Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Honduran cell phone etiquette & platypus nipples…

I recently accompanied my friend Iris to the private hospital in Santa Rosa to visit her friend and her brand spankin’ new, two-day old baby. Come to think of it, this baby was probably pretty damn close to being the seven billionth person on the planet. For anyone who is wondering- yes, this is the same hospital where Bryan spent somewhere around a fourth of his Peace Corps experience battling the slew of creatures that were perpetually snacking on the nutrients of his intestines (note to anyone who intends to visit Honduras one day- do not ever eat street cabbage). The new mama, the mama’s mama, Iris and myself spent around an hour talking about a variety of topics including vaginal dilation, afterbirth, how to massage a nipple in order to facilitate breastfeeding for women who ‘don’t have nipples’ (prior to this, I was under the impression that all mammals have nipples… except for maybe platypuses?) and the breastfeeding MO (shout out to Erin!) of each woman, all of which only further reminded me that I have a lot to learn before I’m ready to have any chillens of my own. Throughout this woman’s narration of her delivery, my attentiveness was fading in and out because (1) I’ve never had a baby, so my knowledge of what they were talking about was limited (especially so in Spanish) and (2) the L Word marathon me and my friends took part in the morning/day/night before had left me exhausted and incapable of absorbing any information about babies unless said baby was Bette and Tinas'. I digress. In spite of my yo-yoing consciousness, one particular comment did manage to catch my attention. She told us that as she was there, sprawled across the hospital bed pushing and panting and screaming and sweating and wishing she had gone the cesarean route, she heard a ‘chika chika chika chika’ noise coming from somewhere within the room, and looked up to see the head nurse text messaging. Text messaging. Moments before the baby’s head was about to crown. Infuriated, she yelled, ‘Put down your phone and help me!,’ to which the text messaging fiend of a nurse sassily responded, ‘Nadie aquí le puede ayudar, mamita…¡empuje!’ (No one here can help you sweetie… push!). Right!?!?!? I mean… can you BELIEVE that? The answer of any person who has ever spent any amount of time in Honduras: absofuckinlutely.

Honduran cell phone etiquette is otro pedo (this means ‘something else’, but the literal translation is ‘other fart’... it’s definitely in my top five favorite Spanish phrases). Here, phone calls and text messages are answered under practically any circumstance, childbirth included. In my first few months here I would attend the bimonthly meetings which municipal authority figures are required to hold by a law put in place to encourage transparency and mitigate corruption in local governments. Let’s just say Honduras has some very beautifully written laws, but writing a law and enforcing one are two very, very different things. Anyways, in these meetings, an act is read recapping the previous meeting’s content, then those present discuss current projects being carried out in the town, proposed projects (latrine construction, electrification of a neighborhood, a sanitary landfill, etc.), and requests from poorer people in the community for funds to travel by bus to Santa Rosa and pay for a medical consultation at the hospital. In other words, things that could potentially be important. These meetings tend to last somewhere around four hours and for every single one of the 14,400 seconds of those four hours, someone at the table is dicking around on their phone; I’ve even witnessed people who are sitting directly across from one another sending messages to each other.

At first I recall being astonished and mildly offended when a Honduran would answer their phone and proceed to carry on an entire conversation in the middle of a meeting (albeit slightly hushed, but trust me guy, you’re not fooling anyone), later it just made me laugh, and now I barely notice it at all, just like I barely notice, say, a group of people blow drying meat outside their home (I assume this was to heat the coals, but one can never be certain), a kid on a bike holding on to a horse’s tail and getting towed around town, or a pile of dog shit containing an entire intact chip bag that said dog has eaten and somehow successfully digested. And let’s just say I may have answered a phone call or two myself right smack dab in the middle of a training that I was organizing. That, ladies and gents, is what I like to call true cultural immersion. Let’s just hope that I can shake that newly acquired habit eight months from now because something tells me that may be frowned upon in the middle of a job interview.

Monday, October 3, 2011

No bon bons will be shaken in Honduras

I am betraying my half-assed blogging track record and writing my second entry in four days because, well, I’m pissed. While eating panqueques in Santa Rosa the other morning and leafing through La Prensa, I came upon an article about everyone’s favorite Boricua, Ricky Martin, which left me absolutely steaming. Here’s the deal: Representatives of the Catholic and Evangelical churches here have solicited to the Minister of Interior and Population, Africa Madrid (aka the same loon that forbid ‘the satanic celebration of Halloween’ in Honduras last year), that Martin not be allowed to enter the country for his scheduled show in Tegucigalpa on October 16 because ‘he is not a good example of the construction of a nuclear family that Honduran laws and Honduran society want to construct and promote in the young people and the rest of the population’. In other words, because he is gay. They’re saying that by denying him entrance into the country and cancelling his show, they will be ‘safeguarding the moral and ethical principles of Honduran society’. Where do I even begin to go literarily ape shit on this move of Honduran authorities?

For starters, the general sense of homophobia that permeates every part of this society is probably the one thing that makes me most want to... I don’t even know. Scream? Cry? Leave? Uppercut every single person that drops ‘maricón’, ‘marica’ or ‘culero’- which all essentially mean faggot- in my presence? If I had a centavo for every single time that I asked someone PLEASE not to say that word around me and explained to them that it really bothers me, well, I’d have around six seven bathtubs full of centavos. And if you’ve been to Honduras you’d know that (a) bathtubs do not exist and (b) no one EVER uses centavos (if pulperías owe you change they usually just give you candy instead). So in other words, I’d be nowhere. People usually respond with something along the lines of, ‘No me importa, es que me caen mal’ (‘I don’t care, I just don’t like them’), providing no sensible explanation whatsoever to why they harbor such hatred for a group of people they know absolutely nothing about. Some bring up the church and the fact that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ and blah blah blah. Last time I checked, one of the foremost tenets of Christianity is showing kindness and love to your fellow man. I didn’t just make that up, did I? Call me crazy but regardless of the number of angles from which I look at the way(s) that so many religious people (I’ll be fair… nonreligious people too) discriminate against gays, I still can’t see how this behavior is compatible with the ideas behind Christianity. No matter how they respond, my counter responses always end up fizzling out and dying because I now see it’s a fight that I will never win; they’ve had these ideas shoved down their throats since they were young children, be it in the form of those aforementioned bus preachers howling in their tiny faces that homosexuality is a sin or parents snatching dolls out of their three year old son’s hands and exclaiming that ‘solo los maricas juegan con muñecas!’ (‘only faggots play with dolls!’). So what do I do? Usually absolutely nothing aside from bite my tongue until it bleeds, and revel in the fact that I wasn’t born in such an intolerant place.

Part number two that pisses me off is just the utter hypocrisy that lies within everything they’re saying. Ricky Martin isn’t a good example of the nuclear family that Honduran society seeks to promote? Nuclear family!?!? This is coming from people in a country where countless families are lacking a father figure (sometimes even a mother figure, as is the case with the family whose house I live in, whose mother left behind three children to work in Barcelona) because they are either in some other country that actually has job opportunities that allow them to send remittances back home to their families, or they bounced as soon as they found out that somehow, after having unprotected sex with this random woman, she ended up pregnant (the latter of which has a lot to do with the Catholic Church’s stance on condom use). And what are these representatives of the Catholic and Evangelical churches doing to change the tides and assure that family becomes a strong and supportive unit once again? Bitching about a Ricky Martin concert.

And as for this bit on ‘safeguarding the moral and ethical principles of Honduran society’…why aren’t they trying to prohibit the entrance of those dudes that sing Como Se Mata El Gusano into the country? You know, the ones notorious for selecting attractive girls somewhere around sixteen years old from the crowd, bringing them on stage, bending them over a chair and proceeding to thrust/dry hump them from behind for the entire duration of the song while the crowd cheers them on. Why isn’t anyone questioning what kind of implications encouraging the sexualization of young girls like this is having on Hondurans’ moral and ethical principles?

Deep breaths. This is what I know: first of all, that I have unparalleled amounts of respect for my gay Peace Corps friends whose selflessness and drive to make a meaningful difference here somehow outweighs their desire to scream/cry/leave/uppercut Hondurans...I really don’t think I could swing it. And secondly, that all my gays back home should be damn grateful they were born in the U S of A, where, sure, you still can’t get married but where, fortunately, there is a growing movement of supporters who recognize that we’re all human beings and deserve to be treated accordingly. Ya.

*All (absurd) quotations taken/translated from: http://www.laprensa.hn/Secciones-Principales/Honduras/Tegucigalpa/Iglesias-opuestas-a-concierto-de-Ricky-Martin
*Except Halloween quote which is from: http://hondurasculturepolitics.blogspot.com/2010/10/official-no-to-halloween.html

Friday, September 30, 2011

Twenty Things You Didn’t Know About Honduras (Or Maybe You Did)

Allow me to marinate you all in some Honduran knowledge…

1. There are four times as many private security guards as policemen or soldiers in Honduras (thank you, Economist). Hence the guards armed with automatic shotguns outside of Chinese restaurants in Tegucigalpa or the three armed guys (as in there are three guys with weapons, not multiple guys with three arms) that stand/lean around all day outside the Banco del Occidente in my town.

2. It is the most mountainous country in Central America. The highest point (9,416 feet) is found in Celaque National Park- home to Honduras’ highest and best-preserved cloud forest…and it’s only about an hour and a half from yours truly.

3. The fashion for females is to grow out their toenails objectionably long and decorate them with intricate, hand-painted butterflies/flowers/the such. Always. Hence my getting, on average, thirty comments a day from concerned women when mine are unpainted/haven’t yet started to curl as theirs have.

4. Throughout the Caribbean Coast of Honduras (as well as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize) live the Garifuna people, descendants of Carib (indigenous group from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela), Arawak (indigenous group from the West Indies) and West African people (whom arrived via wrecked Spanish slave ship). They have an extremely vibrant culture and provide us with such delicacies as pan de coco (coconut bread), guifiti (questionable alcoholic beverage consisting of roots, plants, and (allegedly) marijuana boiled/soaked for far too long in whatever kind of cheap liquor they can get their hands on and (also allegedly) said to be an aphrodisiac) and punta- a “mimetic cock-and-hen mating dance” in which the person dancing, perched on the tips of their toes, rapidly shakes their hips and butt to the rhythm of the drum circle that engulfs them as their upper body remains almost completely motionless. It’ll blow your mind.

5. Decommissioned American school buses- what we call ‘chicken buses’ because it’s not uncommon to see passengers traveling with a chicken or two in their costales- are the main source of transportation. They are not considered drivable, however, until they are decked out with tinted windows and a gaudy amalgamation of stickers- usually of Spider Man, Che Guevara and messages about Jesus, including the one that never fails to creep me out- Jesucristo cúbreme en tu sangre (Jesus Christ cover me in your blood).

6. When a baby is born, Hondurans put a bracelet made of small, red beads on his/her wrist (or, in the case of a newborn horse, a red ribbon around their neck). This is done in order to ward off the mal de ojo (evil eye); they say that if someone stares yearningly at them, it could produce illness or possibly even death, hence the ribbon/bracelet to attract the gaze to that rather than the child itself. Interesting how similar beliefs transcend so many cultures around the world.

7. People here live, eat, sleep, and breathe fútbol (I’m not sure how one actually ‘eats’ soccer, but if it were possible, believe me, it’d be on your plato típico, right in between the fried plantains and beans and drenched in mantequilla). Interesting fact- Honduras’ soccer team is the number one team in the world if you insure their performance against GDP, size of population and international experience (almost makes up for the fact that they didn’t score a single goal in the World Cup). If people here were even half as on top of showing up for meetings as they were soccer matches, I’m sure Peace Corps Volunteers would finish up their two years with far fewer stress-induced maladies.

8. While the numbers differ depending on who’s giving them, the figure of Honduras’ homicide rate ranges from the high 60s (NYT article 'Drug Wars Push Deeper Into Central America') to 113 per 100,000 people (Homicidios en Centroamérica). If you’re anything like me these numbers mean close to nothing to you, so allow me to make some comparisons: the rate in the United States in 2010 was 5.3 per 100,000; in Baghdad, Iraq, a country in the midst of a war, it was around 50. The city notorious for being the most dangerous is San Pedro Sula, the ‘industrial capital’ of Honduras located in the northern part of the country. This has a lot to do with its location right smack dab on the route through which most all cocaine and other illegal indulgences that so many United Statesians enjoy so much travel, hence maras (gangs) and the inevitable rivalry between them. In spite of this bad rep, let it be said that they also have a scrumptious Japanese joint, Denny’s, Price Smart (aka Central American Costco, samples and all!), bomb Korean BBQ (due to the presence of several Korean maquiladoras), and supermarkets that sell things like Asahi and truffle oil and whose aisles I would be content roaming for days.

9. Off of Honduras’ North Coast lie the Bay Islands, surrounded by the second largest coral reef system in the world. Utila, one of the islands, is touted as the cheapest place in the world to obtain your PADI scuba diving certification...and you can swim with whale sharks. Aka the biggest fish that exists. And if that doesn’t do it for you, trying to decipher the bastardized English (yeah, I said it) of the locals, who are descendants of British pirates (no, really), is entertainment enough in and of itself.

**See how I followed that disconcerting, bleak fact with a positive one? Learned that in college. I mean obviously your love for whale sharks and picturesque beaches far outweighs your fear of getting macheted to death. Right?**

10. People here go absolutely ape shit over comida china (Chinese food). I’m convinced they’d eat that hot mess of MSG and too much soy sauce three times a day if they could. The best part is that, every single time, it’s accompanied by pan molde (aka slices of nutrient-rich, Bimbo white bread). I guess I’d be equally excited to have a break from eating thirteen tortillas a day, too.

11. If you thought Southerners were fried chicken fiends, you have never been to Honduras… that pinguid poultry is literally everywhere. Plus, the leading Chicken producer in the country- Pollo Norteño- which constitutes over 50% of the Honduran market, is owned by multi-billion dollar US corporation Cargill. Surprise surprise.

12. Instead of indicating the location of something with your pointer finger as us United Statesians tend to do (Hondurans interpret this as rude), here, people point with their lips.

13. The city of Gracias in the department of Lempira was the Spanish capital of all of Central America from 1544 to 1548.

14. According to the History Channel program Most Extreme Airports, Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa is ranked the second most dangerous in the world due to its short runway and proximity to mountains.

15. If you have to travel on a Sunday, or any other day of the week really, and can’t make it to church- don’t fret! There is guaranteed to be at least one, most likely more, preachers on your bus, la Santa Biblia in hand, vociferously reminding everyone aboard that homosexuality is a sin and that finding God will regulate your blood sugar level. And, of course, taking your money for their words of wisdom.

16. On that same bus, it is guaranteed that at least one person in your immediate vicinity will vomit, most likely a child. And if the ayudante doesn’t get a bag to said child in time, his/her mother will coolly remove their sweatshirt so they can vomit into the hood. Then this sweatshirt will sit next to you on the bus for the remaining seven hours of your trip to Tegucigalpa. (This happened to me).

17. When a man drinks one too many banana sodas in a bag and nature calls, he will urinate on the spot, sin pena. Chances are if you are in Honduras and take a look around you at any given moment, there is a man passing water just a stone’s throw from where you stand.

18. There are no Victorias Secrets… underthings are sold on street side tables right beside the street meat and the mangoes.

19. There are somewhere around one million Hondurans currently residing in the United States, around 1/8 of their entire populace.

20. Monthly cell plans practically do not exist- close to everyone has pay as you go phones. There are three providers to choose from- Tigo, Digicel, and Claro, and regardless of which one you have, they love to ruffle your feathers by sending messages like this one multiple times a day: Deseas lucir sexy y sensual? Suscríbete GRATIS a SEXY y recibe consejos para atraer miradas y seguridad. (Do you want to shine sexy and sensual? Subscribe FREE (lie) to SEXY and receive advice to attract glances and self-confidence). I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Ya. Consider yourselves marinados.

Monday, August 22, 2011

the one where I talk about boobs...

Once upon a time, I went on an Alaskan Carnival cruise with none other than the target clientele of an Alaskan Carnival Cruise- my grandparents. During the flight there, I remember little else aside from my older brother barfing in the airplane bathroom the whole entire time, and a boy around the age of eight bellyaching and screaming his face off as he violently kicked my seat. Now I wouldn’t consider myself an especially physically abusive twelve-year old, and Dexter wouldn’t be cooked up for at least another seven years, yet here I sat plotting the ways I could do in this child using the few resources I had left after TSA had swooped my lighter and 2+ ounce bottle of shampoo. And then, eight-year old boy’s mother- who was breastfeeding a much, much younger son- suddenly realized that her every attempt to appease him had failed and resorted to the final possible course of action. Much younger son was thrust into daddy’s arms and the newly vacant nipple thrust in a very similar manner into eight-year old son’s mouth, successfully bringing an end to the uproar.

This entry was inspired by a four day Family Health Workshop led by fellow Volunteers that I just attended, in which we spent a good amount of time discussing amamantando (breastfeeding). At one point, one of the facilitators asked the women in the audience who were mothers for how long they breastfed their kids. A few women said six months, another said nine, other responses were thrown out. Then Doña Eladia, an adorable, spunky Lenca woman missing several front teeth and measuring in at about 4’8”, proudly proclaimed, “siete años y medio” (seven and a half years). In addition to giving my ribs a good tickle, it provoked a flashback to a plane ride I took over a decade ago and had forgotten about until this moment. Who would’ve thought that my very first taste of everyday life in Honduras would be in American Airlines vessel, hovering somewhere around 37,000 feet, eleven years earlier?

In Honduras, as you may have imagined, babies run (/crawl) rampant. This is due to many factors, among them the machismo attitude that ties impregnating a woman to ‘being a man’, the high Catholic population teamed with the absolutely silly standpoint of the Catholic Church on condom use, the lack of a sexual education program in schools, and the fact that there isn’t much else to do in a town of 4,000 odd people aside from play soccer, watch novelas, and engage in the action(s) that can sometimes end in the creation of a baby. Moving on. Lots of babies mean lots of hungry babies. When women breastfeed here, contrary to the situation in the United States, there is no ducking out into the nearest restroom to do the deed, no pulling out a bottle of freshly pumped breast milk or formula you prepared knowing that your child would need to eat while you were in the presence of other human beings, not even a blanket tossed over her head while she dines. Instead, the mother pulls down her shirt (most likely some misspelled rip off of Hollister) and baby goes to town; be it in the middle of a training, front row at a cabildo abierto (town meeting), on a bus, waiting in line at the bank- you name it. Yet for some reason, when these breasts are out and about for any and all to see, those men who in any other moment would be tirando piropos (catcalling) and asking said woman which juguetería (toy store) she came from instead avert their eyes and say nothing. It is an anomaly I doubt I will ever understand. And finally, since many women here seem to be perpetually pregnant and pumping out babies, it is not uncommon to see a child who is capable of walking, talking and reciting the Periodic Table of Elements off the top of his head still tomando el chichi, much like that little monster from the plane.

Let it be said that I am not hating on overtly breastfeeding in public spaces. As a matter of fact, it is one of the things that I like best about this culture. Why should you be embarrassed or self-conscious about what is perhaps the most natural mammalian act that exists? Whip out that nipple while you bag the vegetables I have yet to pay for, girl… if you like it, I love it. It’s just one of those things that never ever fails to remind me that I, Dorothy, am no longer in Kansas.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

count your blessings...

People- Hondurans and gringos alike- often ask me why I decided to do Peace Corps. Believe it or not, it isn’t that alluring $200 and change monthly salary. That question always puts me in a semi-bind because there’s no single answer, rather a hodge-podge of reasons and principles and things I even struggle to identify at times. And if it’s people from my community doing the asking, I always feel uncomfortable throwing out an answer along the lines of “to help people in need”. While that reply may fly when talking to fellow gringos back home in gringolandia, here I can’t help but feel that a response like that is akin to pointing at said person and being like “Yo, look. You’re poor, and that’s whack and I’m here to help because I’m white and have all the answers.” Let’s not lie; Honduras (and the developing world in general) has had beyond enough of that paternalistic bullshit shoved down their throats over the course of history. Being down here you don’t have to look far to see the repercussions that has had, so why perpetuate it, right?

But, at the same time, sharing what I have is a big part of why I’m here. As a United Statesian (just coined that term), I often overlook how fortunate I am to have been born in the country I did and grown up under the circumstances that I did with the amenities and opportunities I had. Quick anecdote- before coming to Hondu, I volunteered with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) at an after school program for recently arrived refugee students from over thirteen countries. One day, I sat down with a new student, a 17 year-old Somali girl named Sahara, to try and begin the reading process in English (as sounds and the alphabet are different than her native Somali and Arabic). At one point she was practicing pronunciation of an English word and I consulted a Somali-English dictionary we had there to show her the word in her own language so she could attach some meaning to it and as I pointed to it, she just stared blankly for a while and looked up at me expressionless. Another Somali girl that was watching us interrupted and started talking to the girl in Somali and after a while told me that, at seventeen, Sahara had never learned to read. She hadn’t so much as set foot inside of a classroom. That hit me hard. I had always viewed things like learning to read and going to school as a given, a definite part of reality, if I even thought about it at all. And all that day all I could think about is how damn fortunate I am in so many ways, many of which I will never fully be conscious of, and how infrequently I step back and truly recognize that fortune and embrace it. Being here makes me do that. It makes me so grateful that I went to school in institutions where (most of) my teachers were genuinely interested in my education and didn’t strike for 110 of the 200 days that they were supposed to give classes (actual statistic from 2009 school year in Honduras), where I didn’t have to drop out of school because my family couldn’t afford to buy the uniform and school supplies required to go, where my mom told me that one day I would have a period instead of it just coming and me thinking I was going to bleed out and die at the tender age of thirteen, where diligence and a strong work ethic are highly regarded and not every single thing in life was exclusively up to God’s will, where I can sit in a meeting full of men and be considered their equal and not some gringa there to serve solely as eye candy and the root of remarks that make me want to strangle all in attendance (truth be told, after three seasons of Dexter I feel entirely capable of doing away with them in a much more unique, personally fulfilling, and discrete fashion than run-of-the-mill strangulation).

Sometimes I find myself thinking that perhaps I could be making a more tangible, sustainable difference in these people’s lives if I had, say, years of teaching under my belt or a Masters in Public Health or a degree in Civil Engineering complete with years of experience designing water systems. But I don’t, and that's cool. What I do have, in addition to a couple of degrees in fields that I probably wouldn’t choose to study if I had to do it all over again, is this wonderfully chaotic fusion of the opportunities and experiences that have made up my life, qualities of the people who have been a part of it, and the acknowledgement that, to borrow from the words of Sheryl WuDunn, I have “won the lottery of life” and have a personal responsibility to share that, in some way, with people that have not been dealt an equally favorable hand. This is how I am currently fulfilling that responsibility. For now....

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Visit to Los Junise

I’m fresh off the boat (or plane) from the USA and, after being told by a good friend that reading my first (and only) two blog entries was like seeing the first two Star Wars and left him pining for more, here I am once again.

It’s hard to say exactly what I was expecting from my first time back in ‘Los Junise’ (how everyone here pronounces a combination of 'United' and 'States') after a year in my Honduran backwater. I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard that story of the Peace Corps Volunteer who’s just returned from a small rural village in -insert African country here- and walks into an American supermarket for the first time and just freezes up and panics when she sees twenty different varieties of, say, gluten, casein, & soy free cheddar 'cheese' spread after 27 months of eating local, seasonal, ethnic foods. That is definitely not my situation. My town is a thirty-minute bus ride from Santa Rosa de Copán, home to three supermarkets (albeit ones that are owned by narcos and Walmart, but supermarkets nonetheless) selling unconventional products like nori, couscous and bacon bits. On top of that, every single house I have been to in the aldeas (small villages) of my town has cable television and, more often than not, a bitchin’ stereo system (how else are you gonna blast that Pitbull!?), regardless that many lack latrines and sleep around seven people in a single room. That said, I wasn’t expecting to be completely stupefied upon arrival. Here are some of my observations and thoughts about the homeland:

- We have delicious beer.
- There’s so much diversity! Immediately upon arriving to the Miami airport I saw: African Americans, Latinos, openly gay couples, Asian Americans, you name it! LOVE IT!!
-I had forgotten how thorough and personal the customer service system in restaurants is. Having the server come to your table four times throughout a meal to ask how everything is, make small talk about how the reason she’s running around from table to table is so she won’t have to go to the gym later, recommend to your grandmother precisely which beer from the beer list would best suit her palate, etc. was very different than how it tends to goes down here: sit down at a comedor (which is usually just a room in someone’s home with plastic tables and chairs), wait around 20 minutes until the owner finishes socializing with her sister and realizes you’re there, decide which item of the three available that day you want, wait another 30 minutes for that food (which is probably slightly different than what you actually asked for) to come, go back into the kitchen to pay because the owner has since forgotten that you were there. The gringos are just working for that tip, I guess.
- Cleanliness. I delighted in the mere presence of trashcans and the fact that I didn’t see a single article of trash thrown out of a vehicle window or have to inhale the smoke of any blazing piles of trash!
- I had forgotten how late it gets dark. Here, because of our proximity to the equator, it gets dark at around 6:30 PM all year round.
- Creativity! There are no shortage of interesting, unique, beautiful spaces (be it restaurants, stores, art museums, cafes, bars, whatever) in our cities and equally interesting, unique, and beautiful people occupying them, especially in San Francisco. Kind of blew my mind after being in a town that has little else aside from around 700 pulperías (small stores) that all have identical merchandise.
-Superfluity. Prime example: in San Francisco I saw a billboard for a hotel called Wag that is exclusively for cats and dogs, complete with “open-air, loft-style facilities with fun play areas, swimming pools and peaceful private rooms for snoozing”. No joke. Also, smartphones are blowing up (I’m not hating on them but is it really necessary to have all of those features/apps/I don’t even know what on your phone?). Not that I gave a damn but people were most definitely eyeing my phone (see below) when I would bust it out to call/text someone (yes haters, believe it or not, you can text with my phone). Truth be told, they probably just wanted to play Snake.
- Around ten people commented that my intonation when speaking English is totally different/apparently hilarious from having spoken predominately Spanish for a year. I don’t hear it, but I’ll take it.
- On our way to Lompico/Santa Cruz, Bryan and I stopped by a little place on the 1 that sells organic strawberries and instead of someone behind the counter manning (or womanning, if you will) the cash register, they had an open tray of money where customers leave what they owe, and take change if they need it. Talk about an honor system! On top of that, there was a 10% discount if you roll up on your bike…BUT only if you have your helmet on, of course. None of that (organic produce, that much trust, discounts if you bike, helmets) would ever go down in Honduras. But then again, would it anywhere other than Northern California??
- And, as a final note that most definitely adheres to that ‘save the best for last’ notion, I have the most badass, strong, smart, hilarious, creative and beautiful people in my life. My soul peeps. You know who you are ☺

Over and out, JP

Monday, May 16, 2011

ya basta with the bad press...


This article was recently brought to my attention by a good friend of mine, curious to hear the two cents of a current volunteer. Shortly thereafter, my parents brought it up- concerned, naturally, about my safety. After reading the article, I read each one of the two hundred something comments that followed at the time, the vast majority of which were posted by either current or Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Here are my thoughts…

The issue of sexual assault within our institution and Honduras has been a recurrent talking point for many of us, especially following ABC's 20/20 piece ran in January about several female volunteers who were sexually assaulted during their services (if you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching it… all three parts can be found on YouTube). The piece abruptly and, in my opinion, unfairly ends with one of those women asserting that she has young daughters herself, and that she would absolutely never allow them to apply to Peace Corps. While I recognize that what these women went through is inconceivably difficult, and even more so if you don’t have a receptive support system to go back to, I feel like the program showed an extremely biased, one-sided vision of how Peace Corps is. The fine folks over at ABC did absolutely nothing in the way of expressing admiration for the organization, its volunteers, and the experience they walk away with, which, according to countless individuals, is one of the most positive and enriching of their entire lives. They failed to mention the powerful relationships volunteers forge with their neighbors and community members, which undoubtedly do more to fortify the good name of Americans than other foreign ventures of The United States, and at a fraction of the price. This seems like an appropriate moment to mention that in its entire 50-year history, we have spent less money on the Peace Corps than one percent of the defense budget for just this year. How reassuring to see that our nation’s priorities are in the right place.

Several of those who left comments as well as the author herself mention a “blame the victim” culture that exists within Peace Corps as an institution. Countless fellow PCVs have informed me that our former Country Director, whom I had very minimal contact with as she was replaced only two months into my service, was no exception to this rule. When female volunteers came to her to report sexual assaults, she would inquire into and criticize what they were wearing at the time, or condemn them for being at that particular place in that moment. Obviously, this is deeply flawed not only due to the profound effects it will have on volunteers’ psyches, but also because they will inevitably feel dissuaded from reporting incidents in the future (not only sexual assaults but any security incidents). Peace Corps currently supports some 8,600 volunteers in 76 countries, and after seeing how much one volunteer’s life and work differs from another’s within the same country, I cannot begin to imagine the disparities, administrative ones included, that exist from country to country. Clearly, I can only speak from what has been my own experience. I feel like the staff here in Honduras- I speak primarily of our Safety and Security Coordinator and our new Country Director- are extremely approachable, receptive to our feedback and genuinely care about us as Volunteers. I am confident that they have done everything in their power to inform us and keep us informed of possible risks and how to avoid them (someone left a comment criticizing how our training places too much emphasis on preventive measures such as this, but what other option is there… tell us what we could have done after the fact??), place us in safe communities, and apprise us of the support systems that exist both within country and in Washington were something to happen to us. And the few people I know who, for whatever reasons, have had to turn to such networks have felt extremely supported. All I know is that I feel very safe here. And I support any legislation that is going to fortify the organization by making us safer and better seeing to the needs of those who have been subjected to such unimaginable acts. I just sincerely hope that all this bad press doesn’t eat away at and lead to (even more) funding cuts because Peace Corps is by leaps and bounds The United State's smartest investment in soft power, and we really are accomplishing wonderful things in our respective corners of the world.

That post was a little on the heavy side, I promise something más leve next time around. Over and out…

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Welcome!... and medical brigades

I’ve thrown around the idea of creating a blog since before I arrived in Honduras, and always opted out for whatever reason: the overly public and unrestricted nature of blogs, doubts regarding who would read it in the first place, not wanting to submit to another hipster craze, etc. Now, more than eight months into my experience here, I’ve changed my mind. For starters, I’ve found it difficult to keep my people informed about my life here to the extent that I would like & I can’t emphasize enough how important I feel that is for maintaining healthy relationships, regardless of the miles between friends & family. Also, one of Peace Corps’ three goals is to promote a better understanding of other peoples- in this case Hondurans- on the part of Americans- you, and what better way to do that than to have an ongoing narrative of my adventures (and, inevitably, misadventures) like this available for complete strangers to access? Bienvenidos, pues!

Last week, two (also Peace Corps) friends and I helped out translating with a medical brigade of Texans in a small aldea (village) of Santa Rosa called Yarushin. For those of you who’ve never heard of a medical brigade, in a nutshell, it’s a group of foreigners (usually Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Cubans; often religiously affiliated) who come and offer medical care to people in ‘developing’ countries. To date, I’ve translated in two, and continue to have extremely mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, these people are wonderful in that they’re empathetic, generous and taking the time to come down here and make a difference in peoples’ lives. But, at the same time, I have to ask myself- exactly how much of a difference are they truly making? How it works is: after seeing a nurse who takes their vitals and jots down their symptoms, the person passes through to a room where a ‘doctor’ (in this most recent brigade, the man was a vet… yes, true story) and myself are seated, he reviews their sheet, we have a (very) brief dialogue about those symptoms, and he either prescribes medicine or sends them on to see another doctor (for real this time, not a vet). Okay. So here are my quibbles with this system. First of all, how much can you really learn about a person and their medical history under such circumstances, given that you’re time crunched because you want to ‘help’ every single one of the people who walked however-many-hours from their towns and have been waiting in line since 6 AM? Is it not dangerous to prescribe medicine to people whose medical history you know absolutely nothing about? Second, in the vast majority of the cases, people aren’t actually sick in the moment the brigade comes. Rather, they’re jumping at the opportunity to see a doctor and be given medicine, in many cases, for the first time in their lives. That said, many fabricate symptoms, saying they have headaches or their ‘bones hurt’, and are given medicine regardless. The medicine itself is another issue. After the consult, they pass through to the pharmacy where they’re given all the drugs the veterinarian decided they were in need of, and are hurriedly explained how to take each one. While there are instructions written on each bottle, the vast majority of the people who came out were illiterate, so they will have to rely entirely on that initial explanation- which in most cases included medicines for an entire family (and families in the campo are big)- in order to know how to administer each one to themselves and their children. Hmmm. On top of everything, there’s a good deal that these people overlook on a cultural level considering that they’re here for a matter of days and it’s impossible to learn about peoples’ lifestyle and habits given such a time frame. One example: a mother of several small children came through with some sort of fungus in between her fingers and the doctor/vet’s words of ‘wisdom' were to apply an antifungal cream and refrain from hand-washing clothes. Right. While I am a big proponent of divvying up chores to the men of the household (that is if there are any men in the household), that’s never going to happen in a society where machismo is so present and far-reaching. Punto. At least the kids got hooked up with sweet sunglasses (yes that girl below is wearing blublockers)!!!
Reading this over, I feel like I come off as detesting the whole concept of medical brigades and that’s not what I’m trying to do, at all. I think they can be worthwhile if organized well, composed of attentive, concerned people and conceived with the right intentions. However, I can’t help but feel that a focus on preventive medicine, piloted by people who have a true understanding of how this place and these people function, would have far more sustainable, visible results. Feel me?

This entry is feeling a little somber and since it’s my first, I’ll leave you with a funny story so people actually choose to follow this blog. Also at the brigade, a woman came in with her young baby, and I asked her how old she was. She told me that she was three months old and when I asked her what her name was, she said that she didn’t have a name. I was totally taken aback and asked why not and the woman explained to me that the Registro Nacional in their town, where you have to take newborn babies to register them and receive a birth certificate, had been out of ink for several months and so they haven’t been able to register a single one. Love it. I’ll leave you with that little taste of efficiency in my neck of the jungle. Peace...