Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Traditional Lencan Practice – Firsthand!!

As I have mentioned earlier, the Lenca are famous for the ceramics they make. Not only do they make everything by hand without using any special equipment, but they also make it from the sand and mud collected from the river or the side of the road. The ceramics are coated in red with a paint that is also made from the earth. Many of the women in my community dedicate their lives to making and selling these ceramics either in small shops (alfarerías) in La Campa or on the streets in Gracias. My counterpart’s wife, Moncha, is one of these women and she invited me over one day when she was going to fire the pottery. Here are some photos of the process:

First, you let the ceramics sit in the sun for a few hours.

Next, using something to keep the ceramics from touching the coals beneath (in this case bricks and pieces of broken pots that have cracked in the sun), you stack the pottery upside down, placing the smaller pieces in the larger pots and making miniature “ovens”.

The pans and pitchers (or anything that has already been painted) must be inside the larger pots or the color will get ruined.

Once all the little pieces are hidden inside the miniature ovens, the rest of the larger pots are stacked upside down one on top of the other.

The most costly part of the whole process is the amount of wood it takes to fire the pots. Firewood (leña) can either be bought or people can go and collect it themselves. Wood is placed around and on top of the stack of pots until they are all completely hidden.

Then, small pieces of kindling (called ocote) are lit and spread around the whole heap until the fire burns evenly.

I honestly had never seen a fire that huge and intimidating! The flames got to be about 6 feet tall and even from ten feet away, my forearms were getting burned. It was a very windy day so we had to be careful because even from 15 feet back if the wind changed, you could feel the burn! (I like this photo because you can see the intensity of the fire and also Celaque is in the background).

Moncha let the fire go for about 30 to 45 minutes, or once the pots start to turn white. When they start to turn white, she uses a long stick to knock the wood away. But even from that distance she has to move in quickly, try to knock some wood down, and then turn back because the heat burns her face.

If the pottery is not fired for long enough, it will eventually crack. But if it is fired for too long, it will crack. So it’s a process that takes careful scrutiny. Once all the wood is removed, the pots are left to cool.

Then, all that is left is to paint the ones that have not already been painted and then sell them! Moncha’s mother taught her this whole process of making ceramics and it is a very traditional and famous Lencan practice that has been passed down through the years. And as Moncha learned from her mother, she has taught her daughter, Francis, to carry on this unique cultural tradition.

While Moncha tells me she sells a fair amount in Gracias, it’s hard to depend on this income as it varies according to how many tourists are around and how much they want to buy Lencan artwork. However, I think there is a lot of potential to expand and diversify this market and so hopefully I will be working more with these women concerning that or with ecotourism, trying to bring more tourists here.

Ceramics and pottery in a storehouse in La Campa ready to be sold in Gracias (these aren`t actually Moncha`s work)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Photos of Nueva Esperanza

Coffee from the coffee farm of my friend, Tino

Celaque, as I was walking to La Campa

I finally found a food that I cannot eat. . . chicken feet! Luckily, my family was not offended when I said I just can`t eat it.

A view of the Catholic church and La Campa

A ´´cangrejillo´´which actually was in my room in El Suyate during FBT. Luckily, I haven´t seen one of these yet. Instead, we have these:

A ´´gallo´´ which I am told if it bites you, you have to go to the hospital. I am also told it turns into a butterfly though so I am not sure what to believe besides my gut instinct to not get anywhere near them!

My host father, Francisco, turned 34 last week!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Nueva Esperanza

View of Celaque on the way to La Campa

So, a little bit about my site. The name of my site is Nueva Esperanza which means “new hope” in English. It was named Nueva Esperanza after a priest came and had a vision of new hope for the people in the community. Nueva Esperanza is a community that is located in the municipality of La Campa and the department of Lempira (the divisions of the country). There is also a community of La Campa which is about a half hour walk from Nueva Esperanza. In the community of La Campa, there is an internet café, a few hotels, and a few restaurants. There is also one of the oldest churches in Honduras.

Catholic Church in La Campa - one of the oldest in Honduras

Gracias is the nearest town to me, about 45 minutes to an hour on bus, and there I can find almost any basic necessity. (The difference between a community and a town is that a community is much smaller and usually only has one main road while a town has many roads and you can find things like mini supermarkets). Gracias is a pretty touristy town which means there are many hotels, restaurants, and good transportation. But there are also vendors that will jack up their prices if they notice you’re a foreigner. Luckily, because I am short, have dark hair, and a stunning Spanish accent (hehehe), I don’t get too much attention as a tourist. There are a few volunteers there, I think like four but from different projects. You can also catch the road to Celaque National Park in Gracias.

In the department of Lempira, there are many communities that are Lenca, such as La Campa and Nueva Esperanza. One main characteristic of the Lenca is that they are short in height and also make beautiful ceramics by hand, (without that turning wheel that some artists use.)

I was told by Peace Corps that Nueva Esperanza has a population of about 700 people, but everyone here says its more around 300 which I think is more accurate. There are no restaurants, cafés, parks or any public places in general. I think this has posed as the biggest challenge for my integration since there is no place where people go to hang out. I am seriously thinking about going and sitting every day on this big, nice looking rock in the middle of a field and reading my book until people come past that I can talk to. Maybe I will take my Frisbee out to the soccer field and toss it around to myself until people start to show up and we can get a game going. That would be quite the sight though, the crazy Peace Corps volunteer tossing an upside-down plate-shaped object into the air to herself. LOL. (However, the thought of starting an Ultimate Frisbee team or a girls soccer team has definitely crossed my mind.)

Rio Serapia

Whenever there are community or project meetings, they are held in the school or in the kindergarten. Here in Nueva Esperanza, there is electricity, running water, two soccer fields, and cell phone service which we just got this last year. The houses are very spread out, with some houses built close by but others can be 45 minutes away by foot. I still haven’t gotten the chance to walk around and see where all the houses are.

Also here in Nueva Esperanza, there is a lot of poverty. To tell you the truth though, it actually took me a while to notice. It’s funny because it’s so easy to distinguish destitute conditions when watching the news or tv. But when you are inside these peoples’ houses laughing over a cup of coffee, getting to know the families, and playing with the kids, it doesn’t really seem like things are that bad. I hardly notice the chickens and pigs that are running around the mud floors inside the houses because this is common in every house. And I’m not shocked to see a young girl wearing only an age-worn shirt and torn dirt-stained shorts because the 2-year old boy next door runs around in only a shirt. But how did I not realize there was poverty all around me with such obvious indications? I think that over the last three months while I was slowly adjusting to living in different conditions, this meant getting used to living around and in poverty.

Here in Nueva Esperanza, the water I drink comes from the same water tank that everyone shares. When the electricity goes out, I light the same candles that can be found in any home, and the materials that will make up my house are the same used to build any house here. However, in truth, I need to stay aware of the fact that these people do live in deprivation and in a worst state than I ever will find myself in. While my living conditions are similar to that of these people, I really have so much more. We all have the same access to the same foods, but I can afford to buy enough to feed myself. The doctor is the same distance away in Gracias, but I can afford whatever medicine I need. The bus stops for every person that wants to board, but I can pair the fare. And while Peace Corps gives me just enough money so that I have to be conscious about what I am buying, I can depend on this money every month while some families don’t have such stability.

From left to right, my sisters, Janeysi and Eldy, and my brother, Javier.

Me with my Javi and Eldy

Swearing-In Ceremony

Final Recommendation to be sworn-in as a volunteer

Back in Teguz before our swearing-in ceremony at the US Embassy, we got a tour of the Peace Corps office where everything that has to do with Peace Corps goes down and where everyone we need can be found. There is also a resource center for volunteers with a phone, three computers with internet access, and tons of shelves of books (resource books and novels) that we can borrow. We also had elections for VAC (the Volunteer Advisory Committee) which is a group that meets with Trudy, our country director, once every three months in Teguz to discuss how to improve Peace Corps here in Honduras and to bring up concerns that volunteers have had. Each project gets to pick two people for the committee and so Alice was elected as our representative and I am the alternate.

The swearing-in ceremony was held outdoors at the US Embassy. It was a very nice celebration and we got to hear words from the US Ambassador himself. He began with a speech in Spanish (like all the speakers) so that everyone could understand. And then he addressed us directly with a few words in English. One thing that he said that I really enjoyed was that Peace Corps is a program where success is not defined by the money you earn, but by the relationships you build. I thought this was nicely worded and very true. I wish it could be true worldwide. At the end of the speeches, we all stood, raised our right hand, and repeated the same swearing-in statement that all government officials, soldiers, marines, etc state.

PAMers at the swearing-in ceremony at the US Embassy

After the swearing-in ceremony, all the volunteers were invited to the Ambassador’s house for a few hours of fun. Sitting high above the homeless beggars and trash-filled streets of Teguz is the nicest house that I imagine exists in Honduras. The Ambassador’s house has a pool, basketball court, beach volleyball court, and . . . yes . . . a tennis court! I didn’t think I would get as excited as I did at the sight of a tennis court. Brianna (my roommate from way back in Washington D.C. who played #1 at her college) and I immediately picked up the rackets and played the WHOLE time we were there. I was one of the first ones off the bus and we were the last ones to board at the end of the day. The next day, I was so sore but in that good familiar way that I used to get after playing a tournament. I can’t even describe how good it felt to play.

PAMers in Santa Lucia for the last day of training

Sunset in Tegucigalpa

A last goodbye in Teguz before we left for our sites

Site Visit

A view of Celaque from Nueva Esperanza

Well, I am now officially in my site where I will be for the next two years! Arriving here for the first time was like a blow to my head saying, “Hey do you remember you’re in Honduras?” After getting back to Santa Lucia from Field-Based Training, it seemed like everything was in fast-forward. We got back on a Tuesday and the next day we met our counterparts. Menelio told me my counterpart is a “humble campesino” which was a perfectly worded description. My counterpart’s name is Eleuterio (or Don Terio). Don Terio is about 4 inches taller than me, has a graying moustache, and always carries a smile. My favorite characteristic of him though is that when he reads, he pulls out a pair of silver glasses that sit crookedly on his head. If one of the sides of the glasses goes behind his ear, the other side is sitting halfway between his ear and the top of his head. He can shift them though so that his glasses sit behind his ear on the other side, but then they move up on the other side. I would think that would drive him crazy having them sit so awkwardly on his head and that he would want to get them fixed, but the lenses aren’t crooked and so I guess it works for him.

The day after meeting our counterparts, we headed to our sites! I hadn’t even unpacked yet from getting back from El Suyate/Morocelí and then we were off again. Eleuterio and I took the 5:15 am bus from Santa Lucia to get into Tegucigalpa. In Tegucigalpa, we took the 6 am bus to Santa Rosa de Copán, a 7 hour bus ride. From Santa Rosa, another bus for 1 ½ hours to Gracias and then from Gracias we took a mototaxi (a three-wheeled golf cart practically) for 45 minutes to my site. There are a couple of buses that go to Nueva Esperanza but, unfortunately, they leave between 1-2 pm. Then, the only way to get there is to hitchhike or to take a mototaxi (which is not recommended by me because it’s expensive or by Peace Corps I learned later because it’s unsafe).

I finally entered my host family’s house around 4:30 pm with about 90 pounds of luggage and without having eaten anything except breakfast at 5 am. On the long bus ride between Teguz and Santa Rosa de Copán, the bus only stops once at a place where you can buy an actual meal, but that is only 2 hours into the trip and only for 15 minutes. Along the way, people board to sell small things like cookies, fried banana chips, sweets, and coconut milk; and every time the bus stops there are people standing outside sometimes selling things like fried fish or chicken on long sticks so you can reach it from the windows, but I’m not yet brave enough to try this street food on a bus that has no bathroom. And I didn’t really feel like filling my stomach with snacks.

So, it takes a whole day to travel to my site; 11 ½ hours the first time. But because of bus schedules and such, it takes two days to get from my site back to Teguz. Thus, my site visit was only a couple of days long. Eleuterio took me to various meetings that were going on around the community where I got to introduce myself and get to know some of the people. We also looked at a house that I could possibly live in after my two months with a host family. (Although I have decided the house is too isolated from my community and so I’m not going to live there. Now, everything starts. Training just provided the crossing from the life I was used to to this new reality. I joined the Peace Corps because I wasn’t quite yet ready for a life in the workforce in the US. But now I am here in Honduras more nervous than ever to start this job that I don’t even get paid for, and I don’t even get to work in my native language! Sometimes I can’t help but think, “I joined the Peace Corps, what was I thinking?”

My host family`s house and pulperia.