Saturday, February 23, 2008

tiedye, tarantulas, and recycling

On Thursday I was doing laundry (hand washing in the pila) and I accidentally got chlorine, which I was using to soak my socks, splattered on my blue tank top. I only have a few tank tops and I want to wear them everyday because it´s been hot, and then I ruined my favorite blue one, getting chlorine on it. So then I decided to turn it into a tiedye shirt, and I poured spots of chlorine all over the shirt. It turned out decent; I´m going to wear it alot. I´m becoming more of a hippy every day. Haha. Just kidding. Kind of. I do use a lot of Raid. That´s not very hippyish. I had an ant problem. There were tons of really tiny ants coming into my house, through the ceiling. There would be lines of tiny ants from the ceiling down to the floor. I don´t know what they were doing, because they weren´t getting into my food. They were really driving me crazy, so I bought Raid and that really works well. Also, when I got back from being gone for the Peace Corps meeting, there was a large tarantula in my house. It really scared me, it´s the biggest spider I´ve ever seen outside of like a zoo. So I caught it and put it outside. It was just too big to kill.

When I was living in the mountains, I found in my room at different times: a mouse, a toad, a slug, and lots of ants. Since I have been living in town, things I have found in my house: geckos (all the time, they live in my window frames), little frogs (they are in my shower sometimes at night, I think they crawl up the drain), a tarantula, cockroaches, and lots of ants. And lots of other types of little bugs, moths, mosquitos. But now I have Raid to protect me.

The last couple weeks have been really busy. I´ve been making myself busy, and it makes me so much happier than having nothing to do. It´s so much easier living in town. There´s always work to do if you look for it and get yourself involved.

The most exciting thing that I´m doing now is a recycling program. Garbage is such a problem here. Very few towns have garbage dumps. My town doesn´t have garbage pick up so people burn their garbage or throw it in a pile somewhere. There´s always lots of garbage in the streets. And there´s really no recycling. In some of the bigger cities there are people who buy metal cans or plastic bottles to resell, but not really around here. But now that is changing. A nearby volunteer has been working to start a small business that buys plastics, metals, glass, and paper, to resell in El Salvador and other places. They have been researching and organizing for months and just this past week they started to buy recyclebles.

So I am starting recycling collection in the kindergartens, schools, and high schools in my town and a couple of the neighboring towns. The idea is that the kids will bring the recycleble materials to school and every two weeks or every month we will sell it all to the company. To start off and motivate the students, we might do a contest to see which grade can collect the most, and they will win some kind of prize or party. This is going to be a really big project. I´m going to visit each classroom to explain why we are recycling, and the specifics of how, like that we have to seperate different materials, crush cans, take the tops of the plastic bottles, things like that. I think it´s important to go to each classroom to get the students excited and to make sure everyone knows the process, however, these are fairly large schools. I´ll be talking to a few thousand students in total. Once we get going in the schools, I´d like to start collecting in restaurants and stores. So far, I´ve been talking to the mayors, school directors, and some teachers. I think I will start visiting classrooms next week.

There are lots of details to work out. I need to make sure each school/classroom has a system to collect and seperate the recyclebles; get scales so we can weigh it all, since each school will need to keep track of what it´s collecting and how much money it should get, and a transportation method. I´m more excited about this than anything else I´ve been doing. We can get garbage off the streets, reuse recycleble materials, and the schools can make a little money off it. I´m so nervous something isn´t going to work.

I´ve also decided to start working with the patronatos, which are like neighborhood committees that meet each month to talk about what the neighborhood needs. My town has 5 barrios (small neighborhoods within the town) and each one is now forming a patronato, which is an initiative of the mayor. Some of them had inactive patronatos before, and some are forming new ones. So I heard they were being formed and went to the mayor´s office to say I could help to organize them and capacitate them, and the mayor gave me the names of the patronato presidents. Then I had to find the presidents to tell them I could meet with their group, so I walked around and asked where these people lived, found them, talked with them, and set dates for meetings.

As I talked to the patronato presidents, I realized I really didn´t know what I was doing. What did I want to talk to them about? How could I help them? I don´t know anything about patronatos and I have no experience with local government. But it doesn´t really matter. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you don´t need to know much about things to start working on them. Peace Corps provides enough resources and materials that I can get all the information I need in whatever area I need it. And I really just need to know more than the people I´m capacitating, which usually isn´t that much, and then I learn as I go along. When I started with the community banks, I didn´t know anything, but now I have a much better understanding.

Anyway, I decided to do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Oportunities), with the groups to begin to see how they are organized and where they lack. Then we´ll talk about the importance of citizen participation. It is very common for people to be apathetic and inactive in the community. So I went to the library and looked at some books about citizen rights, munincipal laws, and citizen participation. We´ll also talk about the function of a patronato and how they can write solicituds to the mayor´s office and things like that. From there, I´ll see what else they would like capacitaciones in. My first barrio meeting is Saturday evening, there´s another Sunday and another Monday, each in different barrios. It should be interesting. Before I left for Peace Corps, I thought a lot of my work would be with people to inform them of their rights as citizens and to increase participation, and now that´s what I´ll be doing, so that´s exciting.

So that´s mainly what I´ve been doing lately. I´m going to do other various projects and talks in the schools after I get the recycling started. Another exciting thing that is coming up is that the Energy Department is interested in the biodigestor project that my counterpart is thinking of doing and also in the improved stove project that my counterpart completed with the previous volunteer. So a few representatives from the Energy Dept., including the Vice-Minister of Energy, are coming here the first week of March to see the improved stoves and the biodigestor.
Also, I can make friendship bracelets now.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Last week I went to the capital, Tegucigalpa, for Reconnect, a Peace Corps meeting. They are annual meetings by project group. In my project, Munincipal Development, there are 29 volunteers; 14 from my training group and 15 who have been here for over a year and are leaving in September. The workshop was at a nice hotel up in the mountains. It was pretty and they fed us a lot.

The first day was just the 14 from my group and we each presented 20-30 minutes about our sites and our work. It was interesting hearing what everyone is doing. Some people are really busy and others have hardly anything going on. Some sites are much harder than others. Projects that people are doing include: starting neighborhood committees, training community banks, updating the munincipal action plan, starting youth groups, helping conduct censuses, building improved stoves, giving micro finance classes, marketing traditional pottery, giving computer classes, and giving English classes. The next two days we heard presentations from the volunteers who had been here longer, and also from different organizations in Honduras that we can work with. It got boring sitting through so many presentations all day, but it was really nice seeing everyone and hanging out together.

When we got back to the capital, we went to the mall, which was a strange experience. I felt like I was in a different world. There was so much stuff, and lots of US stores. I didn`t really buy anything, though. After the mall we went for sushi. There are two sushi restaurants in Tegucigalpa. It was really good. I got a California roll for $3 and it was good quality. There were like 30 types of sushi on the menu.

I got back to my site, and I was really happy to be back. On Sunday we had a town meeting. The mayor and everyone came to explain what projects they are going to do this year. At least 200 people were there, and they served everyone a cup of Coke and a package of cookies. It`s practically mandatory to give out a snack at any sort of meeting. Anyway, some people weren`t too happy with what the funds will be used for, but it didnt make a difference in the end. The munincipality is receiving about $100,000 from the funds for the Reduction of Poverty Strategy, (ERP in Spanish) which was started by the UN Millenium Challenge Goals. These funds only go to Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), which include Honduras. I learned about all of this in school, so it´s interesting to see it in action now. The funds go to each munincipality each year for development projects, and they are distributed locally so the community can decide what it needs, rather than the national government, or some foreign organization. However, there are still problems, because the funds can be politicized, misused, or stolen. So accountability and getting community involvement is really important.
School started today, so I´ll be busy this week going to the schools to give talks. It´s a great way to get to know people. That´s all for now.

Friday, February 1, 2008


For the past week, I’ve been watching my friends’ golden retreiver puppy. It’s been an interesting experience having a dog here. I walk all around town with him and everyone comments how pretty he is. Dogs here are mainly mutts and basically all of them are dirty and aggressive. Most people have dogs, but the dogs aren’t allowed in the house and they often just walk around on the street and bark at people. There are lots of dogs, but you can’t pet them because they will bite you. So it’s unusual to see a pretty, well-fed, clean, friendly dog. And I usually keep him on a leash, which is also never seen here. When the puppy gets close to people, they are often afraid, because they think he will bite, so then I have to say he doesn’t bite, he’s not mean, you can touch him, and then they pet him and comment how pretty he is. It’s weird to see people afraid of such a cute little puppy. After a week of walking him around, most people recognize him and the kids get really excited to see him. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch him again soon, since he has lots of friends now in my town. Having a puppy is definitely a good community integration tool. He’s helped me meet a lot more people in town. People think he’s my puppy so I always have to say I’m just watching him this week. They all want to know how much he cost and where I bought him. So then I say I don’t know, he’s not mine. I definitely wouldn’t want an expensive, full breed dog here. People think I have money because I’m walking around a well fed, pretty dog, and I would be afraid of someone stealing him. I liked having him for the week, but I couldn’t have my own pet here, it’s too much work.

Yesterday, I took a walk with my neighbors, the two sisters, to buy tiles or shingles for their roof, since the roof is leaking. Tiles here are an adobe material and are big. They are called tejas We ordered the tejas and I asked the woman how they are made, and she said why don’t you walk over to where they are made so you can see. So we walked down the street to where they make the tejas and the woman gave us kind of a tour. They make a mud mixture, and wake up at 2am to mold the tejas, because they have to do it when there is no sun, so they don’t dry out before they are supposed to, or something like that. The place has light bulbs hanging outside so they can see what they are doing at 2am. Once it gets light out, the tiles are left to dry under the sun, and after they dry for a day or a few days, they are baked on top of a huge oven. It was pretty interesting. I felt like we were on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, taking a field trip to a community business. One tile costs 3 Lempiras, which is about 15 cents, which is a lot when you think about how many tiles one house needs. It’s really hard work to make them, though. The family invited me to come one morning, early, and I could try making some tejas. It sounds exciting.

Today I had a meeting that the environmental office (UMA) of a nearby town invited me to. They want to start a micro bank for the farmers involved in the town farmers market. The woman in charge of UMA didn`t tell me I`d have to do anything, but when I got there, she asked me to explain to everyone what a micro bank is, what it does, and to form it. I had nothing with me and wasn`t expecting to do it. So I just stood up and explained it all off the top of my head. Then they elected the president and all the other board members. It`s a good project. They want to better organize the farmers market. It was an all day affair, but very interesting. I think I`ll definately be working more with this town`s UMA, the woman in charge is very motivated. She`s not really in charge of anyone, she is the whole office. So she has a lot of work managing water sources, avoiding forest fires, etc. She told me she would find me a pretty sombrero so we can work in the field together.

Next week I have to go to the capital for Reconnect, a Peace Corps workshop. All the volunteers from my project, Munincipal Development, will be there, and our project managers, around 30 people. We have to present what we’ve been working on since we got to site and then we have to listen to presentations about different things. I’ll be gone all week and when I get back I need to meet with the school principals since the new school year begins Feb 14.