Thursday, December 16, 2010


One of my motives for extending for a third year was to improve my Spanish language skills. Happily I report that they have improved, if only slightly. Finally my statements elicit appropriate responses. People have even been heard to laugh when I’m joking and this laughter, while not riotous, is distinct from the awkward “haha…” which really means, “I have no clue what you just said but I’ll laugh, albeit awkwardly, because you’re laughing.” I have, however, given up on sarcasm which typically fails to translate and usually provokes a matter-of-fact “No” followed by a polite explanation of why what I just said was indeed incorrect.

My comprehension has also improved which basically means that I can now attach meaning to the non-distinct noises made by my fellow campesinos. Furthermore, I now understand most Reggaeton lyrics which, given their tendency for repetition and lewdness, makes it even more embarrassing to admit that I continue to be a big fan of the genre. I say most lyrics because some still remain just outside my grasp of understanding. For example, I have nearly convinced myself that one of the most popular songs of the moment is titled “Tu eres varicela” which translates as “You are chicken-pox.” Doubtful, eh?

Am I ready to be a UN interpreter, you say? Probably not. Half of the local slang is still lost on me and I still make frequent errors. Just the other day, with an unfortunate slip of the verb fallecer in place of fallar, I implied that my counterpart had not failed me but rather that he had died on me.

Of course, all improvements in the Spanish language department have come at a price. I am well aware that I have developed some major deficits in my command of the English language. Spelling in English has become a distinct challenge and I empathize with anyone trying to learn it as a second language. Literally seconds ago I had to look up the word bureaucracy in my Spanish-English dictionary (mind you, I had to look it up in Spanish) because the computer was telling me that I had spelled it incorrectly. My spelling, which I’ll provide here for your amusement (beaurocracy), was so far off that the computer could not even provide me with the correct spelling.

In my defense, the Spanish language makes much more sense, at least in terms of spelling. Take, for example, the word committee. In Spanish, it is spelled comité. What’s up with the extra m, the extra t, and the extra e in the English version?! Just a bit frivolous if you ask me. I won’t even get into what I think of the word bureaucracy.


For anyone truly interested in the latest reggaeton lyrics, the mysterious chicken-pox song was all so elusive precisely because the key word is a Spanglish word. The word which I thought was varicela is in fact partysera, a spanglish word which means partier.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Almost no one in El Sauce owns a raincoat, which is beyond me since it rains here with frequency. One man owns what appears to be a strong collection of down jackets but no raincoat. The women, and a handful of more sensible men, use umbrellas. However, the majority of the men forgo the ultra-feminine umbrella in favor of the all-purpose plastic tablecloth. Given tablecloth designers’ propensity for floral designs, this choice is, in my mind, distinctly more feminine than the umbrella. Yet, the tablecloth prevails. Daily, tough men wielding machetes march by my house towards their farms donning pink and purple tablecloth capes. No one but me seems to think that this is strange.


After a good long wait, El Sauce finally got electricity in November of 2010. One community leader told me that they had been attempting to finance the project for the last 25 years—since the 1980s. Months ago, a local politician proudly proclaimed that I could thank him for installing the wooden posts which had been standing there serving absolutely no purpose for over a year. There were many broken promises along the way, but finally the local municipality came through, more or less.

Never before did I imagine what an entertaining fiasco the installation of power lines could be in a developing country. No machines were used in the entire process, meaning that, at any given time approximately a quarter of the men of El Sauce were needed to move hulking rolls of cable or to pull the power line to the next post. Of course, at any given time, at least half of the male population could be found hanging out at the light-post of the moment, socializing and, more generally, displaying genuine interest in power line installation.

The evening the streets lit up was cause for celebration. Unlike Peruvians, Hondurans do not find any excuse to party, but the arrival of electricity was the exception. There were speeches, a small dance, and bread and Coca-Cola for all. (Note: Coca-cola arrived in El Sauce decades ago.) The untrustworthy, young males of El Sauce were setting off obnoxiously loud firecrackers (Brand name: Outrageous Noise)with no particular concern for safety. Case in point, one was set off inside a house. Yet, despite the unusual merriment—which was honestly nice to see—the entire town was still in bed by 10 PM.

Now, approaching mid-December, only two homes have installed electricity. People seem amazingly content despite the fact that they must settle for enjoying the streetlights from their ever-dark houses. Probably half of the town is too poor to afford the installation, which runs from $50-$100, while the other half is wading through the bureaucratic process set forth by the less-than-efficient national electric company. There is a slight chance that I’ll have electricity in my house by Christmas, just in time for my departure.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I finally got around to posting new pictures. Here's a sampling and the rest can be found here.


My dad forwarded me the link to this article from Yahoo News and it is just too ridiculous and too typical of Honduras not to post. To see the original article click here.

5 Men Rob Plane From Military at Honduras Airport

Mon Nov 1, 3:49 pm ET
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Five armed men broke into a military base at the major international airport in northern Honduras early Monday and made off with a small airplane that authorities seized last year in an anti-drug operation.

The theft occurred at La Mesa International Airport in San Pedro Sula, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of the capital, Tegucigalpa. The airport is one of the busiest in the country.

Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said the gunmen attacked three guards at the entrance gate, went to the military hanger near a runway, started the engine and flew away. Their identities and destination were unknown.

"It was a very professional operation," Alvarez said during a news conference.

The plane had been in custody at the military base while the government was deciding whether to donate it to a state agency.

"It was really a temptation for organized crime or drug traffickers to have the plane there," said Alvarez.

The theft was reported around 3 a.m. to police. Armed forces command officers formed a commission to investigate the incident and the base commander was suspended indefinitely, according to the vice minister of security, Armando Calidonio.

"We are fighting a struggle against organized crime and drug trafficking," Alvarez said. "We always expect the worst."

Honduras is experiencing a wave of violence unleashed by gangs that are financed by drug trafficking and other crimes. According to the government, nearly 800 tons of cocaine each year passes through Honduras from Colombia to the United States.

Friday, October 15, 2010

90 cm²

In the last few days I have seen the town of El Sauce in a truer light. Mind you, I have never looked upon El Sauce with naïve partiality; however, with the commencement of latrine building, all of the town’s myriad flaws and imperfections, as well as unexpected kindness and understanding, shot to the surface and slapped me in the face.

Day one of the latrine construction training started off more or less okay and ended more or less okay. My neighbor, the local latrine “expert” turned out to be off on measurements for the rebar by an entire 30 foot length of rebar. In total, that’s just about 1000 feet for all of the latrines. Also, he reneged on his previous claim (pre-budget) that PVC elbows were not necessary, approaching the matter in a typically machista way and feigning that it was my error. He also chose to joke, in front of everybody, that I obviously can’t distinguish between r’s and d’s because I mistook his pronunciation of codal for coral. I chose not to tell him that I can’t actually understand half of the things he says because he mumbles, but rather took this as another machista jab meant to make me look bad because I’m a woman in charge of a construction project.

Day two. The PVC tube did not fit onto the toilet. The men approached this dilemma in a bullheaded charge, jamming a burning log into the tube to widen the end. Eventually, they realized this approach was clearly not working and moved on to another task. About this time I began to worry. I called the hardware store owner who agreed to change the tubes and also to send us PVC elbows and extra rebar in exchange for rock, thereby solving our material issues. Satisfied, I returned to the training and slowly began to comprehend that things were not going smoothly. People started to critique and point fingers.

Furthermore, it became very apparent that not everyone participating in the training was gifted with the same aptitude for construction. One of the younger participants is the town’s notorious marijuanero or pothead. As the other men were busy forcing the flaming log into the PVC pipe, he was on the other end joking about smoking it. In that particular incident, I’m not sure which of the men came out looking more intelligent. One man, after the day concluded, came to my house to inquire about measurements and our conversation went like this:

Him: So, the concrete slab is 3 feet?
Me: Yes, it’s actually 90cm by 1m.
Him: Okay, yeah, so it’s 90cm².
Me: Actually, it’s 90 by 100cm.
Him: So, 90cm². Okay.
Me: It’s 90 by ONE-HUNDRED.
Him: Like what? Show me with the measuring tape.
Me: Here is 90 and here is 100cm. So, it’s 90cm on this side and 100cm on this side. I’ll draw you a picture.
Him: So, it’s 90 cm on this side. And, on this side?
Me: One hundred.
Him: (Looking at the picture which was labeled on only two sides, not four.) So it’s 90cm wide and 100cm long, but what about this side?
Me: 90
Him: And this side?
Me: 100
Him: And this side?
Me: It’s a rectangle.

Incredulous, I labeled all four sides and wrote a note explaining the rectangular shape of the slab, hoping that someone else in his house would read it and explain it to him. And, I realized that placing the remaining construction into the hands of the trainees was out of the question.

Also, I started to understand just how complicated coordinating a town project can be when you throw in unaccounted for town politics and animosities. My community partner, Juan Carlos, explained to me that the neighborhood where we were doing the training is known as the Barrio Rojo (Red District). He said this with a knowing nod and a chuckle, as if I should have understood the exact meaning of Barrio Rojo. I assume that red was meant to have a negative connotation. Repeatedly people told me that I’d have to watch out for the Barrio Rojo and the Barrio de Abajo (Lower District), spouting out the same two phrases: “Esa gente no sabe agradecer.” (Those people don’t know how to be thankful.) and, “Cuesta trabajar con esa gente.” (It’s hard to work with those people.)

Word started to reach me that some people had no intentions of returning extra materiales. One family said that they were planning to hide whatever was left over. How, I’m not sure, as 6’ x 4’ pieces of tin aren’t easily “lost”. Also, more than one person kindly warned that it was likely that someone would break into the house where we were storing materials to steal them.

One evening I returned to my house, appetite gone, sat on the floor in the dark and momentarily cried until I realized it wasn’t worth it. For a few days I was on the verge of being distraught, wondering what on earth I’d spent the last, somewhat miserable year doing if, in the end, people were going to be so greedy and ungrateful.

The elderly next-door neighbor attempted to single-handedly combat the bitterness being displayed by some members of her town with a steady flow of food which she sent over with a renewed vigor comparable to when I first moved in. She even sent me an entire pot of coffee, with sugar and creamer already added. Her daughter and co-coordinator of the project, Juana, also helped me immensely. When some families started to complain about the quality of the materials, other people expressed their regret with words, reassuring me that at least some people in El Sauce are compassionate and understanding. Some have gone above and beyond to let me know that they appreciate my efforts. One woman in her one-volume (extremely loud) voice—my sister accurately described it as sounding like a chipmunk—berated the ungrateful people in her town and said that she knows that God will reward me because I am calidad de gente (a good person) to the point where I was almost embarrassed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My good friend and fellow PCV, Susan, who is currently working as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Peru, traveled nearly an entire day to visit me in Honduras. After a delayed take-off in Mexico City due to a malfunctioning air mask, she finally landed in Honduras to find that there was an impending hurricane and that we would have to travel half-way across the country to a relocation point in the dusty and unremarkable town of Siguatepeque. She handled the news with grace, and a laugh particular to Susan that said, “Of course there’s a f---ing hurricane!” In the end, the storm turned into a tropical depression and, after a two-day stay in Siguatepeque, we returned to my site.

I was ever-so-slightly apprehensive that Susan would be bored by her stay in Honduras, namely because I didn’t make any plans to travel during her 10-day visit. Of course, I need not have worried, after two years spent together in Peru, endless combi rides and chats in the Pacora plaza, we could probably talk for years without getting bored. Numerous hours of her visit were spent playing Boggle, to which Susan quickly became addicted. My sister will be proud because Susan also became addicted to making candle holders out of aluminum cans and left me with a plethora that I’ll eventually have to explain to the neighbors. Also, we hiked the trail in the woods and braved the freezing cold water in the stream for a quick dip.

The day before she left we returned to San Pedro Sula to revel in the delights of the big city, mainly the Supermarket and Subway. I had no idea how amazing Subway sandwiches were until I went without eating one for three years. They even had cheddar cheese to put on them at the City Mall in San Pedro. Susan was particularly excited by the Honey Bunches of Oats available at the supermarket and her sole souvenirs were grocery items such as olive oil, pancake mix and parmesan cheese!


One of the reasons I was hesitant to travel while Susan was here was because I just didn’t want to deal with anything like what I went through at the end of my parents’ trip. However, I also wanted to stay in site in case I needed to take care of anything for the latrine project. As I’ve discovered in the Peace Corps, if it’s not one thing, it’s always another. And, true to any PC project, the latrine project is no exception.

The municipality came through on the funding but, from the beginning they were unclear about when we would actually get the supplies. One day, the vice-mayor called to ask why we hadn’t picked up the supplies, which took me by surprise because I had no idea we were supposed to in the first place. Two days later he called to say that we couldn’t actually pick up the supplies. Nonetheless, everything worked more or less smoothly and yesterday the majority of the supplies were delivered to El Sauce.

On Thursday, six members of the project are going to participate in a training session to learn how to build the latrines. My neighbor, the sole builder in my town, will be leading the training. While he has been sporadically very helpful, often I feel like I’m talking to a controlling brick wall. Yesterday he informed me that we would need TWICE the amount of rebar than we asked for. Read, we asked for the amount that he specified when I specifically asked him to go over the materials list two months ago. He literally wanted to know who had told me to ask for only 2 bars per latrine. I was incredulous but unsurprised. He is constantly giving me what I assume to be accurate information and then, when I repeat it later he looks at me like I’m crazy and changes the number.

I’m crossing my fingers that all goes well. It’s difficult to keep track of all the things that might go wrong. The truck that hauls the sand might literally cause the road to collapse. The cement might go bad because it’s the rainy season. The project might not be complete before the coffee-picking season commences in November which would lead to a whole slew of problems. More than likely though everything will turn out more or less okay and I will have fretted my way through the project for nothing.