Monday, September 8, 2008

A Year In

First off, I just wanna say I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to get a blog entry up. It would be a lie to say that nothing interesting has happened. Sometimes I don’t think I have much to say but once I sit down and begin to write, I find I do have a lot to share. So be expecting several more blog entries after this one! Work has finally picked up and when I do have free time in the evenings, I usually have non-stop drop-by visitors that are making a habit of coming over often. Some of these visitors, of course, are more welcomed than others, but in general it’s nice to have someone to hang out with, talk to, and play guitar with in the evenings. (Although because I still am practically the only 23 year old single girl in a 10 km range and most of the visitors are guys, I’m still wary of how I act and what time they stay til). I find now that very rarely does my Spanish hinder any conversations I have with Hondurans which is nice because it allows my friends to get to know me at a more complex level and vice versa. The other night I talked with my friend, Alan, about “machismo” and how it encourages the objectification of women. We got on this topic when I went to my first rodeo (which I’ll talk about in the next entry) and Alan didn’t understand why I didn’t like watching the singer, “La Sensual Elizabeth” (yes, that’s what she calls herself), who came out in a long coat which a man untied and took off of her to expose a very skimpy outfit to the hoots and howls of all the men.

So, it’s official. . . I have been in Honduras for over a year! I hit one year in-country on July 11th and will be one year in-site at the end of September. So although it’ll be two years next July, the two years of service is counted from when we are in our communities and so I’ll be headed back the states (maybe) at the end of next September. Still so far away, but so much to do before I go! I finally got funding for my improved stoves project and construction will be starting in October. After much frustration and even some tears, I had to drop the NGO that initially promised to financially support this project and I got funding through Peace Corps. Seven months is a long time to wait for, and to pester, an institution so I decided Peace Corps funds might be the best way to go; and I’m a little sad I didn’t do this in the beginning as my project got approved about three days after I submitted all the necessary papers and the check was in my account the next week. There are still a few kinks to work out and it has been over a year since I learned how to build these stoves, so I am definitely a little nervous with how this is going to go down. Plus, this is the first construction project in Nueva Esperanza that requires the manual labor of women. So all I can do is pray that everything goes smoothly and then just take the obstacles as they come when it doesn’t.

In the meantime, I have gradually and inadvertently gotten involved with developing Eco-tourism in La Campa. Besides the HUGE potential La Campa offers for tourism (Colonial church, hikes, beautiful scenery, Lencan pottery, horseback rides to waterfalls . . .) many institutions have already supported La Campa with tourism development as it is the second biggest attraction after the town of Gracias. For example, the tourism institution in Gracias came out and constructed a Museum dedicated to the Lencan pottery in La Campa (. . .which receives about 2 tourists a week . . . in a good week). So I’ve been working to try to attract more attention to the museum and use it as a tourist center. I have met a few tourists in La Campa that come and then have no idea what there is to do or where anything is. I remember when I first arrived to site and was walking around La Campa, I accidentally walked in to the museum and thought it was the municipality! So my short-term goals are as follows:
1) Paint on the side of the museum its hours of operation, prices for entry, and even a sign that it is a museum
2) Make a map of La Campa showing all the accommodations, restaurants, pottery shops, and other points of attraction. (I met one tourist walking around one day who didn’t know there was a restaurant in La Campa, and since there aren’t any stores in La Campa, just figured she wouldn’t eat until the next day when she returned to Gracias. . . not exactly the best impression for someone we want to return with friends)
3) Make pamphlets for two trained tour guides who live in La Campa about the tours they offer and their prices and a pamphlet for the potters who offer demonstrations of making their pottery. All to be available in the museum and in Gracias

As of now, few tourists go to see pottery demonstrations and even fewer ask for a tour guide. But it’s not because the interest is not there. Several tourists come to La Campa and want to see the pottery made but just don’t know where to go. And it’s hard for small villagers to understand that not all tourists are comfortable (language-wise or not) with just asking random locals where to do such things. People here tell me, “Well the tourists just have to ask and we can tell them how to get to the potters’ houses to see demonstrations”. But tourists want it easier. They want one place with all the information on what you can do, how you can do it, and how long it will take to do in La Campa.

As for the pottery itself, I’m still working with the women’s group in Nueva Esperanza and recently got involved with working with a man named Amadeo in La Campa who buys the pottery and sells it elsewhere. Amadeo manages an Agroforestry Cooperative, owns a hotel, and has been mayor for three terms in La Campa. He’s a very motivated individual and very involved with development here. By working with him, I can support all the other potters in the area as he buys from all of them. He also owns a car and so transportation of the pottery is a lot more feasible if we have more people interested outside of La Campa and Gracias.

In addition to this, I was nominated to be a VOS (Volunteers Offering Support) member. I had to go to Tegucigalpa for a few days of training and learning about VOS. Basically it’s like Freshman Peer Mentoring or being an RA in the dorms again. If any volunteers have a problem and need someone to talk to, then they can call me up. After signing the contract to be a VOS member, we had elections for new officers and I am Training Coordinator with another volunteer from my group, Anne Marie (we were in the same Spanish class way back during training). I was a little reluctant to be a part of the leadership because I live so far from Tegucigalpa, but I think it works out well that there are two of us for the job. So next year we are in charge of running the training for the new VOS members and also training Peace Corps staff.

So these are the main things that keep me busy. I’m working on other little projects like making tree nurseries, teaching English, touching up my house, or just helping out where I can. And when I don’t have that much to do, I have the freedom to travel and hang out with other volunteers; maybe go and eat pizza in Santa Rosa de Copan or other foods from the states that I miss. But I really like staying in Nueva Esperanza chatting with my neighbors, hanging out with Ellen, having people over, or going to “pasear” (walk around and see people). I still love visiting my host family and other families and friends that don’t get out as much. But I also always have a pot of coffee ready for anyone that may drop by for a quick visit. Actually, if I don’t see certain people about once a week, they think I am mad at them. So I try to get out as much as I can and I always have my door open when I am home. Talk about pressure to upkeep the social life!

Martir (left) and Selvin (right) putting up the posts for my fence

A snake found right outside my house. We think it´s a python of some sort but are unsure

Martir tightening the barbed wire around the posts

My neighbor, Neptaly, came to help out. Him and Selvin unwinding the barbed wire

Soccer season has also started up and so every weekend there are games in Nueva Esperanza and in the stadium in La Campa. Most communities have their own team, or two like Nueva Esperanza and La Campa which have tons of players. Watching the games makes me miss competitive sports so I may soon find myself on a girls’ team if one is ever formed. The best part about the soccer games is that everyone there has come to just have a good time. The school teachers make up half the team as well as some of the students they taught 6 years before. The referee is the local shop owner and is running around on the field in jeans and a checkered shirt. Sometimes watching the games in the stadium makes me forget that I’m in Peace Corps because when I look around, I feel like I could be at a game in the states, or anywhere. The boys think they’re cool wearing their baseball caps sideways eating “topoillos” (frozen bags of juice) and flirting with the girls who have put on their cutest outfits and are sitting in groups pretending they don’t see the guys, the men are eating chips with a Coca-Cola and moving around greeting one another, and the women are selling “pastelitos” (fried turnovers with potatoes or rice inside) and other homemade snacks while their youngest are running back and forth along the bleachers. No one has to work, all worries are forgotten, and everyone is enjoying the Sunday afternoon, the long-awaited day of rest.

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