I admit that 2 blog updates in fewer than 2 weeks was a bad idea, due to my goal to lower expectations for my pitiful blogging. However, now that the expectations are once again at the desired level I will give all of my loyal, although few, followers an update on life in Honduras. Over the past month or so I have been extremely busy with work interrupted for a few days with extreme amounts of fun in the Caribbean, which has been very helpful taking my mind off of recent developments in my life. I spent an entire week in a small community of 35 houses partaking in a topographic study of a water system that is 28 years old. The community is hoping to receive funding from my NGO and needed a study and design in order to solicit the money. I would have to say that the experience of doing water studies in a small mountain community is exactly the type of life every person imagines when they think of Peace Corps, dirt huts, nine people to a room, lack of water, and insects galore. Additionally, with the help of my site mate Blair Wrangham, who is finishing her service at the end of this month leaving me as the only gringo on the border of Intibuca, I have been working on a wood burning stove project. We have already finished the construction of 63 stoves and hope to finish the project this upcoming Monday. The only problem is that the word deadline does not really translate that well in extremely small and rural communities that are in the middle of the season of beans and corn planting and harvesting, so Vamos a ver what happens on Monday. On the opposite spectrum I just returned last weekend from a few days living the dream. I went with a couple of my friends from Peace Corps to become certified in scuba diving and enjoy a concert on an abandoned island near the island of Utila. I would have to say that this experience was incredibly interesting, even if the concert was not my type of scene what with all the electronic music and bright lights. I am not sure how much more of cultural shock my brain can take, USA, Caribbean islands, and Camasca, but I will hopefully continue to test it.
Since I do not have the time nor my readers the patience for a 10 page blog, I will focus on detailing my topographic study week and then hopefully continue with another blog next weemontyeardecadek. I arrived to the community of Agua Zarca on the morning of one of the Monday’s during the month of July. I received a jalon (hitch hike ride) from a teacher that works in a community kind of close to Agua Zarca. I then, with another teacher, walked to find another jalon from a teacher that works in school that borders the community of Agua Zarca. From there I encountered some local farmers that I know from a previous water project who helped me carry my topography equipment to the road that leads to Agua Zarca. Luckily some of the water board members from Agua Zarca were waiting for me at the entrance to their community and helped carry my bags and equipment to the house I would call home for the next week. After a refreshing breakfast of cheese, beans, tortillas, and sugar with a pinch of coffee I began my first day of topographic study aka stumbling sweaty up and down mountains, while trying to concentrate on little numbers through unrelenting sun rays all the while barking out commands in Spanish that become less and less cordial as the day progresses. Okay well those thoughts about topo studies usually come out about day two after lunch, the first day is usually filled with thoughts of “Why do I not do more Topo-Studies?”, “I love being outside with this beautiful weather and the mountain views.” “Oh man those beans and tortillas sure tasted mighty good.” “This is the life I signed up for when I joined the Peace Corps, maybe I could live in this community for the rest of my service.”
Haha reading those thoughts truly proves how horrible my memory is because every single Topo-study I have ever done begins with that romantic optimism and ends with quite contrary thoughts. Well anyways day 1 ended without any real problems or funny situations. I returned to the house of Don Virgilio where I would sleep for the next week. I have visited his house numerous times in the last year but every time I am newly amazed by the ferocity and hatred of his dogs. I mean whenever I leave unaccompanied from the house I must make an entry and exit strategy (maybe if Bushy joined the Peace Corps and visited Don Virgilio instead of flaking out on reserve duties he would have seen the advantages of such a thought process) (oh and sorry for that it just slipped out I will try to keep politics out of this blog and double parenthesis) for my own safety, always leaving a long but sturdy stick at the entrance to ward of rabies.
I kept a journal during the topo-study and will utilize a couple key quotes to keep this story on track and grant the reader my thought process at the time. First quote “Who knew that my white ass could ever feel whiter after living one year in Honduras.” As can be seen from the quote, my first night I came to an important realization about extremes, they can always be stretched and redefined. Although Don Virgilio and his extended family, who lived in a medium sized room containing Don Virgilio, his wife, his son, with his wife and 2 kids, his two daughters, his niece, and now the gringo Zacarias, showed me every form of hospitality, including one of the few beds with a mattress, they lacked in the water department. Due to the altitude of his house, water cannot reach his house; instead, Don Virgilio and his family must use the water from a concrete tank located below their house. I think I have already described the physicality of topo-study work in the “unrelenting” sun so I am guessing I will not have to describe in details the amount of sweat and stankiness my body incurs in one day. Let’s just say that I needed a bucket bath.
The concrete tank is located at the bottom of this little mud path which I stumbled to in the darkness of night, dressed solely with a towel, in one hand my trusted dog killer stick and in the other a horrible brown homemade soap substance. The homemade soap resembles for the lack of a better description a rolled up piece of diarrhea with a strange smell of grass, burnt charcoal, and latex?. Anyways I arrive to the tank as a rain storm starts to brew in the distance. As I disrobe a streak of lightning illuminates my surroundings, granting me the knowledge that I am absolutely butt naked about 5 feet from the only road of the community. Furthermore, I realize that when there is no thunder and just the complete blackness the one and only color that shines bright is my extremely white skin. I mean any rational passer-by would either think I just saw the naked gringo that is working in our community or ghosts do truly exist. I hope now that the earlier quote makes a little more sense. Anyways I finished what turned out to be an extremely refreshing bucket/rain shower and stumbled back to the house smelling a little like a summer barbecue in the United States right after someone mowed the lawn. Due to constant rain storms I was only able to take my pedophilic concrete tank bath twice during my stay. I arrived directly to my counterparts office to drop off the equipment on Friday and was asked politely to go home and shower.
“If I ever need to have a conversation in Spanish about this year’s bean and corn production in a small mountain community I am definitely set.” I chose this quote because I think it is important to understand the difficulties and a non-stop feeling of lack of knowledge one experiences while learning a new language. No matter how much vocabulary I learn or how many different conversations I partake in, there are always areas of the world and life that I have yet to learn. I mean I spent an entire week with Honduran farmers in which I learned a multitude of different ways to comment on the general state of bean and corn production this year or a certain individual’s skills in the art of farming. Most water lines pass through the community’s various fields allowing for a continued conversation on everything farming. Before I did this study I had some amount of vocabulary on farming corn and beans but had never had the experience of listening to farmers during the main cultivation period. We talked about everything from how late Drunk Antonio planted his corn placing his crops in risk of failing. Or how last year the extreme rains almost ruined everyone’s crops and hopefully God will allow for a calmer rainy season this year. Also, my helpers compared fields that used fertilizer to non-fertilizer, let me tell you fertilizer does work, or the affect kids going to the United States has on their family’s fields. I now understand the mind set of rural Hondurans who always place the will of God ahead of everything. If you ask someone how they are they say Pues estoy aqui gracias a dios, “Well I am here thanks be to god” or if you ask them about future plans and they always say Si Dios quiere“God willing” and then their plans. No matter how you plan for it, farming is totally reliant on some higher being, no matter what you believe farmers can only pray and hope that this year’s rains will be a little calmer.
“I have finally found my mother’s equal, he is a 4 feet tall Honduran farmer that is missing about 20 teeth, and his name is Don Virgilio!” It has been over month and this quote makes me laugh. My NGO has been instructed by the Peace Corps to preach to every community that I work in to contact the community leaders and state the importance of taking care of me. You know providing food, making sure I do not get tricked into eating something poisonous or extremely hot (F- to the community of Hierba Buena) and basically making sure I survive my time without taking away to many parasites. Don Virgilio took to heart the instructions received from my counterpart and apparently interpreted them to mean that Zacarias should be treated as a mentally handicapped individual. I have written in my journal several examples of Don Virgilio thinking that I am unable to complete simple tasks without his help. As I walked to the bathroom, Don Virgilio informed me that I should use toilet paper if I had to go number two. He told me that I should walk carefully on wet rocks because they are slippery and then went on to hold my hand as I walked down some. And of course he made me repeat my security plans when I left the house in order to return armed to fight of the dogs. I love you mom and this is not meant as an insult because God knows I would have probably not survived to my 20th birthday without you, and without Don Virgilio reminding me about killer dogs, so thanks for always looking out for me.
Last quote before I left the community on Friday to return to civilization, “Wow it only took me 1 week living in the boondocks, covered in impressive insect bites, not having showered for 3 days, and eating a steady regiment of beans, tortillas, and spaghetti to realize that my little house in Camasca is luxurious palace. I am glad to leave but with all the difficulties of this week I will remember that Don Virgilio and the people of Agua Zarca have been overly nice and giving.” I sometimes complain about my hard life in Peace Corps living in the middle of nowhere without the basic luxuries of life that one becomes accustomed to living in the beautiful US of A. But an important lesson is that life can always be better and definitely can always be worse. The key detail is that happiness exists in all the different levels of suckiness. I mean Don Virgilio and his extended family are extremely happy people. They received electricity 5 years ago and now have a tv which receives some Salvadoran channels and keeps everyone memorized thankfully not trying to speak to the gringo in a language he does not understand after 12 hours working in the mountains. I mean they live in what we would describe as pretty poverty stricken environment but still enjoy life and find a way to be incredibly giving hosts. Wow look at me being all preachy and sappy but I guess that is why I tried to chronicle my week long trip. If I would have wrote this 1 month without looking over my journal these thoughts would have seemed forced. I hope you all enjoyed this extremely incoherent and jumbled email, and I plan to continue on the updates of my life next week.
Also a new idea for my blog is my recommendation of a song I have been listening to a lot. Thank you Geoff for the recommendation, the group is JJ Grey and Mofro the song is The Sun is Shining Down and I would recommend listening to it on my roof drinking a beer after a hard days work overlooking the mountains. And if you can not meet me on the roof than I guess the beer will do just fine.