Saturday, June 28, 2008

Celaque . . . finally!

For my birthday, my friend Rachel and I went up Celaque, the tallest mountain in Honduras. We did an 8 hour hike (10 hours in total including the trek up to the Visitor’s Center) and reached the second highest peak on Celaque, at 2,300 meters. Because we went a few days after Hurricane Alma hit, it was VERY wet and slippery. I ended up falling twice and we were stumped for about 20 minutes when we had to cross a part of the river that had risen so high we couldn’t find a way across. Here are some photos of the hike.


The start of the trail, the water was soooo high!




Rachel and me


The view at 2,300 meters


Me


Strange plant


Taking a break


Crazy vegetation!


Crossing bridge on the way back


Visitor Center in construction, a wall made form plastic bottles. Yay recycling!


Worker making wall from bottles filled with sand


A large grasshopper on our hotel door

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Downside of Rural Community Life


So although there is the upside of safety in rural communities, the downside of not living in the big cities, where more voices can be heard, is that sometimes these communities on the fringes of the most beautiful areas of Honduras are forgotten. Of course, corruption inside and outside of the communities can prevent improvement, but some of the basic needs out here are continuously overlooked until it causes a bigger problem. To get to Nueva Esperanza, you have to cross numerous creeks and rivers. There are bridges to get across the rivers and the creeks are low enough to just pass right on through. However, the last bridge right before Nueva Esperanza has been broken for more than five years. There is a huge hole in the middle which only a motorcycle can (barely) get by. So, all cars and buses have just gone down through the river. Sure the river has gotten high before, but there has never been any problem with getting across. Until now. The first hurricane of the season, Hurricane Alma, hit southern Honduras in the end of May. Here on the outskirts of the storm, we got LOTS and LOTS of rain. The hurricane raised the river so high that it was impossible for cars, or the buses, to cross.


There was no problem when I left Nueva Esperanza the day before, so I had no idea what was going on when I was headed home and the bus suddenly stopped and turned around. The driver announced that we couldn’t get across the river so everyone had to get off and start walking. I’m pretty sure I gave the bus driver the dropped jaw look of shock. I was coming back with my backpack of overnight gear plus three other bags of groceries. . . and we were at the bottom of the hill. Plus, this bus was supposed to go San Sebastian, it was still 18 km away from it’s destination up the mountain! Everyone got off the bus and started walking across the bridge and up the hill, no complaints and no hesitation. I still am amazed by the attitudes of the people here. I think I stayed calm the whole time just because everyone else did; and because everyone else accepted this ordeal as just another challenge to face, I did, too. Although I can’t help but feel a little angry at how unjust it is here as I watch a man unload a 100-pound bag of corn, carry it on his back bent over up the hill, and then re-load it into the other bus that was waiting for us at the top. For people that already have to struggle with so many other things, like just getting enough of life’s necessities, it’s inexcusable that their lives have to be made more difficult with a problem that should have been taken care of immediately. Another woman struggled with her baby in one hand and two full bags of groceries in the other to make the trek up to the other bus. I wish I could have helped her with the load but I had no free hand to offer myself. We loaded the new bus which didn’t have the overhead compartments like the other one and so all of the bags and boxes of things were either compacted with the owners in the seats or stacked in the aisle. The whole time, I don’t remember hearing a single complaint. . . which may be why nothing has been done to fix the bridge. (The short-term solution now is putting boards across the bridge so cars can pass. . . I prefer walking the 3 hours to town than risk falling into the river). Maybe we’ll get someone’s attention now.

The Upside of Rural Community Life

I remember a story my friend, Ana, (who is from El Salvador but now lives in Washington State) told me when we worked together at my university. She told me that what she misses most from where she comes from is that if you are going through hard times, your neighbor is going through hard times, too; and so you worked together or suffered together. But in the neighborhood where she is now, your problems are your own and you have to deal with them yourself even though there are people who are so close by who could help.

I know I have already talked about how wonderful it is to be a part of a small community where you are always welcomed into a home and stop to greet everyone you walk by. But one other benefit that comes from living in a small community, I learned about this last week, is safety. A couple of weeks ago, a woman named Graciela and her husband moved into a house near me because Graciela wanted to be closer to her son and daughter, two well-respected people who live in Nueva Esperanza. One day though, the man went and threatened Graciela’s daughter with a knife because she came from another father. With that, the community united in a way that I wish I could see happen in the states. There’s a select group that is dedicated to the security of the community and when they heard of the event and heard that the man was still in Nueva Esperanza at a pulperia (small store from a house), they called the alert. A bunch of phone calls were made not only to the group but to anyone in the community that might be around the area. The pulperia just happens to be right next to my house so I was coming home and stopped to greet four men waiting in the road in front of the pulperia. One of the men was the brother of the woman that was threatened and I thought he was kidding when he told me they were there to detain the man that threatened his sister. No machetes or other weapons were on hand, just the power of numbers. One by one, men came from all directions, some that were called and some that were just passing by and stayed for the support. The four turned into 30 or more who all just stood and watched the offender, making sure he didn’t disappear before the police came to take him away.



My neighbors came out of their house to watch and one of them told me, “Look, Courtney, you’re seeing what happens when someone brings problems to the community.” And then he joked, “But if this guy pulls out a machete, they’ll all scatter.” I guess this happened again the next day when the man was released the next morning from jail and came back to his house. The people united again and pressured him to leave and go back to where he came from. Since then, he hasn’t been heard of since. Peace restored! In these rural areas, anything that threatens the well-being and safety of the community is thought of as everyone’s business and everyone unites to take care of the problem. So for the woman who was threatened, instead of having to stay in her house everyday trying to avoid this man who had no good motive to threaten her, her fear and troubles were divided among the community and together the problem was taken care of immediately. In the states, I think sometimes we try to keep too many of our worries and problems to ourselves or forget to care about other people’s troubles. But here, my house was literally in the middle of this whole ordeal. The man lived 100 meters from me and threatened the woman two houses down on the other side of my house. But I never felt nervous for my own safety because I knew the community was always watching out for one another and wouldn’t let anything else happen. Not to sound na├»ve and not that I’m going to completely let my guard down, but I truthfully don’t think I have ever been safer.

In my house!

I finally moved back to Nueva Esperanza! Well, I have to admit that I have been living in my house for almost two months; (I moved April 15) but actually making the house feel like home has taken a lot longer than just the move. In fact, there is still a lot of work to be done before I can finally call it home. But, I am proud to say that by the end of all the construction, I will almost be a professional house-builder!

For those of you who don’t know, it is required for me to live in Nueva Esperanza. Unfortunately, when it was time for me to move out of my host family’s house, there were no housing options for me. So, I had to move to La Campa, the next town over, at the beginning of 2008 and kept waiting for options to open up in Nueva Esperanza. Finally, a woman who lives in La Campa offered to finish a house she has in Nueva Esperanza for me so I could move in there. At the time, I had a few options that I was waiting on but after they all fell through, I told her that would be great. A few days during the construction of my house, I went to help out. Who would have thought that my pre-service training would have come so in handy! I was hauling bricks, mixing cement, laying gravel, and even helped dig out my latrine hole and build the wall to my bathroom! I talked to a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama once who told me he had to build his own house because there was no housing in his community and I remember saying, “Wow I can’t believe you had to BUILD your own house! There is no way I would have done that.” Little did I know . . .

Moving Day was an adventure in itself. To give you an idea of what it was like, think about moving away from home to college. You have packed all of your belongings for the next two years as well as any furniture (bed, shelf, . . .) or appliances (stove) you need because there is absolutely nothing provided for you. Then, imagine having to get all of that stuff to your house without a car and on no paved roads. Okay, so I didn’t exactly throw my bed on my back and hike to my house. Thanks to an ex-pat who lives in La Campa, I was able to transport my things in the back of his pick-up. However, my house was not exactly ready to be moved into when I did. My landlord had promised me that everything would be ready for me to move in mid-March. . . then the end of March . . . then the beginning of April . . . then April 15th at the latest. . . So, I packed all my belongings and then was living out of my boxes for the next month waiting for the house to be ready. I finally just couldn’t wait any longer. I declared, rain or shine, that I was going to move April 15th. When I made the move, the house at that point had running water and electricity but was still missing light bulbs (so much for the electricity), a finished floor, door handles, and window and door locks. My landlord had promised me that the guy who was to put the locks on my doors was coming the next day. So I used long pieces of wood to jam the doors shut so they wouldn’t open in the middle of the night. However, he didn’t come the next day. In fact, my landlord admitted to me that she hadn’t even bought the locks yet. It was around that point that I decided I better help get the ball rolling. I don’t have the knowledge of how to install door locks (the ones that have a key), but I did put on the door handles and other small locks that you can lock from the inside. So when I was inside the house, I could secure everything. But if I had to go anywhere, I had to leave a door open so I could get back in. Finally, a week later, the guy FINALLY came to do the installation and I had some other people help me install the light sockets and light bulbs.

Gradually, though, improvements have been made inside and out. A lot of people have really helped me out from lending me a table to helping build a moat around my house. The rains have started coming and sometimes there’s so much water during some storms that it enters under my door and through my windows, thus the need of the moat. Although that sounds pretty terrible, it doesn’t really mean anything when you have a cement floor. In fact, if anything, it has made me a tidier person because I have to make sure not to leave anything on the ground that can’t get wet. Water drips through the ceiling, too, so I can’t leave anything on the table either.

It’s definitely nice being back in Nueva Esperanza and closer to the people I first developed relations with. When I’m lonely or bored, I have great neighbors that I can go drink coffee and eat mangoes with. In La Campa, I really only slept there and spent the rest of my time in Nueva Esperanza and so didn’t really get to know anyone else except my landlord’s family. And the best part about living in my house is that I am so much more accessible. People can now come and visit me or talk to me about work without having to walk far away or enter someone else’s house. I can finally host people and start to pay back all the free cups of coffee and meals I have received! I have had a few people over for a US “plato tipico” which is a lot of fun and one time when I cancelled my English class, some of my students still came over to hang out. A few days ago, we had an English class dinner at my place which even a little rain inside couldn’t damper the night.


Main room before


After


Edwin working on my room


End result


The biggest change was taking out this door and putting in a bathroom.


Bathroom after


Before


After


Some kids from my English class doing a ¨dinamica¨


Me!