Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The one where I write about my birthday...

What I’ve been doing
So I’ve been in my site for about two months now, and you’re all probably asking yourselves what I’ve been up to. Peace Corps policy is for volunteers to spend the first three months getting to know people before jumping into major commitments, but my site is unique in that another volunteer had already started a latrine project in the village, so I have something concrete to work on. As a community, we decided that the next step for the project is a needs assessment of the houses involved. This has come as a happy assignment for me because it gives me something to talk about when I visit strangers’ houses and comes as an alternative to just sitting there for several minutes after introducing myself and asking who they are and then wishing I had more to say. After a month, I have completed 71 of the 75 surveys, and I have high hopes of finishing things up this week. The next step will be to present the information to the town council and then try to find funding sources. Other, generally less productive activities include going to many meetings of various groups. On the upside, I attended a vinegar making workshop, so now I can kind of do that.

Happy Birthday to Me. And Dagoberto.
A former volunteer once said that Peace Corps is kind of like your worst day of middle school every day. Generally, I don’t find that to be the case, but on my birthday, I found myself frequently thinking back to that most awkward of rites of passage: the middle school dance, and comparing it to the dance I found myself at. Before you get the wrong idea and think that the town threw me a party, I should explain that my birthday happens to coincide with the birthday of the young son (Dagoberto) of one of the wealthiest landowners in my village. I was invited to celebrate with the rest of the town up at their mountaintop coffee plantation. It was my first Honduran birthday party, and you probably haven’t been to many either, so I’ll try to share the experience as best I can. First, to set the scene, imagine a three year-old’s birthday party. There is a piñata, games are played, party favors are handed out, and cake is distributed while a song is sung. There are various hints that this party is in Honduras. The majority of the guests are wearing cowboy hats and boots, and many men including the guy dangling the piñata are also packing handguns in holsters tucked into their Wranglers. A Mariachi band accompanies the swarming children. Then as night falls, the children suddenly find that the party is no longer theirs, and the band is replaced by speakers blasting Ranchero music and Punta. They go inside to chew on party favor candy and blow party favor whistles, and the driveway becomes a dance floor.

Apparently, my inability to dance had been the talk of the town during the weeks leading up to the big event. Unfortunately for me, it was considered more of a challenge than a deterrent. Many people grinningly told me that I was going to learn to dance, and I was told a few days before my birthday that the host of the party had even called a dance with me in advance. Therefore, I felt a lot of pressure to participate despite my terror of dancing and lack of coordination. As the dance began, I found myself sitting on a bench beside my host sister wondering how long this thing was going to last, and observing that in striking contrast to my fellow middle school students, everyone at this party knew how to move. Men began walking over to my host sister and asking her to dance. She would tactfully turn them down, and then they would ask me. I decided it was better not to dance with the guys that she wouldn’t dance with, so I would mutter that I couldn’t dance, and they would offer to teach me, and then I would say no, and that’s how we spent at least an hour. Some guys grew bolder and started to ask me before asking my host sister, but since they used lines like “Dance with me, Gringita” or blew smoke in my face, I turned them down too. Finally, a female host-distant relative insisted that I let her teach me, and I gave in. To my instant regret, I let her lead me to an open space that happened to be in front of 10 or so staring young men, and there begin her lesson, which consisted of her moving fluidly and looking great and me kind of bending my knees awkwardly a few times and then covering my face with my hands and returning to the bench. She tried a new tactic then, and set me up with a quiet, middle-aged partner who led me toward the middle of the floor and patiently danced with me through three painful songs before admitting defeat and letting me sit down. I danced for about thirty seconds with the man who had claimed a dance in advance, but he too gave up, and then I decided it was time to retreat to the kitchen where I drank some Coke for a while and then guiltily headed back to the dance floor. As I descended the porch stairs, the brother of a friend met me and quickly took my hand and led me into the crowd. It was there that I learned he was somewhat past tipsy and interested in dancing very closely, which I was not interested in. I also learned that as the two of us were probably the tallest couple there, we drew even more attention than I had been drawing on my own, which increased my embarrassment and made my movements even less graceful. We danced to two long songs, and then, for the first time ever, I was relieved to hear the Punta dance beat begin, because it meant I could escape the floor. Unfortunately, when I explained the plan to my dance partner, he decided to accompany me, and so, taking my hand awkwardly, he led me over to the benches, where I was treated to a long monologue about my beauty. Eventually, my host sister-in-law walked over and told me that my host mother needed to see me in the kitchen, so I extricated myself and followed her a short distance before she whispered that it had been a lie, and I thanked her for saving me. She encouraged me to continue dancing, but by this time, between the social mortification and the fact that all I’d had to drink for five hours was Coke, I was feeling rather ill, and thus spent the next two hours sitting in a dark room full of children and wishing I could leave.

Things that Go Bump in the Night
So this evening, I was in my room trying to decide if I should work on my blog or work on crosswords, and then I realized that there was a rather large cockroach on my bedside table. This was the first roach that I’ve seen in my room, and as my sense of security crashed, I was seized by a vengeful feeling and picked up my candle to smash the intruder. Unfortunately, the candle was beside the roach, and I kind of tipped it off as to the fact that it had been noticed, so it ran under the table and now I can’t get it. Then I looked around for other insects and immediately found a 6-inch long centipede-ish killer worm thing trying to hide in the corner between the wooden slats that form my ceiling and the cement that forms the wall. I clearly don’t know much about these creatures, but I do know that they can be poisonous, and I didn’t want to kill it, I just wanted it to not be in my room, so I emptied a plastic bag and tried to flick it in with a pencil. It resisted and stung my pencil several times very menacingly, and then I managed to flick it onto but not into the bag, which I was holding, and then I panicked and dropped the bag and the killer murderer disappeared onto or into or under my bed which I am now sitting on. I shook out all my sheets and pulled the bed away from the wall and shined my flashlight around and kicked my bedside table a few times, but I haven’t found anything. Hopefully my new roommates won’t emerge and crawl all over me/kill me while I’m asleep. Wish me luck.

P.S. I’m pretty sure nothing deadly has been crawling on me, but about a week after writing the above, I entered my room to find a scorpion scuttling across my wall. Various volunteers had been talking about how difficult scorpions are to kill, so I decided to catch it with a handkerchief and release it outside. I was successful in capturing it, but apparently, I was a little bit more forceful than I realized, and somehow managed to smash it as well. I threw it outside for good measure, and now every morning, I knock my shoes on the floor before putting my feet in them, just in case the scorpion had friends who are on the prowl for new hiding places.

The Road (Rated R)
I thought I’d inform those of you who have ever traveled with me or heard stories of me traveling that the wait is over: I have finally soiled the Honduran countryside (and my shoes) with my motion sick vomit. As someone who distinguished herself when she came to Honduras in college by throwing up in every vehicle she rode in (4), the fact that I’ve been in a Central American country for nearly four months without puking out the window of a moving car or at least demanding that the driver pull over to let me barf on the side of the road is something of a record. Here’s hoping I didn’t turn the proverbial corner today, and that I will regain my equilibrium before I go on any more long dusty drives. In the event that this is not the case, thanks again to all who collected barf bags to add to my stash. I carry them with me always.

The Proverbial Corner is Turned
So I wrote that previous bit, and then two days later, developed a stomach virus? that left me vomiting on the countryside and shoes once again. Unfortunate. I was visiting a neighboring village, and after the incident, I trudged the hour-long hike back as the sun set and I thought dark thoughts. When I got home, I went straight to bed where I stayed until the next afternoon. I’m pretty much over it now, which is wonderful, and I’m not sure why I’m sharing the news except that I know it will embarrass my mother. Take that, Mom.

The Day of Action of Thanks
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! Sorry I couldn’t be there, Family. I’m happy to say that I had a great time even though I wasn’t camping by a river in the States. One of the volunteers who lives in San Marcos hosted a get together for fifteen volunteers from various parts of Honduras. We had an expansive menu that included baked brie with cranberries, romaine lettuce salad with bleu cheese, candied walnuts, pears, and balsamic vinaigrette, mashed potatoes, “sweet potatoes”, turkey, and pumpkin pie, and I wish I could convey what a miracle the meal was after months of none of those foods.

Another Note About My Address
I’m happy to say that despite the fact that my address consists of a fake name, my “job” title, and a town I don’t live in, I have been receiving mail. THANK YOU! So far I’ve received 7 of the 8 things that I know I’ve been sent. By my reckoning, it takes about three weeks for mail to get to me. However, if it’s been a while and you haven’t received word of my undying gratitude, maybe send me an email and let me know that the package is in the mail so I know to check for it (although the post officers are very on top of things and track down the San Marcos volunteers whenever anything arrives for anyone in the Peace Corps). Also, practice makes perfect, so don’t let that missing 8th package keep you from sending yours. If you’ve got your box all ready and just can’t decide what to put in it, may I suggest dark chocolate, natural peanut butter (just peanuts and salt if possible), dried unsweetened mango slices from Trader Joe’s (I know that’s really specific), Snickers bars, and maybe some basil seeds. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah right, a box? What has Cara ever sent me?,” consider sending me a letter. If you want, you can also stuff the envelope or box with pictures, newspaper clippings, and surprises. Whatever you want. These are just ideas. I know that this list is pretty heavy on food items, and one reason is that I have a small room with no shelves and therefore am a bit tight on space. Perhaps you can save your more substantive items for my return to the US. Finally, please note that I’ve made a minor change to the address I had posted in the sidebar. The old one works, but this one might work even better. Let’s find out.


  1. Wow! Quite the long post. Thanksgiving was good, we all missed you! No camping as the weather was not cooperating. I don't know how you sleep with the thought of the bugs in your room!!

    Love, Aunt Amy

  2. reading your posts makes me oh so happy :)


  3. cara- looooved the post, you crack me up. i'm very glad to hear that you had a pinata on your birthday, although all the awkward dancing probably outweighed the joy of a pinata i'm sure. plus i'm guessing the pinata didn't have razor blades in it. but it was a pinata none the less. i think you should seriously consider writing a book about your (mis)adventures in honduras.

    love, cassie

  4. You mean THISSS kind of agility!? -Gob

    LOVED your post! i'm glad to hear you are doing well and finding humor in your new surrounding ;-)

    miss ya sista,


  5. OH it's not Gob, it's Tobias my bad.


  6. fantastic.

    i found moving my bed away from the wall to be very helpful, both mentally and realitily. amazing how many nasty things are afraid to venture beyond walls.

    some kind of life lesson in that, or maybe not.

    hope you're well(er),


  7. Hey All,
    Thanks for the comments! I'm working on another update, but no word yet on when I'll actually post it.

    Amy, too bad about the camping. Just promise that the tradition will be revived when I get back. Also, the bug situation has calmed down a lot, thankfully.

    Cassie, loooooove you!

    Liz, get it right.

    Nick, nice to hear from you! Hope your holidays are going/were well. I frequently try moving my bed away from the wall, but somehow during the night, it always scoots back. Definitely a life lesson though. And no, the nausea continues.