Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Getting back to school reminded me again of why I am here and why I am really enjoying teaching.  The kids and I were excited to see each other and we really hit the ground running in class.  I hope the good behavior isn’t just a symptom of the first week back and the kids will continue with this streak.  We have been getting a lot done and I have been pouring the work on them.  I am starting an ambitious program of both grammar and vocabulary lists.  The kids will be attempting to learn 50 vocabulary words biweekly in addition to their grammar lessons.  No one has complained yet which has been great.

My roommate Oscar got in a serious accident when coming home from La Ceiba after break.  A dump truck filled with sand had a problem with its breaks and collided head on with Oscar’s bus.  There were a few random injuries on the bus, but nothing critical.  A motorcyclist was involved and was sent directly to the hospital with the driver of the dump truck.  The sand carried by the dump truck hit some of the passengers in the face and it apparently hurt like hell.  The front end of the bus was completely smashed, as were most of the windows.  Oscar got out without injury through the emergency exit.  It was definitely a close call.  It kind of explains why death by car accident is one of the leading causes of death.  Oscar had a stomach bug this week and wasn’t able to give classes.  So, with the car accident and illness, Oscar has had a rough week. 

Leche is getting huge and is exclusively an indoor dog at this point.  I lay a towel on the floor and he either curls up and sleeps on the towel or sleeps on our makeshift couch in the living room.  He is starting to become a teenager, chasing after the girl dogs and getting in street fights.  I think it is because he is going through puberty and the male hormones are starting.  We just don’t really have the resources to get him chopped.  One of the “Rugrats”, the street gang that hangs out on my corner, wants to breed Leche with a Dalmatian.  Leche is literally famous around down.  He is more famous than us.  The entire town knows him by name.  If he ever got lost he would be brought right back here.  We think Leche is at least part Dalmatian because of his milky white complexion with black spots that are just really starting to show.  He gets in trouble a lot during the day, but he has been such an integral part of our lives abroad.  We are so lucky we found him.

It is starting to get tough for us to have a good diet.  If we aren’t cooking pasta at home, we are eating fried tacos or fried chicken.  The whole food situation is getting pretty annoying.  We all need to watch out for our nutrition because it is easy to fall behind and damage our immune systems.  In order to go to a grocery store like we have in the U.S. it is a 40 minute ride on the Olanchan public transport system.  It is definitely a daunting task for any sort of weekly routine.

June 25th marked my halfway point in Honduras and I can’t help but think that this was a great decision to come here and that it will be a defining point in my life.  The work I am doing right now has really given me purpose on a daily basis, which I had been seeking for so long, thinking I would never find it.  I think that in order to represent myself and my nation well in a world that gets smaller by the minute, it is imperative that I learn all that I can about the nations that surround us; and do what I can to educate and enhance cross cultural exchange.  Through education, and education alone, I believe that we can fix the big problems that plague our world; because an educated nation is a prosperous nation.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011


It has been a slow week here in San Francisco de la Paz.  We are all attempting to prepare for the second half of our volunteer stint.  I have been making posters to decorate my classroom: conjugating the verb “to be”, irregular verbs in the past tense, and 2 posters filled with pictures of animals and their names in English.  It has been difficult to teach the fourth grade sentence construction.  The sixth grade catches on so much faster in that regard.  I am not sure the parts of a sentence have been explained to fourth grade in Spanish let alone in English.  I am going to revamp my approach in fourth grade.  For as bad as they are at sentence construction, they do pretty well at memorizing vocabulary.  I am going to try and establish a strong base of vocabulary and have them construct only the most basic sentences, such as describing people and animals.  For example, “The tiger is fast and orange.  The bear is big and brown.  She is blonde and pretty.”  The idea is to have them be able to use these in conversation and draw from their base of vocabulary to start forming simple sentences.  Then, next year in 5th grade, they will be able to go more in depth on sentence construction with the ability to use a variety of words they learned the year before.  For sixth grade I am going to dive in deep into the past tense.  By far, the past tense is the hardest thing to grasp in English.  There are so many irregular verbs.  I feel like most of the verbs we use on a regular basis are irregular.  This is a tough thing for them to grasp.  They always ask, “but why is this irregular, why does it change like this?”  The only thing you can really say is that they need to memorize it.  End of story.  They don’t like that. 

I think what has deflated our ego the most as volunteers is the fact that progress is almost guaranteed to be slow this first year due to a lack of direction from administration and the trial and error strategy we have proposed.  I think we have figured out what works for each of us, and the second half of the year will be easier and more productive.  It is hard for us to keep in mind that this is a long term plan that will go on at least a decade after we leave to achieve fluency.

The other day, I walked past the same area that I saw the group of armed Pablo Escobar wannabes.  In almost exactly the same spot there were armed guards from a private security firm.  They looked better armed and better dressed than the narcos were and I wondered whether they had been hired by the drug mules.  I asked around and found out that one of the secretaries of the Pepe Lobo administration was visiting his home town.  I found it ironic that the private security guards, probably hired by the state of Honduras, were guarding the exact street corner that the narco-traffickers were guarding just the weekend before.  No doubt, I live in a complicated place.     

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Roots and Wings: Charter Cities

After two days of lounging around with snot rags plugging my nose, I have emerged from the darkness and posted on the Roots and Wings International Blog about Charter Cities in Central America

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gun, Guns, Guns

I have told you before that guns are a prominent part of life in Olancho, but until recently it never seemed to be a problem.  When you walk around town, it is not uncommon for most of the citizens of San Francisco over the age of 20 to have a holstered pistol or one tucked casually in their waste-band.  Randomly, you may see a group of guys on a corner holding AK-47s and other larger arms.  Today I witnessed a scene right out of a Pablo Escobar film.  There were at least ten guys just a block from my house standing guard at one of the houses known to be involved in narco-trafficking.  They looked ready for war with their loaded automatic weapons and police issued body armor.  I've been trying to figure out how they got the body armor: either they killed the cop and took it, stole it from the police station, or the cops are in on it too.  Maybe it's a combination of all three.  They wore aviator sunglasses and were smoking cigarettes and having a Sunday afternoon beer.

It all has to do with blood feuds or drugs or the combination of the two.  These blood feuds from rival families can last for decades.  A member of a family kills your cousin and then you kill one of their family members, and then they come back at you.  It's a never ending snowball of violence.  Our neighbor killed someone about a year ago and the rumor is that they were coming back today for some revenge.  The interesting part about the whole thing is that even though two families are at war, they work for the same boss.  Just to be safe I am not going to mention his name.  I'll call him Luigi.  Luigi is the boss in town.  He has the most guns, and therefore has the most power.  I assume that he is responsible for running a good amount of drugs through Olancho and eventually to Mexico.

As well as seeking revenge for the killing a year ago, the rival faction was rumored to be coming for another reason.  Two nights ago, a member of the rivals was found dead not too far from town.  His car was never recovered.  The rumor is that he was killed by the traffickers who hang out in my neighborhood and the car was disassembled and sold for parts.  Rumors are also circulating about another suspicious death that looked like a suicide.  A body was found yesterday with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand, leaving the town to believe it was a suicide.  I don't think anyone can be too sure.        

Like an old Mexican film, Luigi provides security to the poor village.  He came in and went to all the known criminal's houses and told them if they didn't stop robbing the rest of the village he was going to kill them.  He became the law in San Francisco because the police are a non existent force in the judicial system.  Hell, the police probably work for Luigi now.  Now Luigi and his henchman move freely within the town because he is providing a much needed service and no one would dare contest him.  When we had problems with one of our students bringing a gun near the school and threatening to kill another student, Ricardo got in contact with a friend of Luigi and told him to have the kid settle down.

The Peace Corps just pulled out of Catacamas, because of the drug violence, and I imagine if there were Peace Corps volunteers in my town, they would be taken out too.  All of this doesn't really concern me though.  It is a drug war, a family feud.  I just need to make sure that I am not in the middle when they start shooting.  And just as I am writing, two shots went off right outside my window.  Time to move further inside the house to avoid any stray bullets...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Back to Olancho

It was a grueling 14 hour bus ride from Guatemala City to San Salvador to Tegucigalpa.  I hit three Central American capitals in one day.  Tomorrow will be a 4 hour 8 a.m. bus to Juticalpa.  Then, another bus to San Francisco de la Paz.  I am the bus King.

I saw the same girl I met in Olancho that is from Ohio and went to U of A and is now in the Peace Corps like 30 minutes from where I am--or at least she was.  The Peace Corps decided to pull all of their volunteers out of her region because of increasing drug violence.  We heard about the activity in the Catacamas area but didn't think much of it.  Apparently one of the PCV's got help up at gunpoint and that was enough for them to pull the whole program in the area.  I was riding in a cab to my hotel tonight and the driver asked me where I was going.  I told him I live in San Francisco de la Paz Olancho.  He said, "Wow, that town has some history."
"History? What kind of History."
"Oh just the never ending violence between the two main families there."
Even in the capital, my town is famous of the blood feuds.  Home sweet home.

I can't wait to get back to teaching, especially after I found out that one of my favorite students Julia was crying because she thought I left for good!  I love the 4th grade...

My last post about Pasac on Roots and Wings.  Check it out here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Combat Journalism

“It is moments like these in foreign lands that always prompt me to get philosophical, even existential: Why am I here? How did this happen? Why exactly am I hanging on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan this morning? I’m not in the Army, I didn’t sign up for this. I should be back home, watching TV or canoodling in bed or having a strong espresso in Brooklyn. Or just about anywhere else.
But in the end, things tend to work themselves out, I find, and the satisfaction of photographing and documenting the most important issues of our time far outweighs any temporary discomfort, or even fear.”

Ever since his death on April 20th of this year, I have been obsessed with Chris Hondros (website) and his work—don’t worry it isn't an unhealthy or dangerous obsession, just respectful admiration.  Chris worked as a combat journalist covering most of the major conflicts in the world since the late 90’s.  He has worked in hot spots like Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the West Bank, Iraq, and Liberia.  What drives someone to want to take on such a job?  Is it an utter lack of responsibility for your well being or is it a genuine belief that you hold, that the work needs to be done, that it must be done and you need to be the one to do it?

I can relate to his thoughts in some ways.  When we don't have water in Olancho for days at a time.  When the electricity goes off for the weekend.  When I lull myself to sleep with the gunshots of narco traffickers busy at work.  Sometimes I think, "God, life would be so much easier without all this.  And I left that life why?"  

I have always thought that if our experiences could be put on a graph it would show a line representing a positive relation to things generally working out in our favor but not at an overly steep gradient.  It is an average of our experiences, though if each point were to be plotted, some would be really low toward the "fucking disaster category" and some would be high toward the "all for the best category".  Some people live their life on the average, knowing that bad things can happen, but generally it will be alright.  So they take risks and make sacrifices to do what the cautious won't do.  Because the rewards are that much better from high risks.  Those that see the graph as is, without the averages, see something different.  There are a lot of bad things that can happen to us, some of which we can control or avoid.  Chris lived by the averages and things didn't work themselves out.  He paid the ultimate price.    

What a life he must have lived though.  Seeing the most historical moments in the last 15 years right in from of his lens.  I don't know if the world can function without that beauty and real time news.  And yes I say beauty, because the pain of war can be beautiful.  Like the anguish a mother feels when her child is injured as an innocent bystander.  Hondros called it, "incredibly inspiring, such a pure distillation of a mother's love."

Part Three: Pasac

Check out my newest blog on Roots and Wings...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Roots and Wings Part Two

Check out my newest entry on the Roots and Wings blog...

After 4 hours of buses, micro buses, and pick-up trucks, I finally made it to Pasac.  I feel like I am on another world.  More to come...

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Last night, I went for the 3rd time to the Pacaya Volcano.  On the way to the volcano I got into my first Latin American car accident.  A motorcycle pulled out in front of us and we T-boned it.  The guy was able to roll off the bike and suffered minor injuries, but it was scary nonetheless.  Our car suffered minor damage and our driver was thinking about not stopping.  I don't blame him for not wanting to stop, especially with all the trigger happy Guatemalans.

A lot has changed in 3 years.  The volcano had a massive eruption in 2010 and the path I took up the previous two times didn't even exist because of lava flows.  Four people died near the crater that year because of eruptions and lightning strikes.  The crater was almost completely closed off and domed before, but this time I could see where the lava exploded from the crater.

We took the afternoon tour which I always thought is the best because you get a chance to the sunset high above the clouds.  The path was steep and was on broken up volcanic rock, which made for a difficult hike.  As we got higher we started to hear some rumbling and I couldn't distinguish whether the rumbling was from lava flows or thunder.  The guide kept his mouth shut about it for a while and finally turned and said that it was thunder.  I got a great view of the apex of the volcano this time, a view that I had never seen before.  The crater was ominous poking about 1000 ft from the warm volcanic rock that we were standing on.  We went into a couple thermal caves heated my underground lava flows.  At this point it was beginning to rain and lightning was striking near the crater.  The guide told me to keep my mouth closed because that attracts lightning strikes.  I didn't understand why he was saying that until he smiled again and showed a mouth full of metal from dental work.  Having never had a cavity, I felt a little safer.

The storm approached from behind the mountain making for a menacing picture.  I could tell the guide was getting nervous, but he wanted to show us a good time.  I asked him if he thought we should be leaving and he gave a definite yes.  The problem, he said was when we would be descending through the storm on our way back down.  The storm wasn't as strong as high as we were.  I was translating for the entire group which made me feel really proud of my Spanish skills.  The guide asked me where the hell I learned Spanish and I told him my students taught me.

After roasting a few marshmallows and taking refuge from the rain in one of the lava caves, we decided to head down.  We were trying to hurry up at this point as the storm was at its strongest.  The guide was bombing down the mountain as fast as he could.  I was right on his heals when we came to a ridge of broken volcanic rock that dropped off about 50 meters to another path.  He showed me a way to get down the mountain faster.  It was basically surfing down the mountain on the loose gravel.  It was a great time, but I was wearing shorts and rocks were hitting my legs and getting in my shoes.  The rocks were so hot that I had a couple blisters from the burns.

We basically ran down the mountain and took shelter in the tourist office waiting for our ride.  Pacaya, being ever changing, is a good place to visit a couple years later.

This morning I booked a mountain bike trip with a local expedition group.  The advertisement said, "For intermediate to advanced riders who want to bomb down the side of Agua Volcano.  I convinced myself I was intermediate and signed up.  It was an early morning after the long hike on Pacaya the night before.  We rode in the back of a pickup halfway up the mountain and got dropped off.  The climate was cool and the villagers were even cooler.  Mayan farmers and families going to the market frequented some of the trails.  We had to stop a few times to let horses go by, but it was a great cultural experience.  We went uphill for the first part and then started dropping down like crazy.  This was actually my first time ever on a mountain bike and I had no idea about the concept.  I was leaning forward going downhill and catching some serious speed and hitting rocks with my pedals because I didn't have the correct positioning.  The second downhill I clipped my pedal on a huge rock and tumbled over the handlebars.  Luckily, I was able to roll and there weren't any further rocks to hit.  I fell twice really hard and dug the pedals deep into my knees and shins both times.  It wasn't painful at all thought because of the tremendous amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins while flying down the mountain.

We had a great group of people on the trip.  I hung out with a couple guys who just graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison.  They were typical Wisconsin guys--really helpful and just genuinely nice people.  One of the Wisconsin guys had a really nasty fall because the two of them were just fearless.  They would just cruise down the mountain without tapping the breaks at all.  They had definitely done it before.  The three of us got flat tires and the guides were pretty annoyed that they had to change all three.  Mountain biking is a rush.  It is a great workout and definitely something I would love to get into.  I would probably like to start on something a little less technically challenging.  Here are some pictures from both events.  Nothing special because I didn't have much time to take pictures.

I am doing a series of blogs for Roots and Wings about my travels in Guatemala.  Here is Part One:

Sunday, June 5, 2011


In true Olanchan fashion, we arrived to an all day black out with water flooded all throughout the house from a colossal downpour.  There were cockroaches living visibly in the middle of our living room, not trying to keep it a secret anymore.  The trash hadn’t been taken out before the last person left so the whole house smelled of rotten onion and spoiled milk.  Still, I never felt so glad to be at home.  It amazes me how I could even consider Olancho home what with all the power outages, water shortages, guns, unpaved streets, and terrible culinary traditions.  I guess all I have to do is live somewhere for an extended amount of time and it becomes home.  Thank goodness for adaptability. 

The trip was expensive, really expensive, especially in Costa Rica.  The prices are not only American expensive; they are American vacation expensive which is outrageous for someone with my salary.  Luckily, I had been saving a little bit each month so that I could have a good month off.  It was the three S’s: Seafood, Surfing, and Sunbathing.  With a full belly and a little more vitamin D than I had before, I was ready to get back to Honduras, at least for a couple days. 

I’ve got a couple projects going: writing a curriculum, making posters to decorate my room, and of course keeping up with a couple blogs.  I plan to leave for a place I had thought I may never see again: Guatemala.  I’ll stop by Antigua for a couple days, maybe visit the volcanoes again and I’ll be off to Pasac to write about Roots and Wings International for their blog.  Hopefully, this will be more of a business trip and less of a vacation.  I was pretty sick of being idle for over a week.  Stay tuned for a wealth of posts in the coming weeks.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roots and Wings 8

Please check out my newest blog on Roots and Wings International about the new bridge to be built in Brazil that will displace countless indigenous from the Amazon.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Day of Tourism in Granada

Today was a day to give in to the tourist center and let them take control.  We went to the office and basically said, "We need something to do today."  Out came the suggestions.  The lake next to Granada has 365 small volcanic islands, and those islands are navigable by a small boat tour.  We decided to do the boat tour of a few of the islands in the morning and a night tour of the most dangerous volcano in Nicaragua in the afternoon.

It was such a beautiful day today.  It was hot, as is typical for Nicaragua, but there was a light breeze blowing off the lake which did well to cool us off as we walked around the city looking for something to do.  As soon as we booked the boat tour and the volcano tour we needed to go change and grab our cameras because the tour was leaving in 45 minutes.  When we got back to the office just 5 minutes before departure we met a couple that we would share the boat with.  Malcom and Anne are from England and really are the typical English couple.  They speak conservatively, walk conservatively, and by all means they just scream conservatism.  Although their mannerisms scream conservative, their lifestyle for the past 4 years has been anything but.  They have lived as vagabonds ever since the economy tanked when they were given a severance package of 3 years pay plus benefits to walk away.  They kindly said thank you and packed their bags.

Since then, they have traveled almost everywhere: Nepal, India, Thailand, South America, North America, and everywhere in between.  They are one of the couples that you couldn't imagine would have taken such a risk at such an age to travel to some of the most uncomfortable destinations in the world.  But they did, and here they were on our boat tour.

The boat tour was definitely worthwhile.  We stopped at a colonial fort with cannons to protect Granada from pirate attacks when the city was under siege.  We saw private islands complete with mansions and helicopter pads from the elite of Nicaragua, including the owner of the local rum company.  We also saw a mansion that belongs to an ex-navy seal, which I deduced was bought by one of the seals who fought in the revolution against the Sandinistas.  We went to monkey island, which is an island owned by a veterinarian who takes care of five little monkeys who swing from the trees and wait for tourists to throw treats from the boats.  The variety of birds we saw would please any ornithologist.  We saw the national bird of Nicaragua as well as parrots, egrets, and herons.  Our tour guide was just the right amount of funny, which is a breath of fresh air from the normal overwhelming demeanor of the typical tour guide.

After the boat tour we said goodbye to the British couple.  It is always hard to say goodbye to a fellow traveler.  There is always a hope in your heart that you will see them again, but your mind tells a different future.  I told them we would be in Antigua in about a week and they said maybe we would see them then.  Malcom said, "You never know, we met a guy in India a couple years ago and just ran into him the other month in South America."  I told him that is "needle in the haystack type of stuff" and he agreed.

The night tour is four hours and leaves at 4 pm.  After the morning island tour we only had about 2 hours to kill until our next adventure so we got some lunch and prepared ourselves for another excursion.  Another girl that went with us on the boat tour decided to follow us on the night tour, so it was like seeing an old friend when we met up again at the tourism office.  We picked up a German girl that looked like Heidi Klum, a Dutch girl, and three American guys from Chicago and we were on our way.

Our tour guide David was an absolute riot telling jokes and laughing the whole way up the mountain.  He was very informative and you could tell he has been doing the tour thing for a while.  I couldn't help but smile as the Dutch girl asked every possible question she could think of.  She sounded exactly like Goldmember from Austin powers three.  The American guys were three witty recent dental grads that did a week volunteering at a "dentists without borders" type of organization.  If you could pay attention, their jokes were laugh out loud funny.  It was difficult for the non-Americans to keep up, which made it even funnier.

I was almost on the floor laughing on two occasions, one of which was because of the tour guide and the other because of the Chicago gang.  We were in a cave formed by lava flows that were bustling with bats and our guide began to tell us the significance of the caves.  The volcanic caves and the crater itself was considered part of the underworld to the natives and if something went right or when something went wrong, they would sacrifice warriors, babies, and virgins to the gods.  David the guide kept saying virgins over and over which was already giving me a good laugh just by the way he was saying it and then an older lady of about 60 years asked the question, "I wonder how the virgins felt about that?"  David gave her a serious look and said, "There's only one way to find out."  I immediately started busting out in laughter because I couldn't figure out whether David was trying to imply that she was the virgin.  As soon as I started laughing David started laughing and he couldn't keep going with the tour until I separated myself from the group for a couple minutes.

After that incident calmed down we were getting ready to leave the ritual site in the great room of the cave when David said, "Do you guys want to turn off the flashlights to see how dark it really is in here?"  We all agreed that that would be fun.  When we turned off our lamps, it was pitch black, like we were blind.  After a few beats of silence in the dark one of the Chicago guys said, "you know, this cave is so much better with my pants off."  I lost it again.

The volcano we went to see is called Masaya, but the most active crater I believe is called Santiago.  A super-volcano erupted millions of years ago and imploded to form 5 different craters and two active volcanoes.  It is rated the most dangerous volcano in Nicaragua because within like 20 km in a circle of the complex lives over 2 million people.  We watched the sunset at the top of the volcano while poisonous gases made us loopy from the lack of oxygen.  If you just listen to the volcano without any background noise you can hear it breathing.  Pressurized air is pushed in and out of the magma chamber and it sounds like a breathing dragon.  No wonder the indigenous thought it was the underworld.

After a long day of being a tourist, I was glad to get back to the hotel and gather myself with a shower and a shave.  I will be going back to Honduras for a few days to prep for my return to Guatemala.  It will be nice to sleep "in my own bed" for a few days.