Sunday, May 30, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Before I became a Peace Corps volunteer I worked for a non-profit organization called RSVP of Greater Cleveland n.k.a. Greater Cleveland Volunteers. This name change and the generousity of the Executive Director were the inspiration for a community clean-up day which we recently held. You see, the organization had all of these T-shirts with the old name and logo and where I live there tends to be an overabundance of people lacking good clothes. When the packages arrived with the brightly colored shirts I knew I wanted to give them away, but not just randomly. Honduras, and other developing countries I suspect, have a real problem with garbage. For most there is no magic fairy called the garbage truck that swoops onto the tree lawn at night to wisk away remains or, more importantly, the recycleables. For this reason people get very creative with the disposal of their garbage. The public green space and local river happen to be favorite deposit spots in my town. I pulled together lots of people to help; the local high school, my English classes, the volunteer firefighters, Standard Fruit Company (Dole) and a church group from Canada. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We hauled away about 1,500 pounds of garbage, and that was only the tip of the iceberg. As a reward I handed out the RSVP T-shirts as well as reusable grocery bags donated by folks in Haliburton, Canada to all who participated. The local news interviewed me and asked me why we were doing this because tomorrow people are going to continue throwing garbage where we had just picked it up. With nothing clever to say, I simply said this, "If they see people that don't even live in this country care so much about it, maybe they will feel embarassed the next time they go to do it again, but if not, we will continue caring in the hopes that maybe one day it will resonate."
After all the great stuff going down in my life over the past month, you wouldn't think it could get any better, and then, my best friend comes to visit and trumps every bit of it! My very best friend Nicole and her amazing husband Sanjay told me they wanted to visit and wanted a feel true feel for what it's like to live my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. I try so hard through this blog, through letters and phone calls to accurately describe my life here but it is incredibly hard to bring to life the sights, smells and feelings that go along with that, so you can imagine my delight at the prospect of truly showing my dear friends what my life has become. When they first told me they would only be here 5 days, 1 and half of which were travel I was sure we couldn't accomplish as much as we wanted to between visiting the orphanage (one of their few requests), buying food to distribute and showing them my projects and my everyday activities. Somehow the days grew longer and allowed us to do it all. They had raised quite a bit of money stateside to bring down for the purpose of buying food for those who need it most. You may remember several entries from my blog about Grandma's Kids. To say they need it is a true understatement! With the money contributed we were able to pass out rice, beans, eggs, flour, powdered milk, juice, cereal, plantains, chickens, cans of vegetables, parasite medicine and much more. My favorite memory of the trip was waking up the day after making a food delivery to Grandma's house and thinking about the full breakfast that was filling their tummies and that moment. In addition, they brought suitcases full of stuff to give away. Hats, sidewalk chalk, flashcards, candles, clothes, vitamins, jump ropes, workbooks and so much more. Lots of these items were given away at the 2 orphanages we visited. Thank you so much to all of those who contributed, prayed and had anything to do with Nicole and Sanjay's successfull trip to Honduras.
Friday, March 12, 2010
The sugary pop and candy continues to exist, no matter how much floride you give them. As you can see, the culture here as far as dental hygiene goes leaves much to be desired, leaving our Canadian friends with a tough battle. I commend them for tackling this issue with such gusto and I hope I can assist the team again in the future.
The library is done! We had the inauguration recently and lots of students attended as well as the core group if people who had their hand in the project (from left to right, Iris (Honduran community member who helps with Anne´s projects), Oscar Funez, high school teacher and small business owner, some crazy American girl looking to make a difference, the ex-mayor Rene Lozano, and the infamous Anne Fowler. Thanks to Ames, Iowa Rotary Club for making it happen. The kids are thrilled to have computers with internet, a projector and a ton of books.
Monday, February 1, 2010
A million years ago I set out to a country in Central America called Honduras. Where is that I wondered? What will it be like? What will the people there be like and how will they receive me? Most importantly, what can I bring to the people to make their lives a little better, a little easier? Nearly 19 months later I am a little closer to answering those questions.
The first 3 months or so I observed, as I continue to do, but these first months were dedicated solely to soaking in my new surroundings. I walked to and from my place of work, the municipality, every day. Along the way I began to develop relationships with people; Letti, the lady who walks around town twice a week picking up plastic bottles to recycle, Oscar, the owner of the local grocery store, Eva, the 88 year old lady who loves talking to Gringos, Marvin, the 12 year old boy being raised by his grandparents and Aide, the entrepreneur who sells baleadas and fresh squeezed juice from a cart that she pushes around town. Being a relationship person, this task came very easily to me. In doing so I learned more about Honduras than any book could have ever taught me. Soon came a time when it was rare for me to walk down the street without hearing my name, a true feeling of belonging.
Those relationships allowed me to start my “real work” here, not to downplay my role as a community member, as cultural exchange is practically half of my job here. The project I was selected to partake in was Municipal Development, however, after sitting in the mayor’s office for 5 months observing and having very little luck with someone actually including me in any projects, I began to explore other options for work. Along with all of the locals whom with I had developed relationships, there are a handful of North Americans living here and doing various types of projects for the community. Scott and Susan are two of those people and they run a mission house which is equipped with a classroom. This is where my first, and longest standing project began, English classes. Many Peace Corps volunteers come into this with a strong aversion to this type of project, questioning its sustainability and real value for nationals. At this point, I wasn’t doing much of anything else, and it’s one of the requests my community had, so I dove in. I have been holding English class all day on Saturdays ever since, basic instruction in the morning and intermediate in the afternoons. Are my students getting anything out of it? Absolutely. Is that something the ability to communicate in English? For a handful, yes. As for the others, it is a safe, fun place to go every Saturday and hang out with their friends. I am at peace with this, but it took me a long time to be Ok with the fact that all of my students are not going to be fluent when my time comes to leave. If I have inspired one kid to continue and work hard, or one adult to pursue further classes, it’s valuable and worth my time, hands down. Not to mention the relationships I have built with my students, these days I cannot walk down the street without some kid yelling out, “Bye teacher”.
Aside from my partners at the mayor’s office, I was also assigned with work with Anne, a Canadian woman who spends half of the year in Toronto and half of the year here. The programs she has developed are mostly in the schools and for children. They are presentations regarding health issues, mostly dental care. We take four puppets and perform skits to teach kids about brushing, going to the dentist, how to eat a little better, washing hands, and throwing garbage where it belongs. Along with those skits we hand out toothbrushes, give them a fluoride treatment and check their vision. Last year after visiting about 5 schools I organized a bus to take all of the kids that had major vision problems to an eye clinic about 3 hours away to have them treated. Several of them received glasses and 2 kids received surgery they needed to correct a crossed eye. It’s like the story of the kid on the beach with a million starfish washed up on the shore and he is throwing them back, one by one. An old man stumbles upon him and asks, “Is that really going to make a difference, there are so many?” to which the boy picks up a starfish, throws it into the ocean and replies, “For that one it did.”
At this point I had still not given up on the municipality. I still went, and still go to this day, to see if there’s a fit for me there. A new project came to the municipality which involved a large sum of money coming in from the European Union for a project to protect the border of a river in town, as well as other environmental projects. Again, as before, I went to the municipality every day for 2 months, going to meetings, gaining knowledge on what the projects entailed. One part of the project being touted was to bring some type of garbage collection to my community, something I had been interested in from the start. Every day I was told, don’t worry, we are going to work on this, blah blah blah. A year later nothing has been done and I have been told by more than one person that the money has been “lost”. The fact of the matter is, most places in the states don’t really use volunteers efficiently, so in a developing country this inability is exponential. Between the mismanagement of government offices that is prominent in all municipalities in the country and my undefined role, working for the municipality as originally intended is not exactly working out. Though not all is lost; I have created relationships with the people there and have come to know the role they play in the community. It ends up I am a pretty good liason when it comes to showing community members where they can seek resources for myriad reasons.
Venturing outside of our intended roles is commonplace for Peace Corps volunteers. Rolling with the punches and going with the flow have become my way of life. Being content with affecting one person with the possibility of never even knowing that affect is reality for me; one that I still struggle with, but I’m getting better!.
Looking ahead while my optimism comes and goes, my plan is to continue with my English classes (we are on week 4 of the 3rd 12 week session!), working with Anne (we will be hosting a dental team for the second year who will clean about 300 kids’ teach and provide further care for those most in need) and open the library for the high school which we worked with a rotary club in Ames, Iowa to build. My newest interest is with a group of all volunteer firefighters who are in the process of building a fire station which will also serve as an ambulance service for the community. If anyone happens to know of an organization that might be willing to work with us on this project I would love to contact them. This is really the first project I have felt really encouraged about. Everyone in this group is a volunteer. They are building the station from the ground up on donations they seek. Once the building is established, they will continue to volunteer their time as firefighters and ambulance drivers. In addition, this is my favorite part, they are a group of community volunteers interested in educating the youth on health and environment issues. They have asked to be involved in any of my projects for which I need their help, regardless of my involvement with them. This is so encouraging to me, having volunteered most of my adult life. The concept just doesn’t exist here; it’s more of a “what do I get out of the deal?” attitude. Volunteers helping volunteers, I like the sound of that!
Here´s my intermediate English class. For most of my students this is their 3rd 12 week course! The cheeseball smiling and not taking her quiz like she´s supposed to be doing is Isabel, my best student and dear friend.
These beautiful ladies are all part of a women´s bible study I have been attending on and off since I got here. This was our Christmas luncheon where we had White Elephant gift exchange. I wish I would have gotten the granny panties with pockets!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Now I am no beekeeper, obviously, but these suckers had to have been there for a while to be this far along on a hive. It was so beautiful and intricate, truly a work of art. So now what do we do? It´s not like I was with a professional, I mean this kid was just winging it. And I of course, hav no clue what to do because in my old life I had the Marks of the world to assist me with these types of home invasion issues. So he takes his machete and slices the cones one by one and dumps them into a cardboard box to be burned. Ok, I can live with that. As the day came to a close I was satisfied with our work, until I heard the faint familiar buzz again. I think it may have been even lounder than before. I barely slept imagining the revolt of angry bees swarming my head in the middle of the night. The next day we not only smoked them out, but literally we smoked me out of my house. They had three huge piles of dry leaves and things going and I have never seen more bees come out of a roof in my life. Ok, so I had never seen bees come out of a roof, but I was a ton! It´s going to take a mighty bottle of Frebreeze to regain some normal scent to my belongings. So I called Susie and told her that I had good news and I had bad news. The good news was, they bees are all gone, I am certain of it. And the bad news she asked? They have already renested in the neighbors tree! Oh well she said, not our problem anymore!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Politically things are calm as candidates campaign for the upcoming election. The President who was removed by the military and Congress has not been put back into office as an agreement between himself and the newly appointed President was never reached. Schools have been closed more than a month early and, because of the disruptions with teachers striking, the government has decided that every child will pass on to the next grade regardless of their performance. My hope is that a new President will be elected in November, take office in January and the strikes and closed schools will be less frequent. Everything else aside, this is my main concern. Why would a government want their people to remain uneducated? Jarring.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Disclaimer: Today is probably not the best of days for me to be writing, but I decided to forge on and allow a brief glimpse into that other side of life for a Peace Corps volunteer that is oh so hard to explain, albeit equally as important as the laughing, getting suntanned, swinging in hammocks all day side. After an amazing two week trip back home to Ohio I find myself in a haze. They tell you the "what the heck am I doing here" moments will come and go, but having them at a time when I could still smell my mom's perfume on my shirt, still see my dad's great big smile chuckling at me, still feel the soft skin of my best friend's son on my shoulder, and still hear my niece and nephew laughing at nothing I have to wonder if I can shake this one.
Think positive, think positive. Ok, here it goes, but I can pretty much guarantee this is going to take a turn into that indescribable land of clutter brain that is the Peace Corps life. Please bear with me. My trip home, ahh, my trip home. From the moment I left my little town until the moment I landed back 3 pounds heavier from the all the Reese's Cups I smuggled everything was bliss. My best friend with her beautiful one year old son who I had never met along with my mother and brothers met me at the airport and there it is was, the life I had left behind. I found it just as I had left it (other than the few extra human beings who had arrived into the world since I left). Everything just picked up where I had left it. I kid you not, just about every single person I spent time with said "It feels like you never left". I'm not sure what I was expecting. The horror stories of volunteers going home and feeling abandoned and like a freakish outsider danced in the back of my head during my first year. What if we don't have anything to talk about anymore? What if I feel differently about something that was commonplace for me before? What if the people I love the most don't feel like they know who I am anymore? Nonsense I say, nonsense. The only problem I had adjusting to my old life was not having enough time, and even that I managed like any red blooded American, with lots of Starbucks. My voice literally went out on me from spreading my stories and experiences. This was the only hint that I had gone anywhere. I never tired of all of the open arms and hearts from people at my Dad's doctors' offices, to all of the wonderful people at Heinen's and my dear friends from Greater Cleveland Volunteers who follow my life and have genuine concern and interest. I never really knew life was that good until I stepped away from it for a minute and came back. With that, I now must go back from where I came, for another year.
My heart is not heavy from this, on the contrary, I feel more light and free here than anywhere in the world. Dun, dun, dunnnnn. Enter the huge "but" you all knew was coming. With the pleasant northeast breeze of Ohio nipping my back I landed, as did the drops of sweat to the ground from my brow. Seriously, I am melting. So I call the hotel (and by hotel I mean a room in someone's house) to pick me up. No he says, we don't pick up from the airport. Fine, I will just have a taxi take me from here, I say. Wait he says, are you a Peace Corps volunteer? Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am. He says, I will come get you for $10, those guys will rip you off big time. Now to the average optimist this seems like a great turn out, right? Well it is, for Honduras. In my own country I would have friends to come get me, or a car to drive freely, or know the public transportation system well enough to get myself wherever I needed to go, at my own control. In the states $10 is lunch at Panera, here it is about 4% of my monthly income. Ahh, this relativity thing is really a mind boggler.
At least I had a not so warm welcoming from an unexpected friend when I returned, at my very own house in fact. My friend Oscar and I entered my house and I went straight to the kitchen to put some food away. Jessica, come here my friend said. Hang on, I am doing something I reply. No, Jessica, seriously, come here he says. Writhing in the door jam was a creamy yellow slithering snake which had apparently followed our steps into my house and when the door shut an ear piercing crunch led Oscar's eyes to the door jam, where he introduced me to our newest houseguest. In typical girl fashion first I shrieked, then I jumped up and down on each foot like I was playing a terrifying game of hopscotch, then I ran. My very manly Honduran friend grabbed a large rock, which normally serves as a door stop and, in a very "me protect Jane" fashion started taking stabs at the cold blooded creature's head. Just as he landed a good blast a scorpion ran across my path as if to say "Ha ha, you can never get us all!". Another shriek and hoppity skip later both invaders were slain. Funny now? Sure. Just oh so far away from another life.
The pressure had been building, in my chest that is. Literally as soon as I landed in Honduras, I wrote it off as the immense climate change. That and the weight of my own expectations suffocating me. Oh, and the anxiety from the thought of not having another Iced Carmel Macciato for another year. Worse and worse it got. Before I knew it I was hacking up colors of the rainbow one should never see in phlem. This brings me to a cultural breakthrough as well as an upper resipratory infection diagnosis. It is very customary here to hauk up whatever goop that ails you from within and spit. Out a car window, out your front door, on the floor of the municipality, wherever nature calls. Eeww! Disgusting! How could anyone? Well, they can and should, I now feel their pain. I don't know if it's the dust, the burning garbage or the exhaust that leaves you hacking in the busses path, but it is real and necessary. If there were a group on Facebook I would be a fan, I Hauk Loogies! Who am I kidding, I am sure there is one. Oh, and by the way, I had to Google both "hauk" and "loogies" for the correct spelling. That brought up some interesting results.
Yes, these experiences give me great fodder for my new found vehicle of expression, but under the humor there is confusion. How is it that this experience feels like the most wonderful love I have ever experienced while all the while stitches of the most intense loneliness on the planet are sewn throughout? I am struggling. Maybe the reason I have come here was simply to give me the courage to utter those three little words. I could never muster the strength before now.