Thursday, September 25, 2008

Two Short Stories

Ever since I have arrived to Honduras, I feel I have started to view life through different eyes. My beliefs of what used to be important to me or what made me happy have changed significantly just from one year of living in a small rural village. After one year in, I already know that one of the hardest things I am going to have to do is leave Nueva Esperanza, and I’m only half way there! The people here have opened my eyes to so much and given me so much more than I could ever give them, and for that a part of my heart is and always will be here in Honduras. Every volunteer in Peace Corps has a different experience and, as we have heard from our many safety and security updates, all communities treat their volunteer with varying levels of respect. I have talked with other volunteers about how hard it will be for me to leave and many have told me that they could leave tomorrow and never look back. But here in Nueva Esperanza, my experience has been very positive. And two events have happened to me lately that I want to share with you all hoping that it will give you a small glimpse into what it is like for me to live here in my community.

The first event was on Saturday, September 13th, and all started when I sprained my ankle really bad. (So my family and friends don’t start to worry too much, I am a lot better and while my ankle is not completely healed, the fact that you are reading this right now means that I am walking well enough to have made it into town and publish this entry).

I was walking to La Campa and the path down to the center of town is very, very steep with loose gravel and dirt; and in this rainy season is very slippery. I was coming down the hill carefully and to steady myself I put my right foot sideways behind a rock and stepped down with my left foot. Well, the left foot slipped and gave out and I fell landing all my weight down on my right ankle that was stuck behind the rock. My ankle went in and popped and the pain was soooo intense that I couldn’t move for about 10 minutes. But since I was in the middle of a trail without anyone nearby, I had no choice but to walk down to Ellen’s apartment and get some help. So I hobbled down (slipping again on the gravel might I add) and finally got into her place. Luckily, Ellen lives where there is a pharmacy and her landlord is the town nurse, so they got me some ice (which is really hard to come by) and I stayed there for a few hours until they gave me a ride back to my house. The last time I sprained my ankle was during a tennis tournament my senior year and that time I had to get crutches. Well, needless to say I was a little worried cause my ankle was hurting more this time than before, and I knew it would be impossible for me to be on crutches here. If you need a visual, imagine leaving the house and having to cross a deep ditch and then hike on crutches on uneven slopes through slippery clay and mud six inches deep . . . just to get from my house to the main road!

Well, once I got home, my neighbors immediately realized what happened to me as I couldn’t cross the ditch that is in-between my fence and the road. So they came and helped me into my house and then brought me dinner and then lunch the next day so I wouldn’t have to cook. The young girls, Angie and Keimy, were late returning for school in the afternoon because they went out in search for ice which is even harder to find ice in Nueva Esperanza as most people don’t have refrigerators. They came back with two “topoillos” (frozen juice in a bag) and told me the people that do have fridges just put water in the freezer for me for later. At this point my ankle hurt so bad that my whole leg was shaking and another neighbor, Nacho, who is deaf mute came over to see how I was doing. When he saw that I needed ice he left and came back with some bags that he got on the other side of the community, over an hours’ walk in total. But it didn’t stop there. Unfortunately this happened right when I had a ton of work to do. I had to go to Olominas, about a half hour walk away, to talk with some people about getting bricks for the stoves project, I was giving a business and marketing workshop with Ellen to the potters in La Campa that week, and I had to send invitations to all 36 of the women in my group to announce the day we were going to turn in the materials for the stoves. But my friends that have means of transportation came to my rescue. They took me to where I needed to go, waited for me to do my work, and then brought me back home; and the teacher in Olominas took all of my invitations and distributed them to the students to give to the women. And finally, since I couldn’t walk to get into Gracias, my neighbors went and bought me my fruits and vegetables when I ran out.

My neighbor, Nacho, with a new baby horse. The guy that went and got me ice.

The second event happened about 9 days after I sprained my ankle. Three of my PC buddies came out to visit me to see Nueva Esperanza and buy some pottery. During their time here, I was getting a load of 1,200 bricks delivered to my house, bricks for the stoves project and some personal for the next improvement I am going to make on my house (sealing the spaces between the walls and the roof because a lot of insects and bats get in at night). The guy was coming from Santa Rosa de Copan but told me he was coming between 9-10 am and to have at least two people there to help me. Since my friends were all there, I figured we could handle unloading them. Well, by 12:30, we were tired of waiting and I really wanted them to get to see La Campa before they left. So we decided to head out. At the very top of the hill that overlooks Nueva Esperanza, we heard the truck with the bricks arrive and I was so bummed. But I really wanted them to see La Campa so I told the girls to go on and I would go back and unload the bricks. I told the man that I didn’t have helpers because he was 3 ½ hours late and so they left. And when he told me I couldn’t unload the bricks alone, I said there was no other choice. I asked my neighbor Juana who lives close by if she could help for a little bit but I knew she was busy cooking lunch. Other than that, my nearest neighbors were all gone and there was nobody near by.

I took a few loads going back and forth from the truck with the help of little Angie and Keimy and realized that I really couldn’t do this alone. But just as I stopped to think about what to do next, I saw Nacho coming. And then Juana showed up as well with her two daughters to help. And slowly more and more people saw what I was doing and started to come out of nowhere and without me even asking them to help unload. Juan Ruperto, the brother of Irene (the Olominas teacher), came pretty immediately and Juana’s husband, who had come back for lunch from working all day in the fields, showed up later. In total, there were nine of us going back and forth and Juan Ruperto said to me, Asi unidos se cumplen las cosas (“Together, we get things done”). I replied that I was glad I didn’t know what 1,200 bricks looked like or I really would not have been looking forward to unloading them. LOL. With the last hundred or so to go, it started to pour and although we were all tired, we worked faster to get the bricks unloaded before they got wet and heavier.

What 1,200 bricks looks like

And if we thought that was the end of it, we were wrong. The truck, on its way out to the main road, got stuck in the mud. (Yes, the same place where my neighbors always get their car stuck. I seriously think my next project should be to lay cement there because I don’t even know how many cars and trucks have had trouble getting through!) So in the pouring rain, we helped try to get the truck out of the mud. We started with moving the 800 bricks of another order in the front of the bed of the truck to the back when the front tires were stuck. We pushed the truck backwards and forwards, collected rocks from the creek and moved them here and there to make new paths, and even made a dam to stop the water from making the area worse! But no matter what we did, the truck just kept getting stuck. The brick dust that was smeared on my clothes was now turning into yellow mud. We were all drenched and shivering from the cold, not to mention my ankle was starting to hurt again. After about half an hour, our numbers had grown even more as everyone that passed by came to help out; even two of the buses that run from Gracias stopped full of people and the ayudantes (helpers that take your money and help you with your bags) ran out to help push the truck out of the mud after yet another failed attempt to get past. Finally, after getting the truck stuck and unstuck about four different times, it made it to the road, and with handshakes and goodbyes the guy was off. We were left standing there in the rain, dripping mud and sweat, and none of us really sure what to do next. Now that the problem was over, I suddenly got a wave of guilt. All of these people were wet, dirty, and tired because of me. I immediately prepared myself for someone to say something to me about how I should have had helpers ready or that I should have done this or that differently. Instead, one of the guys offered to buy everyone a coke from my neighbor's pulperia, and we stood under her doorway talking about how we were happy the truck didn’t get stuck permanently before going off to do our own things. There were no complaints about being soaked or any expectations of some type of reward for the work. When you live in a small community, that’s just what you do for each other.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The after-party consequences

Another tradition in Lempira is an alcoholic drink called “chicha”. In the past, the drink was made for celebrations such as a wedding but drunk in responsible quantities, maybe two cups. But now, it’s just another means to get drunk, especially during Día de Lempira. In Gracias, I saw my friend Edwin at the fair. He was with a bunch of friends and the last thing he told me was “Be careful with your purse, there are a lot of robbers here.” Ironically, it was he who should have been careful with the robbers. Late that night, Edwin bumped into some guys who wanted to go to the hot springs right outside of Gracias. Edwin decided to go and jumped in the back of the car. On the way out to the hot springs, the car crashed. Fortunately, everyone was okay, even Edwin even though he was in the back. The guys told him to wait with the car while they went to get help. When the police arrived, Edwin figured the other guys had sent them. But really they had come because they were looking for the car Edwin was waiting next to because it was stolen. Edwin was taken to prison and faced up to 13 years in prison, just for a stolen car that he didn’t steal! And here in Honduras, the police just look for someone to blame and call it good if no one says otherwise. There’s no thorough investigation. Luckily, Edwin had some friends who talked to the owner of the stolen car. After Edwin offered to pay for all the damages, if he dropped the charges and Edwin was set free. Hopefully a lesson was learned after that night.

Monday, September 8, 2008


And finally, once you crack the inside part open, its a baby coconut!
This page is going to be dedicated to all the different foods of Honduras that I have gotten to try. After a year in, I think I have a good grasp of what is around during which months. More to come later!

Totoposte, like a squash and excelent in soup!

The inside of the totoposte

Zapote, my new favorite fruit

The inside of the zapote, it is really sweet and has the texture almost like an avocado

Zapote, again

Mazapan, or breadfruit . . . which I will never try again because I was puking all night after eating

The inside of the mazapan

Mazapan is eaten sliced and then fried, maybe it was the grease that made me sick. Who knows.

Yummy bread. Served with coffee is my favorite afternoon snack!

A pear

Guineos morados


Malanga 2

Maracuya (passionfruit)

The inside of maracuya

Datiles, miniature bananas

Flor de izote, the flower that grows on the top of an izote tree

To prepare the flor de izote, you take all the flowers off of the plant and put them in a pot with a little bit of oil and salt. You fry this for a little bit and then add egg. You can also add tomato or onions or other vegetables. Served with tortillas and a side of beans.

A guanabana


Banano (there are about 7 different types of bananas here!)

Coyoles. So this is how you eat them. First, the outside is hard which you have to crack open with a knife or with your teeth.

Once you peel the outside off, there is a yellow chewy fruit inside that kind of reminds me of sweet oatmeal when eating it. It surrounds a small hard ball.

After the fruit is eaten, you throw the little ball into a fire for about 5 minutes. Once the ball is black, you take it out and crack it open.

Inside is a baby coconut!

Tamales de pollo (chicken tamales)

Random Photos

A baby cow

Neptaly holding the ladder while Selvin ties my hammock up

A baby horse and its mom

Keimy turns 11!

Waterfalls in La Campa after a hard rain

Agapito knocking down avocados

Lunch break at school

The road to my neighbors´house

San Manuel de Colohete, another aldea about 12 km up from La Campa

Angie and Milton passing the time

My friend, Mario, and me

Angie turns 9!

Milton swinging from the corn grinder

Izote trees in Nueva Esperanza

My friend, Alan, in La Campa

July 20th - Dia de Lempira

Since it’s been over a year, it means I’m starting to celebrate the same Honduran holidays twice. But this time around when it comes to community events, I won’t be awkwardly standing around feeling out of place. The first Honduran holiday that passed when I first got to Honduras was Día de Lempira, July 20th. But last year, it did just that . . . passed by without any sort of celebration that I heard about. Since my training wasn’t even close to the department of Lempira, nothing exciting really happened. All I remember from that day last year is being in Spanish class and we had to go around and ask people why the day was so special. But this year was a different story. I guess I should have figured that Día de Lempira would be huge in the department of Lempira, but I never would have guessed how big. The whole month was dedicated to the celebration of the “National Identity” of Honduras.

So of course no one came to my English class . . . there weren’t even regular school classes! Everything was cancelled to prepare for or to celebrate Día de Lempira. And of all the months I have been in good health condition, I got hit with dengue fever right before all the celebrations start. Dengue is a sickness caused from a bite from a certain type of mosquito. You basically get body aches, an awful headache that doesn’t go away, flue-like symptoms and a fever. I had a 102 degree fever for three days straight, the three biggest days of celebration. Did this stop me from going to enjoy the events? Absolutely not. Although Ellen kept saying I looked like I was going to pass out.

In La Campa, there was a dance festival where the professors and students performed traditional dances. (They had to cancel school for a few days so the professors could learn the dance, and then a few more days so the professors could teach the kids). Getting to this festival was pretty stressful. I kind of have a crush on one the teachers so I wanted to be there early to make sure I saw him dance. But there is a lot of mud where I live and when it rains, it’s hard for cars to get to the main road. I was on my way on foot when I passed my neighbor, Angela, who wanted to go in car but managed to get the back tires of her husband’s car half way stuck in sand and mud. Angela has been learning on and off how to drive but she still doesn’t know how to go in reverse or in any gear past second. (To get a driver’s license in this country, you just have to pay for it.) I helped her get the car out and then she asked me to get the car to the road where it was drier, about 50 meters away. Well of course when I got the car stuck, she ranted about how I couldn’t drive and then stopped a truck going by so the man could help us get the car out. When he tried to get the car past and got it stuck as well, she yelled at him for not being able to either, the irony of the situation being that she is the only one of us that can’t drive. We finally got the car out and back to her house but not after her yelling at me that I can’t drive and I yelling at her that if I can’t drive then she should just do it on her own and not ask me for favors. I ended up not talking to her for a few days but she sent me tamales and tortillas to show she was sorry so I went over to hang out and then we never talked about it again. And in the end I did get to see the dances, and Nueva Esperanza won the dance festival!

The teachers dancing a traditional dance

The Nueva Esperanza dancers

One of the biggest traditions for Día de Lempira is the “India Bonita” (or “Beautiful Indian”) pageant. There is a pageant in all the communities that have schools. I only went to the pageant in La Campa and in Nueva Esperanza. For the pageant, one girl is elected to represent each class (4th and 6th are one class as well as 3rd and 5th).

In Nueva Esperanza, there are three schools but two of them are 1st-6th grade in one class and so they only had one girl to represent the whole school. These girls then make dresses that best represent what existed during the time of “Lempira”, the Indian who led 30,000 men to fight for freedom.

Lourdes representing Las olominas school

Some girls made dresses made completely out of corn husks or had beans, corn, and other seeds glued on. One girl made the department of Lempira out of these basic grains. Angela’s daughter, Keimy, was elected to represent the 3rd and 5th grade class. Angela had made her a dress gluing beans, squash seeds, and corn to the top with flowers made out of cobs of corn on the back. On the dress, she had someone paint Lempira and decorated the bottom with dried corn husks and miniature clay pots and comals (round dishes used to make tortillas). Keimy then had a small basket full of fruits and vegetables typical of the department of Lempira and of the time. At this point, we were on speaking terms again and so I got to help get Keimy ready for the night. However, dengue was just starting to hit, so I was in bed all day and didn’t get up until around 5 pm so I could help Keimy get ready and to go watch. By the end of the night, I was losing energy.

My friend Roman, dressed as an indio in La Campa, and me

Keimy modeling her dress

At the event, the girls model their dresses and usually judges decide who wins based on the detail of the dresses. However this year, we were unable to get judges and so it was decided by cheers from the crowd. Of course the little one from the kindergarten won because she was the cutest and her family of 14 was there to make extra noise which caused some controversy because her dress was not very “Lempira-like”. I was a little surprised by how angry some people got, especially since they don’t win anything except a sash that they get to pass on to the next “India Bonita” next year. Angela even said she wouldn’t have joined the pageant if she had known it was going to be judged by the audience.

Dress made entirely of ´´tusa´´ corn husks

Nueva Esperanza´s india bonita candidates

Little ´´indio´´

The next day, I still had an awful fever but I had already decided I wanted to go into Gracias to see the events. There was a rodeo and my neighbors invited me to go with them (given we could get the car past the mud). So I hitched a ride with them. In Gracias, there were food booths, dramatizations of the death of Lempira, pageants of the “India Bonita”, dances, rodeos, cock fights, and lots of booths for selling. It was like the February fair all over again but celebrating culture rather than religion.

India bonita candidate in Gracias

La Sensual Elizabeth singing at the rodeo

Rodeo in Gracias

Mariachi singer