Friday, September 28, 2007

Address change

My new address is:

Courtney Dunham
Voluntaria de Cuerpo de Paz
Nueva Esperanza, La Campa
Gracias, LEMPIRA
Honduras, America Central

My new cell phone number is 504-9742-1920. The 504 is the country code.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Randomness that is Honduras

So, our first day in El Suyate, Mary, Alice, Elizabeth, and I somehow managed to join the town soccer team. I’m not really sure how it happened, but after getting settled into our new rooms, we all wanted to see what El Suyate had to offer. We came across the soccer field and we joined in what we thought was just a fun game of soccer. It turned out that the game was actually practice for the girls soccer team. The girls asked us if we wanted to play in their game on Sunday at 1 pm in Los Limones (another community nearby). We agreed, not really thinking we would play or that it would be anything official . . . until they gave us uniforms and told us what positions we would play! I was told I was going to play Volante, (I wasn’t sure if I should tell them that even if they had told me my position in English, I wouldn’t have known what it was!). Luckily, Mary played in college and told me that basically my position means I want to play the middle of the field and that I should run a lot.

(From left to right, Liz, Mary, and me after tying the game.)

When a soccer game is said to start at 1 pm in the states, usually it starts around that time. When a soccer game is said to start at 1 pm in Honduras, that means carry on with your regular daily routine and then at 1 pm start wrapping up your previous activities, get dressed for the soccer game, eat lunch, meet up with your team, chat a little bit, drive to the field, pick up people along the way, chat some more at the field, eat a snack, maybe get a warm-up started, find a referee (and a ball), and then finally start the game at 3:30 pm. On Sunday, Mary, Alice, and I (Liz had other plans for the day) were dressed and ready at 12:30. If the fact that we had uniforms didn’t make me nervous enough already to play a sport I hardly know the rules for, the fact that we picked up half the town on the way to the field sure did! It turns out the girls soccer games are more popular than the boys soccer games here (don’t ask me why). One family has made it a tradition to sell snacks and refreshments at the game. One guy even came with his ice cream cart!

It was about 87 degrees around 1 pm. Maybe around 89 degrees when our opponents finally showed up (around 1:45 pm) and probably over 90 degrees when we finally started the game (around 3:30 pm). What took so long? Well, besides everything I mentioned above, the other team was short two players and so we had to designate which one from our team would switch and then which boy from the crowd could be their goalie. After that, we had to designate who would be the referee. The town bolo (drunk) who started to drink before we left for Los Limones started shouting that he wanted to be referee. Good thing Tristan brought his soccer ball to our game otherwise we would have had to spend another hour or so looking for one since neither of the teams brought one. As we were standing on the field with the whole sideline cheering for “Los Bambis” (our team), Mary whispered to me, “How the hell did we get here? This is definitely one of those situations that you never expect to find yourself in”. No joke!

After 90 minutes of running around in 90 degree heat, the game ended as a tie, 3-3. I almost died from heatstroke out there and at the end of an hour and a half of running around and pushing and shoving, there’s not even a winner?! Although I was frustrated by this fact at the end of the game, I definitely have a lot more understanding and respect for soccer players now.

Group huddle

Thursday, September 6, 2007

More to come . . sorry

So I didnt have a lot of time to upload these last blogs or many pics but hopefully I will find some more time this week. Also, I know it looked like Hurricane Felix completely destroyed all of Honduras, but I am far enough in the country that all we got was rain and some wind. really, the worst damage that the hurricane did was it cancelled school and so we couldn`t do our charla on trash management. LOl Take care and I will try to write again soon!

Field-Based Training: What We Have Done So Far

Hoya Grande

I think I have learned in these first few weeks of FBT why Peace Corps drives around in huge 4WD gas-guzzling “batallas”. (They’re kind of like army jeeps where there are two benches in the back that we all sit on and face each other instead of face forward. These vehicles are needed to get to the most remote of sites (which are mainly PAMer sites). Before FBT, we got our first taste of what the roads are like going to some of the sites. We visited El Cantoral, a small agricultural community in a Protected Area where a good 30 minutes of the drive into El Cantoral was on a very narrow, windy, potholed and rain-washed road. Unfortunately, this is the only road in and out of El Cantoral and it’s not big enough for two cars. We asked Claudia, our project manager, what happens if a car is coming the other way and she replied, “Well, we just hope that doesn’t happen.” When we visited another Protected Areas site, we had to stop while heading up to the site to let another car pass and before we could get going again, Claudia had to jump out of the batalla and set the 4WD on the tires.

Rose, Ross, and our project manager, Claudia, at El Cantoral

PAMers at El Cantoral (Back row - left to right - Claudia, Rachel, Joe, Alice, Yonis (the farmer), Tristan, me, Gabe (current volunteer en Choluteca, Rose, and Ross
Front row - left to right - Areka, Mary, Liz, and Bryce)

So, some of the activities we have done so far:
We started FBT with learning about and making hydroponics for a resident of Morocelí with the Peace Corps volunteer of Morocelí, Tim.

Left to right: Rachel, Tim, Bryce, Ross, and Tristan putting the hydroponics together

Then, we moved onto watersheds and learned about what factors affect the quality of the water, what contaminates the watershed, and the importance of raising awareness in the communities about how to maintain clean, potable water. We ended this lesson with visiting a watershed in Hoya Grande.

Areka, Liz, Alice, and Mary with Claudia

Joe and Mary sawing the sides for the hydroponics

Now that we are in FBT, we have also gotten the opportunity to practice giving charlas (or talks) that we may want to give in our community. Our first week of FBT, we had a whole afternoon to give our very first talk (“charla”) to a Women’s Group (aka our host mothers) about home gardens and organic compost. We began with talking about the importance of having a home garden for nutrition and some other benefits that certain plants and crops provide. We then built an organic garden and planted a bunch of veggies like carrots, onions, cilantro, radish, mustard, beans, and squash. We also made a compost pile next to the garden.

PAMers and helpers after the charla on family gardens

This was a good first charla for us to do because there was more work to be done than talking and we were doing it for our host moms who were very patient with us.

Our completed family garden

We have done a lot of hands-on building and planting as well. We have learned how to construct latrines and build chicken coops. We also visited Hoya Grande again to plant trees and to make a dead barrier (aka a rock wall to protect crops and keep rain from washing away the soil). I think my favorite part of FBT is when we visit different sites where Peace Corps volunteers have had success in making a noticeable difference in their community. When we went to Hoya Grande to see the sustainable agricultural practices that the farmers used, it was really heartening to get to see the end result of a farm that is successful because a Peace Corps volunteer initiated the change and the farmer was able to continue to improve his farm after the volunteer left.

Hiking to the water tank in Hoya Grande

Mary, Ross, and I mixing cement for our latrine construction training

Also, when we went to build chicken coops at a volunteer’s site, her whole Women’s Group that she helped establish came to meet us and talked about how they have felt so empowered organizing the chicken coop project and how they really appreciate that we want to come here to live and help. Sometimes the concept that we are going to go into these communities and are expected to help them change and improve their way of life can seem abstract and even unfeasible. But we were able to see just how possible that really is and that people will be supportive of us in our sites.

View of Hoya Grande

I think one of the greatest benefits that I have gotten from FBT is a lot of experience with giving charlas in Spanish and talking in front of classes or groups of people. During our Spanish hours of the day, my Spanish class (Alice, Liz, and I) has been doing a lot of work in the school here in El Suyate. So far, we have taught an hour of English to the 2nd and 4th grade class and we gave a small charla about our majors in college to the fifth grade class. We also changed our home garden charla to a school garden charla which we presented to the fifth grade class and then together we planted a garden at the school. It´s great getting to work in the schools and I am amazed at how flexible and supportive the teachers have been of our activities. They´re always willing to help us out and have given us a lot of their classroom time to allow us to work with the kids.

This last week, two days of our training was dedicated to an HIV/AIDS awareness session. Three volunteers came to Morocelí to teach us techniques on how to give an effective charla to students about HIV/AIDS. Us PAMers were split into three groups and we prepared a 3 hour charla on HIV/AIDS awareness to present to 13-15 year olds at the Morocelí school the next day. Even after the experience from the previous charlas, I was the most nervous for this charla because the kids we were presenting to were older than I was used to and there wasn’t a big activity in between that they would have to work on (such as building a garden). Instead, it was really 3 hours of us in a classroom talking, explaining, and teaching them about HIV/AIDS . . . in Spanish! The charla covered everything from the definition of HIV, transmission, prevention, and we ended the charla with teaching them how to properly put a condom on a banana. There were a lot of informative games and activities that we did with them and one of the three PCV that came to teach us came with us to fill in the gaps of our talk. Overall, the charla was awesome!! Everything went smoothly and when we read the suggestions they wrote for us, all they had to say was that they really enjoyed the charla, they learned a lot that they didn’t know before, and they want us to come back! After that charla, I have definitely gained a lot of confidence in my Spanish speaking skills and my speaking skills in general in front of a class.

Students picking up garbage around the school after the trash management charla

On To Field-Based Training

After living and going to training for a month in Santa Lucia, we have all graduated from Center-based training and now will begin Field-based training. FBT is basically when PAM, Municipal Development, and Youth Development go to different parts of Honduras for more in-depth technical training. There, we will all live with new homestay families, including the Spanish facilitators as we will still be receiving 4 hours of Spanish class everyday. So, the morning of August 8, we all got up early and said our goodbyes to our friends in different programs. It was especially sad to see that some of the married couples that were in different projects had to split up. However, Peace Corps pays for the travel expenses for them to go visit each other, which is nice. The PAM Field-based training site is Morocelí, a small town of about 6,000 people. However, only half of us live in Morocelí and the other half of us live in a small community just outside of Morocelí called El Suyate. Tristan, Mary, Alice, Bryce, Liz, and I live in El Suyate.

The population of El Suyate is around 600 people and most of the people that live here are farmers of beans and corn. However, there are all kinds of other great crops here. For example, my family on their own grows lemons, oranges, papaya, guayava (a Honduran fruit), bananas (there’s like more than 6 types of bananas here), ayote (like squash), and coconut. I definitely have been eating well since I have arrived and have not had any health-related problems either (most health-related problems I had in Santa Lucia were bathroom-related, if you know what I mean).

I definitely feel that I am becoming more accustomed and familiar with the Honduran lifestyle. I eat corn tortillas (that my mom makes every day from scratch) with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sometimes I will help my mom make tortillas on the weekends but mine don´t look anything like hers which come our perfectly round. She could seriously wrap them in plastic and you wouldn´t be able to distinguish them from the factory-made ones on a grocery shelf.

My new home

My room

Our pila and shower

Like my family in Santa Lucia, my host-family in El Suyate is very kind. I live with my mother, Jesika, her niece, Nancy, my grandpa, Sebastian, and Jesika’s two year old daughter, Lourdes.

Lourdes during her 2nd birthday party

Nazareth (my nephew) and my mom Jesika shelling beans for dinner

However, because Jesika is very good at cooking, there are about double the amount of people at dinner time. I asked Jesika how she knows how many people to cook for since it appears that people just show up randomly and uninvited and expect dinner. She told me that most of the time people come early enough so she knows to make extra or that it just ends up working out in the end. There have been nights where it has just been us at the dinner table and then there have been nights where there are ten other people there waiting to be fed.

A fogon, or a stove made of mud that is used for the cooking.

Besides the paved main road that passes through El Suyate on the way to Morocelí, there are only dirt roads here, although even these roads are more like rough hiking trails. When the heavy rains come, these dirt roads turn into rivers. There are no restaurants here or any place to hang out in public. There is a pulperia (small shopping mart) that doubles as a billiards hall that Bryce and Tristan go to all the time, but girls are not allowed to go there. So, on the weekends, us “Suyate” crew have chosen a bench in the shade near the soccer field as our cool “hang out spot”. It’s nice there cause we can watch people playing in the field and its close to a pulperia where we can buy water. The highlight of El Suyate is the soccer field (of dirt and with holes in the middle of the field that are big enough to hide a small child). Some of the kids sit in the holes and pretend they`re in a spaceship or driving a car.

Our oxen

El Centro in Moroceli where we have training

Although Morocelí is the “town” that all the small communities, like El Suyate, surround, there is also only one paved road there. The rest of the roads are dirt roads but are slightly more developed than those in El Suyate in that they are wider and only turn into mud, not rivers, when it rains. Moro also has an internet café and a couple of restaurants. When the internet is working, we usually head there for a little bit and then off to our favorite restaurant called “Comedor Bella Vista” because it has a beautiful view of the mountains and the owner, Paula, makes the best baleadas I have tasted in my time here. A baleada is a flour tortilla with beans, egg, and butter inside. The butter here is more liquidy and lighter in color here, and it makes the baleada to die for. I don’t know if this is true for the other projects but for PAM, we were split up in two communities and a smaller community was chosen as our FBT site so that we would integrate more with our families and our communities. I really enjoy living in a small community because it has allowed us to get to know practically everyone in about a week. Also, because there isn`t much to do in El Suyate, we spend a lot more time with our families which means we are speaking Spanish more often. During our second language interview, every single one of us improved at least a level or two and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that we spend so much time with our families.


(For Cultural Day, a big party where we exchanged cultures with our host families, my mom and I made arroz de maiz (rice of corn) which is a chicken dish. No joke this was the chicken we ate