Friday, August 14, 2009

¡Hey--I made it to Honduras!

Well, since it’s been a few weeks and you haven’t heard from me, you can probably guess that against all odds, I finally made it to Honduras! The past three weeks have been packed, and I feel like I’ve been here much longer. Thus far, I have lived with two host families in two towns, climbed a mountain, gotten amoebas (or something), gotten rid of my amoebas, been rained on a lot, and progressed very little in Spanish, despite the best efforts of my teachers and tutor.

Our flight here was interesting because probably half my group of about fifteen trainees still couldn’t believe we were going to make it to our destination. I was feeling pretty optimistic until right above Tegucigalpa. The airport is supposedly the second most difficult in the world to land in, and planes have been known to clip buses on the road that runs right above the runway, so I was prepared for a rough landing. However, as we descended, we flew into a rainstorm with crazy turbulence that pushed the plane all over the place, which might have been ok if we hadn’t been navigating around mountains at the same time. Thankfully, I made it to the ground without dying or throwing up. As we taxied to the terminal, our plane rolled past a street filled with graffiti about golpistas, or people involved with the coup. I started to wonder what I’d gotten into. In the customs line, we talked with some Swiss volunteers. I was very awkward with them, and they gave me a bar of chocolate. Just what one would expect from an encounter between me and Swiss people. Then by the baggage claim, we were met by the Honduran Peace Corps staff who guided us out to the parking lot for a pizza and apple lunch. Through a miscommunication, we all thought we would be spending three or four nights in a hotel before leaving for field based training in three separate villages. In the parking lot, we learned that we were actually going to stay with host families for five days in a small town an hour or so away from Tegucigalpa. Then we bundled into vans and set off for our new training center.

When we arrived, I was struck by the scent of pine trees, and the breeze, and the air that for the first time in a month wasn’t thick with humidity. The training center is in the mountains, in a little bubble of coolness that felt absolutely heavenly compared to Miami and Santo Domingo. We became acquainted with the staff and played some games in Spanish, and then we met our host families and loaded into a yellow school bus that took us to our neighborhoods. My host mom’s name was Suyapa and she and her six year-old daughter Melanie had come to pick me up. As we walked to their house, Melanie dubbed me “the most beautiful gringa in the whole world,” and held my hand as I felt overwhelmed at the difference between host families and the hotel room I had been prepared for. When we got to the house, I met a whirlwind of people, and then Melanie and her sister Madelem, ages six and four, ushered me to the houses of two neighbors. I met more people and collected more kids, and then the kids and I went exploring in some trails behind the settlement. They sang in my ears and showed me a good place for making echoes and a creek that supposedly had little fish in it. We played there for a while, until I said I was really worn out and they started to lead me back. On the way, we were intercepted by a pack of angry mothers, and all the kids got in trouble for abducting me and leading me somewhere that apparently was dangerous, although I never learned why. Anyway, I made it home and met the third child in the family, an 18 month-old boy named Javier. Then I ate a delicious dinner of beans, plantains, tortillas, and a sour creamish staple of the Honduran diet called “mantequilla.” I went to bed with the window open and slept like a rock.

The next couple days at the training center were similar to the first. A new group of trainees arrived each day, and we attended orientation and safety sessions. Because we came in somewhat random groups, we weren’t able to divide up into language classes by skill level. Instead, we just played a lot of icebreaker games in Spanish. In Honduras, they’re called “dynamicas” and apparently they’re very popular, however, they can get kind of torturous when played back to back for days, so I was extremely happy when the whole group arrived and we were able to split into more permanent, skill-based language classes. Unfortunately, just when things were starting to look up, I woke up in the night vomiting and spent the next couple days not eating and feeling awful. The good news is that the medical staff hooked me up with a large stash of Cipro and I started feeling better pretty quickly. I missed a trip to a market in Tegucigalpa, but the excursion followed 4-6 hours of safety orientation that spent a lot of time highlighting the dangers of the city, so I wasn’t terribly torn up about it. Instead, I had more time to spend with my host family, who were all great.

On my first Sunday in country, I dragged one of my overstuffed bags to the bus stop with the rest of the trainees in my neighborhood and got on the bus for my field based training site, which is a village near Comoyagua, the former colonial capital of Honduras. The trip was longer than expected, lasting around four hours. Once we reached the town the bus stopped in two places. Two other trainees and I got off at the first stop only to learn pretty quickly that we had been put on the wrong list and were supposed to get off at the second stop. We then had to drag and wheel our luggage for half an hour or so in front of many watching families to finally reach our new host homes. When we arrived, I was covered in dust and sweat and extremely frazzled, and because the trip took longer than planned, I had about five minutes to meet my host mom, drop off my bag, and rush back down the road to meet in the salon tecnico where we would be having training. The meeting lasted maybe 3 minutes, and afterwards, as we walked back to our host families, I felt pretty frustrated. Once I got back to my house, even sweatier and dustier than before, I ate dinner and took awkwardness to a new level with my timid host mom and mysterious host great-uncle. My family information sheet said that I also had a 17 year-old host sister, but she wasn’t home, and after hanging my mosquito net and freaking out about the whole day, I went to bed around 7:30. It was dark enough to see glints of street lights through the terra cotta shingles that make up the roof. Without my contacts, the lights looked like those glow in the dark stars that you put on your ceiling when you’re a kid.

After a rough night of cawing roosters, I rose at 5 something to calls of “Profesora” and knocks on my door. I got up and met my host sister. Then I continued redefining awkwardness through breakfast and walked back to the salon tecnico to start training. We reviewed the schedule of events and formed groups for a few projects. At 11:30, I returned to my house for lunch. Lunch was quiet, but afterwards, I spoke with my host sister for a while and started to feel more comfortable. The afternoon was uneventful, but the evening with my family was less stressful, much to my relief.

Since this first day, things have improved a lot. I really like my family and they feel more comfortable with me. I should mention that there is a dog also, named Mariposa. We’re buddies, even though she’s kind of gross. This is the first time my family has hosted anyone, and I think they didn’t know what to do with me at first. I’m still awkward, but they’ve gotten used to it, and I have gotten used to lurking around not being useful and burning things when I try to cook. I did successfully press a batch of tortillas a few days ago, and I made myself tea on Sunday without giving myself amoebas. I have also learned how to wash laundry in a pila. Pilas consist of cement tanks that hold water and an adjoining washboard that is also made of cement. This village has running water in the mornings, so the pilas are filled, and then you transfer the water into the washboard/whatever you want to wash with a plastic tub called a paila. I have now mastered the art of scrubbing my clothes so slowly that watching neighbor children laugh at me and tell me I need to do it faster. Personally, I’m just thrilled to finally have some clean clothes.

Which kind of leads me to the story about climbing the mountain, because I got really dirty. We had been learning about micro-watersheds, and the goal of the training session was to learn about the original water source for the village. First we drove up to a farm (so I guess we didn’t climb the whole thing), and met the landowner/tour guide. We set off from his house under sunny skies, but about five minutes into our hike, it started to absolutely pour. Our training director asked our guide how far the source was, and he said it wasn’t far, so we kept walking. By some abnormal preparedness, I had managed to bring a poncho, which I slung over my backpack full of cameras and wallets and cell phones collected from the less water-resistant. We ended up hiking for about an hour while the rain continued to shower down and the trail down into the valley turned into an extended waterfall. We arrived at our destination, which had in the meantime become a thundering river, and spent a few minutes commenting on how we were in a prime area for flash floods and taking pictures with a waterproof camera. Then we headed out of the valley and up a steep trail that looped us back to the farm. It stopped raining on the hike back, but by that time, everyone was completely soaked through. Nevertheless, everyone had a great time. We were all happy to get out of the classroom and move around.


  1. Wow, Cara, what a trip! Or, bunch of trips! Bet you'll always remember to bring a poncho along with you.
    Do you know how long your training will last and where you'll end up when it's done?
    Good luck with your Spanish, Cara.
    Love the long blog!