Wandering through Honduras

As always I apologize for the lack of blog posts, I will try to improve but we all know my track record. I actually have an excuse this time for the lack of updates in my life, I have been out of Camasca, Intibucá for 2 weeks, on work/vacation. In my first week of vacation/work I went to  Noche de Fumadores, direct translation  “Night of the Smokers” which was a cigar promotional party with an open bar that took place in the city of Santa Rosa de Copan. I have not even been within 100 kilometers of an open bar since I arrived to my dry town so I will admit I had a splendid time. Furthermore, I won a box of cigars in the raffle, first time I have ever won anything, besides of course skilled based betting like fantasy football and baseball. Anyways everyone will be proud to know that I humbly and graciously accepted my box of premium cigars, besides the arm pumping and acting like I had won the mega millions. You are welcome once again America for my great representation of our people.  

 From Santa Rosa I traveled to  an indigenous Garifuna  community on the Caribbean. The Garifunas are a group of former African slaves, some of who escaped, who organized and created a community on the Caribbean coast of Honduras and Guatemala. They have retained their African culture and until recently all property was owned by the whole community. The government of Honduras, under the veil of helping the Garifunas by legalizing their property, helped to write land deeds to every property owner of the community. The “help” from the government effectively broke the community’s ability to resist selling their extremely valuable property. The monetarily poor Garifunas have begun to sell their beach front property to foreign and domestic buyers, unable to resist the seemingly large sums of money that they never before dreamed of holding in their hands. These coordinated actions of the government and private interests has begun the process of pushing out the “Negros” from the extremely profitable land. As one can imagine the Garifunas are neither well educated, nor have experience dealing with the finances of large sums of money which is a very dangerous combination. Although certain organizations, along with the locally strong and united Garifunas, have begun to work against the selling of their land, money right now is winning and creating a domino effect. I really hope the Garifunas can avoid losing their rich culture, one of the few cultures of Honduras that has not been totally enveloped by the materialism of Mexico and the US.

Okay sorry for the rant back to my trip. I have a good health volunteer friend who works in the AIDS center in the small Garifuna town, and also has a view of the ocean from her front porch. Yes, some volunteers are sent to small mountain communities with bucket baths and bastardly family turkeys, while others buy fresh fish and crabs off of boats every evening and spend their free time in the warm extremely clear Atlantic Ocean. I will acknowledge that my most recent experiences in any type of ocean has been the great tradition of jumping in the traumatizing cold Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Myrtle Beach to prove to my uncles that in fact I am a man.  However, that being said, the water temperature and clarity make me want to buy a hut and live on the Caribbean for the rest of my life. From the beach we traveled to the city of Siguetapeque for our work conference. I was able to see all my friends from the Peace Corps which was a nice escape from Spanish and the daily life of Camasca. After three days of meetings and tech sessions I traveled to Tegucigalpa to meet Mallory at the airport. I have never been so excited in my life watching a TV monitor when her plane safely landed on the single runway. I have to head to a community right now so week two of my vacation will have to wait. Anyways I miss everyone stateside, oh an argentineside. Until part two…….

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A Normal Day

My last blog/email post described a day that took place during the annual town festival. For six months after the festival the people from Camasca talk about the past festival. For the six months preceding the next festival the people of Camasca talk about the upcoming festival. The weeklong festival is like the Super Bowl, Fourth of July, and Halloween all wrapped in one event each year. Basically, even being at the festival, let alone riding a bull, is the most exciting day that will happen in Camasca for the next year. In this theme I would like to describe a normal day of work/life in my small mountain side town to portray a more typical day in Honduras.

                I work for a NGO with the acronym COCEPRADII, which in English stands for Central Committee for Projects of Water and Integral Development in the department of Intibuca. (Camasca, Intibuca would be like Akron, Ohio) There are three main offices in the building of COCEPRADII, Water and Sanitation, Agriculture, and Administration. Both Wat/San and Agriculture are mainly organizations of affiliated water boards and farmers respectively. My sector includes 54 water boards throughout the department of Intibuca. As you all know I work in Water and Sanitation with an engineer and water specialist. My counterparts have finally reached the stage of construction in a huge two year project to construct 5 new water systems in the region of San Juan. I have been uninvolved in this project due to several factors. Mainly I arrived extremely late in the development of the project, and my problematic Spanish made it impossible to gain a grasp on the process. Additionally, San Juan is a region that is 6 hours from Camasca, causing my counterparts who live in La Esperanza, the local city, to stay outside of Camasca for large periods of time. Basically, I have been working for the past two weeks without having any real contact with my counterparts.

The lack of work in Wat/San has caused me to offer my help to the Agriculture sector. They have just begun a study to find the change in the fertility of the soil at higher altitudes. The first part of the study includes taking GPS points of each affiliated corn field. The Agriculture project is using 5 local high school students who are doing their internship at COCEPRADII to complete the work. I realized that the two directors of Agriculture had no idea how to use a GPS so I taught through field training the students and directors in the basic concept and usage of a GPS. Yesterday, we traveled to a small aldea (100 houses or less) and began the tedious task of taking points of the 60 affiliated corn farms. In groups of two we walked up and down mountains from corn field to corn field taking GPS points. Each point should be taken at the center of the corn field, an impossible feat, or at a point of the corn field where you cannot see out in four directions.  

The way in which these farmers make a living is an unbelievable feat. With a machete and compost fertilizer a mountain corn farmer spends every day fighting encroaching vegetation, erosion, and the extreme rains to produce their livelihood. Most farmers also cultivate beans and contain fruit trees on their property to augment their diet and income. By mid day I was so incredibly famished that I just tried to place one foot in front of the other while barely following directions to each corn farm. As I continually encountered farmers in their fields I could not help but feel weak. I could barely complete a day of work in the mountains while these 50 year old men were macheting away on the side of a mountain for 8 hours, with little or no shade.

In order to locate the various corn fields located up in the mountains I had to find houses and ask the people their name and location of their field. I already have a lot of experience working in poor farming communities in the mountains, but their generosity and pleasant nature ceases to amaze me. I ate lunch with a family of 8 after they invited me to join when I walked into their yard. I enjoyed a delicious meal of tortillas, with a bean and spaghetti soup. Actually, I was so famished that the dish tasted delicious, especially the dessert of coffee. Throughout the day families offered me fruit and water as they swept their dirt floored houses, hand washed their clothes, and hand peeled beans and corn.  

Another experience that never fails is my uncanny ability to cause children to drop their mouths and stare. I was laying in a hammock talking to this farmer on his front porch, when I turned to look out over the mountain. I was met by four pairs of dark brown eyes that were no more than two feet from my face. They did not respond to my questions only stared at me as if the President of Honduras had walked into their house. I would enjoy this new celebrity status if I did not have the feeling that I was an exhibit in Ripley’s  Believe It or Not.

I arrived to my house around 6:30 where I had a typical dinner of eggs, beans, cheese, and tortillas, followed by a beautiful bucket bath. I watched some good old soap operas with my host dad and around 8 o’clock after talking to Mallory limped to my bed and passed out, hoping to dream of bacon cheeseburgers.

As I read over the short description of a typical day in my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer I realize that in words my life sounds much more romantic than in real life. I spend a lot of time sweating as a I walk up and down mountains, trying not to gain the record for the most diverse amount of insect bites found on one body. Let me tell you, any job that makes you daydream about the good old days at Breiding Landscaping Company definitely has some downsides.

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The Lessons of Full Integration

Sorry to everyone for the lack of updates lately. I have been extremely busy as of late and the internet at my office has been non-existent. The town festival of Camasca just finished this past Sunday so hopefully life will calm down a little bit. The festival is a 5 day event which celebrates the patron saint of our town which is St. Peter. I actually missed the first three days of the festival because I attended a conference in Siguetapeque, a larger city about 7 hours from Camasca. The conference was a workshop on environmental education and the best ways to promote environmental conservation in the schools of Honduras. I really enjoyed the workshop and am working to start a local environmental club with the a nearby elementary school and a teacher that seemed initially interested.

The town festival created numerous opportunities to integrate myself further into the community, especially into the segment of Camasca that is most reserved. I have been accepted by everyone in Camasca with open arms, but the older men from my community have been extremely reserved in talking or treating me like a local member, this includes my host dad. This treatment all changed due to a series of events that I wish I could claim credit for planning.

The process of gaining full acceptance by the men of my community began in the weeks leading up to the festival. About two weeks before the festival started the entire town began the process of general maintenance. There are three neighborhoods in Camasca and I live in Barrio El Campo which is farther outside the center point of the town. I was unaware of the plan to re-dig all the drainage ditches along the streets in my neighborhood and cut back all the vegetation along the road. As I walked back from basketball practice on Saturday morning my entire neighborhood was out with shovels and machetes. Of course I offered to help and spent the next five hours digging ditches along the road and hauling trees to the nearby ravine. I have done tree work with Breiding Landscaping so I was thoroughly impressed by the pace with which these men cut down entire trees with a machete. I actually have improved dramatically in with my machete chopping and was cutting the grass along the roads while kneeling. As I was macheteing (not a word) I felt all these little pricks on my right knee. As I pulled my knee out of a dirt mound I realized that I had invaded an ant kingdom and the little pricks were ant bits that were now attached all over my knee. As my knee began to grow we finally neared the end of our road maintenance around 1 oclock.  

As I head home the mayor of my town asked me if I wanted to go help some people that were working on the soccer field. I told him I would definitely come after I ate lunch, but was convinced that we would only be there for a maximum of 1 hour. Of course I spent the next six hours digging two large ditches to place a drainage pipe under the soccer field. After we finished refilling the ditches we spent the next hour lobbing shovels full of dirt from the bordering mountain onto the wet parts of the field. Thank god for my landscape experience because I truthfully thought I was going to die at several parts of the day but just kept going. After we finished the long day of work the mayor of the town became my best friend. I walked for the next week with a limp, had nasty blisters on my hands, and could not bend my right knee for two days. However, all of the men that worked on the project with me instantly talked to me as I walked through the streets like we had gone to St. V grade school together.

However, my full acceptance into the male population of Camasca was not actually completed until the last day of the festival. On that fateful Sunday I went to a makeshaft rodeo stadium outside of the town to watch a ranchero musical group and professional bull riders perform that came from El Salvador for the festival. Halfway through the event I went to talk to some guys I work with that were standing next to the bull riders. Of course one of the bull riders asked me if I wanted to ride a bull and me thinking it was a joke or at least not possible said yeah I would ride a bull. Of course within 30 minutes the band leader had announced to the crowd that I was about to ride the next bull. Within 5 minutes someone had attached spurs to my boots, shin guards to my legs, and placed a baseball helmet on my head. After taking a swig of some local moonshine I stepped into the little boxed in area where my bull awaited me wondering how this happened.

As I hung above the bull straddling him from the fence I cursed my Spanish and acute ability to find myself in interesting, to say the least, situations. The guy in charge of the gate asked me if I was ready, and after exclaiming the F word at the top of my lungs I sat down on the bull and hooked in the spurs, which did not make the bull happy. Even worse the man with the electrical poking device tapped the back side of the bull, followed by the gate opening. Now I have to explain a key detail before the program started the announcer stated that 8 seconds may seem like a short time but for a bull rider is a mark that they try and reach. For the next ten seconds of my life, which definitely proved that all time is relative, I hung on for dear life and successfully was accepted with open arms by every member of my community. I will admit that I used two hands to last for ten seconds while the pros only used one, but I have had to deny numerous reports throughout the town that I was a bull rider in the states. And don’t worry mom, the experience was my first and last bull I will ever mount.

So I guess the moral of the story is the best recipe for acceptance in a machismo mountain side Honduran culture is hard manual labor, an ant hill, and mounting a bull for ten seconds, but then again it was all an accident.

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Hello world!

Well right now I feel incredibly hip to be entering the acclaimed world of blogging. Mom I apologize for doing such a thing to you when you just figured out how to use email, but I will still send you emails. My blog name is actually stolen from a Warren Zevon song “Lawyers. guns, and money”, which actually is a song that takes place in Honduras. Since I am in the public sphere now I will credit David Lee with introducing me to the song. I am aware that nothing relevant has surfaced in my first blog but I need to start my 1/2 hour walk home in order to make it back for lunch without missing the World Cup game between Uruguay and Ghana. The great thing about Honduras is that the NGO I work for installed cable in our office for the World Cup, so I did not miss the Brasil debacle. A combination of Friday and World Cup are deadly for productivity today at the office. Peace and love from Honduras.

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