Monday, July 16, 2007

Imagenes de Santa Lucia, Honduras

A pet monkey we randomly found near an artesania

The parrot that wakes me up every morning yelling "Mama cafe!" ("Mom, coffee!")

My host grandma grinding garlic with a rock

A pretty flower that comes in pink and red, too.

The main street of Santa Lucia

Nayeli and Diego

Some ducks in the lagoon


A catepillar seen at the training office

Santa Lucia is a little town about half an hour away from Tegucigalpa. The Peace Corps office has been in Santa Lucia for several years and so the small town is used to seeing Americans around. Twice a year, a new group of PC trainees come to live with Santa Lucia families and the same traditions are somehow passed from one group to another. (For example, one woman who lives close to me makes the famous “Santa Lucia bread” which comes in flavors like cinnamon, cheese, carrot, banana, wheat, and garlic and only costs a little over a dollar for a loaf. She says its like Christmas when PC volunteers come because we always order a ton of loaves). Also, my friend’s host mom told me that because so many volunteers come through Santa Lucia, the town kind of has a protective eye over the volunteers. So, Santa Lucia is a great half-way step for us to make the transition from US to Honduran life.

The weather here is mild compared to other parts of the country. It’s much cooler in Santa Lucia than in Tegucigalpa and we see a lot of rain (perfect weather for me!) On sunny days, the temperature is in the 70s or hotter, but Santa Lucia also sees some very heavy rainstorms. Even as an Oregonian, I am impressed by the rainstorms we get here. Sometimes the rain is so loud on our tin roof that I can’t hear my host family speak to me! Also, the clouds pass by Santa Lucia faster than I have ever seen before, so it’s hard to predict what the weather is going to be like. One day, it will be sunny and I will be enjoying the warmth, doing my homework in a café. Fifteen minutes later, the blue sky has disappeared behind an ominously dark cloud and I have to race home to get my rain jacket and get my laundry off the lines before the downpour. Other times, I will be so sure it’s going to rain but the rain clouds pass by too fast before they can drop anything.

Friday, July 13, 2007

¡Bienvenidos a Tegucigalpa! - July 11

¡Buenos días a todos! I write you all from my room with my host family! We arrived at the staging office in Santa Lucia around 3 pm and then at 5 pm, we all went off with our familias. After just being with them for the night, I have automatically switched into Spanish mode. Even remembering to type in English now is a bit difficult! It’s amazing how fast the transition can be. My mother’s name is Sagrario (but I call her Chayo) and she lives with her mother who is 83 years old and her 16 year old daughter, Elisa. That was all the info I had on my sheet. But it turns out that the area where she lives is kind of like a mini apartment complex.

Chayo at the pila preparing lunch.

Chayo’s house is very small with a main living room that has a couch, a table, and a television, and then just my bedroom and the other bedroom that Chayo, Elisa and the grandmother all share. The kitchen is separate from the house and to make tortillas we put wood underneath the stove and light a fire!

My siser, Eliza and my grandma, Eldea

The wood stove

If you walk a little ways away, there is another small house with one bedroom, a living room, and an electric kitchen with a table and chairs. This is Melissa (Chayo’s other daughter) and Orlando’s house. Here, Chayo cooks most of the meals (except the tortillas) and we eat in here, too. There is only enough room for three seats though, so Sagrario, Eliza, and I eat at the table while the others watch tv and eat in the living room. There are some other houses in the area and all of them are protected by the one gate that leads to the street.

The furthest door is the toilet and the closest one is the shower.

The bathroom and shower are completely separate of everything and the toilet is in another room right next door. Although these facilities are public to all the houses in this “complex”, we are all like family and so I don’t feel too uncomfortable walking from my house to the showers in a towel. There are no mirrors anywhere so I bought one in town for 25 lempiras (about $1.50). The most culturally unique part of Honduran life is “la pila”. There is only one sink here, in Melissa’s kitchen, which only has running water part of the time and is used only to wash dishes. All other washing (including washing vegetables, laundry, my face/hands, brushing my teeth . . .) happens at “la pila” which is a very large cement square open tank right outside the house that is filled to the brim with water. However, you have to use the water sparingly because it is all you have (for everything!) for 7 days. Every Wednesday, the water is turned on in the community and everyone empties their pila, cleans it, and then refills it. La pila has to be emptied and scrubbed every week because otherwise it is an ideal site for the mosquitoes that carry dengue.

La pila

My room is very small, probably about 10’x 10’. The walls are worn and uneven with various holes in the wall that are big enough to host all kinds of insects. But I try not to think about that. My bed takes up over half the room and there is a small desk, a straw stool, a cushioned chair, and a small closet with 15 hangers. (The closet is thin planks of wood stapled together with a curtain over it.) To give you an idea of the size of the room, there is not enough floor space to completely roll out my yoga mat, or lay down on for that matter. I felt so awkward when PC dropped off my checked bags because they looked huge compared to my room.

My room

I think my living conditions have been my first wake-up call. I really was not too worried about my home stay conditions and just assumed I would adjust easily to the conditions. When I stayed with a home stay in Oaxaca, Mexico, the conditions were very similar to the house here and I was fine with them. However, the only difference is that I am going to be living in this room for three months, almost as long as a semester! I already know that it is necessary for me to make many lifestyle changes, such as not leaving everything on the ground because there is no room for clutter. Also, I already feel so privileged and spoiled. I showed Eliza’s sister, Cristina, some of the electronics I brought and I think it was overkill. We were playing with my travel alarm clock that has a radio when she asked to see photos of my family. So I pulled out my laptop and showed her. Then, when I needed to look up a word I didn’t know, I pulled out my battery-operated translator from my pocket.

Last Thoughts - July 10

Today was the longest and last day of staging. Tomorrow, we depart for Santa Lucia (very close to Tegucigalpa) for three months of Pre-Service training. So, basically, we get up tomorrow at 2 am, fly to Miami and then “Teguc”, meet the PC staff in Honduras, and then meet our home-stay families. One of the main topics at staging was personal safety and how to cope with unwanted attention. Truthfully, I have never been too worried about dealing with harassment or anything like that . . . until now. Usually, I have just ignored any unwanted attention and then that would be the end of that. But now I am going to be in a town for two years, probably walking the same streets everyday. And so I didn’t think about the fact that if someone is bothering me, I might actually see them again, and they might even know where I live alone! But at the same time, what can I say that doesn’t come off as rude but also gets my message across? My goal is to integrate into the community and befriend the locals, but how will I do that with the person that is giving me unwanted attention? In one of the videos we watched, they showed a Peace Corps Volunteer walking around her village in Africa and being followed by a group of men shouting at her. The men were just playing and the volunteer ignored them and kept walking, which is what I would have done, I thought. Then, one of them grabbed her arm to get her to stop. I inwardly froze. Here, people can't just touch you like that. And even though it seemed harmless and the volunteer just pulled away and kept walking, the message stuck with me . . . the rules and laws are different.

Now that staging is over, I think the one word that would best describe how I am feeling right now is NUMB. I feel numb because so many emotions are going through my head right now that it’s almost like I’m not actually experiencing everything happening around me. I think it just hit me that tomorrow I am going to be leaving all luxuries, securities, and relationships behind and replacing it with feelings of loneliness, foreignness, and discomfort. I don’t think it helped that at the end of staging, we all held hands in a circle and said what we were feeling. At this point, I was already pretty close to crying and when people started to cry and talk about how they were going to miss their families so much and that they wanted to curl up in a ball, I almost started to lose it. I really think I would have been fine if I had to deal with all this by myself. But there’s something about being in a large group openly expressing the feelings you are trying to hold inside that intensifies the situation.

To make matters harder, I went to dinner with two girls who both were having boyfriend problems that related to them leaving for two years. I’m glad I didn't save that until the last minute. At least we celebrated with an AWESOME last dinner that lasted 2 hours and cost over $100. Well, tomorrow at 1 pm (Honduran time) I will be in Tegucigalpa. After completing the application, writing various essays, and successfully passing the extensive medical screening, the day that is going to make all of that worth it is finally here!

Monday, July 9, 2007

From Applicant to Trainee

So, I guess I will begin at 12:30 this morning. I was deep in sleep when I heard a whole bunch of noise outside my hotel door. At first, I thought someone was trying to break in because the door was open, banging against the inside lock. But when I came back to my senses, I realized that my roommate, Brianna, had arrived! Brianna is from San Francisco and is doing Municipal Development. It turns out she played #1 on her tennis team in college, too! We stayed up a while just chatting and then finally I passed out.

The next morning, we got dressed in our most professional attire because all volunteers that came early to staging had a unique opportunity . . . to meet the first lady! Yup, I'm talking about Laura Bush! We were told that Laura was giving a talk on volunteering and wanted to recognize all the Peace Corps volunteers in D.C. getting ready to leave. So, we registered (got all our paperwork in, got our passports back, and got debit cards with spending money for the next few days) and then headed out.

There was a group of about 15 of us that got to go and all of us were so excited to meet her. However, when we got to the Hyatt (not the White House, unfortunately), we were all a little let down. It turns out that when we were told that we were going to be recognized by Laura Bush at the conference, they really meant that she was going to talk about us while we waited in the room next door. And then when we were told that after the conference we were going to get to talk with her, they really meant that we got to stand in formation for about half an hour and then Laura would come in and get a photo with us, ask a few broad questions, and then we were escorted off stage. So, after standing around for two hours just to see her for about 2 minutes, we were a little bit disappointed. . . but at least we got to ride in government official cars!

Back at our hotel, staging had begun. All the other volunteers had registered and were doing some icebreaker activities. It turns out there are three programs in which volunteers are categorized: Youth Development (the biggest group), Municipal Development, and Protected Areas Management (my group, the smallest). There are about 10 of us PAM volunteers. Most of the volunteers that I met today were from the west coast and there were some locals from Virginia or the D.C. area.

To give the stats on the volunteers: our group is about 60% women 40% men, most volunteers are between the age range of 22-26, there are five married couples, and one man over 60 years old that I met today who is also a PAM volunteer.

The agenda for today was to talk about the mission of the Peace Corps, the definition of development and success, and safety and support for when we are in-country. My favorite activity was when we openly talked about our anxieties and our aspirations. It was comforting to hear what others were afraid of and excited about because I realized that we really are all in the same boat. Even if someone has more Spanish background or volunteer experience, we all still shared the same fears. I said my biggest fear is not living up to the expectations of the program or not having the knowledge or skills to contribute as much as I would like. Other fears were similar to this, such as failure, loneliness, safety, leaving the comfort of home, and even going home early. But at the same time, a lot of our fears were also what excited us most about doing the Peace Corps such as not knowing what our experience is going to be like, breaking out of our comfort zone, or living in the unfamiliar. While we had many fears to share, they didn't even come close to outweighing our aspirations. When we talked about what we were most excited about, everyone livened up and had an immediate answer to what they looked forward to in these next two years. Their eagerness to succeed was energizing, and after today I can honestly say I have no doubts that the Peace Corps is my calling and I am prepared to face whatever challenges come my way.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The beginning: Day 1 in Washington D.C.

So, my journey began at 6 am this morning. Actually, more like 3:45 am when I got up and in between last-minute packing and eating breakfast, I was frantically looking for the last few small items I did not want to forget (i.e. hackey sack, Spanish/English translator, photos, and glasses . . . which I forgot I had already packed).

One word of advice to everyone out there planning on going on a long trip: PACK EARLY! And if you don't like to pack early, then at least PLAN EARLY (and then pack at least two days before). I think I was more mentally ready to leave than physically, meaning I was excited to go, but the whole process of actually preparing to go was a lot harder than I expected. I left packing to the last day I had left and when 8 pm the night before rolled around and I was half-packed and still wanted to be with my friends and family, it was a pretty stressful, sleepless, night.

Also, at the airport, I came to the realization that I brought way too much stuff. I tried to follow the basic rule of if I can carry it, then I should take it. But I failed to try to see if I could carry everything before getting to the airport. Then at the airport, I realized my mistake.

But on a positive note, I am writing this blog from the safety and comfort of my air-conditioned hotel room and am enjoying free internet, free cable, and am deciding which of the two beds I should sleep in tonight. (Some luxuries I should indulge in now while I still can). And I managed to get all my bags safely to the seventh floor of the hotel, all in one trip.

I had an hour layover in Denver and then finally arrived in D.C. around 4:30 pm. I got to the hotel around 6 pm and immediately changed clothes and headed out the door to do a little bit of sightseeing in my first (and possibly only) free evening in the nation's capital. My first destination, the White House!
And, wow, is it a beautiful place! It was fun actually getting to see the grounds but also more interesting to see what is around the White House that you don't see on tv. For example, there is a woman that has set up an anti-nuclear peace vigil right outside the grounds and her signs say she has been there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1981 protesting war and nuclear and genocidal weapons.

After the White House, I made my way to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, and then to the Capitol. By the time I got to the Capitol, it was around 7:30 pm and I realized that in all the excitement, I had forgotten to eat since breakfast! Maybe the intense 97 degree heat took away my appetite. Anyways, I got dinner from a booth at a fair and then headed back to the hotel exhausted.

Yesterday, thinking about leaving was hard. I was so happy and comfortable being in the familiarity of my own home with my friends that I have known since before high school. It was hard to comprehend that the next day, all that comfort was going to be gone . . . for 27 months! I started to ask myself if I was really ready to leave and I was almost angry at myself for feeling so indifferent to the fact that I was going to leave everyone and everything behind so quickly, with such little closure. Now that I have taken the first step though, there's no looking back. I have made the commitment and I can honestly say that I am thrilled to be here and can't wait to see what tomorrow, the first day of staging, brings me.