Monday, November 21, 2011


Saying goodbye isn’t something I am particularly good at, but I got a lot of practice these past few weeks.  We finished exams on Friday November 11th.  I was pleasantly surprised with how my kids scored on the final, especially because I made the final excruciatingly long.  It was 500 points.  Unfortunately, no one reminded me that I would have to grade all of them when they were finished.  I had a couple students get a near perfect score.

After the last final exam on Friday there was a going away party at the school where students put on skits, read poems, and made speeches to say bye.  I even sang our national anthem.  I had to say bye to all the fourth graders on Friday, but I would be seeing the sixth graders since I would attend their graduation into secondary school.  The fourth graders were my favorite class.  They weren’t a particularly smart class like sixth grade, but I think that is partly my fault.  I definitely babied them and I wanted them to have fun above all else.  I couldn’t help myself.  I just can’t get mad at the younger ones. 

The next activity was a going away party for all the teachers at Ricardo’s house.  Throughout the year, we didn’t have an excellent relationship with the Honduran teachers.  We liked to do business a little differently and at first there was a language barrier keeping us apart.  Although we all had some previous Spanish language training, it still took us the majority of the year to get comfortable having a good discussion in Spanish.  It is pretty painful for both parties to stumble through conversation on a daily basis.  There was good food, awkward games, and we continued to bond with the Honduran teachers.

Our final farewell was graduation.  The preschoolers were graduating into primary school and the sixth graders were graduating to secondary school.  I felt as though I had 13 children graduating and I was taking pictures like a Japanese tourist.  We set up for the graduation the day before and it looked more like a high school prom than a graduation.  The attire was more reminiscent of prom than a graduation as well.  Latin American women take any opportunity they can to wear tacky dresses and high heels.

I found out that one of my favorite students wasn’t going to attend the ceremony because his family didn’t have the money to pay for it.  He was the only one attending because of financial problems.  I felt that was unacceptable and I paid his entry into graduation.  Each kid chooses “godparents” for graduation and Ramon chose Marie and me.  It was an honor to not only watch the graduation, but be involved as a godparent.  In addition to my godparent duties, I introduced the sixth grade before they got their diplomas.  This made me realize how much I have improved in Spanish.  I got up in front of the 150 guests and made a speech.  I even had a few jokes thrown in, mostly at my expense. 

After the ceremony ended the teachers and a few select family members of students stuck around and of course we had a Latin American dance party.  Latin Americans love to dance and they can do it for hours.  I think dancing is about the only physical activity they enjoy doing.  The teachers all danced together and had a blast.  I don’t think it is some sort of phenomenon that we all really started to click as a faculty toward the end.  I think in the end you really take inventory of all the good things about a relationship.  We all agreed that we should have been hanging out the entire year.  Most of the parents and faculty were saying, “Are you sure you can’t stay another year?”  I think we all had the same answer.  I think we would all love to come back, but we can’t do this forever.  You have to let go sometime.  It is time for another generation of teachers to come in and enjoy the school.   

I think in many ways being a teacher in this environment has taught me a lot about what it means to be a parent.  My students really became mine and I got the feeling that I would do anything to make them happy.  The kids at the school are so incredibly brave.  They see and hear about violence on a daily basis.  Most of them don’t have both parents.  Some have just one and some don’t have any at all.  We taught the best of the best in the town and their family and living conditions still weren’t great.    

For as different as they live, the kids here are the same kids in every part of the world.  What I like most about teaching elementary school is that the kids are candid.  They don’t sugar coat—they’ll tell you if you’re ugly, whether you smell, or whether your clothes suck.  You can have the worst kids possible that you absolutely despise in the classroom but miss completely when they are sick for the day. 

Last night, I was walking down a dirt road through the center of town and looked around, trying to soak in every ounce of the place I’ve called home this year.  Although it was about 75 degrees out, the weather felt chilly because the town was quiet and only the wind whipped through the streets.  The town was shrouded in a blanket of deep blue night.   I looked up and took a long breath into my belly.  The moon shone bright in a sky without stars.  I realized something.  No matter how different we may seem on the surface, we all walk under the same moon.

So, what next?  That is a question I have heard about a million times in the last month as I prepare to go back to the United States.  I spent a good portion of my own academic career trying to answer impossible questions just like that.  I don’t have an answer to what’s next.  I don’t think anyone really does.  I think that is part of growing up—realizing that everyone is a little bit confused.  I figure, while I’m here I might as well get some work done, whatever that may be.

I went through highs and lows during this experience but I am going to take away all positives.  My Spanish language skills have sharpened and if I can work with a group of Hondurans, I can pretty much work with anyone.  I have been silent for a while on the blog, but I wanted to sum up my trip in one post.  Thanks for following!   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Flood

Marie and I look forward to our evening walk with Leche every day.  There isn’t much more to look forward to in the evening other than incessantly refreshing your inbox with the hope that someone sends you something other than spam.  Our path takes us north through a valley cut by a river, which is the same path I usually go running on.  We usually start walking at about 4:30, but we left a little late this time around 5, which leaves us only about 30 minutes of good light before complete darkness. 

It was a beautiful day and there was no sign of bad weather on the horizon as we wound our way through the mountains.  We reached the first river crossing where the water level was normal—you just need to jump on one or two rocks to get across.  The water was clearer than usual at this time of year.  When there is a lot of rain, the water tends to get muddy. 

Leche loves the path.  As soon as we reach it he stops walking and expects to be let off the leash.  After that, he goes to work.  He puts his nose to the ground and finds the best places to leave his mark.  There is one spot on the path where he climbs up a hill and does a superman jump because we always give him praise for his acrobatics.

After we crossed the first river, it started to sprinkle a bit, but we didn’t think anything of it.  Just in case, we decided to go to the next crossing and turn around before getting too wet.  We always hate to cut walks short because Leche doesn’t like being cramped up in the house—after all, he is a street dog at heart. 

Leche had gone ahead to scout some spots to mark and when we came to the second crossing he was already on the other side.  Then, I heard something in the distance like someone was beating a baseball bat against a hollow tree.  I looked to my left and I saw a wall of water ripping down the river overflowing the banks and coming our way.  I stepped back and screamed at Leche to sit still.  At first he thought I was telling him to come so he made a step toward the river, but he too saw the danger coming and backed off. 

I tied my shoes thinking I was going to cross and get Leche, but then I saw exactly what was moving with the water.  There were basketball sized rocks and full grown tree trunks moving right through the water.  If I got hit by one of those I probably wouldn’t make it out of the river.  Wisely, I stayed put.  A family that lives on the other side of the river came out to see what was going on and saw Leche stranded.  The river was deafening and I could barely make communication with the family.  I told them not to let him cross.  I was racking my brain trying to think of a way across, but it just wasn’t possible.  The river was way too high, the current too strong, and there was too much debris. 

The family grabbed Leche by the collar and made a gesture that they would take care of him until the river calmed down.  We decided to check the first river crossing to see if that one was any better.  It was a tough thing to do to let Leche out of our site, but we had to do it.  After a 5 minute walk we reached the first crossing and it was much worse than the second.  The river had risen at least 5 feet.  In this section the river funnels and drops into a lower area.  The water was like a suction taking anything on the sides and slamming it on the rocks below.  This definitely wasn’t an option.

It turned into a waiting game.  What were we going to do?  We were stuck between two rivers in the middle of Honduras.  I had a sort of out of body experience as my breathing started to get heavier and my heart beat out of my chest.  The feeling was one I had read about many times in adventure or wilderness books.  You see yourself from above and ask yourself how the hell you got in the middle of Honduras stranded by a flash flood.  Then it got dark.  Then it started to pour.  Then the feeling got worse. 

When would they figure out that we weren’t home?  We didn’t have a cell phone, flashlight, or a raincoat.  We couldn’t wait here all night.  How could we be so stupid?  Yet, how could we have known?

Finally, after about an hour in the rain, soaked to the bone and tired of shivering we saw a light coming down the path.  A motorcycle came to the river bank and stopped.  A man got off and looked at the river and then looked at us.  He started to turn around to get back on his bike but I got his attention.

“Can you help us?”
“Help?  You have to wait for the river to go down and then cross.”
“Go find Ricardo”
“Ahh nevermind.  We’re fucked.”

The motorcycle pulled away from the river taking all the light we had with us.  It was a waiting game again, but this time it was shorter.  We saw another light, but this one came slower and bounced up and down.  It was a flashlight.  I knew it was Rob.  He knows where we taking Leche on walks and since it was after dark, raining, and getting late, he knew that something was wrong.

“Don’t cross, there are rocks”, I said.
“Yeah. No shit.  If I had a rope I might be able to get you guys across.”
“Call Ricardo.”

Ricardo arrived about 30 minutes later with a crew of guys and some supplies.  He threw us over a flashlight so we could see what we were doing.  The crew of three guys brought ropes and a couple automatic machine guns.  They were narco-traffickers.  Basically, the only able bodied men in town are traffickers.  I was relieved to have their help.

They threw a rope across and I tied it to a thick tree and slung it back.  They tied their end to a sturdy tree up the river a bit.  The three hundred pound narco-trafficker tried to cross without the rope and was swept up in the current like a rag doll.  Luckily, he was able to get back to the shore before dropping down into the rocks.  He tried with the rope this time and it similar fashion was swept into the current, but he held tightly to the rope.  He pulled and inched his way across against the current.  “That’s how you do it”, he boasted a little shaken up.

Marie went first.  He tied another rope around her body and attached it to the rope so she would have a choice but to hold on.  At the halfway point the rope bowed and she didn’t have the momentum to get across.  The big narco trafficker went out to giver her a push, but the other side already threw her a rope to give her more pull to get out of the current.  When she was almost out of the toughest part of the current, a rock ripped into her hip and she let out a yelp.  She was relatively unharmed.

It was my turn.  I put the rope around my body and made my way across.  It was easy until I got into the strongest part and the current pushed my feet out from under me so that I was holding onto the rope with both hands like superman flying on the current.  I was wearing athletic shorts and the current was getting ready to rip them off.  I took one of my arms off the rope to save the shorts.  Without the strength of both hands, I was unable to inch my way to the other side.  I had to make a choice—naked safety or clothed injury.  I chose safety and the pants were ripped off my legs like a vacuum. 

It was all a pretty embarrassing ordeal just to take Leche on a walk through the forest.  Ricardo brought some extra shirts and I wrapped one around the front part of my body like ass-less chaps.  I was just glad to be on the other side. 

There isn’t really some grand moral to the story about water safety or walking in the woods without a cell phone.  I guess the only thing I realized is that no matter how autonomous you think you are, sooner or later we all need help.  I don’t think it ever feels good to need someone in that capacity, but it is nice to have someone willing to help—even if they are narco-traffickers.  I wondered why that 300 pound narco-trafficker was so cavalier with his life and I got my answer from Ricardo the next day.  “The narcos have a different lease on life than we do.  They go through life knowing that at any moment, usually sooner rather than later, they are going to get it.  So they drink hard, they drive fast—they live as much as they can in the short time they’re given.”    

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teguc it is

Last Friday, we sat around the house bored.  We definitely didn't want to stay in the house for the weekend where there would likely be a power outage that makes the entertainment level comparable to the 15th Century. We entertained the idea of going to Juticalpa, but we decided that it just wasn't enough.  Tegucigalpa it is.

Tegucigalpa isn't a flattering city.  It looks impoverished even in the so called "nice" parts of the city.  Still, the internet is literally 1,000 times faster in Teguc than it is in San Francisco de la Paz.  If we do nothing else, it is worth it to download a bunch of music and movies.  Besides going to the American style mall, with American prices that we cannot afford, there really isn't much to do than download.  Another good thing about Teguc is the restaurant selection.  It wouldn't exactly be considered fine dining in U.S. as it is mostly chain restaurants like Chili's, TGIFridays, Pizza hut, and all the fast food places.  One of the valuable things I have learned on my Third World odyssey is that Chili's has a great blue cheese bacon burger.

I have a little under two months here but it isn't time yet to get sentimental.  Although, I have been trying to enjoy my time as much as I can at the school because I know I am going to miss it come November.  I thought the picture below said a lot about Honduras in general.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Children's Day

Today we celebrated "Dia del Niño with yet another fiesta.  This was probably the best party yet because the kids were allowed to pretty much do whatever they wanted.  We had a small assembly with a few games that were hilarious.  Volunteers came up on stage and were given a balloon.  They had to pop the balloon and read the instructions that were put on a small piece of paper in the inflated balloon.  A few of them were--sing your favorite song, imitate the director of the school, dance like Michael Jackson.  After that, each room was given a piñata and the kids went to work.  Bellow are some pictures from Utila as well as today's fiesta.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Back Home

We left La Ceiba after a sleepless night in a crap hotel.  The hotel was right on the water, which was the only plus to waking up in a pool of sweat.  Utila was very relaxing for a few days--hot showers, air conditioning, clean sheets, and great food.  After just a couple days of paradise I was ready to head back to Olancho.  We had two options for transportation.  We could either take a bus to San Pedro, change buses, head to Tegucigalpa, change buses, head to Juticalpa, change buses, and then head to San Francisco; or we could hop on a chicken bus from La Ceiba and go straight to Olancho, stopping frequently to pick up new passengers, salesman, and clowns.  Yes, clowns.

Heading out of La Ceiba you can see banana farms and palm trees used for their palm oil.  The trees are neatly placed in rows making for a well organized countryside.  The first few hours flew by, but the thought of 7 more hours was a bit daunting.  We continued on the paved road outside of La Ceiba until we crossed into Olancho.  The American fast food restaurants stopped and we entered the back-country.  We picked up the usual salesmen who I don't pay any attention to.  I looked up after I saw some long red shoes in the isle.  I was staring straight at a clown.  Clowns were getting on and off the bus attempting to entertain us for money.  The problem was that they looked more scary than anything and I thought their jokes were terrible, not to mention that every clown did the same jokes.

The hours started to stack together and we were making our way to Gualaco, which is the town up from San Francisco de la Paz.  We got a call from a couple people from San Francisco warning us that there was danger around town.  Apparently, two people from our town were killed in Puerto Cortez for reasons I am sure you can guess.  One of the people who we talked to said that this time it was actually dangerous--basically shit was going down.

We were almost in Gualaco when a blue truck flagged us down.  He talked to the driver for a couple minutes and we went on our way.  I asked the driver's helper what was going on and he hesitantly told me that there was some trouble up ahead on the road but he thinks it has already passed.  We arrived to the trouble and it was worse than we thought.  Army and police lined the road with automatic machine guns and body armor.  A group of people were crying on the side of the road.  As we wound our way past the group I could see why they were crying.  There was a dead body face down, stripped of clothing on the side of the road.  That was definitely a first for me.

We got home safely and pretty much locked ourselves in for the night, except to take out Leche who was very glad to see us.  Our neighbors barricaded their roof to make gunning stations in case of an attack.  At around 7 o-clock just as it started to get really dark outside I heard an explosion in the distance and machine gun fire--another battle had started.  The explosions were definitely grenades.  Fortunately, our neighbors weren't the ones being attacked.  Coming into Olancho from La Ceiba, you realize that it is probably the most raw and untamed regions in the country.  The land is mountainous and the people are just as abrasive.  They value the lives of their cattle more than their human counterparts.  School was let out early on Friday because of the violence.  I really hope this doesn't continue to trend toward increased violence.  Everyone says the current violence is nothing compared to a year or two ago.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's a Long Road

I left early Saturday morning for Tegucigalpa to stay at my usual hotel, Guadalupe Dos, which is common for Peace Corps volunteers and English teachers on a budget.  They have hot water and internet, which is quite luxurious at this point.  The reason I had to go on this trip was because my visa was set to expire on the 1st of September.  We used to need to go to either Belize or Costa Rica to renew our passports, but the rule changed so that any country outside of Honduras would do.  I heard that the border crossing at Copan was easy so I decided to go for it.  It's a long road to Copan.

The trip to Copan was way easier this time around, compared to the cramped ride in the back of Ricardo's pick-up truck for 12 hours.  We went from Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula and on to Copan from there.  I think I have finally gotten over my travel anxiety.  I used to get anxious on public transportation, especially in Third World countries, but now I am cool as a cucumber.  The bus driver from San Pedro Sula to Copan was absolutely on fire.  I came to the conclusion that he must have thought he was playing a video game or something.  He was weaving in and out of traffic on blind corners with little regard for anyone else on the road.  Normally, I would have been white knuckled and sweating, but I was just reading a book and listening to music with a smile on my face.  If nothing else, this trip has taught be patience and the ability to let go of things I can't control.  One of the hardest things I have had to do is to accept that my fate is uncertain, that I can't control everything--nor should I.  It is much easier to calm down and enjoy the ride.

Copan turned out to be a bitch.  I went to the border and told the Honduran immigration officer my situation.  I told him I am an English teacher and I need to get my passport stamped one more time for 90 days to last until I leave.  He agreed to stamp my passport, but when I gave him my passport to be stamped I didn't have a yellow customs sheet that had been stamped into my passport.  Unfortunately, without the yellow sheet I had to pay a fine of around 150 dollars.  Basically he told me to pay it now or pay when I leave in November.  I did everything I could to convince him to let me off the hook, but he didn't really have a choice.  I paid the fine and left, just glad that I got my 90 days and was on to better things.

Our original plan was to go back to Olancho after we got our 90 days, given that school is still in session.  Ricardo gave us a week break and no one wanted to go back to Olancho at that point.  I was feeling the effects from the fine and thought a day or two on the beach would be just what I need.  We decided to head to the bay islands, and specifically Utila, which is the backpacker's version of Roatan.

Another grueling day of traveling brought us to La Ceiba where our old friend Oscar met us at the bus terminal.  Oscar left the school after his brother died and we have all missed his humor since he's been gone.  It was great to have a nice dinner with him before we continued.  This morning we took the one hour ferry from La Ceiba to Utila.  We decided to stay at a more expensive hotel that has far better accommodations than we are used to.  After 7 months living in Arizona circa 1870 we decided we deserve something better, if only for 2 days.  The hotel juts out into the bay on stilts. The view is incredible and all we can hear is the ocean. So that's where I am at this point.

I added pictures from a recent walk with Leche and a few pictures of the ocean.  Definitely more ocean pictures to come.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Always a Trip

Even if it is only for a few hours, Juticalpa is always a trip.  We decided to go at eight this morning to use the faster internet and eat some gas station pizza.  Now, in the United States I would absolutely never eat at a gas station.  I have problems eating at a Subway connected to a gas station.  I think it has something to do with the fact that the bathrooms are so disgusting and they are then handling your cold cuts.  Doesn't make much sense, but these guys actually make a decent slice and the bathrooms are immaculate.

So we ate a slice or two and went to the other gas station that has free high speed internet.  The plan was to take the 12 o'clock bus back to San Fran, but when the time came we weren't ready so we decided to take one at 2.  The bus schedule on Sunday is difficult and no matter how many times we ask, we never seem to figure it out.  Last time we messed up we ended up on the little bus that could--it actually didn't make it up a hill.  We had to roll down backwards and try it again.  So we thought there was a bus at 2 and it turned out that we were wrong again.  The bus didn't leave until 4.  We could either sit out in the heat, go back and sit on the internet, or hitchhike.  We decided to hitchhike.  Sometimes when we hitchhike someone we know will see us and give us a ride.

A nice truck came by and I stuck my thumb out.  A friendly looking gentleman asked where we were going and I told him San Francisco.  He was going to Gualaco so it was on his way.  He agreed to take us.  The guy was strikingly normal.  We had a nice conversation about each of our countries and he had been to the United States for an agricultural conference many times and was visiting Italy in a couple months.  Who is this guy?  Had we encountered the richest, most normal man in Honduras?  He has a lot of property in the Gualaco area, including a mine that he is looking to sell to the Italians.  We stopped halfway to San Francisco at a gas station and before the guy got out he asked if we wanted a soda.  We respectfully declined and he entered the store.  We turned to each other and said, "Wow, this guy is great.  We are so lucky."

He came out of the gas station with a six pack of Miller High Life bottles, which wasn't weird at all.  What we did find weird was when he pulled out of the gas station and twisted one open casually as if it were a normal Sunday drive for him.  On the second half of the trip he really turned on the creepy.  The conversation continued, but he would turn around and look at us while he was talking, completely ignoring the fact that he was driving.  He was absolutely all over the road.  The most normal man in Honduras turned out not to be so normal after all.  He ended up blatantly hitting on Marie and inviting us to shoot guns on Friday.  I said, "Yeah, maybe", but didn't give him my phone number.  At one point he started talking about the violence in Honduras and how you can't trust the police, army, or any government branch to take care of it.  He said that it is basically every man for himself in Honduras and God is the only one looking out for you.  I'm sure the drinking and driving on Sundays isn't helping his case.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Walking the Dog

I took a huge nap today, which I normally don't like to do.  I have been having at least an hour of band practice everyday to get ready for the Independence Day celebration on September 15th and it has really worn me out.  The band has proven to be more of a challenge than I initially thought.  It takes so much energy to just get the kids together, get them quiet, and have them listen.  If you put 15 drums in a class of 6th graders it is going to be chaos.  However, each time we get together we are getting better.  The band is highly regarded in the celebration and I have felt the pressure from the administration and parents about having a good band.  I am just hoping we will be ready.

After my nap, Leche was waiting outside my door so I took him out for a walk.  Leche has had a rough couple days.  He was out running with Rob and got attacked by another dog.  The dog bit the top of his head and gave him three really deep puncture wounds.  The good thing about Honduras and Olancho specifically is that veterinarians are highly regarded due to their essential role in the cattle based economy.  The majority of the population has access to veterinary services.  It is kind of an unwritten law that everyone gets their dog vaccinated for rabies.  In order to get into the United States, Leche would have had to get rabies vaccine anyways, so we took him to the vet just to make sure he didn't contract rabies.  He was getting special treatment all day yesterday because of his wounds.  We think he gets attacked because all the street dogs are jealous.  Leche is very well kept and educated.  He speaks three languages: English, Spanish, and French.  He has recovered well from his wounds and is more or less back to normal.  It was quite the scare... 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Science Fair

It is starting to seem like the school year is winding down.  Central America's independence day is coming up September 15th and the school has been in preparation mode for about a month now.  Our classes are only 35 minutes and we are going to have shortened class periods from now until the 15th.  We protested this a little bit, but I think it is a matter of priorities and tradition.  Ultimately, it isn't our job to tell them that they need to be in class.  Our school functions like the television show "The Office".  Almost every week we either have a party or a national event that we are preparing for.  I guess you could say Ricardo is Michael Scott.

I am in charge of the school marching band and we haven't made any progress yet.  We don't have equipment  or time to practice at this point because everyone seems to have scheduling conflicts.  I told the school today that I am going to use my sixth grade class for the band since they are incredibly smart and mostly do what they are told.  I will just teach them in music and art class.  As for the equipment, I guess I will just have to improvise.

Science fair was today and we had some awesome projects presented.  The winning group made toothpaste from scratch, which was cool in itself.  The kicker was that Honduras has some of the worst dental health I have ever seen, so it works on multiple levels.  Another project was a model city that they connected to a battery so it had street lights and a moving windmill.  My project was a lesson in viscosity.  I made quicksand goo out of corn starch and water.  I brought food coloring in so the kids could make their own bowl with their favorite color.  If you apply force to the liquid it acts as a solid, so the kids were punching the liquid and then sinking their hands in it slowing to feel the suction.  I think my project was a favorite among the students.  I had everyone coming up to my table trying to feel the goo.

One of the teachers was actually scared of the goo I made. I told him to touch it and he said it was dangerous and walked away.  He must have thought I was a warlock.  If anything bad happens to him he always gets out a bottle of liquid that is blessed by a witch and washes his hands with it.  Needless to say, he isn't one of the more normal teachers.

Robs project was an erupting volcano.  He used the vinegar and baking soda reaction with red food coloring. To top it all off, he put a bunch of gasoline in it and lit it on fire so when the baking soda and vinegar came foaming out it was on fire.  I thought it was awesome, although it got 10th place.  I beat Rob and got 9th place, but it was nowhere near what I thought we were going to get.  Another group made tiger balm, which I thought was really clever.  It was a really easy day today since they took the entire day for science fair.  I don't expect that we will be having many more full days of school the way things are starting to go.

There is a picture of one of the preschoolers crying.  One of the projects was like an inflatable person that ended up looking like a ghost.  He started to cry thinking that the ghost would come after him.  I definitely thought this was picture worthy. 

In 2 weeks I will be taking another visa renewal trip.  My plan is to cross into Guatemala real quick and see if I can convince the border patrol to give me a 90 visa.