Saturday, March 7, 2009

First post from Honduras!

Dear friends and family,

Greetings from Honduras! It hasn’t even been two weeks since I left but I already miss you all very much.

My first couple of weeks in Honduras has been a whirlwind of emotions, new people, new cultures, and learning to live with less; we’ve hardly had time to breathe and take it all in.

There are a total of 49 Peace Corps Trainees currently in Zarabanda from three projects: Water and Sanitation, Health, and Business (that’s me!). I don’t think I could have asked for a better group of people to start this adventure with. Everyone is highly intelligent, educated, and (most importantly) motivated and anxious to start working in our communities.

There is a wide range of backgrounds present among all of the different projects. Most of the volunteers are 25 or so, with a handful of recent college graduates and another larger group around 29 or so. Additionally, we’re lucky to have two more seasoned members with us; a gentleman from the California and Seattle area who has spent his career in nursing (spending a lot of time with Hispanic immigrants) who will be a part of the health team, and a woman from Colorado who has run her own local business for a number of years in the Vale area. They’re both very experienced and knowledgeable, and the rest of the group is looking forward to learning from them.

My first 3.5 weeks in Honduras are being spent in a small town about 30 Kilometers out of Tegucigalpa called Zarabanda, a small mountainside community of a couple thousand people. These first few weeks are spent living with a host family and are strictly for training, language classes, and cultural acclimation. At the end of those 3.5 weeks the projects will divide up for FBT (Field Based Training) which is where we’ll start getting our hands dirty and working on some projects. It’s still considered training, but we’ll be able to visit some current volunteers and see the projects they’re involved in (including some sites that are currently looking for volunteers from our group). FBT lasts for about 7 weeks, at the end of which we’ll get our site assignments / projects, which we’re all very anxious about. Following FBT we come back to Zarabanda for a week to take care of final preparations before swearing in as official Peace Corps Volunteers at the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Friday, May 15th. We’ll leave shortly thereafter for our sites.

It seems as though most of the volunteers are having very positive experiences with their host families so far, and I’m definitely very lucky to have been paired up with Don Cristobal and Doña Norma. Cristobal and Norma have 10 children (all are grown up), seven live in Zarabanda close to us, one lives in Tegucigalpa, and the other two are living in the United States. Even though the house is just Don Cristobal, Doña Norma, and I, they have many grandchildren in the area so we’re guaranteed to hear the pitter patter of small feet outside our doors or in the kitchen. Norma is a great cook and has unfortunately spoiled me, since I won’t be able to create anything close to what she’s been cooking me when I go out on my own. She recently made me some pan de naranja (orange bread) to bring to the other trainees for a snack. The scene reminded me of those discovery channel movies where some meat is dropped into the Amazon and you watch as piranhas devour it in a matter of seconds. That’s what happens whenever I bring Doña Norma’s cooking to the training site.

We live in a very humble house (pictured) with no running water and unreliable electricity, but I have plenty of space for my bed and belongings and have no complaints about the living situation (though bucket showers could get old pretty quickly)

This past Saturday all of the families hosting Peace Corps Trainees in Zarabanda (trainees are placed in 4 local towns) threw us a surprise party at the town community center where they played some music, brought some local food… and PIZZA! It was a very nice event and a great opportunity to meet other members of the local community. Host families had a chance to speak about their experiences with Peace Corps volunteers and we were all touched by their positive words. Many of them had formed lasting friendships with volunteers who they had hosted, and others had reaped the benefits of projects we’ve conducted in local area.

It’s been extremely encouraging to see how we’ve been greeted so far and what a positive image the Peace Corps has in Honduras. At times our potential projects and our desired impact have been distant and abstract ideas, and the training period can be trying as we try to imagine what kind of impact our two year commitment will really have. I’ve had more than one conversation with fellow trainees about our concerns and doubts about our service. But then we meet local businesses who’ve worked with volunteers, or we see videos about Business Incubation projects that make a huge impact in their communities and are awarded large grants to continue their work, and that trepidation becomes excitement, the doubt turns into certainty and potential to change communities. The feeling is empowering, and I know it’s not naiveté or wasted energy because the results of previous groups’ work are right in front of our faces and on the lips of the Honduran people. In short, bring on the work!

Finally, the Peace Corps training staff in Honduras is simply amazing. They’ve done a remarkable job of bringing in 49 strangers and making us into a team, while simultaneously teaching us Spanish, teaching us about Honduran culture, safety, preventing diseases and illnesses, and giving us technical training for our specific projects. In addition to being good trainers they’re also great people and we’re lucky to have had them here waiting for us in Honduras

Well, this has been a long first (real) blog post and there’s more to be done and delicious food to be had (did I mention the food here is delicious?). I’ll try to keep this updated every 2 or 3 weeks if I’m able to. There are apparently some decent G3 modems that can be purchased locally that will provide internet access for our laptops, so I may be in communication more frequently depending on whether I’m in a decent G3 area or not (not that I know what that means…)



P.S. I don’t think I had a cup of coffee in my life before coming to Honduras. Now I have 3 or 4 per day. And… I kind of like it. The world is ending…