Thursday, September 06, 2007

of course I forgot the pics

Bridget Kathleen French

hurricane felix and chickens...

First off I wanted to thank everyone for worrying about me during hurricane Felix.  Truth is where I was it barely even rained.   I was supposed to be in Tegus for my one year medical appointments on Tuesday but after many phone calls and text messages from other volunteers, I called my security boss to find out what I should do, leave the mountain on Monday or stay put.   At about 10:30 he called me back and told me to come to Tegus, the only problem that late in the day is that there were no cars passing for me to get a ride with, so I paid someone to drive me down to Tiupa where I would catch the bus that goes to Tegus at 1:30.   I got on the bus ok, it was packed and took forever to get to the bus station in Tegus, but I made it and went to the hotel where other volunteers in for 1 year meds were.   It still wasn't raining Monday night or Tuesday morning when we got up so we continued with our medical appointments.  Bascially the hurricane didn't amount to anything in the capital but I did call my site to make sure the mountain was still there and they said there had been a lot of rain and wind, but I guess I won't know the full damage until I get back to site tomorrow.


Where to begin…

            The main reason why I have not written is because of the amount of time I have had to spend in my sight working with my projects and therefore have not had access to internet or electricity.   Right now we have 6 chicken coops completed, hopefully tomorrow I will be building another one and the last 2 will be finished in late August (15 in total) when all of the new trainees come to my site for a day to learn about the project.   But I think I am getting a little ahead here.

            About the same time as we had our one year in county anniversary (!) my project received funding so instead of going off to the beaches of Tela I stayed in my site to plan our trips to get materials.   What would one more week have been if I had gone?  The reason why is because the women in the group were starting to think that the project was a sham and that we were never going to make the coops, we sent in our proposal in March (a week before Easter/ Semana Santa) and not until June did we have our money in the bank.   I have realized this is a problem with Honduras and surely with developing nations worldwide.  The people here are accustomed to officials, organizations, ect telling them that improvement will come and it never does.   I am still waiting, with my whole community, for electricity to come to San Isidro, but the last I heard was someone lost a "very" important document and now nothing can be built, I think the truth is the money isn't there.  

            We started out a group of 20, but now we will only be building 15 chicken coops.   The reasons the women dropped out of the group are varying but they also illuminate other problems of development.  One woman left because her husband didn't want to make the mud bricks (called adobes) to build the coops (in the grant we applied for the community is required to give 25% of the total cost of the project, which would be the bricks, manual labor and a few other things).   Another 2 left because their adobes fell apart once the rainy season started.  My counterpart's wife quit because she said the project would never get the money.   And another woman never came back to the meetings because no one ever sent her a note after the first and she was too embarrassed to just show up.

            Maybe I should explain the process of which I went through with this.   The truth is I made some mistakes: culturally, common sensically, lingually. But in my defense, I didn't know any better at the time.  Everything I did was thinking of the best interest of the community and with the advice of the members of the group and community.

This whole project started one day in November, let's see I was almost 2 months in site and still struggling with my language skills.   But we decided to go on with the project.  The same week that I flew home for Christmas, we had an interest meeting and we elected leaders (key word here: ELECTED).   When I got back from my trip home, we had another meeting, I asked questions, we planned dates for the workshops.  One VERY important question I asked was how many chickens they thought they could manage?   I said 10? 5? 15? 100?  15 they told me, we voted, everyone was in agreement.  I wrote it on the chalk board.   More time goes by, during this time I am doing research on chickens, I am talking to doctors, farmers, government workers, NGOs, and reading LOTS of books in Spanish, trying to get an idea for the very best way to do the project so its sustainable and effective.   This work of mine I will not discredit but for future projects I will include this essential part of project building with a community counterpart because it was by far the hardest part.   But the reality of this work is it would never have gotten done if I hadn't done it.  Being the volunteer I was the one who was supposed to make the sacrifices for the group, spend the time in the buses and look for the contacts because these women are tied down, to their houses, to their kids and to their husbands.   They do not leave the mountain.  It is culturally unacceptable to be vagabonding all over El Paraiso like I was for this project.   I know there are smaller ways to incorporate people into this part of the work but because it is so important and NO ONE wants to do it either because it costs too much money to travel, they don't have the time because of other commitments or they don't want to for fear of what the community will say about them.

OK, everyone with me still?  After I consulted a number of sources, including the women in the group, but mostly the leaders, I began to write the proposal, in Spanish.   A lot of the questions from the grant were a different way of thinking than Hondurans are use to, and this basically is because it was writing by the US government.   So when I asked people what they thought about a sustainability plan they had no idea what I was talking about.  I explained and explained things to the president of the group but ultimately what she told me I used in my own words, I was afraid that a poorly written document would get us no funding.   I have no idea if I poorly written grant proposal would get funding from PC or no and I'm not sure from other sources either, but I have a good feeling that the answer is no.

            I think the proposal would have been more rewarding for the group if they personally had sat down pen in hand and wrote it.   But I don't think it ever would have gotten done.  The people of Honduras have become very accustomed as well to waiting till things come to them.   This is not a "go-getter" society, and for this reason I would show up at women's houses to personally invite them to the meetings, but I drew the line at dragging them out of the house to get them to show up, but that's what they are waiting for.   But nor do they have a lot of patience.

            So with the proposal in the works, my boss calls me one day and says there are other proposals already in the office and if I don't hurry up I might not get funding (remember I said that USDA and the Honduran equivalent SAG were giving a 8 million Lps grant to PC?)   So in two days I wrote the entire grant in Spanish (after thinking about it for 3 months) and off it went to Tegus.  I never got a phone call about corrections to the grant the only phone call I got was to say the project had been approved and the money would be ready in 2 weeks (which was really 8).   Now, supposedly, my project is the model for all other chicken projects, at least this is what other volunteers tell me.  And for that aspect I do not regret doing the proposal myself!

So money shows up in the bank.  We call the place in Tiupa to see of they have the supplies.   The lady tells me no, but they can bring them from Tegus they have a guy there now buying materials.  Great we tell her, call us back later to let us know.   She never called back.  Early that morning we decided, while waiting for the bus, that we'll go to Danli instead of buying in Tiupa.  So we get to Tiupa and go looking for a large truck that can bring all the materials to the mountain. 

(Since I started this email a while ago I don't really remember where I was going with this and it's turning into a long story).

            After getting Danli we went to the hardware store that told me the orginal prices and said that they didn't have all the chicken wire we needed so we went looking for other stores.   After covering almost every single hardware store in Danli we ended back up where we started and they tell us prices higher than what they quoted me in the middle of all this it started to pour, it had been raining almost the whole day.   Around 6 we finally get things settled and end up buying fewer materials than planned.  On a steeper part of the road on the way back the roofing panels slide out of the truck bed and took the rolls of chicken wire with them so we ended up having to reload the truck in the dark and rain.   We ended up making it back to San Isidro at 11:00 at night.

            Once we had everything in site I started with one coops to see how it would turn out and exactly how many yards, nails, post staples would need.   The actual construction took about 2 days but just to get the actually structure built.  And another few days of work to put up the perch, the nests, and to whitewash the adobe bricks.

            And since we over budgeted a little too much, ok a lot, we will hopefully have enough money left over from the project to make pilas (which are cement water storage containers that have a wash board on top of them) because 35 of the 95 houses in my community do not have a large storage container for water. What exactly would they really need one of these for?   Well if a family does not have a large water storage system they tend to waste more water washing clothes or dishes, bathing, ect.  But unfortunately we will not enough have enough money to construct one for all of the homes that need one.   On Friday I am planning on solicting the mayor's office for help at least with thr trips to bring supplies but maybe they will be willing to add some money to the project.   If not, once we finish the 10 or so from the women in my group we will look for money to make more.  But I've found that money is a large barrier that I am encountering now; the people in my community and especially one counterpart organization have great ideas, but costly ones.

                 Not that I'm solicting money from you all (yet) but if anyone has any ideas on a place where I could find a large sum of money for training events please send the info my way.  Basically what this project would include would be training events for all the water boards in the association of boards, because a lot of them do not even know the basic knowledge of maintaining their systems and therefore will not last as long and the quality of water that the village receives is very poor.   Another idea that this board has is to start a water bottling business to make themselves sustainable which they are more than willing to do with a loan but I have yet to see the business plan but the idea is on the right track (as far as sustainability).  

            And more projects I am working on, which are still very much in process, are an environmental video with the high school students as well as a tree farm of fruit trees.   When we make more headway on the video I will post it on uTube or something, but I am really excited about this project.  We have another tree farm with the water board to plant near the water source to further protect and manage it.

            I think thats it for right now.  Lista is doing great, I'll attach a picture of her playing with a pinata at a quincera that we had when my family was down.   Horse is ok, a couple of weeks ago he bit a girl that was shadowing me from Zamorano on a study abroad program in the neck, which I found to be rather funny, but I don't think she did and once we got the blood all cleared up everything was ok, she didn't die but will now have a nice story from Honduras.   Anyway, I was a little worried as to why he bit someone so I lent him to someone to work but it turns out he really just didn't like this girl because he's still the exactly the same as before, very tame.   And also I got him shoes, but I'm tempted to take them off so I can hang them in my house and have lucky horse shoes.

            Other pic that is included is one of the chicken coops, the first one we did, its not quite yet finished, but just so you can have an idea.



PC Amor,


Bridget Kathleen French

Friday, April 27, 2007

in haste

I spelled caballo wrong and attached the WRONG pic of lista. va

Bridget Kathleen French

lista y caballo mio

Hey All!
Its been awhile again I suppose. I'm the capital right now, came in to check on my proposal for my chicken coop project. The money will be deposited in our account next week, ojala. It's crazy to think that we really will be doing a project. I'm glad that this got off the ground, but at the same time I do have some reservations. For those of you spanishisly inclined I will attach the proposal, but for those of you not so spanishly (if that's even a word) I will explain a little more in detail the objectives and goals of this project.
But before I begin to explain, I want to share a few things. There is a picture of me holding a rather large rooster during training with a very scared and shocked looked on my face, I don't I had ever held a chicken as large in my life (maybe I've never even held a chicken ever, mom?). Needless to say I was not enthusiastic about a chicken project that involved the slaughter and delivery of fresh chicken meat. But from the very beginning I told myself that whatever they wanted to do in my site I would offer the best help and support I could. Keeping in mind that because I am the first volunteer in my site I am there more to introduce the idea, feel out the community and access the needs and abilities. Today I was told that first site volunteers are not really expected to get projects off the ground. This is not acceptable to me, I came to offer support and if I didn't get busy I might have gone mad sitting in my hut with out light. I know if I didn't begin somwhere there would have been a chance that we never would have begun, and now that this has started and my spanish has improved 10 folds I hope to do things more proactive for the people's lives (laterines, water storage, environmental education, ect.)
So low and behold, one of the first projects someone approached me about was pollos engordes, or chicken meat. OK I said, lets have a meeting and figure this out, see who else wants to join and move on with it. Shortly after I talked to my boss, and he suggested a different approach. The project that we learned about in training was done in an area that had access to a large market where they could sell their chicken meat without exhausting the market. In San Isidro the only market available is in the mountain surrounding us because of transportation and on top of that not that many families can afford to eat meat every day. So the project turned into an individual family project.
About 20 families, 20 women, will have their own chicken coops and will responsible for maintaining their chickens that they have right now in their patio. After we have constructed all of the coops we will grow baby chicks so each women will have 15 chickens (these will be of a different species, not the "indos" as they are known in the mountain).
The idea is that each family will then have enough eggs for the entire family to eat daily and more than enough to share to make a nice small profit (about 500 limpiras a month) and the meat will be better tasting and more for the families to kill every once in a while.
Two women will be raising chickens only to sell which will earn them more money but will not flood the market. At one of the introductory meetings I asked all of them women if anymore than 2 would like to participate in this aspect of the project. And none of them did, because it is true, more work, less money at the beginning.
And so, right now we have had 2 workshops that have gone fairly smoothly, especially considering my Spanish and my knowledge of chickens. May 5th we will have our 3rd and pretty soon after we will start constructing the coops.

In other news, I bought a horse. The name is still up for grabs. Right now the favorites in my site are Capitain or Caballo Bayo. But I've noticed when it comes to naming pets Hondurans lack creativity so I know if I name him either of these, I will find 30 more with the same name. Attached there is a picture of him.
Also attached is a picture of my puppy, who no longer is a pup. Lista is her name and she is almost 4 months old.

Going to cut this short, hopefully I will be able to write more about everything later. Going back to site tomorrow I think. Hope all is well in the states.


Bridget Kathleen French

Thursday, March 08, 2007

coffee season, and its aftermath

Hi Everyone!
    I know its been a while since I have written, especially since I have been getting emails from people asking for updates, sorry guys!  I'm not really sure where I should begin this email.  I originally meant to write this about a specific incident that happened near my site because of coffee season.  But right now I'm sitting in Zamorano - a Honduran agr university that actually does a lot of work with UGA.  I'm waiting to meet with a Doctor on campus who works with chickens, but he is in a meeting as I type so I got lucky and was shown the computer lab! with free internet!  I am the only person here in the lab and the lab guy, i have no idea what his job title is, really wants to carry on a conversation, so a saber if I'll get to finish this email today or never. 
     I guess I'll digress a bit and go back to right before our project reconnect - the 3 month in site meeting.  I went to Danli, a big city in the opposite direction of Teguc from my site, to run some errands and catch up with friends for the day.  To get there though, I was going to take a ride down the mountain and catch an early bus direct from Teupacenti to Danli, it turned out that one of the coffee farmers from San Isidro was going all the way to Danli and offered to take me.  Peace Corps volunteers rarely give up free rides, especially from people they trust. On the way, we stopped in Teupa at the secadora so he could clear up some business and we left from there to Danli.  Later, around 6 PM, I got a text message from one of the coffee farmers in my site saying that the owner of the secadora had been killed.  I wrote him back and asked how.  He texted back and said they robbed him.  My friend the coffee farmer was concerned and so was I. 
    In Teupacenti there are 2 large secardoras - or coffee dryers.  This is the place that people take their "wet" coffee to sell.  There they have large machines that they put the coffee through to dry it more rapidly or they lay it out on cement patios to dry it by the sun, which takes more time.  There is one dryer that is right next to the salida, o sea the exit for San Isidro.  And thus everyone from my area sells their coffee there.  I have frequented the secardora on several occasions with farmers who have given me a jalon, o sea a ride, to town.  None of them have been to show me around the place or explain exactly what happens, because I'm a female and why would I care.  So in passing I knew the owner of the secardora, I stand out, its very hard not to standout.  Anyway, so I was genuinely upset when I heard this news.  At first I thought someone had broken into the office of the dryer late at night and robbed him and it wasn't until the next day that I got the whole story.
    The next I went to the bus station in search of the Tiupa bus, which as it turns out, was not there.  So I took a bus that would pass by the desvio (or the fork in the road) that goes up to Tiupa, from there I waited for t a car to pass or from a jalon.  Luckily the bus came.
   It wasn't until I was on the bus on my way back to Teupacenti when I got the whole story.  I realized that the man sitting next to me was reading an article with some very gruesome photos.  After about 15 minutes I decided to ask him if it was about the guy who was murdered.  It was and in the article it said that the ex-diputado was carrying 500,000 limpera with him and was ambushed by 4 men with AK 47s and shotguns.  In the car with him were 2 body guards, a worker and 2 women to whom he was givings rides to from the desvio- o sea where the main highway meets the dirt road that goes to Teupacenti. Only he was killed, but as we passed the  spot on the road everyone got up and looked out the side of the bus, the blood was still visible on the road.
   Rumors say that these men were tipped off that he would be traveling with this much money.  His wife said he was carrying so much because he needed to pay workers.  The reality of the situation is that there is a small bank and several cooperatives in Teupacenti but I don't think any of them are large enough to manage the amount of money that they use.  So he might not have had other options for traveling with this money.  Another unfortunate reality is that many coffee farmers are traveling with more money and because of the high traffic of cars traveling through the mountain, the bus has become less and less regular.  And that leaves less options for me to travel away from site. 
   After this happened, I didn't really know what to think.  Was I in danger living where I am, if I had tried to go home the day before like I had planned and waited for a jalon where I waited the day before, would I have been in the car with them? I didn't know.  So I made a meeting with the Safety and Security director of PCH, the day before we left to go to another city for several days for our conference.  After explaining everything to the SS Director his immediate reaction was that I needed to change my site.  And all I could do was stare at him, I was afraid I was going to freak out more.  Me, who was the least gunho about their site from the beginning, me who was scared to death to go to site, was now scared to death to change sites.  I told the man that the very LAST thing I wanted to do was leave San Isidro.  After more conversation, we decided that I would only travel in buses and avoid people in the community that may be traveling with more money.  And that I should take a break for the weekend and hang out with friends and enjoy myself. (!)  All of this is easier said than done of course.  But I am trying my hardest.  And don't worry the minute I ever feel unsafe where I am living I will be out of there.
   Since I have come back from my trip to the states 8 people in my side of Tiupa have been killed over money made during coffee season, almost always something about people owing other people money.  For a while it seemed like every day the police were driving by in the mornings to another village and in the afternoons with people in the back in handcuffs.  At least the police are doing something, but the fact remains that people are still killing people.  And the best I can see to explain this a little better to explain exactly the way coffee season runs.
   Although in all parts of the country coffee season begins and ends differently.  In my region, November begins the season and should end in mid March.  Coffee berries ripen at different times so usually the coffee farmers have to make at least three cuts.  The people who actually pick the coffee are the poorer people in the community and surrounding communities.  And after the second cut many of these people don't want to cut anymore, so a lack of workers is a common complaint among the farmers.  Thus forcing them to pick the green berries, which sell for practically nothing and produce coffee that is awful.
   But the reason why the workers get tired of picking is because the farms are all on very steep slopes, it is still the raining season and fairly cold where the farms are located because of the shade needed and the altitude.  Another huge factor is the amount the owner's pay the pickers.  For each lata, a 5 gallon bucket, the owner will pay 20-25 Limperias (about $1 US).  An average adult, picking all day (from 6am-4pm) can pick between 3-6 latas.  So the average coffee picker is making between 60 and 150 Limperias a day (or about $7.50 US) in 10 hours.  I can sympathize with these people.  And from experience of picking, it is not a very easy task, although one does get better with time.  The trees are often very high and the berries do not just pop right off, and if you break part of the stem that part of the plant will not produce berries again.
   On the other side of things are the growers.  Which have their share of problems as well.  Many coffee farms have been planted and replanted for decades without much fertilization, thus leaving the soil poor and the production poorer.  Many farmers lack very specific technical knowledge of coffee and therefore cannot benefit from improvements with the new technology.  But they are still producing and still selling, but because of something in the past, Honduras' coffee product has a bad reputation and cannot be sold for the same prices that some farmers get in say Guatemala or Columbia or even Africa.  Some people in Nicaragua will even cross the boarder and buy Honduran coffee for less and take it back to Nicaragua and sell it for more, because they have a better market.  So recently the coffee market has dropped, but the price for a lata at the beginning of the season (in Tiupa) was 210 Limpera (now it is 180 Lps.) in one manzana an average farmer can get about 60 latas of wet coffee.  The farmers have no choice but to pay very small wages.  And the average coffee grower only has 3-5 manzanas.
   Anyway, enough about coffee season and the extremely depressing reality of Honduras.  We went to reconnect in Siguatepeque for 4 days, this conference was for all the current volunteers in my project and we talked about common problems and also had a few technical sessions on topics we didn't not cover in-depth in training.  It was a lot of fun to be with everyone, especially the volunteers that live on the other side of the country that I hardly ever see.  After the conference a bunch of us headed over to the lake, Lago de Yajoa, for my birthday/to hang out.  The lake was awesome.  We stayed in some ex-pat's (from Britain) hotel that has cabins and a bunk room, access to the lake, a restaurant, and boats to rent.  We ended up getting there late on Friday because a few of us stayed behind in Seguatepeque to go to a seed storage place that was providing the seeds for the Trees for Future projects that a few of us are involved in (myself included - hopefully my community and I will be planting over 5,000 trees!)  By the time we got to the lake it was nearly sun down, so we hung out, got dinner and relaxed and watched the sun set.  Later that night, some friends broke out there instruments ( a guitar and a cello) and jammed for us a little bit, I went downstairs to use the bathroom and when I came back up everyone sang happy birthday to me with a cake!  There were about 20 of us in all.  And then the ex-pats and his family.
   The next morning we got up late and hung around, went and walked down the street to check out the little shacks that sell fried tilapia and came back in the afternoon because the owner told us he'd take us out for a swim in the lake.  We went swimming for about 30 minutes and came out covered in green algae.  We got showered up, grabbed a cooler from the restaurant and went on a "party cruise" to watch the sunset on the lake.  The next morning we got up and all parted ways. 
   I left and went back to site and arrived much more relaxed.
   Well I'd love to write more right now, I still haven't covered the latest on the chicken project, but my friend Ashley is flying into Honduras today and I'm leaving to go to the airport to get her.  She is definitely in for some surprises, we have to go back to my site, because on Saturday I have my very first chicken workshop with my women's group.  And I want to start mapping the watershed with her help.  So after she leaves I will have much more to write about, more adventures and more gripes I'm sure! 
    I hope this email finds everyone well!
PC Amor,

Bridget Kathleen French

Monday, January 22, 2007

thanksgiving and beyond

Well a lot has passed and not much has happened.  I guess the last anyone heard from me was when I was in the capital for Thanksgiving.  Well the next morning after our very sub par meal at TGIF's I was peer pressured, very easily so might I add, into going to La Paz, La Paz to eat dinner at another volunteer's house for TG dinner.  It was totally worth it.  The food ws awesome (we even had pumpkin pie) and the company was even better.  There was maybe about 35-40 volunteers there for the night.  The whole month of November La Paz has their feria so after dinner we all headed out to the central park to watch the torres de fuego.  A wooden structure that resembles a bull but has fireworks that look like sticks of dynamite all over it.  A person picks up the bull and lifts it over their head and the fireworks are lit and they run through the crowd with it.  After a few minutes the bull is passed off, still lit, to another person who then also runs through the crowd.  OK, maybe you had to be there, but I have some movies that I took and will try and post.  I left the next afternoon to go back to Teguc to try and catch the GA v GT game with Saira (who went to Tech).  We made it in time for half time, so we watched the rest of the game and tried to head back to her site, which is in the same department as mine.  Apparently we missed the last bus that was supposed to leave at 6, even though we were there at 5:45. 
The month of December pretty much flew by here.  Especially because I spent almost half of it in the states.  But before I left I finalized everything for my house (or at least I thought I did) and had a meeting about our chicken project.
The chicken project is supposed to take the chickens that the women already have and make them healthier and better egg producers.  I invited 20 women and by 2:15 no one had showed up, the meeting was to start at 2.  By 2:30 5 were there and by 3 15 were there.  I never really believed that whole one hour later thing because almost all of the meetings I have attended started about on time, but that's ok.  I didn't really have a whole lot going on that day.  I spent a lot of time getting ready or this meeting, making posters and name tags and agendas and prat icing what I was going to say.  I didn't think I was exactly ready, but prepared regardless.  It turns out that over half of the women that were there cannot read or write, so my posters were useless, they didn't get my ice breakers or they cheated, and they wrote so small on the name tags I couldn't read them.  On top of this some of them experienced the mind block, as I like to call it, of my Spanish.  This occurs when someone does not care to understand you even if you are speaking perfect Spanish because you look and act different.  Luckily for me about 5 women in the community are very use to my Spanish and helped me translate from my Spanish to their Spanish.  There were very few questions but the ones they did ask were very pertinent.  I thought all had gone fairly well until I got back to my site and and asked Suyupa what people has been saying and I know she wanted to be nice so she said she hadn't talked to anyone about it.  But honestly, a woman approached me to have this project, it wasn't the other way around, so I can keep working with the water board and still be very busy, although I would really like to have all the chickens in San Isidro in chicken coops, purely for the reason that I hate them and they bite me, no seriously they bite.  More to come on the chicken project as it develops.
Right now I am also trying to write a watershed management plan that we can begin to implement in our town and then can be easily transferred to other villages.  This is not the easiest task.  If anyone has any suggestions please let me know!
A few Honduran anecdotes:
The other day I was at the pulperia and this very North American looking girl walked by, she said hola and only spoke in Spanish, surely I thought to myself if she was from the states she would realize I was too and talk to me in English.  Who is that I asked Elida.  That's the gringo's daughter.  What? I said, where does the gringo live?  Arriba, she told me.  (Arriba to my community it anywhere above where you are standing, and abajo is anywhere below where you are standing).  Arriba where? I demanded.  Do you know the cantina?  No I said I don't KNOW the cantina, but I know where it is (a cantina in the mnt is a guy who sells warm beer and guaro out of his house).  There, he lives there.  Ohh, I said, you mean he's Honduran but looks like a gringo.  Yeah, she says.  So he doesn't speak English then?  No of course not, she tells me.  Aye, if I had just asked from the beginning, but instead we played this game for 7 mins or so.
The day before I left to go to Teguc to fly home I was supposed to go to the mayor's office to pick up the form requesting a new volunteer for Teupacenti.  I told them I would be more than happy to take the form into the PC office. Of course I had ulterior motives, but they didn't know this.  So I get to the office early to pick up the form.  Oh he's not here, one of the women working there tells me.  When will he be here?  He's in Teguc right now.  What do you mean he's in Teguc?  Don't worry she tells me, he should be back later today.  When later today?  By 3, she tells me.  So I wonder around the town until 3 and return.  He's there but is very surprised to see me.  I came to get the form I tell him, what form, he asks.  I explain and he has to ask the mayor if it's done.  He comes back and tells me, no it has not been completed but maybe if I wait around it might be done in a few hours.  OK I say, I'll wait.  I doesn't get done so I tell him if they really do want another volunteer in Teupa the form needs to be done in Jan.  Oh well, he tells me, I thought we could have it in by March and be ok.  You do realize the volunteers come in Feb, right? I say.  Yes, and he stares at me blankly.  Things aren't looking good for me having anyone near by.
So going home was nice, but extremely overwhelming.  I thought I wouldn't notice the commercialization or the people and while it could be because of the holidays, I couldn't stop gaping at these things.  While it was nice to have a hot shower and food options, I couldn't believe how rude the people were and how horrible the traffic was and basically everything I took for granted before I left.  It's very strange how accustomed I have become to not having choices or not having anything.  Conditions I would never have put up with the states are just another part of everyday life here.  I'm not sure what it will be like when I go back for good, but I guess I understand why the PC says readjusting to the states is much harder than leaving. 
I got back to country on the 30th and almost immediately took a bus 7 hours to La Cieba to see one of my better friends in the Peace Corps who's mom is dying of brain cancer and therefore will be leaving for good very soon.  La Cieba was extremely disappointing.  The beaches were beyond dirty, we saw a needle lying on the road and there was a brown pelican swimming in an absolutely horrible river with a broken (or something) wing.  I couldn't wait to leave that place and go back to my site.  Although I hear the islands are very nice, the only ferry to them is through Cieba and that alone may keep me from going to them.  We celebrated the 31st like Americans, but all the fun in Honduras doesn't begin until after 12am, everyone spends the evening with their families and then goes out.  But we managed to still have a good time.  Also another difference about the north coast, more people speak English because the population is mostly made up of gurifinos (relatives of African slaves brought over to work in the plantations) but the English they do speak is a pidgin and often very hard to understand.  We found it easier to speak to them in Spanish.  I also met a bunch of people that went illegally to the states and lived in Miami (or near) and it seems all of the people that go illegally to the states in my mountain live in Virginia (near DC).
So I got back to Teupa and went to see if I could get on the bus with all my luggage (I brought back 2 solar panels, one for me and one for my counterpart) and it turned out the bus wasn't running because the road had gotten so bad from the rain the past 2 weeks (before I left I seriously doubted I would be able to get down the mnt, because it rained straight for 7 days).  So I walked about 7 more blocks to the salida to wait for a car to pass, for 3 hours only one car passed and it was already very full.  By then it was getting close to sun down and I had been sitting with a lady from San Isidro, where are you going to spend the night? she asked.  I don't know I said.  By then it had started to rain again so she told me to come stay with her at her mom's house.  So away I went.  I ate dinner with them and slept there.  She assured me we would leave early to get back to the mountain.  By 3 PM I was still sitting around waiting.  Finally at 3:30 we left.  I got to my new house to find it still very much occupied.  Great, I thought, Esperanza (the owner of the house) comes out and sees me and proceeds to tell me that my boss told her I wouldn't be moving in until the end of the month, which I know was a bold faced lie.  But don't worry she says tomorrow we'll move.  And for tonight I say?  You can sleep with us, she offers (right there are already 3 women, an infant, a 20 yr old and an old man).  Thanks I say, I'm going to go ask some others.  So leave my stuff in her house and go around saying feliz ano nuevo to everyone.  I ended up finding 3 more places to sleep and was hanging out at one family's house when Antonio showed up (my counterpart).  He basically insisted that I spend the night there, which was fine.  The next morning I went over to my house to see if they needed any help and almost everything was gone from inside.  So now I have my house with all my stuff in it and a borrowed bed and that's about it.  And also 4 1\2 people living right outside my door (a least until feb).  But I have high hopes for it, I bought some nails and a new lock and I am going to start fixing it up!
Hope every one's new year started off on the right foot.  Take care and I will write more soon.
PC Amor,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

happy early thanksgiving

Hi everyone -
  I hope the holidays have started treating y'all well.  Here in Honduras it really wasn't starting to feel like the season until Sunday.  A cold front has come through.  Right now in the valley it is not freezing, but in the mountain, where it is almost 3000 asl, IT IS ABSOLUTELY FREEZING.  For the past few nights I have slept in my Northface fleece in my 32 degree sleeping bag with socks and gloves on and I'm still cold.  The actually temperature, so I'm told, is only about 15 degrees C (about 60 F) but with the wind that whips through the mountains, I swear its below freezing.  The first night the front came through I woke up and thought I was in the middle of a hurricane, and when I got out of bed it actually did resemble the aftermath, all the trees had their leaves ripped off.  Anyway that was Sunday, and here it is Wednesday and still no let up.  This unexpected weather has presented several problems in my daily routine.  On top of the water coming straight from the stream cold, now its freezing, so bathing has turned into a nightmare.  I boil water but still, the shower is outside with the windchill, its just absolutely absurd.  Alright I'm done complaining.
   I came into town today to have a meeting with the engineer from the NGO IHCAFE, who I finally tracked down after almost three months of searching and waiting for him.  It turns out too that its a different guy and the other has left.  But he seems to be very interested in my assistance and projects so hopefully this will be a fruitful partnership, but if not, just as well.  Tomorrow morning I'm taking the bus into the capital for a Thanksgiving dinner with friends.  TGIF's said they would do a turkey dinner for us, we got a room reserved and are just going to hang out and watch football.  I wanted to stay and watch the UGA GT game but I think I'm going to try and come back to site Sat morning.
   The schools have let out for the year, until February.  And now they are having their graduation ceremonies, Saturday is SI's kinder graduation so I'm going to try and make it back for that.  Wednesday is our 6th and 9th grade graduation.  I was invited to the 9th grade graduation by a family\boy in SI.  I'm not really sure what all it entails, but I know there is a lot of eating involved.  I'll take pictures and let everyone know more in depth what exactly is involved in this celebration!
   Its hard for me to believe, but I've been in country almost 6 months and in site for 3.  Right now I have started planing what projects we will be doing for the years to come.  It looks like the first large project will be a formal plan on the watershed.  Included in this will be the reforestation of the watershed, but herein lies the first problem.  A man in our community owns the land and is not willing to sell it.  If this is any indicator of the problems to come I can't wait.  I'm starting now to get maps and wiping the polvo off the GPS so we can do all of this legally.  Another organization came to SI to talk to us about giving us funding for this project, but the lady said we needed to own the land first, she also said we needed to reforest where our PVC tubes are laid, so, that's another issue.  But the monies would be helpful because there are many houses in my community that do not have potable water, although the current stream does not have the capacity to sustain the entire community, so looking for more water and building the system are two large and expensive tasks.  Also educating the community on the importance of the watershed and what exactly one is will be included in this plan because right now no one, aside from the water board, understands exactly how they effect their own water system. 
   More projects will follow but for right now, this is my main focus.  Though tomorrow it might very well change, who knows.  I'm trying to get everything on a time line so we can have a solid work plan but Hondurans are not planners, as I've been told and have come to find out for myself. 
   Almost forgot, I was walking back from soccer field the other day and saw a coral snake in the road, and then two days ago I was walking to some one's house and saw another greenish\blackish snake and then yesterday I woke up and there was a scorpion on my wall in my room.  I didn't have any idea how to say scorpion in Spanish so I looked it up in the dictionary and walked to the living room and said to Antonio, um there's a...pause...escoporion in my room...Antonio gets up and walks into my room and looks up at the wall and says ohh yeah, it is and then smashes the thing with a broom handle on the wall.  Apparently they are not lethal here but pica duro (carry a fierce bite), someone told me she was bit as a kid and her whole arm hurt for 2 days.
    Well that's about it I believe.  Hope all is well and I hope everyone has a great day tomorrow.
PC Amor,

Bridget Kathleen French

Thursday, November 16, 2006

one more thing

Hi sorry all for two emails, but I didn't want to short anyone on more anecdotes from Bridget!  I have more time seeing how I will be spending the night in Teguc to go to a dermatologist today about my face, as much as I say I like Honduras it doesn't want to get on the boat - triste.  Anyway, I don't know how many of you have read or even heard about the book, "Don't Be Afraid Gringo," it was one of the books they recommend reading before you get to country (although I just finished it a few weeks ago).  It's about the campasinos fight to have their own land to farm during the 70s and 80s told by a female activist.  After the country passed a law that said any land that wasn't actively being used could be passed over to farmers with no land, well basically that's what it says.  So her and her group started taking rich land owners land and squatting it for days until they could get the government to sign the paperwork to give it to the farmers.  Many people were killed and assassinated, and many violent battles.
      Now that you have the background, one the groups that was started back then is still active today and was squatting on a piece of land on the way up to the cabins we went to this weekend.  I kind of felt like I was getting to see history in the making, I have a feeling that I was the only one that thought it was really cool, but whatever.  I wish I had taken some pictures but I didn't.  They had a Honduran flag flying and a banner that said something about land feeding the hungry.  And they stand along the fence with their machetes and watch the road.  All very dramatic.
   Also a volunteer who lives on the boarder of El Salvador showed up because he heard a bunch on gringos were in town (I would have done the same thing, this is what our excitement has been deduced to) and he told us about PC El Salvador, apparently they have around 150 volunteers, which I think is absurd for the size of the country, but we all decided that the people of El Salvador really need it.  Also, my parents should be very happy about this, it is apparently FAR more dangerous than Honduras as far as number of murders per year.
     Alright, I think I have finally run out of interesting things to say, at least for right now.  Its is possible that you all may get yet another email since I have access to FREE internet and really nothing to do here.
PC Amor,

Bridget Kathleen French

chicken brains, el salvador and rambo

Hi everyone -
     Nice subject title right?  Wanted to keep every one's attention.  I'll get to explanations in a few lines I swear.  Right now I'm in Teguc, I just got back from a little trip and decided to wait for the next bus to my site and hope the jalon gods are with me today so I could print some stuff out and go buy a jar a of peanut butter (a whole jar in 3 weeks isn't ridiculous, right?)
     So the last time I wrote there were some things that I completely just left out.  Rambo, the other dog of my counterparts was ran over by a car., this happened in September when I was away for the conference in Olancho, I guess I'm over it now, but he was a cute dog.  Named Rambo after a futbol player, not after the movie character which is what I originally thought.  I suppose why I wanted to mention it before was because I found it very strange that he was hit by a car, when maybe only one passes every 3 or 4 hours, if even that.  Maybe that's why he got hit.  I'm still looking for a puppy but still haven't had any luck since Paluka's died.  The other house that I am trying to figure out a way lease has a nice fenced in yard, but the other doesn't.
    Meat in my community, and most of Honduras is a luxury.  Chicken is by far the cheapest, no one really ever eats beef or pork and if they do its very fatty and a  poor product.  So about once a week we have chicken at my house, Nolvia has about 30 chickens, she counted the other day, which in my opinion is 30 too many, but I'll get to that.  So with the 30 chickens and every so often they actually hatch their eggs, we continuously have more, so one a week is doing no damage to the population.  Its always boiled or fried chicken, but mostly boiled.  Some times we have it in soup and some times just with rice and beans.  When we have it with soup we usually will eat it for two days straight.  These chickens usually don't have a lot of meat on them to begin with, and to be perfectly honest I usually pick a little bit off and give the rest to the dog, but one day I was eating soup and could find almost no meant on the bone, while I was turning the bones over and over and picking out little pieces here and there it occurred to me what I was holding in my hand - the skull.  And I had been eating the brains!  I know Nolvia had been watching me eat and I'm sure its because she wanted to know what I was going to do with it, and then of course it could have been my paranoia, but all she said was, not a lot of meat on that one.  Whatever, I stopped eating it and gave the rest to the dog.  Life went on, but no, it didn't taste like chicken.
    Not much else has been going on in my site, I'm here right now in Teguc looking for some information to start teaching an english class and when I get back I'm going to start looking for some wild growing medicinal plants, because the nurse and I are going to practice making some remedies and then we're going to have a class kinda thingy to teach these remedies to all the health center guardians that live in each community.
    This weekend I went to visit another volunteer that has a rural tourism project going with some of my friends from my training class.  His town is outside of Marcala called Zancudo.  This town use to be part of El Salvador, but during the last war it was given to Honduras.  But the people there are a little confused, they travel freely from El Salvador to Honduras to buy groceries and what not, the area has also been declared dry by the president, I suppose because he is afraid a war will break out induced by alcohol consumption.  Bu there are plenty of people there that have horror stories about what happened to them, their family and friends during the wars.  One of the ladies that was cooking our food at the lodge lost a son by an American bomb that El Salvador dropped.  I asked the volunteer that lived there if there were many people with post traumatic stress or anything and he didn't really seem to notice anything, although he thought the people that were considered the "town drunks" had the most horrific experiences.  We went to a boarder town named Purkine (sp?) and it just seemed completely different over there, we could see the two active volcanoes as well.  Although most of the people in this region make a living my "chopping wood" the forests in this area didn't seem as deforested as near my site.  The weather was much colder, although right now in Tegus its kinda chilly so its possible that "winter" has spread across the whole country, but I doubt it.  The site is higher up in the mountains too, and seems more piney than my site. 
     The tourist place was really interesting, apparently there have been people asking around the area for a place to stay, the project is really only marketed at locals and I guess the occasional PCV, but right now there are 3 cabins with two double beds and private bathrooms and one cabin with bunk beds and a bathroom outside (to be used kind of like a hostel type room).  They were still putting the finishing touches on everything when we were there but they were quaint wooden structures, all made there because next to the land is a wood shop kind of place that makes wood furniture.  Also on the property is going to be the office of the NGO that is developing the project and a tourist office type place.  A little further up from there is going to be a restaurant for the people staying in the cabins (also made from wood). 
     There isn't much to see or do, but we went on a nature walk to Zancuda which round around a stream and through the forest for about 30 mins.  Once we got to Zancuda we checked out the town (this is the volunteer's site) and then sampled some of their corn products they were having for their corn festival.  It was typical corn products, atol - which is the juice that comes out of the corn after it is ground, tamales de alote which is just the ground corn (when its still moist) and wrapped in corn husks and steamed on a stove and corn on the cob 0of the different types of corn they grow.  Also later that night we ate the tamales de alote fried (in my site they like to add sugar after frying them).
     We did a lot of hanging out and were supposed to leave on Sunday but decided on the trip last minute.  So here I am and I'm getting ready to head back to my site, I have to catch a bus at 12.  More to come later.
PC Amor,

Bridget Kathleen French

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

life in the campo

Hi all -
   This has to be a quick one, I've already been on the internet for 2 hours!  How time flies so fast when you're using technology and not when you're sitting around in the campo is beside me.  But that's OK, because not much has happened.
   In my last email I forgot to mention that each night I watch the sunset, I have photos and the next time I'm in Teguc I will put them up I swear!  Anyway, in the past few weeks I have added something new to me daily routine, going to the futbal campo to run.  This apparently baffles and entertains the ENTIRE community, but it keeps me busy for at least an hour.  At first no one knew what I was doing and then slowly it caught on and all of a sudden I have an audience of about 7 kids/teenagers.  On Monday I actually got three of my favorite little ninas to go with me, so we played tag and raced each other and all kinds of fun things.
   On the Sunday before it had been raining we were all at the campo for the last game of a soccer tournament the community was having to raise money to build a community center when the team decided to walk out of the tournament, because there wasn't enough money for 2nd place.  This I thought was absolutely ridiculous, and I still do,  I'm not sure how much money we ended up making from the tournament, but hopefully it was worth wile.  After we drove back in the pouring rain we were at the house when my three favorite 9 yr olds came over, I told them on Saturday I was going to teach them how to make friendship bracelets so there they were, eager to learn.  We did that for about 3 hours and then one of them said she was cold so I gave her my NorthFace and it hung on her like I dress, I took a picture and then they went insane.  Let's take a picture here, let me see, let me take it, take one of me, now of you two.  Everyone that walked up to the house had to have their picture taken!  It was funny.  And then I showed them my pictures from home, that was even better, look how pretty you are bridget with your sunglasses, is that your house?, are those your dogs? is that your brother? your mom? your dad? your friend? what do you mean you have 2 friends named Ashley?  It was great!
     Aside from having a good time with the kids, I've been going to a lot more community meetings and getting to know more of the area.  Last Friday we had a clean water co-op where we all went house to house looking for standing water and larvae.  Also we counted the number of people who don't have latrines and pilas, that's going to turn into my first project. This past week I went up with someone from the water board to look at the water system, we cleaned the tank and walked along the stream that provides the water.  I got to ride a horse half of the way up the mountain too! It was the most fun part of course!
     Right now I am currently in the works of getting together a place to move into in November, so then anyone who wants to come visit me can!
    Other than that things are pretty slow right now, we're not supposed to be starting work until after the 3rd month anyway.  Hope all is well with everyone and I will try and muster up a more entertaining email next time, I'm burnt out right now!
PC Amor,

Bridget Kathleen French