Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Picking Corn, Speaking English, and Drinking Tap Water, or What I am Doing in Indiana

Dear Family, Friends, and Strangers,
Sorry it’s taken so long for me to break this news, but it turns out that I was sent home (Medically Separated in official terminology) in early August because of my unresolved issues with equilibrium. I don’t have too much to say about it. I think Peace Corps made the right decision, as I was and am sick, but my abrupt departure from my community was pretty jarring on everyone involved.

Thanks to all of you who kept tabs on me through this blog. It was always nice to get comments and know that people were interested in what I was doing. As for what I’m doing now, that’s a good question that I’m still trying to figure out.

Peace Out,

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rain, Bandidos, Dizziness, and The Law

When it Rains, it Pours
Winter arrived near the end of April, bringing afternoon rains that turned all the plants green in a matter of days. Now both creeks and pilas are full and the roads no longer dusty. To me, the water came as an unexpected relief. The replacement of the hot, hair-dryer wind with a hazy humidity has restored a sense of normalcy to the atmosphere, even though it immediately passed the stage of bearable and has become oppressive. It has also solved the town’s water problem for the time being. I can now wash my hands, shower, and flush the toilet whenever I want! It’s not all bucket baths and puddle jumping though. Turns out the rain brings its share of complications as well. There has been a marked increase in the amount of mosquitoes and other biting things hovering around. More frustrating is the condition of the dirt road between my village and the larger town of San Marcos. Combined with the condition of the bus, there isn’t a lot of traveling to and fro.

We are now into our fifth day of nearly constant rain. All of this is great news if you need water to wash your laundry, but a rather unfortunate complication if the next step of the plan was to dry it ever. Thanks to the scabies epidemic, a nearby volunteer owns a first rate iron, but even after three days of hanging and a thorough going over with said iron set to its hottest level, my clothes retain a lingering dampness and an odor best described as a mix of popcorn, cat urine, and barf. On the plus side, I look really snappy now in my wrinkle-free pajamas.

My First Security Incident
I suppose I should let you know that I had a bit of trouble on the road a couple weeks ago. I went with another volunteer to a village on the other side of the protected area that I live in to visit his counterparts. The day started out well enough. It was sunny and beautiful, and we arrived early for our scheduled meeting with the town council, with whom we were planning to fill out a request to place a volunteer in the community. Before we went to the church where the meeting was to take place, we went and visited with the counterparts. One is the leader of a women’s group that makes pine-needle baskets, and I brought some earrings I made out of bottlecaps to show her. After the demo and some coffee and rosquillas, the other volunteer and I went to the meeting place, where absolutely no one was. We sat outside the padlocked church for an hour and a half, and then, as the only people around were a group of young men who had gathered on a nearby porch to stare at us, decided that the town council was not showing up and walked back to the counterpart’s house. She served us an amazing lunch, and just after noon, we headed out on foot up the road to San Marcos, hoping to be picked up by a passerby with a car. The first 20 minutes of the hike went well enough, until we came to a hill with a series of switchbacks, which is ominously called “Mal Paso,” which translates as “Bad Pass.” As we puffed our way up it, a young man with a lime-green hoodie came into view ahead of us. He seemed to be having a much easier time with the hill and soon disappeared around one of the turns. But unfortunately, he reappeared about a minute later with a gun in his hand. He was joined by an accomplice who came up the hill behind us, and the two proceeded to steal our wallets, the other volunteer’s watch, and my cell phone. Then we went our separate directions, us up, them down, and about 5 minutes later, we were passed by a pickup truck which carried us into town where we called Peace Corps and then went to the police station.

Laying down the Law
When we arrived at the station, I still held a faint hope of catching the guys or at least finding our wallets in the ditch so we could get our documents back. The first officer we talked to looked like he was about 17. We said we had been robbed and tried to describe where (this was before I learned the bit about the area having a name), and then he called the chief who rolled up a couple minutes later in an oversized pickup filled with five other officers. They piled out and the chief asked us if we thought we could recognize the thieves. We decided we might be able to, and so me, the other volunteer, and the five cops piled back into the truck and headed out to serve justice. The immediate action took us by surprise as we roared through the streets of San Marcos, but then nearly immediately, we started going the wrong direction. As the other volunteer and I muttered about whether or not we should tell the driver, we suddenly pulled into the town’s gas station where it became apparent that we were not lost, just in need of a fill-up. And a mango, as it turned out. A few minutes later, tank full and mango being consumed by the officer beside me, we tore off again, this time the right way. The thrill of the chase returned, only to be replaced by impatience as the pavement ended and we slowed to a sustained crawl at 15 miles per hour. Perhaps justice would not be as swift as it at first had seemed. The small hope I held of finding the thieves dwindled even more as the police chief blasted music out of her cell phone and the cop beside me finished her mango and began shouting into her own phone at some relative on the other end of the line. Then the hope disappeared altogether when we arrived at the scene of the crime and, instead of investigating or being sneaky or anything like that, we pulled over the first vehicle to pass us in an hour, a truck hauling two cows, and the three cops in the back of our pickup jumped out to demand that the driver show some sort of cattle-hauling paperwork. If the thieves had stuck around, they certainly had plenty of time to clear out, as we had parked in direct view of their hideout. Finally, the other truck was allowed to leave, and we slowly rolled down the hill, where, shockingly, we found no one. Then we continued into the community that we had been visiting. We came upon a woman and two girls who appeared to be walking in the direction of the crime, but when the police rolled down their windows, it was only to ask where one of town leaders lived, and no mention was made of the fact that the road wasn’t particularly safe at the moment. Then we rolled slowly past the town outside of which we had been robbed, stopping only to ask whose bicycle was parked outside a corner store, and continued on to the next village. Our purpose became increasingly muddled as we cruised through that town, arrived at a gate and through it left the road, picked up some hitchhikers, and bounced down a faint trail only to arrive at a lonely health center where we parked. The hitchhikers and all the police officers got out, leaving the other volunteer and myself to bemoan the loss of our afternoon and the absolute pointlessness of the entire endeavor. After a few minutes, the police returned and we were off again, back in the direction we had come from. When we got back to the first town, we asked the same shopkeeper where “Tonio” was and then left the main road again. At the first intersection, we stopped and one of the officers in the back of the truck yelled down a hill for Tonio. A man who appeared to be in his 60s said that he was Tonio, and the cops waved him over, so he hobbled up the hill and stopped at the driver’s side window. This was the following conversation:
Him: “How are you?”
Chief: “We’re here...Patrolling.”
Long pause.
Chief: “What do you do?”
Him: “I’m a farmer.”
Chief: “Is that your store?”
Him: “Yes.”
Him: “Well, if there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.”
Him: “Yeah, so just let me know.”
Chief: “Alright.”
Again, note the non-mention of the robbery. As he walked slowly back down his hill, we turned the truck around and headed back to San Marcos, stopping only once to harass a young man with a car battery who was standing by the road even though the other volunteer and I had explained to the driver that he was not the guy.

When we finished patrolling, we were dropped off at the station of a different branch of the Honduran police, where we were to fill out reports on what had happened. The other volunteer and I were separated and gave our individual statements. One of the investigators also typed up an official incident report for both of us to take with us in case we needed to explain why we had no identification. This one began with the line, “Resulta que, soy norteamericano...,” meaning, “Turns out, I’m from North America...,” which apparently was enough to explain why we were robbed.

The next day, the volunteer and I were leaving the San Marcos Park where we had been manning a very unpopular Environment table at a women’s fair, when the truck pulled in front of us in the street. The driver whisper asked us if we could go to the station, which was just around the corner, and we said yes as he drove away. When we arrived, two young men were being unhandcuffed from the back of the truck bed. The driver motioned us into his office and said they had caught the thieves and we were there to identify them. It should be noted that the handcuffed youths certainly must have known what we were there to do, because the news that two gringos had been robbed outside their town the day before had by then undoubtedly spread throughout the whole community. This managed to contribute to the awkwardness when they were casually led past the office door, and we said, “No, that’s not them,” because it wasn’t. We left the station, and immediately, the other volunteer received a phone call from the chief asking us to come to the station because they had caught the guys. He explained that we had just come from there and that it wasn’t them, and she asked if we were sure, because they matched our description—they both were wearing hats. He said we were sure. As they talked on the phone, we had walked back to the station, where we saw the two non-criminals unload their bikes from the truck and prepare for what would probably be their hour or so ride home.

The Dizzies and Other Diseases
Alright, that’s enough about crime. Let’s talk about my health. In my last post, I alluded to a problem I’ve been having with dizziness. After many days in the capital city getting tests, it has been determined that a virus somehow attacked my inner left ear and caused the auditory nerve to get all inflamed and slow, and because of this, I now have daily bouts of vertigo and unsteadiness. The good news is that it’s getting better. Unfortunately, progress is slow and the weather isn’t really helping. Still, I’m finally starting to feel better. I have also managed to cultivate a rash around my mouth and nose that makes it look like I have constant razor burn, which would be somewhat acceptable if I were a man, but I am not. Every day I shellac make-up over it, but it has proven stubborn, and even after two months of medicated cream, I continue to look increasingly gross.

Travel Plans, or All Those Packages You Were Going to Send
Wait—Don’t do it! I’m coming home in July, from the 1st to the 11th, so save your postage and just get them to my parents’ house. If you live in the area or are planning to be around, get ready, cause my visit is going to be great.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guatemala, Scabies, Summertime, and Terrible Spanish

What I’ve Been Doing
Well, it’s been a while since I posted anything, and I suppose I should first fill you in a bit on what I’ve been up to. I’ve actually been pretty busy since my last post. A woman from a nearby town secured an eco-stove project for my community through the Rotary Club, and I’ve been doing a lot of walking and message carrying in an effort to help coordinate things. Right before the stove materials came, we set up a system of neighborhood leaders to help organize groups of 6-13 families. This system worked very well and saved me from having to visit all 78 houses whenever there was news to deliver. This week, the final stoves were built.’re probably wondering what an eco-stove is. Basically, the word refers to a variety of wood-burning stoves that have been designed to be more efficient and therefore use less firewood. They also have chimneys to take the smoke out of the kitchen, instead of leaving it inside the way conventional stoves do.

In addition to this, I have continued to work on the latrine project. Although the grant I wrote fell through, we managed to get nearly 32,000 Lempiras from the village’s Municipality. We still need around 90,000 Lempiras, or roughly $5,000, and I am working on a new grant with the Town Council.

Finally, the attempt to secure a new water source continues to plod along. After various water flow tests and talks with a nearby landowner, it looks like we could possibly get access to a new spring. Unfortunately, the process has stalled due to a health issue I’ve been having. For a few months now, I’ve been getting extremely dizzy, and I’m currently in the capital city, Tegucigalpa having various tests done to try to figure out what’s going on. This means that I’m out of my community, and progress on the water source issue has stalled.

What Season It Is
I thought I’d take a moment to write about the seasons here in Honduras. You geography buffs out there probably know that Honduras is part of North America and north of the equator. Therefore, it might be surprising to you that the season here is called summer, and has been since November. If you try to pin a Honduran down on the season situation, you will probably end up having the same conversation that I have had various times with people from my community and others. Apparently, there are two seasons that last for 6 months each. During winter, it rains, and during summer, it does not. One should not associate warm weather with summer, however, because it also encompasses the coldest months of November, December, and January. Where it gets confusing is around the month of May, when I have been told it also rains. Someone told me that this month was called spring, even though this directly contradicted his insistence that each of the two seasons lasted half a year. After the rains in May, summer returns for a few months and lasts until the true wet season comes in the months that in Indiana are called fall.

Life Without Water
I arrived in October, during the height of the rainy season, but the only reason I knew it was the rainy season was that people told me. This was an exceptionally dry year in an already dry part of the country, and although we had a few rainy days in November, it has now been several months since we had a good soaking rain. About 36 households in my town, including my host family, receive drinkable water from a system that uses gravity to pipe water from a hilltop spring. I have been told since my arrival that during the summer, water is rationed. However, this year, my host family of 9 including me receives about ¾ a pila (tank) of water every 3-4 days (versus a tank and a half every two days during less dry times). With the cooking, washing, and bathing, the water we get now generally lasts 1-2 days, which leaves us with 1-2 more days of nothing. My host sisters and I carry buckets to stagnant pools in what used to be a stream and haul the water to the house. There is another source about ½ a mile away up a steep hill, which is where the family used to get water before the town’s system was installed. However, in those days, there were hoses that carried the water to the pila that have since fallen into disrepair. Sometimes the family hikes up there to bathe or haul cleaner water. In an effort to ease the drain on the family water supply, I have taken to showering and doing laundry at another volunteer’s house in a nearby town. This also makes things a lot easier on me because I don’t have to deal as completely with the reality of having no water.

Since I started writing this, we had one day of heavy clouds and downpouring rain, and it was like the first day of snow, when it comes in early November and catches everyone off guard. The dust that had been hanging in the air and covering the streets and sidewalks was washed away and there was a sense of freshness that reminded me of when everything is covered in a coating of white flakes.

Spanish and Class
One of the goals of the Protected Areas Management program is to work in schools, both with students and teachers. I have yet to really establish a presence in the town’s elementary school, so when I heard that a local NGO was coming to help build a drip-irrigation system, I decided to drop in and see how things went. I showed up early, during recess, and felt very useless as the students exited the cinderblock classrooms. Honduran law mandates that if a school has more than 40 students per teacher, a new teacher must be assigned. Last year, there were three teachers in my town, but this year for some reason, there are only two, even though the number of students has grown. Therefore, when the 50+ students of grades 1, 3, and 4 returned to the classroom, the chaos of the schoolyard continued. The teacher had not yet come back, and I grew increasingly flustered and awkward feeling in the front of the classroom of staring and chattering children. I finally decided to start up a conversation with some 4th graders, but my Spanish failed me, as it frequently does when I need it most. I started out by asking something about how they liked their classroom, but instead of using the correct word “aula”, I substituted the word “jaula”, which means cage. I caught my mistake immediately, but the thought of their school as a cage was still amusing, and they laughed quietly, which also is a common reaction among shy young girls when they don’t want to answer a question, so I tried to encourage them to talk to me by telling them not to have peña. Unfortunately, unlike “pena” which means shyness, “peña” means boulder or clique of friends, so I suppose I told them not to be so cliquish. At this point, I decided to cut my losses and go look at a bookshelf for a while until the teacher returned. When he came back, I set to work observing the classroom dynamic, and before too much time had passed, I forgot how terrible my Spanish was and decided to start a conversation with the teacher. Noticing that he was left-handed, I thought I would mention that I am too. Trying to ease into the topic, I began with the statement, “Usted es cerdo.” This proved to be the worst mistake of the three, because instead of telling him that he was “surdo” or left-handed, I had just told him he was a pig. I immediately stuttered “surdo...surdo”, and he made no comment. I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the morning.

If You Get The Scabies, It’s Not Your Fault
When we were in the Dominican Republic just beginning our training, we had several sessions from a Peace Corps doctor about the various diseases and infirmities we might contract during our service. I remember one lecture particularly well because it began with the above written sentence of consolation, which I thought was funny because why would it be your fault if you got The Scabies. Unfortunately, my attention was apparently grabbed by the headline, and I failed to listen to the actual symptoms. Had I listened better, I would probably have known that the suspicious new bites I woke up with every day were not from passing insects, but rather from the family of mites living in my skin. It turns out that I have probably been infested since mid-October or so. But it’s not my fault. I’m not sure where they came from. After I raised the alarm, other volunteers started wondering about their morning bug bites, and now several of us have confirmed cases. The internet hosts a lot of sites with conflicting information, so I’m no longer sure if they are easy to contract or hard, whether they live in hordes like skin termites or if there are only 10-12 on your body at one time, and if you have to boil and iron all the fabric you’ve ever touched or if, to get rid of them, all you need to do is avoid all the fabric you’ve ever touched for a couple of days by which time The Scabies will have died. I have opted to boil and iron almost all my clothes, which is a bummer cause now they’re all kind of ruined. The good news is that between the laundry and applying an anti-scabies cream, I seem to have cleared them out of my system.

Concise Description of My Trip to Guatemala
In the beginning of February, a nearby volunteer named Patrick and I went to Guatemala to meet up with my mother, aunt, and sister. The trip began with a grueling 25-hour bus journey from Honduras to an island town called Flores in the department of Peten. Patrick and I arrived at around 5am and watched the sunrise before wandering the empty streets and brushing our teeth on the town’s boardwalk. At around 7, we finally found a restaurant that was open, and had a leisurely breakfast. The plan was to relax for the morning and meet up with my family in the early afternoon to check into our hotel room on the edge of the Tikal Ruins National Park. Things went more or less smoothly, and that evening, we watched the sun set from Temple II before eating an amazing dinner. The next day, we explored the ruins some more and then headed back to Flores to eat and watch the Superbowl. In the morning, we took a bus and then a boat the next day to an area called Rio Dulce, where we spent the next few days soaking in hot springs and kayaking to a jungle waterfall. And eating. Then we boated and bussed to Antigua. My sister, Patrick, and I set off at 5 the next morning to climb the volcano Pacaya. After a hike that was doubtless made easier by my recent months climbing steep hills, we arrived in a steam filled valley, which we crossed, and then climbed out of on young volcanic rock that crunched under our footsteps. We arrived at a somewhat flat area that dead-ended in a slithering lava flow. The guides dipped walking sticks into it and encouraged us to do the same, which we did, watching the sticks catch on fire as soon as they touched the raw lava. Then we climbed up onto a newer hotter crust with glasslike shards that shattered as we stepped on them. About six inches below our feet under the solid crust, we could see flowing stone. Eventually we hiked back down and spent the rest of the day exploring Antigua. The next morning, we boarded another bus and headed for Panajachel, a touristy town on the shores of Lake Atitlan. From there, we visited the village of Santiago Atitlan and then ate Thai food. The next day was our last as a group. We returned to Antigua, enjoyed a final delicious meal, spent the night, and headed back to our respective countries in the morning.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Christmas Past

Thank You!
Thanks to everyone who sent me Christmas presents! I’m overwhelmed by the amount of packages and drawings and letters and peanut butter that I’ve received. I feel very special to have so many people sending me things, so thanks a lot, and I should add that I’m good on peanut butter for at least the next few months.

Christmas Time Was Here
Let me start by saying Merry Christmas to all! I know it’s come and gone, but I hope it was great. As you can imagine, Christmas here is much different than it is in the US. It kind of snuck up on me in the middle of an abnormally hot December, and passed both quickly and slowly. In the nine afternoons leading up to the 25th, the Catholic church held a series of ceremonies called Posadas, which means “Inns.” Each celebration was held in a different house and began with a few people standing inside and the rest standing outside the closed front door. Someone on the outside would knock, and the inhabitants would answer in a song that went back and forth between the parties and explained the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to stay. The song ends with the couple’s acceptance into the house and was followed each afternoon by a short homily and prayers. Then coffee and bread were handed out and we all returned home. The final Posada was held on December 24th in the church. It began later than the others, at 6:30, and was conducted by candlelight, less for the ambiance and more for the lack of electricity. Another Christmas tradition is setting off fireworks, so the ceremony was punctuated by flashes and cracks and the air smelled of gunpowder. I learned the day before Christmas Eve that the big day for celebrations is the 24th. This proved to be true. Most households celebrate on the 24th by cooking a traditional food called “nacatamales.” These are made from a batter of ground corn, spices, and margarine, which is then spread on a steamed banana leaf, layered with rice, potatoes, chicken, and other variables, folded up into a rough cylinder, and boiled until solid. However, this year, my host family decided to switch it up and cook arroz con pollo, so I wandered over to a neighbor’s house to watch her make the nacatamales and feel more traditional. It was a good choice because, while nacatamale quality can be a bit of a mixed bag, hers were delicious.
On the 25th, I ate a nacatamale for breakfast and then found myself without further plans. I spent most of the day hanging around my house while my host family listened to Christmas carols. The majority of these were American songs translated into Spanish, but with a much higher occurrence of the word “Navidad” and fewer references to snow.

Although my Christmas was rather anticlimactic, I rang in the New Year with a bang by meeting up with a group of other volunteers in the western part of Honduras, where we camped out for two nights and climbed the country’s highest mountain. After a harrowing multi-day journey from my town to Gracias, Lempira, I set out on the morning of the 30th with a group of 11 volunteers. We climbed switchbacks for about 5 hours before arriving at a brand new campsite complete with a shelter and latrine. The group got to work setting up tents and starting cooking fires, and before it was dark, we all had dinner and beds.

The next day, we intended to get up really early and hike to the summit, a trip that was estimated to take about 5 hours and involve some rigorous climbing. However, we didn’t really get on our way until about 10, and the hike took about 8 hours, was a long day. The hike itself was rough but worth it. After practically crawling up a few hours’ worth of switchbacks so steep that hands were required, we reached a relatively flatter but still not very flat section of mountain that after a few more hours led us to the peak. We ate lunch in a cloud which lifted a bit right as we left to reveal mountains below us, and then walked back down the trail through trees covered in years of moss and bromeliads. The hike back was faster, largely because it involved a lot of sliding down the crazy slope we had just climbed. That night after dinner, we made plans to try to stay up until midnight, but then someone looked at their watch in the dark and found that it was 6:45. However, five of us stuck it out and celebrated the change of years by throwing pine needles on the fire and watching it blaze up for a few seconds. Then in the morning, we packed up our camp and flew down the mountain in a couple of hours.

Honduran Things I’ve been Doing
It seems that now is the season to paint/whiten houses in Honduras. For most families, this involves gathering a specific variety of rock, which must invariably be hauled from “way up there,” crushing it to powder with a wooden post, sifting it until it is nothing but dust, adding a little bit of water, and slapping in onto the adobe walls. The day before Christmas Eve, I invited myself over to a friend’s house to try my hand at it. She let me be involved in every part of the process, and I learned surprising things such as the fact that the stones are lavender, the mud is mauve, and the finished walls appear white once they dry. I also found that rubbing mud on walls is a great way to exfoliate your hands, if you’re into that. Just don’t do it for too long.

A couple of days after Christmas, I was invited by a friend to visit her coffee field and help with the harvest. I went to her house in the late morning and then we waited a while for her nephew to pick us up. The nephew arrived in an oversized red pickup truck that was made to seem even larger by the fact that he was 13 years old and could barely reach the pedals. However, he said he’d been driving since he was 11 and knew how to manage the manual transmission, which is more than I can say. Also, the road is so rutted that it’s impossible to go more than like 5 miles per hour, so I got in the truck and we bounced down the hill to the slope where the coffee was. Picking coffee is reminiscent of picking blueberries, except that the plants are taller and branches have to be eased down so that the berries at the top can be harvested. Also, you’re not as tempted to eat everything you’re picking, although coffee berries do have a sweet layer between the skin and the bean which is called the miel or honey which is sort of good eating if you don’t mind sacrificing the harvest. We wandered up the slope picking coffee that had been left behind to mature and then we reached a jungle area where other neighbors were working. By the time we arrived, it was pretty much time for everyone else to leave, so I ended up only picking about an eighth of a dollar’s worth, but it was a good experience.

Brave Dogs and Tremendous Children
First, I would like to explain that there is a word here “bravo” but it does not mean the thing you say after an especially stirring performance of something. My Spanish-English dictionary defines it as “brave or fierce” but in the vernacular, it means “something that will attack you.” It is most frequently used when describing dogs that bite people, in contrast to “no es bravo,” which means they will only bark and charge.

Another false cognate is “tremenda,” which can be translated as either “tremendous” or as “terrible child who cries all the time.” The latter definition makes it a synonym to “necia” (literally “foolish”) and “malcriado” (literally “poorly raised”), and is frequently used by community members to describe the children at my house. In this post, however, I will use the word in the English-sounding sense.

In my quest to survey the majority of the households in my town, I have regularly been accompanied by small children, generally girls between the ages of 5 and 9. They are usually conscripted by their parents in a conversation that goes something like, “There are fierce dogs at the next house. Borrow my young child to keep you safe.” Despite the fact that numerous children have shown me their dog-bite scars, I have yet to cultivate what is probably a healthy fear of local dogs. In my defense, at this point, I’ve visited about 80 houses in my community and have yet to be bitten, although one dog did kind of ram me with its head and then run away. Therefore, what usually happens upon my arriving at a house is that the little girl gets very nervous, and the dogs bark and circle, and then the home owner comes out and calls the dogs off. Then the child gets to sit through my awkward interview and, if they’re really lucky, continue with me to the next house to repeat the process.

The somewhat undefined commitment of this accompanying has led to some confusion on the part of the borrowed children. Once, I went on a hike to visit a string of houses on a road going vaguely in the direction of Nicaragua. On the way, I collected a neighbor boy who has frequently gone on house calls with me and his unfortunate city cousin. We walked down a long hill and I visited 6 houses, but then, right when I was about to go to the last house, my neighbor informed me that his cousin was crying. I looked around a fence and found that this indeed was true, so I asked why, and was told that the cousin had decided that I was kidnapping him and taking him to Nicaragua. Considering that it had been a couple hours and we had been walking in the direction of the border, I suppose that this was a reasonable guess, but, after assuring my neighbor that I wouldn’t get attacked by dogs and I knew my way back, I released them both from my service.

Other packs of tremendous children have led me up and down hillsides, over creeks, through fields brimming with ticks, and into caves. Thankfully, there has been no more crying. I now enjoy the distinction of having my name shouted across valleys and lakes by children whose names I do not know who see me from afar and want to know where I am going and if I want accompaniment because there are brave dogs, you know.

I wrote that last section a long time ago. I have since finished my latrine survey and submitted a grant proposal. Now I am in the process of notifying community members about who is and who is not in the project.

A new crisis has arisen because this year was abnormally dry and the water source that feeds the town is not sufficient. This means a lot of dredging cloudy water from stagnant streams and hauling it to houses. There is a large ranch nearby that has a good water source, and now I’m working with the local water board to try to get permission to use it.