Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm a Mother!

Ok, OK, calm down. Its just a puppy. His name is The Dude and if any of you are lucky enough to meet him you will know why. He is black and white and only 5 weeks old. How did this little man find his way into my life you ask? Well actually, last Friday I went to the corner store to buy, of all things, toilet paper and just as I go to pay this puppy runs out. So, of course, I pick it up and make a big deal because dogs that are actually cared-for are hard to come by in this country. Seeing me making a fuss over him, the women who owns the store told me "Well if you like it, take it with you." I was shocked and thought she was kidding but, she wasn't. The puppy I was holding was a girl and to be honest I don't need to be sharing my house with another female so I asked her to bring out the other two boy puppies. Thats when I first saw The Dude. And I knew he was destined to chew my shoes and be a lovable pain in my ass for the next two years. He was covered in fleas and ticks but with Donald's help (you all know how I feel about ticks) the issue was solved and he is now 99% bug free! Probably as clean as me haha. It is my hope that he will grow to a decent size and will walk out to the villages with me as my personal body guard. Heres hoping hes not too stupid, all evidence thus far to the contrary. (I may be a mother now but I will be able to admit if my kid is dumber than a rock. Love isn't that blind and denial isn't that strong.)

So, I went out for toilet paper and came back with a puppy. It was a wonderful surprise. And yet, I can't help wondering what I will come home with the next time I need toilet paper...

Taking it to the Face

(And no, sorry people this does not involve chugging PBR)

Some days just don’t go your way. Case in point, Tuesday September 8th. After scheduling to teach an internet course to graduating high school students and arranging to borrow my counterpart’s modem I was looking forward to a smooth yet fulfilling week. Unfortunately, this would not be the case. On Monday morning my counterpart informs me that she loaned her modem to someone else and I would have to teach my first class sans internet. Ok, fine, awkward but doable. But, I made sure to tell her that I MUST have the modem for the following day. Come Tuesday morning however, my counterpart never comes into work and takes none of my calls. After a few hour quest to find another internet source, I have had enough and I decide I will make the 1+ hour trip to Choluteca (the largest city near my town) and just buy my own modem. After a crammed and smelly bus ride, I walk 15 blocks, sweating like a pig, to the only store that sells modems only to be informed that they are closed for the day because someone tried to rob the store earlier that morning. But, a helpful employee does inform me that, if I am willing, I can make the half hour trip to San Lorenzo and buy it there. So, I quickly hop another bus and find my way to the other store. After an hour of haggling with the sales lady (she was unaware of my amazing negotiating skills), I persuade her to forgo the background check and waiting period and allow me to take the modem with me the following morning in time to teach my class. Happy with myself I buy a licuado (like a milkshake) and make my way to the bus stop.

Before I detail the following event it is important to note that San Lorenzo does in fact have a reputation as being “not very gringo friendly.” However, I have been to this to town before and my friend who is much taller, blonder and has large blue Precious Moments eyes frequents this town every weekend alone to do her grocery shopping so, I had no second thoughts about going there alone.

Now let me set the scene, it is 4pm, broad daylight and there I am at the bus stop enjoying one of San Lo’s famous licuados, minding my own business while standing among other Hondurans and trying to blend in. As I look down at my straw in awe of the delicious goodness flowing into my mouth, my cell phone in the same hand and my other hand on my large bag that was currently holding every important electronic device I have here in Honduras, I look back up at a passing bus and suddenly become aware that out of nowhere a drugged-out man is now standing in front of me. Before I can move away from him he slurs “Regalame un beso” (Give me a kiss) right in my face. Tempted as I was, I mean he had some teeth, I said “No” and just as I took a step back to get away from him, he reached out and slapped me in the mouth knocking my licuado all over the girl next to me and my cell phone to the ground. Shocked, I thought to myself “Oh hell No!” and yelled “No me toca!” (Don’t touch me), quickly taking two steps back as he attempted to hit me again muttering obscenities about “gringas” that won’t give him sex or money. Despite the fact that it was early in the afternoon, no police were around and no one at the bus stop, including the several men witnessing the event (one of which being the 20 something boyfriend of the girl I knocked my licuado all over), tried to intervene. As I attempted to move away from him further while he swung at me again, Glenda, indeed the good witch and the hero of this story, standing behind me with her child starts shoeing him away like a dog and effectively attracting even more attention which up to this point I did not think was possible. Upon hearing her, the loco crossed to the other side of the street and stood directly across from me staring and yelling obscenities. Quickly, I picked up my phone and started to thank the woman for standing up for me when I see her eyes suddenly get huge and whirl around to see the same man charging back across the street headed directly for me. Thinking faster than I, Glenda pulls me over to an old man selling ice cream from a cart and starts scolding him for not saying anything to the loco the first time and telling him that he needs to protect me now. Luckily, once this guy saw me speaking to another male he walked to the other end of the bus stop where he paced back and forth staring at me. After what seemed like an eternity but, in all actuality was only a few minutes, a bus came and I got the hell out of there. The oh so kind Glenda boarded the bus with me and confirmed what I already knew, that the man singled me out because I was an American woman standing alone. Greattttt.

Afterwards I reported the incident to Peace Corps and with the police in San Lorenzo the following morning. Let’s just say the police are not exactly scouring the earth for this man. However, while I can speak for no one else’s experience with Peace Corps’ incident reporting, Peace Corps responded quickly and professionally in my case. Our safety and security officer followed up with me and the police in San Lorenzo several times and I got phone calls from the Country Director and both my business bosses, Jorge and Jesus, to make sure I was doing alright which made me feel good.

So yes my dear friends, hell has frozen over because Katie Ann got pimp slapped, lost a milkshake (and let’s be honest, some dignity) and did not hit the asshole back. Shocking I know. Unfortunately, there was no way I could have avoided this incident. It was even more upsetting than one might imagine because it came directly after two other minor but equally infuriating incidents, one being when a co-worker yelled at me about how he hated America and how our government only uses Honduras to our own advantage and we do not care about the people (this due to our government’s position in the current political issues) as we were leaving a potable water ceremony funded by U.S. NGOs and the other when a bolo (drunk) grabbed me and asked for a kiss at 6pm only two blocks from my house. Stupid, frustrating and deeming, but, thanks to American media and Girls Gone Wild this is the image Americans and especially women have in other countries and they types of things we have to deal with. And yet I can’t be too mad because up until this point I’ve been welcomed with open arms and have had nothing but wonderful experiences here in Honduras. So in the end, it just goes to show that not even a pimp slap can make me bitter about being here. It’s just another chapter for the book after all!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cultural Exchanges

(None of the content below is meant offensively. I am only sharing it to give you all an idea of the types of conversations I have and amazing t-shirts I see)

Top Ten Questions I am asked during every first conversation (in this exact order):
1) What are you doing here?
2) Is this required for your job/ school?
3) How much do you get paid?
4) Where do you live/ Who do you live with?
5) Which do you like better the U.S. or Honduras?
6) How many children do you have?
7) How old are you?
8) Do you have a boyfriend?
9) Did you leave one crying in the states?
10) Do you like Honduran Men?

- You should date a married man and a single man because the married man has more money and is responsible and the single man will pay more attention to you.
- If you are on a diet you should drink Pepsi instead of Coca Cola because it is better for you
- On a hot day you should drink and eat hot foods like coffee and soup to get rid of the heat. Cold food and drinks only make it worse.
- If you are sick you should not bathe, especially if you have a headache.

Funny T -Shirts in Honduras

-World’s Greatest Aunt (worn by a twenty something male bus driver)
-I <3 Booze (worn by a 14yr old girl)
-Cleveland Cavs jersey!
-Everyone loves an Asian Girl (she was def not Asian)
-Careful, I had a bowl of bitchy for breakfast (worn at the mayor’s office by an employee)
-Just be glad I’m not a twin (worn by a greasy middle aged Honduran bus driver, I was glad he isn’t a twin)
- I love my Sugar Daddy
- I am your knight in shining armor (worn by a man selling cheese in the town square)
- Will buy drinks for SEX
- My eyes are up here (on a high school girl with small boobs)
- Weed is a friend indeed (worn in the mayor’s office)
- Kiss me, I’m not Irish
- Some Call me the Gangsta of Love (worn at the Mayor’s office)
- I <3 My Penis

Mi Casa No Es Su Casa

After more than a few setbacks, I am finally in my own house! I can’t even describe how wonderful it is to live alone and be able to finally unpack everything for the last time and feel like I am really at home here. This is especially exciting after I was concerned about having nowhere to live after my host family rented out my room and gave me 24 hours notice to vacate…nice. Pero asi es la vida (But so is life).But gracias a dios my army of friends came to my rescue and in 24 hours found me 4 houses to look at, one of which was perfect, convinced the landlord to loan me some furniture, found me a truck, drove all my newly purchased furniture back from Choluteca (the city over an hour away), helped move me out of my host family’s house and into my own even putting the books on the bookshelf! They are amazing!

I have now been in my new house for almost two months and it is great! My house is really cute and exactly what I hoped for when I was sitting in my parents’ home in the U.S. It is a traditional Honduran home, or as traditional as Peace Corps safety and security standards will allow, located two blocks from the mayor’s office where I work and also from the local market. The house is my favorite color, green, inside and out with a large fenced in back yard. My backyard has a large coconut tree, some baby banana trees, corn, and various other crops which makes for a pretty atmosphere when I am reading in my hammock. There is one large living room area and two bedrooms, one of which I converted into a kitchen. Outside there is a covered patio where my pila (where I wash my clothes and dishes) and my bathroom are located. So far electricity has been very steady which I am extremely grateful for and water comes about 3 to 4 times a week which means I can take an actual shower during these days instead of a bucket bath. As far as furniture goes I bought a queen sized bed (which I love), a mini fridge, hotplate, plastic patio table with 4 chairs, water cooler, and 2 hammocks. My landlord was nice enough to prestame (loan me) a large table, an armoire, and an entertainment center which I am using as a bookshelf since I don’t exactly have a television haha. I am still buying pots and dishes as I discover that I need them. It’s been an adventure in learning to say the least, especially when it comes to cooking. As far as cooking goes I have been living consistently off of granola, omelets, peanut butter and jelly, tuna salad, chicken patties, and of course super cheap and amazing fruits and veggies. Also, I am lucky to have a lot of friends that like to cook for me and people who want to teach me to cook so it doesn’t look like I’ll be starving here.

But one thing that everyone will certainly find surprising is how clean I am here. I actually keep my house very clean. Everything has its place and I like it that way. I keep up on my laundry which I am still hand washing and wash my dishes directly after every meal. I also make sure to dust, sweep and mop my entire house once a week. Also while cleaning I have battled my fair share of horrible bugs which range from large furry spiders, to millions of stinging ants, to gross banana worms and even a scorpion. Luckily my neighbors are not close enough to hear and do not understand English during these “brave” moments. hah

Overall, even though living in my own home is all the hard work my parents always promised me it would be and then some because living in your first home in a developing country certainly has its own unique challenges, I absolutely love it. The control and privacy is something I won’t soon be able or willing to give up. And more than anything it is so nice to have a place to escape to when I need it. So in conclusion, I am super happy with my new place and I want to thank everyone who helped me purchase furniture or sent me house warming presents! I really appreciate them! Hasta la proxima! (Until next time)

A Coup of My Not Favorite Things

After months of my internet silence, sorry to my loyal readers out there, I am back and ready to discuss the “elephant in the room” controlling my life here for the past few months, the Honduran Glope de Estado (Military Coup d’état). As many of you probably know, on June 28th President Zelaya, known as Mel, was arrested in his home by Honduran Military officials and removed from the country. The Military, Supreme Court and Congress’s joint decision to take such an action came from Mel’s decision to continue with illegal elections known as the Cuarta Urna which would modify the constitution, thus allowing him to “run” for another term in office. Congress, following the procedures set forth in their constitution, voted this election illegal as well as denounced Mel’s campaign which involved tactics such as giving money to promote votes. Therefore, on the morning of the election the military arrested Mel, removing him from office, and swore-in the Present of Congress, Micheletti, as the new Honduran President. As during most exciting moments in history I was doing what I usually am, sleeping. I received word about the political situation from a text message from the Peace Corps at 8:26am stating “Standfast and Shelter-in-Place, there has been a Glope de Estado and all PCVs must remain in their sites as a precautionary measure. All PCVs should remain in their residences Sunday June 28th. No violence has been reported.” Of course at this point in time I did the only logical thing there was to do, I went back to sleep. In truth, everyone had been talking about a Coup for some time before this day and I received word on June 23rd that I would be required to be on Standfast, which means I was not permitted to leave my town, from noon Saturday June 27th to Monday June 29th so I wasn’t surprised.

Since that time, Mel has traveled extensively through several Latin American countries as well as the U.S. discussing his situation and attempting to find allies to help reinstate him as the official Honduran President. Mel has threatened to return to reclaim his presidency and even attempted once for publicity purposes when he walked across the border into El Paraiso on July 25th for a few minutes despite military presence and the promise that he would be arrested. Mel’s campaign has fueled marches and protests on both sides of the issue since the day of Coup. The demonstrations continue to happen almost daily in the capital city and sporadically throughout the country with numbers ranging from hundreds of thousands to only a few hundred. Unfortunately, as this issue continues, these events have gotten more destructive and even violent. Now graffiti covers most of the capital and several deaths have been reported. Graffiti that, of course, makes me sad is the graffiti on the Peace Corps office which says some not so nice things.

As many of you may know, the U.S. has chosen to support the restoration of Mel as president. This, while a popular decision amongst other foreign governments, is not a popular one here in small town Honduras. It has taken all of my strength not to discuss our government’s decision with my community members who are curious as to why the U.S. would support a president who is buddy-buddy with Chavez, was caught rigging his illegal election, whose top officials were caught stealing millions of Lempiras the day before the Glope de Estado as well as countless other crimes which they have no peña bringing to my attention. To them I only say “Peace Corps is not a political organization, so I don’t know.” A Safe but not a satisfying answer to say the least. At this point in time the U.S. as well as many other countries have withdraw the majority of their aid, with some countries going as far to impose tariffs on Honduran products and refuse trade all together. On August 26 the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa suspended processing non-immigrant visa requests. Non-immigrant visas are for any type of temporary stay in the U.S. There are 26 different kinds of non-immigrant visas including for temporary work, academic study, cultural exchanges, business and tourism. This obviously has had an effect on many Hondurans’ opinions of the U.S. and our government as a whole.

How does all of this affect my life you ask? Well since the Coup I have had to obey various “toques de queda” (nationwide curfews) imposed by the Honduran government as well as obey new travel restriction policies set forth by the Peace Corps. These have involved everything from not leaving my house to simply staying out of the capital city and advising our whereabouts system when I do travel. Travel in any manner has been even more frustratingly slow due to roadblocks and security checks from Honduran Military and National Police. The security checks involve the military and/or national police stopping the bus and inspecting it in their full battle gear. They usually just ask to see every passenger’s papers/identification. Sometimes all the men must get off the bus to be searched further (as if they were being arrested, we are talking the full pat down here) and during especially tense moments, everyone is required to get off the bus. Despite the slowdown in travel, I have had no problems whatsoever. Overall, more military and police are seen on the streets and anyone out past c curfew is arrested/ ticketed. Since there is really nothing to do at night in my town, I have had no issues with this.

Luckily, my town is very tranquillo so I haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles as other volunteers. The mayor’s office where I work has shut down a few times to participate in pro-democracy marches in the nearby city but, these have been few and far between. My work with the hammock ladies has remained uninterrupted since, as one of the women so eloquently put it “What the government does has no affect on us here in the campo. We continue working because what else can we do?” For these people living without potable water, latrines, or electricity, its as if nothing has happened. The only effect that they will likely see is the immense decrease in international monetary support which funds their community projects such as electrification. It will definitely be much harder for us to find funding to improve their micro business but we will just have to deal with that as it comes.

Unfortunately the schools have seen the most disruption due to the fact that high school teachers belong to a national union. Therefore, not surprisingly, the majority of the country’s teachers are Pro-Mel and as a result have stopped receiving their salary. This has caused nationwide strikes. In my town there have not been consistent classes since the Coup. There is a lot of tension in the high school itself because the teachers are divided between those in favor of the new government and those that support Mel. So when the school isn’t completely shut down, some, but not all, the teachers show up to give classes. This leaves the students guessing everyday whether they will have classes or not. It is extremely sad to see these kids travel from far away villages in their uniforms everyday on the chance that they might have school. Recently, the students have taken matters into their own hands and gone on strike themselves when they were told that it is very likely that they will lose their credit for this year due to an insufficient number of days in class. For the moment classes have resumed and I am hoping things stay that way, at least until the elections.

As for me it has been an exciting ride to say the least. While it has been hard, especially for new volunteers to get started and feel confident about our work when the country is in such a transitional period, siguemos adelante (we continue onward). Everyone is just hopeful at this point that come the end of November the elections will pass peacefully and the world will recognize the new government. Heres hoping! I must say though that having a 7.1 earthquake (which I also slept through), H1N1 outbreak, and a Coup d’état during my first 2 months of service will definitely make for some interesting dinner conversation one day! It’s funny cause when I think back to my college Spanish classes when I learned the phrase Glope de Estado, I thought to myself “When am I ever going to need to know that word?!?” Haha and look how it came in handy! Keeping things interesting, just like I like it. Hasta la proxima!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

“Today was a Peace Corps Day!”

(written 06-14-09)

This is my new phrase for every time I do something so utterly Peace Corps, like catch a ride in the back of a pickup truck 25 mins out to the middle of the mountains and then hike over rock walls and across rivers (somewhat successfully) for another 25 mins, asking passersby “Do you know where Don/Doña so and so lives?” until I finally arrive, sweating like a beast, to a house to talk to someone who is interested in working with the new volunteer. And so far so great! This past week I spent 4 days going to surrounding aldeas (villages) to learn a little more about my community and to investigate future projects with community members. It was so great to be able to go out and meet more of the people I will be working with and to see the beautiful countryside surrounding Orocuina.

Community integration is going really well. I get a lot of compliments on my Spanish, my friendliness and how nicely I dress everyday which I guess means I am doing some things right. Now when I am walking through the streets people are beginning to recognize me and wave or stop to chat which makes me feel more at home. In fact, I already have a small group of friends from work and just from being seen around town who invite me on trips and over to their house for dinner (my favorite haha). My site mate, another Peace Corps volunteer named Miguel, returned from his vacation in the states so I was finally able to meet him. He works in the Youth Development Project and is super nice. Even though I didn’t initially want a site mate, I feel like it is going to be really nice to live here with Miguel. He is well integrated in the community, especially with the kids, and has a lot of great projects going. He has already made me feel so at home and helped me out a lot so I am really grateful to have him here. Aside from Miguel there are also two Mormon volunteers living here who are pretty friendly and don’t preach to me so it’s nice to talk with them as well.

As far as projects go, I have had meetings with the water board in a nearby aldea called Los Sanchez and with the president of Sueños Sueños, the women’s group that makes hammocks, to discuss future projects and begin to make plans. I have also found a place to start my English for International Business classes with students from the local high school which I hope to start next week. I also have heard about two more groups, one women’s group that make spices and a group that make jelly who also are interested in working with me so I am hoping to meet with them soon as well. More than anything its really nice to have so much interest from the community and to feel like I have some concrete projects to begin working on.
And what do I do for fun you ask? Well right now I spend a lot of time hiking around, talking for hours in hammocks, READING (I am on my sixth book since getting to Orocuina haha), taking trips to the nearby city when I can and swimming in the river. It may not sound like a lot based on how crazy my life always was at home but believe me I am loving life’s slower pace here.

More than anything, every day I am here I learn something new about my site and love it more and more. Sure my days are far from anything I’ve ever experienced before which means I usually run through a wide variety of emotions in any given day but more than anything I am happy to be here and excited to wake up each day and start again. I know you are probably thinking, “Who is the positive person writing in Katie’s blog?” but it’s true. Right now I am on the hunt for furniture for my new home and I am so excited to make lists of what I need! (I’m a nerd I know) Hopefully I can find some good stuff for cheap!

Friday, May 29, 2009


(Written 05/27/09)

Buenas, que onda! Well I am finally here, in my new home for the next two years! After spending over a year waiting and imagining what my site would be like it was truly a surreal experience to finally get here. I arrived here on Saturday afternoon, the 16th, after a blissfully uneventful 3 hour trip from the capital in my counterpart’s car! I will admit that at first when I got here I was a little nervous due to the extreme heat (it’s really intense, I have literally not stopped sweating once since getting here) and also because of the extreme poverty of the people living on the outskirts of my town. However, after 2 weeks, I am feeling much better, though still sweating, and excited to be working in the type of atmosphere that I imagined while back at home in the states. In fact I am feeling luckier everyday because Orocuina is actually very pretty. It sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains on almost all sides and now that rainy season has started the entire countryside is colored beautiful shades of green. There is also a river that runs alongside my town which I am told I can swim in so I am really looking forward to that! There are also some tourist attractions here which I had no idea about before coming such as a waterfall, caves, a lookout, and indigenous hieroglyphics painted on mountain walls. So I am definitely looking forward to exploring those.

My new host family is a very nice older couple named Don Balbino (yes like the nickname for Babe Ruth which is how I always remember his name) and Dona Rosaura. They have 4 girls who are all grown and out of the house so it is just us 3 living here. However, less than a month ago one of their daughters, Sulema, had her first baby and my new nephew José Julian so they have been staying here at the house with us so that grandma can help out. In addition I have 2 dogs, a cat, and a loud bird that talks more than most humans do. The house is big and pretty, built in a hacienda style with an open court yard in the center of the house where there are lime trees and a hammock to hang out in. I have a nice large room in the back of the house, close both to the bathroom and the kitchen (just how I like it haha) with its own door to the street so I don’t have to tramp through the house when I want to leave which is really nice. I also have full access to the kitchen and have been shopping and cooking for myself since moving in. Adventures in the unknown for sure because everyone who knows me knows that I can’t exactly cook, but poco a poco (little by little) I am learning and I am definitely not going hungry due to my survival cooking skills of cereal, salad, and eggs as well as the generosity of my new friends who give me free delicious meals.

As for work, right now my community counterparts include two women’s’ groups, one that makes Hammocks and another that makes spices, the project manager at the municipality (Mayra), the local high school, water board and radio. However, I am sure this will change as projects get added and completed throughout my service. I’ve sent the last 2 weeks just contacted them and having a few meet and greets so I learn a little more about what they do and in what areas there are opportunities for me to work with them. So little by little I hope to start gaining the confidence of my new community and beginning some projects with them. One thing is for certain, my counterpart Mayra and I are like two peas in a pod so it is really nice being able to not only get to work with her but also have her as a friend to hang out with.

Right now though I am just happy to be here and ready to start feeling like this is my new home. Everyone has been so welcoming which really helps a lot. So now I am just trying to adjust to my new life and the pace of things here. So hopefully I will continue making friends and be able to get some people behind some projects soon! Poco a Poco, little by little....

Congrats, Now You May Officially Work for Free!

(Writen 5/15/09) - Happy B-day momma yesterday and Carly today!

Well today I join the ranks of thousands who came before me to work as a Peace Corps volunteer!! Although I already felt like a volunteer, today it is official.
This week passed so quickly and was such a complete rollercoaster ride that I can hardly believe that by tomorrow night I will be in my new home for the next two years! During this past week all the H14ers were reunited for one final week in Zarabanda to do some general housecleaning before we are sent off on our own. This of course means we had to pack everything up and move back to our old host families for one week to sit through long meetings about banking, safety and security, and working with our counterparts when all we actually wanted to do was move to our sites. But it was nice to see everyone again before we are shipped all throughout the country. On Thursday we had yet another infamous Despedida (going away party) which is nice in theory but ends up being a lot of work for a really awkward social gathering with our host family and a bunch of other families that no one else knows. However unlike the last one, the Peace Corps staff took care of all the food and decorations so all we had to do was serve the food and entertain our guests which made the whole event much nicer. Both Gloria and Reynita (my 1st host mom and little sister) came and all in all I believe they liked it, especially the photo slideshow with all their photos.

Which brings us to the main event, swearing in. Today I woke up bright and early to get all dolled up and head out by 6:30am to go to the Peace Corps office in Teguz to meet my counterpart. All of us volunteers rode the big yellow school bus to Teguz which made the whole trip feel much more like going to prom than to be sworn-in at the US Embassy haha. And while all the other soon-to-be volunteers where pretty nervous about meeting their counterparts, I was cool as a cucumber because as everyone knows I am an excellent bull shitter and have no trouble talking to strangers J but I was pretty nervous about the logistics of getting to my site. Apparently a few of the counterparts have cars but for those who don’t, its public transportation a-ho with all your possessions no matter how long the trip. Especially after all of our safety and security meetings, we are all more than a little nervous about being an American with an insane amount of luggage of public transportation that goes through major cities like the capital. But once we got there everyone was paired up with their counterparts and let me just tell you at this moment the bells of fate rang as I looked across the room and saw the most impressively dressed woman waiting for me. My counterpart is Mayra who works as the Project Manager at the Municipality in Orocuina. She is 24yrs old, has a degree in International Business and is currently working on getting her Masters in Project Administration while she works at the municipality. She was dressed to the 9’s putting on her makeup while laughing at someone on her Blackberry and holding her pink razor in the other hand. We spent the next hour talking which went by super fast as we chatted about our families, favorite pastimes, boys, and a little bit about work haha. But I mean hey, we have the next 2 yrs to talk about work right? Then she uttered the words I had been praying I would hear: “I hope you don’t mind but I brought my car so we are going to ride back in that instead of the bus!” AHHH HALLEHUJA! I can’t even explain how worried I had been up until today about the logistics of getting to site with my 4 large bags on less than favorable public transportation. I mean, nothing says rob me more than a gringa riding on a bus with 4 bags she can barely lift for hours at a time. I literally felt a wash of calm come over me afterwards and was truly excited for the rest of the day.

After the meeting we rode over to the US. Embassy to be sworn in. The whole affair was pretty quick, lasting only about an hour. There were 5 speakers which included our training manager Luis, our country director Trudy, 2 Honduran guest speakers, the Ambassador, and our very own Jose to represent the volunteers. And I must admit that out of all the speeches, Jose’s was by far the best and made me way more emotional than any graduation or wedding speech I’ve heard to date. We also sang both the Honduran and American national anthems, recited our swear-in oath and of course ate cake and took a million photos. While I was waiting with my counterpart to have my picture taken with the Ambassador a camera crew approached me and asked if I would like to be on tv to which I quickly replied NO! However, apparently no one was convinced that anyone, especially an American, would not want to appear on tv so before I knew I was thrust in front of a camera and attempting to sound articulate in Spanish about my experience so far in Honduras. Lord only knows what I said but hey, theres a memory right? After the ceremony and cake we were hustled back into the school buses and shipped back to the training center in Zarabanda to eat lunch and then WORK!! Now in past years all the other volunteers enjoyed a pretty nice party at the Ambassador’s house for the rest of the afternoon but as luck would have it my cycle was the first to “try something new” which means budget cuts and making us work instead of enjoy our last day with the other volunteers and training staff. Although after the way the afternoon went, I am pretty sure that they won’t be doing it that way again because everyone was over it before it even started, including my counterpart ha. The whole thing ended at 6:30 and then we had to scramble to say our goodbyes before we were sent back home which also sucked because it leaves you crying like an idiot in front of everyone, including your counterpart. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go straight home because I had to go get money from an ATM to last me through my first few days in site and buy saldo for my phone so I could talk to my counterpart in the morning so I went to a nearby town with some other volunteers to get money before heading back home. I didn’t end up getting home until around 8pm and had to rush to eat dinner and then spent the rest of my night trying to bond with my host family, saying goodbye to other volunteers in my neighborhood and packing which wasn’t exactly how I pictured my last night but oh well. Luckily since I have a ride tomorrow to my site and don’t have to take the bus I don’t have to be at the bus stop at 4am like my neighbors do!
Now as I sit in my bed I am overcome with a million different emotions. Although I so happy to finally be a volunteer and I am beyond excited to get to my site and start working, I am also a little nervous to actually be on my own. It’s so funny to think that when I signed up for Peace Corps I was so ready to go off and work alone, in an unknown country for 2+ years and now I am nervous to leave all the other volunteers. I really never imagined I would make such good friendships in such a short period of time. Now I am left wondering how will I ever get anywhere without Jp and Jose to walk with me? What will I do when I walk out my front door and don’t see Matt across the street waiting to talk to me. And I can’t even begin to imagine not being able to see Erika every day? Starting tomorrow I will be meeting new people all over again and trying to form new friendships to make my experience throughout the next two years something meaningful. Heres hoping the Peace Corps was right about my “advanced” level of Spanish and that I have enough energy to be super friendly everyday for the next several months! So heres to jumping in headfirst all alone!

Deje un Pedazo de mi Corazon en Ojojona (I Left a Piece of My Heart in Ojojona)

(Written 5/9/09)

I’ve always hated the various touristy t-shirts and mugs that proudly flaunted that saying… too bad now I feel like its true. It’s weird how sad I am to leave Ojojona. I had been so excited and so ready to get to my site since before I even left the U.S. that I never even gave a second thought to the experiences I would have or the friends I would make during training. But the truth of the matter is, I was just starting to really feel at home here. Although I loved my host family the instant I met them, I was just now starting to feel like I had my own place in the family. More than that I have friends here in Ojojona, something I never thought would happen. Last week I noticed that when I walk through the streets of Ojojona, I know people. Neighbors or people I met at some family gathering, kids from school projects we’ve done or that I’ve played with in the neighborhood stop to chat and mototaxi drivers offer me free rides because they just happen to be passing by my house. And it’s nice. I feel safe and happy in my friendly and pretty little mining town.
I suppose I didn’t realize how sad I would be to leave until we had our Despedida (Goodbye party) on Thursday night. I had told all the volunteers that we would have more than enough food because I was certain that only my host mom would come from my family, just like on cultural day, because corny non-dancing parties aren’t my family’s thing. Then much to my surprise, all of them showed up! Even my shy host brother who rarely leaves the house for anything came and I was overwhelmed. Then all day yesterday, my last official day there, everyone was saying how sad they were to see me go and asking when I would come back to visit. Later that night my host family, along with Tony’s even threw a going away party for us, “because Katie needs to dance before she leaves!” All of this, and not to mention the going away gifts from my host fam, neighbors, and friends, all were setting me up for a very emotional goodbye this morning. I woke up extra early this morning so that I could say goodbye to my host dad and brother before they left for work and since the bus was 3 hrs late to pick us up, as usual, I got a little extra time with my host nephews who sang a goodbye song for me as well as with my host mom who came with me to the bus stop. Although I kept from crying, my eyes definitely watered up when my host mom cried a little and told me she loved me before I got on the bus.
And all of this is only describing my experience with the Hondurans in Ojojona and how it feels to leave them. I can’t even imagine what it will be like in another week when I leave all the volunteers from H14. I feel like the business project really became a group in Ojojona and it will be weird to be without all of them. Ojojona definitely was the perfect site for us.

All in all I can’t imagine having a better experience during training and a part of me definitely wishes Ojojona was my site for the next two years. But heres to the fun family parties, the beach trip, playing soccer and karate with my nephews, late night (9pm) talks with my neighbors, licuados, watching soap operas with the whole fam, Karaoke, Dinners with Richard, dance party mototaxi rides, videojuegos, the cabin picnic, and the millions of other fun memories that Ojojona has left me with. I’ll miss you but I’ll be back soon!!

Hombres de Amor

(written 5/8/09)

Today was the last day of our Business Simulation and it went so wonderfully! For those who may not know, a business simulation is a weeklong activity where groups of three to four volunteers teach basic business principals to a group of people (usually high school students) for two days and then the group creates its own business. Everything from selecting a product to produce, receiving a loan (from the Peace Corps) to selling their product with their own business name and marketing plan. With our training group there were 5 groups all doing a simulation and picking a product to produce and sell on the same day which adds an element of competition to the process which Hondurans really love. Due to our slight setback with the teacher strike, Jesus and the school director helped round up some students who still wanted to learn on their days off (weird I know) and then made a deal with the local Escuela Taller to do the simulation with them. My group was all boys ranging from 14-24 from the Escuela Taller which is a program that basically functions like a JVS for disadvantaged youth who really have no other access to job training. I worked in a group with JP and Taylor and since we lost a day to the strike everyone had to adjust their plans to finish the full simulation in 4 days. The first day consisted of charlas about basic business concepts, picking our product to produce, our company name, and buying the raw materials. Since Mother’s day was that upcoming Sunday my boys chose to make heart shaped boxes out of thick red carton, decorate them and fill them with candy to sell. Going along with their theme and the fact that they were all one of the few groups of all men, they aptly named their company “Hombres de Amor” (basically The Men of Love) and used the slogan “Para Endulzarse su Corazon” (To Sweeten your Heart ). The second day was production day and all the guys worked really hard to not only make their product but to also make signs for them to wear on sale day as a form of advertisement. The third day was sales day which proved to be an impressive day. Out of all 12 boys, 5 were amazing salesmen and ending up selling almost all the products themselves. In the end, they sold everything and made enough money not only to pay back the loan of 350 lemps but also earned a 300 lemp profit which I was very proud of. Although you would think sales day would be the most difficult for the boys, the final day which was presentation day proved to be the biggest challenge. On Friday every group had to make a presentation in front of everyone about the formation of their business, successes and challenges, and what they learned/ liked about the process. Needless to say my “Hombres de Amor” did NOT want to get up and talk in front of everyone alone but nevertheless they worked hard on their presentation and then 6 brave men got up and presented.

The presentation went great and although we didn’t win, we came in third out of five, I have never been more proud in my entire life! At the beginning of the week I was more than hesitant to do this project for several reasons, most of them involving my lack of experience or desire to work with youth and the fact that this project was the type of thing I absolutely hated in high school. However, much to my surprise it turned out to be my favorite activity during training. The guys were all really into the activity and you could tell that they actually wanted to learn what we were teaching them. Some of my boys walked an 1 ½ hrs from their towns to the bus stop to ride for at least another 30 mins to 1 hr just to come to our simulation. It was so amazing to see some of the guys really understanding the material too. This was the first time almost all of them had heard of any of these business concepts which will be so important for them because they are all learning a trade and could each have their own business within the next two years. On sales day and then on presentation day I felt like a proud mother watching her child take his first steps which is ridiculous I know but it was so outrageously rewarding to have taught these boys something and then see them apply it in their own successful and unique way. If this is what being a teacher could be like I think I would like it a lot (scary I know, but don’t hold your breath just yet). I will admit though that I had an advantage by having a pretty captive audience. I was voted most popular volunteer by my peers because all of the high school and Escuela Taller boys were supposedly in love with me according to the other volunteers and the outrageous number of photos I had to pose for with these boys. Apparently boys’ ages 14-18 is my target market haha. Either way it was not only a great experience for everyone involved but it was also a great way to get to know some of the youth in the community. Too bad I will be leaving tomorrow and I am so not ready!