Friday, May 29, 2009

Construction fun

So since the rainy season has started, people that didn’t get a chance to finish the building they wanted to do during the dry season this year have to protect their adobe (mud bricks) or they will ruin in the storms. My friend and neighbor, Irene, Juan’s brother, was planning on starting to build his house this year but because of his studies in the university, didn’t get a chance to start. So I helped him with Martir (who built my fence) to cover the adobe with nylon and a roof of tejas and zinc. I have never helped put tejas on a roof before so it was a learning experience for me and a lot of fun hanging out with my friends. It’s moments like these that I will miss dearly when I leave.

Martir and I


Perfectly laid tejas

Me learning to lay tejas


The neighbors' kids watching and probably wondering what the heck I'm doing (hey, I'm used to that by now)

Carnaval in La Ceiba

La Ceiba, "the girlfriend of Honduras" has a festival every year called "Carnaval". It's pretty much Honduras' version of Mardi Gras. But after seeing the photos in the newspaper of it last year, I was determined to go this year. I went with Vanessa, her boyfriend Chad, and a few of the guys from my group and we stayed in a hostel pretty close to the action. But there were loads of other volunteers there. I guess 200,000 people come to this festival where there are live concerts on every block, a parade, and all kinds of shopping. During the parade they throw out beads to the crowd. Vanessa and I had a contest on who could get the most. She beat me by one! (She got nine and I got eight.) Here are some photos of the fun!

Vanessa and I getting ready at the hotel href="">
Chad, Charlie, and I

The parade!

More of the fun

People from the balconies were throwing out money and beads

A father and his daughter enjoying the festivities

A float

Even the presidential candidate Pepe Lobo had a float

Late night snack

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Next Step

Last week I traveled to the capital, Tegucigalpa, for an interview I had with USAID for an internship position they were offering. I was super nervous for the interview because they were only offering one position this time around. (Earlier this year, they offered and filled two internship positions which I didn’t apply for.) This year-long internship will let me get a feel for international development work and I’ll be able to see if it’s something that I would be interested in doing in the future. After working in development for a year and a half, I have realized how much I enjoy this work and that my experience with Peace Corps and living directly in a rural community has given me a good firsthand idea of what it takes to have sustainable and successful development and the obstacles that come about when working to reduce poverty.

So, I was super excited when USAID called me May 13th to tell me I got the position!! For the first six months, I’ll work in programming in the office in Tegucigalpa. Basically monitoring projects that have been initiated in different communities and finding ways to improve efficiency and sustainability. Then for the last six months I’ll choose a department to work in which can be municipal development, democracy, agriculture, education or environment. I most likely will choose the environmental department where they will be working on a renewable energy project. But I have been teaching here in La Campa 7th grade English and Mathematics through EDUCATODOS, a USAID education program for adults who have dropped out of school but want to continue their education, and so the head of USAID suggested that I would be able to contribute to improving the manuals and books we use. So if I have time and if it’s allowed, I might want to work a little in the education department as well. Also, it’s a paid job (What?! Courtney making money?!) and would allow me to be in Honduras for another year. Now, before everyone starts moaning that I’m never coming back to the states, I plan on coming back at the end of September for three weeks when my Peace Corps service ends. Yay! And I definitely plan on coming back again in June 2010.

Through Peace Corps, I think I have finally found a field of work that I really enjoy. My heart has always been in environmental conservation and sustainability and I have always been mindful of living a sustainable life that takes into consideration our wellbeing as well as our relationship with the planet. For me, environmental awareness and conservation are key aspects of international development. How can we improve work plans or developmental programs for the people and at the same time take into consideration our environment? I have really enjoyed the work I have done in eco-tourism here in La Campa, generating income for the locals but also raising awareness of the beauty of the nature around us. Also, the stoves project turned out to be a success because there is less smoke in the houses and thus less respiratory infection, and at the same time there is less deforestation. A career that focuses on the improvement of the human condition while placing emphasis on the environment and sustainability seems like a perfect career for me. And now I have the opportunity to get a feel for what that type of work may be like through this internship. On another happy note, one of my best friends here, Mary, another PAM volunteer from my group, was one of the two who got the internship the first time around. So we are gonna find an apartment together in Tegucigalpa. Woohoo! Wish me luck and I’ll see you all in September!

Cooking Classes . . . Got recipes??

With new stoves and new ovens, the women of the improved stoves project and I are begining cooking classes. Malnutrition is prevalent in the area. World Vision came though a couple of months ago to weigh the children who are being sponsored by people in the states. I went to help out and visit Anna, the Peace Corps volunteer in Gracias who works for World Vision, who was working with them. Anna was in charge of weighing all of the kids that came in and if they were underweight, they were sent to another corner of the kindergarten where they met with a doctor. If the kids were a healthy weight, they were sent off with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Unfortunately, I don’t remember seeing a single child being sent off without first having to go see the nurse.

Hopefully through these classes, the women will learn how to cook more healthily through baking more, frying less, and learning a variety of new recipes. What are we gonna try first?? . . . Pizza! And everyone is super excited!! (I gave it a trial run with my friend Sonia in her oven and it cooked perfectly!) Through these cooking classes, I also hope that the women can learn to make faster, easier foods so they will have more free time that they can dedicate to other things such as other work, pottery, or being with their family. And who knows? We already broke the barrier that manual labor is just for men, maybe the men can participate in learning the easy recipes and prepare lunch or dinner for their wife! Another possibility is learning to make bread and since the same fire that heats the stoves heats the oven below, the women can be making lunch and backing bread at the same time which they can sell at community events and generate more income.

So, what I am asking from all of you is if you have any healthy, easy recipes that you think would be fun and would like to contribute to the women of Nueva Esperanza, I am putting together a cookbook and would love your contributions. The ovens heat up to about 350 degrees or so but lower temperature recipes would probably be ideal. Also, the ovens only heat up from the top so any foods you know how to make that require broiling or that recommend being baked on the top rack of an oven would be awesome. Thanks so much for your help!!

47/55 stoves done . . .Finally nearing the end

Olga with her new stove
I never thought that I would be able to say this, but the improved stoves project which was my main focus during this last year and a half, is finally coming to a close! No more hauling bricks, no more dirty fingernails that never get clean! Initially, the project was to make 36 stoves. But because the mayor ended up contributing more money than originally planned and because some materials were cheaper than what we budgeted, we were able to make 55 stoves in total. (With another 20,000 Lempiras left over!! This extra money, is going towards making six public latrines in Otolaca, an area in Nueva Esperanza where the farmers are experimenting with new horticulture, and towards making a greenhouse to grow horticulture seeds, a project World Vision is helping out with as well (another story).

The women of the stoves project and I have come a LONG way. While every challenge and stressful situation was tough at the time and there were countless moments when I felt like I was tumbling uncontrollably into a black hole of failure and I didn’t know what I was doing, it makes this moment so much sweeter. My pride for the women and what they have accomplished is beyond words. I remember how, in the first meeting in November of 2007, the women were reluctant to participate in a self-esteem game where we stood in a circle and said one thing about ourselves that we were proud of. In this first meeting, most of the women were shocked when I explained they were going to be constructing the stoves and told me construction was “man’s work”. Now, at the completion of this project, there will be 55 new stoves in Nueva Esperanza made by 55 trained women.

And that’s just in Nueva Esperanza! The women have also been sought out to make the stoves outside of the community. One group of women was paid to go to another town an hour and a half away to make the stove in the home of a man who was interested in the design. Imagine four women taking a man to a hardware store to tell him what he needs to buy and then him paying THEM for their construction work! Another woman told me she is planning on making the stove in another town where her family lives.

Many women who, on the first day of construction, were hesitant to pick up a machete and start building, by the end had developed greater self-esteem and confidence that they were offering to help make the stoves for others outside of their group. The requirement for each woman was to help build three stoves, but most helped out with 5 or 6, one helped out with as many as 11! At the school parents’ meeting, the president of the board (who happens to be a man) asked that the women who knew how to make the stoves come to make one in the school.

And of course, as a Protected Areas Management volunteer, the environmental component of the project is just as important. José Paz Orellana, the husband of one of the beneficiaries of the project, told me, “This was a good project because it mobilized the community in a way that has never happened before here. The women have never been organized in groups before and they have never worked together as they did for this project.” He also told me that, “Every three days, I had to bring home a load of firewood which is a lot of time spent hauling a heavy cargo because our stove before used a lot. Now, the same load of firewood is good for the whole month, so I only have to bring a load once a month and because of that I have more time to be doing other things like working in the fields or being with my family.”

Let’s hear a big hooray for the women!!

The women in action

The women (and men and children) who helped out

Goodbye summer!

A view from the top: Looking down on Nueva Esperanza where the rain is starting to fall heavily

This last week marked the end of the dry season. What were benign, white clouds that first started to appear in the brilliant, blue sky about a month ago have gradually turned into the dark gray ones full of water. And finally they burst. We had a couple of hard storms come through that turned the roads into slippery mud (I was walking home the other day and just as I was thinking about how slick it was and that I should be extra careful not to fall . . . I landed on my butt and got my pants, bag, and shoes all muddy.)

I used to love the sound of rain on the roof because it was so peaceful and I felt so safe inside a cozy home. Now, even though I still love the rain and usually go outside to my patio to watch it fall, the sound of it when I am inside my room bothers me. When the big storms come, there isn’t the security that you’re gonna stay dry as you do in the states. I have to make sure I get everything valuable like my computer and camera stored away. I also have to tightly seal any food that is out and hide anything made of paper so it doesn’t get wet. The worst feeling is cold raindrops on your face when you are trying to fall asleep at night.

But the rain also turns everything green which is good news for crops and the cows and horses. Nueva Esperanza has been very dry and the animals were really suffering to find enough grass to eat and water to drink. Many people were talking about how their animals were suffering and some lost their animals to lack of food. The green grass and mountain also reminds me of the beauty of home in Oregon, making me nostalgic and eager to return home. (Less than five months away!)

Elias walking fast with corn to feed the hungry cows.

The rain flooding onto my patio

Gray skies

It hails in Honduras?!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Summer photos Jan-March 2009

Milton and me

A wedding in Nueva Esperanza in the Evangelical Church

The wedding celebration.

Food served at the wedding

My friend Juan hanging out

Ursula burning the hairs off a chicken for dinner

A small summer construction project for me . . . Nelo putting in an electroducha! Yay hot showers!

A full ride headed out of La Esperanza. This is how it's done when you don't have a car and you need to get home.

Sugar cane harvest time

Fire cooking the sugar cane juice.

The sugar cane juice boiling down to make "dulce" or "miel"

I visited my friend's tomato farm which has been running for three years. Other farmers started experimenting with tomatoes this last year as well although some crops were lost to plagues.

Mangoes almost ready to be eaten!

Yup! All those little green ovals are mangoes! I eat mangoes everyday . . . I know you're jealous!

Go Honduras!!

Anyone following the World Cup qualifications? Well, Honduras survived the first cut and is fighting to make the top five that will go on to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa this year. Every two months or so the Selection team plays in San Pedro Sula. I went the first time to see Honduras beat Jamaica and the game was awesome!

In January, Honduras was scheduled to play Mexico in San Pedro again. This was the BIG game. If we didn’t win, then we were OUT!! So you can imagine how packed the stands were. Nine of us volunteers got together to go watch. This game happened a while ago but it took me a while to get the photos from others. We had to fight to get enough room for all of us to sit together, and then we got poured on and were soaked the whole night. But when we beat Mexico, I think all of San Pedro shook with the energy and excitement coming from the stadium.

Kyler and Bryce

Getting Dirty in Organics

I regret not having enough time or a lot of knowledge in agriculture to have gotten involved with an organized group of farmers that are trying out new horticulture products in the area. Some farmers who are beneficiaries of a big irrigation project that was finishing up when I arrived are branching out from growing corn and beans and trying things like green beans, tomatoes, and green peppers. So far, only a few tomato harvests have been lost to some plagues and diseases. Other than that most out here are learning fast and it’s nice that I don’t have to go into town for ALL my veggies now. (Tomatoes never really did survive the bus well).

An institution sent a guy out here to teach the farmers how to make organic compost. I had a few recipes for some Bocashi and was invited to come along to help out and learn as well. Truthfully, besides the compost I am trying to make in my house with my leftover fruit and veggie peels, I don’t know anything about compost. So I skimmed a book about the subject before heading to the workshop which was at my host mom’s house. The workshop was informative, long, messy, but most importantly, fun! And sometimes I forget how much I enjoy these community activities and how much it means to them that I am just around.

The layers of the compost

Coffee shell is added to make it richer

Francisco (my host dad, remember?) adding the active microorganisms

Atanacio and Maria Santos sifting dirt

Camilo putting down a layer of dirt

Me using a "bomba" to irrigate the compost