three times now. I don’t eat the tail or fins or head, but even eating around all the bones takes work.

On Tuesday last week, I went to Santa Rosa (our nearby big town) with my counterpart and some other people. They had to pick up some baby chicks, since they raise chickens, and get some other supplies for my room, and other things. I was walking around on my own , and I ran into some other volunteers whose sites are nearby. One of them was from my training class, but from a different project, and the others I hadn’t met before. It was really nice seeing them and getting to talk in English for a while, and compare sites. Current volunteers are a big help because they’ve experienced the beginning phase and know what we’re going through and that it will improve. The baby chicks are really cute. They set up a little incubator up on the little hill where I have to go to use my phone, so I can look at them when I make calls and check messages. I’ve been trying to get ahold of a volunteer to do a latrine workshop for us, but I can’t get ahold of him. We really wanted to do the workshop in October, so we could start the project in January.

Right now a bunch of trees are flowering white, and it’s really pretty. They don’t at all compare to DC in spring, but they’re nice. It’s been raining almost every night, soon the raining season will really get going and it will be rainy most of the time. Some of the coffee is starting to get mature, it’s a pretty red color. They’re have to start picking it soon.

Monday last week, we spent all day working on my room. We put in light switches, hot water, and did some plastering. It’s pretty much done now, we’re still missing a couple light switches and electric outlets, and a screen on one of the windows. My closet doors are beautiful, they’re a pretty wood color and each door has a full length mirror. My host family is also having a table built for me, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. I said I wanted a really big table to make charla papers on, since the paper is really big, and that I would go to a hardware store in town to see about getting wood to make a table, and the next thing I know, they tell me my table will be done on Sunday. They say it’s big and has a large drawer in the center. I’m overwhelmed by everything they’re doing. I´ll be so happy when I can finally unpack everything.

That`s all for now. I miss everyone a lot!

Pictures of my site

Pictures from the 40 minute walk from the house to Yaunera, the aldea. This is what my host brothers walk every day to get to school. I was running it for a week before I found a better alternative. It`s all mud and really hilly. It is really beautiful, and goes through coffee fincas, and forests, and has overlooks of valleys.
pretty view from walk

part of the path
really muddy part of the path

view of valley- there`s a river at the bottom, which you can hear

the white spot on top of the hill is my house

self taken picture with pretty sky

baby sheep, born the day I got here

baby chickens, which I will be eating in a few months

pretty sky, building where some animals and equipment is kept

another self-taken shot with pretty sky

Pictures from Swear-In Ceremony- Sep. 27

Munincipal Development Group

Enjoying lunch after the ceremony

Youth Development Group

Tegucigalpa from the bus

Me with Peace Corps flag!

Me with Alejandriana and Jorge, our project managers

Me with my friend Jordan

Our Munincipal Development group with our Spanish teachers

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

October 5, 2007

I’ve been in my site a week now. I don’t have to much to report. I’ve been thinking a lot the past week, and I’ve made a lot of observations, but it’s difficult to put into words. The way of life is so different here in the campo, up in the mountains. This is the closest to culture shock I’ve experienced. Every day I’m surprised by something. It’s just so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes it’s not just the way of life that surprises me, it’s the fact that I’m living this way of life, and I’ll be here living it for two years. I’m not just passing through. It’s not just that the houses are different, transportations is different, the food is different, but the way of doing things are different, and the way of thinking is different. It’s not that shocking, but there are things that make you think twice, or make you wonder. I also just feel really remote. It’s like a 35 minute drive to the closest paved road, I’m probably a 30 minute walk to the closest store of any kind, even a pulperia.

The best thing about living here is my host family/counterparts. They are so energetic and ideological about the development projects we’re going to do. And they’re just so happy I’m here, which is obvious by the little house they’re building me. They actually have an extra room in the house, and there would have been nothing wrong with them giving me that, but they took it upon themselves to build an extension onto their house for me; it’s really meaningful. They are willing to invest all that money, time, and effort to make me comfortable. It’s really incredible, and it says a lot about how invested they are in having a volunteer here. It makes me feel a deep sense of responsibility to work hard and really give a part of myself. I’m continually surprised at the work this must have taken and that they actually did this for me. The room is pretty much finished. They just have to connect hot water to the bathroom, install the electric outlets, and put doors on the closet. I’ve been sleeping in here the past few nights, and it’s really peaceful. There’s no furniture yet, except for the bed, but I like the feeling of sleeping in a new house, before all the furniture is in yet. It gets me excited about possibilities and new beginnings. The room even smells new, like construction. Eventually I’d like to paint the walls. Hopefully by the end of next week I’ll have some furniture. I’m so excited to have everything unpacked and set up finally.

This week we didn’t do too much. One day my host mom and I walked to the school where my two youngest host brothers go, it goes up to 6th grade. I think it’s about a 35-40 minute walk from here, mostly uphill and muddy, but with really beautiful views, and the boys have to walk it every day. It’s a two room school house with two teachers and around 30 students. When we arrived, the kids were at recess and a sheep was standing outside the gate of the schoolyard, looking in, just like Mary and her little lamb. Speaking of lambs, the day I got here last week, a little white lamb was born. It’s really cute. Anyway, at the school, the teachers said they’d like me to come 1-2 times a week to give charlas and to give computer lessons. So I’m happy I have some definite work. I think I’ll go on Wednesday to give a self-esteem charla, and my next charla after that will be on leadership. I really want to do an environmental education program. The problem is that the school year ends in early November, so I won’t have much time with them until school starts again in January. The other day I was playing with the cat and I said I wanted a kitten, and they told me the cat was going to have kittens soon, so that was surprising, not the answer I was expecting. I’m really excited about having little kittens. That’s all I really feel like writing for now, but I’ll probably have a lot more to say next time.