Wednesday, December 26, 2007

First Three Months

Well, I have finally gotten some time to write and give you guys an update of what´s up in my life. I have now completed the ¨community entry period¨ which was the first three months of service and was dedicated to getting oriented and familiar with Nueva Esperanza. My first report was due to Peace Corps this week and described the community in general, a needs assessment, gender analysis, challenges and expected support, identifcation of activities or large projects, and integration. Having put everything in writing, I realize I have done a lot more than I thought I had in these last three months. Maybe not so much as far as projects, but as far as becoming familiar with the way things work here and what I will be involved in, it definitely took three solid months.

As far as work goes, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I am going to be involving myself in for at least the next year. So far with the improved stoves, I have formed a preliminary list of 37 women interested in the project and at the end of this week I should have a final list of women who have signed the contract. The contract states that the women understand that they have to provide certain materials for the project as well as manual labor. The materials they have to provide are sand, mud, bricks, and adobe (cheaper bricks made out of mud). The rest of the materials will be provided by the project. They will then have to help with not only the construction of their own stove, but also two others. The women who have signed the contract then formed groups of four and they will work within this group to build the stoves. If the women do not get the materials that they need and break the contract, then they will lose the materials that were to be provided for them by the project. We have a final meeting this Saturday and then I am going to work on the grant proposal and submit it to the local NGO´s as soon as I can. Once I hear back from the NGO´s with support, we can get started on the training and actual construction of the stoves.

While we´re waiting to hear back from the NGO´s, I was hoping to start a family garden project. However, I really wanted to make my own garden first so I could gain some experience with what grows well here or not and what kinds of problems that may arise in the garden. But since I have yet to find a place where I can live permanently for two years, I have not had the chance to start a garden anywhere. We´ll see how everything goes. Once the garden project and stove project are underway, I would like to start some cooking classes to teach the families how to cook with their new stoves (and oven), with the new vegetables from their garden, and more healthily. Hondurans love fried food and cook with tons of lard and oil for every meal. Even before making steamed rice, they fry it for about 10 minutes and then steam it. Bologne sandwich? They fry the meat first. Even I have gotten into the habit of frying my food more often. Although I have had to stop because I went to the doctor about these hive-like marks I was getting on my back and stomach and she told me to stop eating anything with oil.

I think cooking classes may be a good idea because I have noticed that most women here do not experiment with different dishes and cook making slight variations of the same ingredients of beans, vegetables, chicken, other frozen meats, cheese, rice, and served with tortillas. Whenever I came back from shopping in Gracias, my host mom was always curious what I bought and always fascinated by the foods that I cooked. I would bring home things like parsley or even wheat bread and she would ask me, ¨You can get that in Gracias?¨. It´s amazing to me that she has lived here all her life and has never bought some of the foods I brought home from the mini supermarkets. Also, a lot of the meals that I make take about a quarter of the time it takes my host mom to cook. There are some days where she is too tired to cook, doesn´t want to make tortillas, or the kids complain that they are bored of the food. But the thought of making something that doesn´t need to be eaten with tortillas, is faster, and is different has never crossed her mind. So, I think the cooking classes can be something easy and fun.

As far as bigger projects in Nueva Esperanza, the community is about to finish a large irrigation project at the end of this month. Two years ago, construction started 12 km away from the water source on the mountain Camalote of laying tubes from Camalote to Nueva Esperanza. In the beginning, the men would start walking at 3 am or 4 am to get to Camalote around 7 am to start laying the tubes. Men and women worked six days a week for two years to bring water to the crops of Nueva Esperanza! This project will benefit 63 families. With this project, farmers are hoping to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and eventually sell them in the markets in the big cities. Most farmers only grow corn and beans in Nueva Esperanza and the majority of this is for personal consumption. Thus, this project could open up new means of income for the community as well as help to fight malnutrition because there will be such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables around. The construction is expected to be done in the end of January and the inaugural ceremony is set to be January 30, 2008.

My part in this project is that some of the farmers have expressed interest in learning more about production, use of chemicals, and how to get their product to a larger market. Other possibilities for projects that I learned about back in my tech traning may be organic compost, organic pesticides and insecticides, and more sustainable agricultural practices. MARENA, a local NGO, is currently working on ideas for projects to help protect the watershed for once the construction of the irrigation project is finished and farmers start to grow their vegetables. Some ideas of projects are the construction of latrines, trash management, construction of oxidation lagoons for ¨aguas mieles¨ (¨honey waters¨ or contaminated water which happens when people pick coffee and don´t dispose of the remains properly), and establishment of tree nurseries for reforestation. All of which I think is very important, coincides with the PAMer goals, and I learned a little bit about during training.

So, these are the ideas I have right now as far as work goes. I also would like to do some Environmental Education in the schools and maybe teach some English classes, but for right now I´m going to see how all this lays out before taking on too much.

As far as non-work stuff, something fun that I have been doing lately is a lot more horseback riding. I have gone a few times with my counterpart´s son, Herzan, all over the area. We have gone on trips just for fun, like to see the water tanks of Nueva Esperanza, and also trips for work, we went to Las Olominas (one of my communities) so that I could give out invitations to another meeting for the improved stoves.

My friend, Herzan and me on top of a watertank in Nueva Esperanza

At the watertank

The longest trip that I went on was when Ellen, her boyfriend, Irene (pronounced ¨Ee-reh-neh¨), and I went up to see where the irrigation project begins. I had gone up earlier with the men in my community for a meeting and brought back pictures of the beautiful waterfall where we get the water. Ellen saw the pictures and really wanted to see it and so we planned a day trip up. To get to the waterfall, it´s two hours on horseback. Then you have to cross through a coffee farm and then hike down to it.

Ellen and Irene heading up to the mountain Camapara, where Nueva Esperanza gets its water

Amazing, huh? Where we get our water for an irrigation project in Nueva Esperanza

The hidden waterfall

Oromilaca, another of my aldeas in my site, a view from the water tank

I went with Dona Alberta to learn how to milk a cow!

Coffee freshly picked, up close

Lots of coffee (it´s coffee season!)

Coffee on the plant ready to be picked

Ellen and her boyfriend, Irene

Hidden parrot that yelled ¨Buenas¨at me

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