Monday, June 1, 2009

Checking in from site (Comayagua!)

Hey everyone,

Sorry for so much time in between blog posts, but it’s been a busy last month or so. We finally finished our Field Based Training in Ojojona in the first week of May, when we headed back to Zarabanda (where we spent our first 3.5 weeks in Honduras) for a week to finish up training.

We swore in at the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa on May 15th, a day we had been waiting for with much anticipation. It was a day of mixed emotions; in the morning there was a ton of excitement as we took the bus into the capital. The ceremony itself was short and sweet (side note: I gave the final speech of the day as the representative of our Peace Corps training class, it was kind of exciting… pictures to come later) and in the end we were thrilled to be volunteers and not just trainees (or aspirantes). We spent the rest of the day with our counterparts, which was a little bit overwhelming since these are the people we’ll be working with for the next two years. We got to know more about our projects and exactly how we could help the organizations and communities we would be integrating into. Finally came the goodbyes as everyone went their separate ways.

As a training group we’re spread out to all corners of Honduras, from Ocotepeque (in the far west bordering Guatemala and El Salvador, 12 hour bus ride from Tegucigalpa) to Olancho (far east, 8+ hour bus ride) to the North Coast (Trujillo and Tela, 10 hour bus ride from Tegus) and Amapala (small island off the south coast of Honduras, 5 or so hour bus ride from Tegus). We’re not allowed to leave our sites for the first 2 months we’re there unless its work related or we have to run errands (some people live in towns of about 1,000 people and have to visit larger cities to do groceries), and I think we all understood that there are a lot of volunteers we won’t be seeing again. It was hard to say goodbye to so many people, but it hasn’t been too hard to keep in touch so far, though cell phone plans are pretty expensive. Friday night some of us went to a local pupuseria (typical Honduran / El Salvadorian dish) before finishing our packing to relax and say goodbye. The general consensus was that we had come to the Peace Corps ready to be completely alone in a strange country for two years, but we didn’t come ready to meet all these awesome people and from some pretty strong friendships in our first 11 weeks, and THEN be all alone in our sites…

Speaking of sites, I was sent to a large city with a population somewhere between 60,000 and 110,000 (large for Honduras standards) in the middle of the country called Comayagua link: . It’s a really nice Colonial city, and I’m working for an organization called The Foundation for a Colonial Comayagua (FCC) and specifically with a trade school (Escuela Taller) working on developing a Business Incubator (Vivero de Empresas). The FCC is made up of the Chamber of Commerce, the Trade School, and a local university (with a lot of support from a Spanish Government support agency called AECI, which is somewhere in between Peace Corps and USAID). The focus is to restore and expand the colonial architecture of the city using resources from the Trade School and the University.

The trade school looks for children from at-risk situations in some of the marginalized neighborhoods in and around Comayagua. For the most part, these are kids whose formal education stopped at a very early age for a variety of reasons, all of them linked in some way to economic hardship for their families. The school trains them in some kind of trade, ranging from electricians, metalworkers, brick workers, artisanship, wood carvers, and a few others trades which are offered at random times depending on demand. In addition to learning their trade, the kids also get taught some business classes (which is where I come in) such as basic accounting, marketing, operations, sales, determining prices and quotes to help them start their own business once they graduate from the school. The school also offers the option of joining the Business Incubator upon graduation.

The incubator program is relatively young and is where most of my focus lies right now; it allows students from the trade school to form their own micro-enterprises with resources of the foundation. Those businesses would be run out of the school for a year using equipment and materials (not to mention support and more classes) offered by the foundation. As time goes on, the foundation becomes more and more hands off from the business, leading to the point where the business leaves the foundation and goes off on their own. At this point we hope that the business has saved up some kind of seed capital to allow them to pay for rent and the purchase of tools and equipment. I’m really excited to get involved with this effort, though the first couple of weeks have been quite overwhelming as I’ve had to learn how everything works and read through everything the previous volunteers had done (I’m replacing a super-volunteer couple named Javier and Sara Prada).

Comayagua has a lot of great things about it for a volunteer. First off is the size; at 80,000 or so people it’s the largest site any volunteer was sent to from H-14 (our training class). I have three super markets and a 4th one coming in soon, which means I have plenty of access to a lot of high quality foods and most of the home goods I could ever need (though an electric razor has escaped my shopping efforts). I also have electricity all the time, as well as… running water! No more bucket baths for me, which is amazing. I do still have to wash my clothes by hand, but I can handle that in return for running water.

Additionally, the location of Comayagua is great. With its central location, I can get just about anywhere in a relatively short amount of time. It’s about a two hour bus ride from Tegucigalpa and the Peace Corps headquarters, as well as the Tegus airport (for when you all come to visit!). It’s about a 5 or 6 hour bus ride to Copan (western Honduras), which has Santa Rosa de Copan (apparently a gorgeous city with a great night life) and Copan Ruinas (where most of the Mayan ruins are, also the site of our Halloween party). The south coast has Amapala, a small authentic island which used to be the major shipping location in Southern Honduras. A city called San Lorenzo began to take a lot of Amapala’s shipping away from them, and Amapala started to shift its attention towards tourism. Amapala feels like a very authentic fishing / shipping village, and offers a stark contrast to the North Coast (which is more touristic). A volunteer friend was placed out there, and it’s about a 5 hour bus ride or so to get there.

Olancho is in the east; it’s the largest department by area in Honduras (departments are kind of like states, but in effect they don’t have nearly as much power as states in the US do). Olancho is famous for being very Wild-West like, with lots of horses, cowboys, and people sporting guns. It’s also close to la Mosquitia, which is a very very rustic destination; it’s the most “Peace Corps” like vacation destination, with lots and lots of hiking and canoeing through long rivers and river-forests (manglar forests? That sounds right).

Last but certainly not least is the North Coast, which has gorgeous beaches and resort areas. The most popular destination is in the Bay Islands in a place called Roatan, which has your typical Club Med kind of feel to it. Utila is an island to the west of Roatan, which still has the beautiful beaches and some hotels, but definitely more “undiscovered” and “rustic” than Roatan. Utila tends to be the place where Peace Corps Volunteers go, as it’s much more reasonably priced and still beautiful. Utila also happens to be one of the only places in the world where you can go swimming with Whale Sharks! Don’t be afraid of the word shark in there, they’re apparently harmless to humans (tiny little mouths).

Unfortunately for us, no volunteers are placed in any of the Bay Islands. We do have some volunteers along the North Coast though (where you go to get to the Bay Islands), specifically in Tela (5 or 6 hour bus ride from Comayagua) and Trujillo (about 10 hours by bus). The north coast has a huge Garifuna population, an ethnic group of African heritage famous for the “punta” dance, fishing, hammocks, and generally being fun loving people. I’m not sure about the state of beaches along the North Coast, but I’m sure they’re not in short supply.

So, that’s Comayagua and the places in the area. For anyone considering coming to visit (most of you I hope) Honduras doesn’t really have a touristic identity, meaning people don’t say “I’m coming to Honduras for ____”. What it really means is Honduras is undiscovered by tourists, but it has a ton to offer, especially if you’re looking for more than one experience. The Mayan ruins in the west are famous and easy to access. Close to the ruins are dense forests to explore and go hiking in. The north coast offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world (2nd largest reef in the world only after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia) as well as access to indigenous populations. The east has some really rustic areas great for back packers, kayakers, and anyone into white water rafting. In other words, there’s a ton to do and I hope a lot of you are able to come and enjoy some of them with me.

That’s it for me for now; this is way too long for a blog post. Hope everyone is doing well, and I miss you all

1 comment:

  1. We are searching for my brother, Joe dunsavage, who went missing off the coast of Roatan, in a catamaran on may 10, 2009. Indications are that he hit would have hit land around the La Ceiba area. I don't know if there are any peace corps volunteers in the coastal area, but if you could please share this information, my family is still searching for him. There are rumors we have heard about an American being found in the waters off La Ceiba and taken to the hospital, our efforts to try to confirm this met with mixed messages. If anyone knows any information, any rumors that have been heard, please respond back. could you please pass this along to others who may also be of assistance. TThanks, also more information can be found at