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.