Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Home Sweet Home

"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it."- George Moore

Surprise! I am home! I’s a  little early, but I wanted to surprise my sister Erin on the race day of her first marathon! She did wonderful despite shedding some tears when I popped out at mile 20!
Erin's cheer squad
 My last week in Honduras was a blur. Despite my pleas for no goodbye parties, my last week was filled with 5 (yes 5) despedidas. Hondurans love their despedidas and no party is complete without some cake and pop and the immediate exit as soon as the food is consumed. Seriously, this happens at every single party…no joke.  Maria (the clinic cook and my Honduran mom), my roommates upstairs, the clinic staff, the kids in the library, and the clinic staff who lives at the apartment all threw separate parties for me. I have never had so many people do that many nice things for me! I was so thankful and was really sad to say goodbye to all those who I have come to befriend this year. The kids, the nurses, the clinic staff, and my roommates have all been a huge part of my life and it is weird not seeing them everyday.
With Maria at my first despedida (notice the cake and Pepsi)

The library kids surprised me! (Cake and Pepsi yet again!)

A few of the clinic staff, I will miss them!
         Being home has been great but a bit of an adjustment. I miss the excitement of everyday; the fact that even though I lived in the middle of nowhere, I never knew what would happen. Whether it was a drunk man chasing us through town, a pig on a leash, or a cultural difference that made me laugh, there was always the unexpected. I miss the sounds of Honduras, the dogs, the roosters, and the mototaxis whizzing through town. I miss the views and the smells and the food. However,  I could not be more grateful for this year and I know I have left a wiser person and I changed for the better by being touched by the many lives I came into contact with this year. I know it is not goodbye as I know one day I will be back! Besides with Facebook and technology, staying in touch is not that hard! (I have already gotten about ten calls from the kids in the library!). Yes sometimes it was hard being away from the amenities I am used to, working through the cultural differences, and adapting to a new way of life but it was completely worth it and I would have not changed this year and what I learned for anything. The one thing I will continually take away is those relationships, the friends I made (both North American and Honduran) and the people that I think of often as I begin this new chapter of my life in the United States. Because after all, without the people, my experience would not have been as wonderful as it was. And for that, I am thankful.

Thanks for following, for staying in touch, and for all your support. I could not have done without all of you! All my love!

~La Sopita

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Last Brigada

          Last week, I had the privilege of spending time with the University of Rochester in the San Jose community about two hours away from Santa Lucia. It was great to be back after 6 months, seeing familiar faces, enjoying the cool nights, and the beautiful green mountain views. The University of Rochester’s approach is different from many of our other brigades. While they no doubt see patients in the clinic, they also are more focused on public health initiatives as a means to prevent the problems rather than just finding a temporary solution.  I got to hike out to the high school to meet with the scholarship students, act as the main character in our skit about microfinance and management about small businesses (needless to say I will not be pursuing acting as a career) and help with a community health worker meeting as well as with water filter “charlas” or educational chats. All of these, paired with some interesting cases in the clinic, made for a great week! 
At one of the microfinance meetings, educating about the difference between personal and business money
 One of my favorite parts was the microfinance project. In November, we gave out 10 loans and all of the recipients (mostly women) paid them back with 2% interest and want more money to expand their businesses! These loans are a minimal amount (about 1,000 lempiras which is $50 USD) but with this little amount of money, these people are able to start a business and begin to save and get their family out of poverty.  Some of them started a bread making business, another opened a pulpería (a small store) from his house in a tiny community, and a few bring fruit to sell at the market in La Esperanza (the biggest city in Intíbuca which is about an hour and a half away). It was truly inspirational to see them creating a business plan, picking fair prices, and knowing that they had been successful. I was so glad to be a part of it! Rochester also does other projects such as latrines, cook stoves, and water filters. Check out their website for more information:

Teaching a local woman how to use a water filter
          While my time in this community with a great group of Americans (the two attending doctors are truly amazing people) and Hondurans was a great learning experience, I am also reminded of the reality of development work when there is not a constant overseer. Part of my job in helping with the scholarship program was visiting the students’ homes or places where they are staying. As most students live about a 3 hour walk from the high school, the scholarship program gives them extra money to pay for food and a room in the town of San Marcos where the high school is. Those students who live an hour and a half away receive less money as they can walk. We met with the students and asked where they lived and then went to visit the houses to make sure that they were living there and that everything was ok with the living conditions. However, of the 12 students who are studying at the high school, it turns out four of them were lying about where they were living or living with their families and not telling us so they could take the extra money. It is these moments, when I feel that it is much harder to make a difference as there are always unintended consequences but the more I think about it, the more I can’t blame them. I would probably do the same thing if I had the opportunity, even it meant walking 3 hours a day. Again, I am reminded that we are all human when it comes down to it! But despite this, these scholarship students are making it past sixth grade, something that only 7% of the people in their communities get the opportunity to do, so that is definitely something!
The scholarship students and parents (in front of Día de Las Madres poster, it is a HUGE deal here!)
 Sadly, this was my last brigade and as my time begins to wrap up here, I am extremely grateful for my experience. It has been a tremendous learning opportunity to be on the ground working for a non-profit and seeing the problems, the solutions, and all the little things that come up. It is amazing to think how far I have come from July in truly learning how things work, knowing Honduran culture, and in my Spanish abilities. I wouldn’t trade these past eleven months for anything! Hope all is well. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Things I Love About Honduras

The way people say “Adios” to you instead of “Hola” when you encounter them on the street. I mean makes more sense right? We are parting ways!

The rain. The sound of it on the tin roof and the way it downpours suddenly. Now that I have lived through dry season, I have come to appreciate the rain at a whole new level.

The views of  the mountains and the dirt roads (especially in the morning when the fog rolls in) when I’m running and walking.
With my roomie Flor
 The 80s music that they blast on the buses. They even have a Spanish version of Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On”. Awesome.

The way I can just “be” and be fine with it.

The sights of the moto-taxis zipping through town and the shouts of “Hola” or the beep of their horn that usually signify their arrival.
The mototaxis that are common sight here (and without a doubt they will head straight toward you until they veer off at the last second)

 Reading in the morning on the hammock before breakfast on our apartment balcony with a cup of tea/coffee and/or my trusty Nalgene!

The kids from the library. I love walking through town and hearing them yell my name from their houses. I’m already sad about saying bye to them.
With Seidy, Indira, and Luis in the library
 The carefreeness of riding in the back of the pick-up trucks with the views of the green mountains that go on forever.

Knowing that no matter what, I can always count that the doctors who live in the clinic will be watching TV in the comedor.

The fact that I can hang up my laundry in the sun and my sheets are dry in twenty minutes.

People watching in the plaza.

Maria. The cook here at the clinic. She is so motherly and caring and strong. I will miss her!

Maria’s daughters, Cindy, Jori, and Marisela and our weekly Sunday play dates. 
Marisela (aka Marisposa) , Cindy (Cindy Lou-Quien) and Jori (Eureka)

Photo shoot with the girls
I'm a little obsessed!
 Balleadas and pupusas, enough said. Really,  just the  Marias’ cooking in general!

The view from our apartment balcony. It’s a perfect view of the town and the mountains behind it.

Feeling part of something bigger and more meaningful than just myself. Working for a cause I believe in and despite the difficulties and the opposition and the pace of how things move here, realizing that it’s worth it.
The Chiquita truck in front of the clinic
 I head out to San Jose on Sunday to go on the University of Rochester brigade. I’m excited for the change of scenery, the cooler climate, and the peacefulness of this community. Thinking of you all! Happy May!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Some Words of Wendell Berry....

 Came across this reading the other day and just wanted to share it!

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”

Wendell Berry
The clouds over Santa Lucia last night. So beautiful!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Here's to the Women in My Vida!

Recently, I have found myself daydreaming about what my life would be like if I was born here. As a woman, I would probably already have a kid (or a few), I probably wouldn’t have gone to school past sixth grade and I would work hard, very hard. I would get up around 5 am to cook breakfast for my family, making tortillas over a wood-burning stove that makes the walls of my house black and most likely reflects the color of my lungs. I would then spend the day cleaning the house, cooking for my husband and kids, washing clothes, and going out to gather wood. All these tasks may sound simple but they require hours of hard labor. I maybe would get a little break in the afternoon but would continue cooking and cleaning until dinner. Then the next day, I would get up and do it all again and again and again.

            The women here in the campo are nothing short of inspiring. Their resilience and what they put up with on a daily basis is clearly something, yet with the attitude of “machismo”, their hard work is barely recognized and they do not have the same rights as men. For example, women barely leave their house except to run errands, get wood or go to church. It is often to the point where they won't go out in public without a companion or a reason as they feel uncomfortable. When I go to the central plaza in town, there are only men there, hanging out, catcalling, or playing cards. Rarely have I seen a woman there just to hang out and pass the time. Yet despite this, women are the backbone of this town and society. Without their hard work, families wouldn’t function. I know plenty of women whose husbands have left them either for another woman or for the States, yet they manage. I don’t know any single fathers here but the majority of women I know are doing it on their own without a father figure in the house. It is also always interesting to see women in churches as well because they are the ones who show up! As there is no priest in the Catholic Church here, a woman runs the celebration (since there is no priest, they don’t call it Mass)  and she even has special permission from the bishop to give out communion (which is rarely taken here). Indeed, women are the backbone here. You don’t see their hard work, yet you know they are the ones running the town, running the country and the more I observe of the rural lifestyle, the more I realize the education and the health of a woman is so imperative to the health of a community. The women here amaze me everyday. Every single one is strong and selfless and they put up with things that I never could. So here is to the mothers and the grandmothers and the daughters here and I can only hope that one day, things will get better for them.

One of the single moms I met in San Jose. Single motherhood is often the norm here.

The front of the clinic. The mural says "Working for the well-being of the community."
 Last week, I started a life skills class with the fourteen-year-old students from the high school. This class is called “How to Plan My Life” and is centered on themes such as goal setting, decision-making, self-discovery, and sex education. This is pretty innovative here as the students rarely get the opportunity to talk about their likes/dislikes, their futures, their questions about growing up, etc. Instead, they are forced to grow up at such a young age and their lives just kind of happen without them actually thinking about it or realizing that they have another option. The students I teach are the exception, they are continuing past sixth grade and typically aren’t from the outlying pueblos with limited opportunity. But they give me hope! Their sharpness, their laughter, and their willingness to share have truly impressed me and I’m sad that I have just started with this group of students when I am leaving so soon. I will just have to “aprovechar” or take advantage of their presence while I still can!

The local Santa Lucia scholarship students
 Yes it is true that many people here barely get by but things are improving and I just have to trust that they will continue to get better because change takes a long time and a lot of hands and even if it’s slow, it’s still something! The vibrancy of life here despite the circumstances is still something that I learn from each and every day.  Here’s to the women in my life, here in Honduras and back at home! My grandmas, my mom, my aunts, my sisters, my friends, I love you all!

Best wishes!

Friday, April 13, 2012

One Last Viaje

I spent the last ten days on a wonderful trip throughout Honduras and Guatemala and sadly this will probably be my last one! Here are some of the main happenings of our trip:

  • Going to the Mayan ruins of Copán. These are the southernmost of the Mayan empire and are almost to the border of Guatemala.  We went with our Director of Operations here who studied archeology in Mexico so he taught us a lot about the ancient civilization. There is a game they would play (a picture of the field is below) and the winners were sacrificed to the gods. It was an honor to die! Crazy. They believed in a trio of the underworld, earth, and a heaven but all were neither good nor bad. It’s always amazing to me how despite how different ancient civilizations are, there are repeatedly the same themes as well.  The collapse of the empire, which was once one of the most powerful in the region, is still unknown today.

Kate and Daniel in the field where the Mayans played the game that would determine their fates

At the Copán Ruins

  • We then went to the infamous large and sprawling Guatemala City. While known to be very dangerous, it also has a lot of history and sites to see! We went to one of the nicest malls I have even been to (culture shock!) and then took a tour of the city the next day. We got to go the National Bank and the Central Market where I had some delicious street food.

  • From there, it was back to Antigua (I was also here in December). Antigua is known to have one of the best Semana Santa celebrations in Central America. One night, we were out walking through all the street vendors and just stumbled on one of the Holy Week processions. According to a local, they had been walking for nine hours by the time we saw them! All of the locals dress in long robes and some carry the platform typically with a scene of Jesus and Mary and there is a marching band that typically follows. The music and the whole thing in general gave me goose bumps! It was really fascinating to see how they celebrate and we happened to run into three processions throughout our trip. On top of that, we got some cheap, good street food! Grilled corn on the cob and pupusas! Yum!

Enjoying street food at the Semana Santa celebration in Antigua

One of the Semana Santa processions in Antigua

  • After Antigua, Kate (my travel buddy and new volunteer here) and I decided to go onto Xela in order to conquer the highest mountain in Central America named Tajumulco (literally meaning “into the clouds” in the Mayan local language).  The bus ride there was probably the most crowded I have been on in Central America. We got on our chicken bus (basically pimped out school buses that are infamous in Guatemala) and it was packed! There were already three to every seat so Kate and I were forced to stand meaning we had to brace ourselves from not falling. It was a workout as I was using muscles I didn’t know I had to make sure I wouldn’t collapse on the people sitting in the seats by me. The ride was three hours and the bus drove extremely fast through mountain roads, people were getting sick and the breaks were smoking. At one point, we stopped while the driver ran to get a bucket of water to pour on the engine as the bus was overheating. Never have I been so glad to get to my destination!

  •  Upon arriving, we went to the Quetzaltrekkers office to get our gear and prepare for the trip. Quetzaltrekkers (a link is attached) is a company that guides hikes in Nicaragua and Guatemala and they donate all of their profits from their site in Guatemala to a school for street kids in Xela. The guides are all volunteers and live in a house near the office. Check out the link! Seeing as Kate and I literally had nothing that would be adequate for the trip, they let us rent everything (coats, sleeping bags, backpack) for free and we would definitely need all of it! 

Our eclectic group  on the mountain

  • The next day, we left at 6am and took a chicken bus about two hours to a little town where we ate a yummy breakfast at a comedor. We then continued on in another chicken bus to the town at the base of volcano and began our ascent. Our group consisted of a Hungarian mathematician who has been traveling the world for four years, a Norwegian poker player, our superhuman Guatemalan guide (seriously I don’t think he even sweats), our two Quetzaltrekkers guides, and Kate and I. Two of the other group members had to go back due to altitude sickness. Starting out was a little rough; I forgot how I always like the idea of backpacking but when you have a heavy backpack on your back while you’re climbing up a mountain…. well that’s a different story. We arrived at the base of the volcano in about four hours and had a delicious lunch with trail mix, hummus, corn and black bean salsa, spinach and bean salad and PB and J sandwiches. It was seriously all the food I miss from the US! After lunch, the temperature began to drop and drop fast! So we set up the tents and went in our warm sleeping bags and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to keep warm in our tents.

  • That night, sleep for me was almost nonexistent as every time I moved positions, I would get even colder and then would revert to my previous uncomfortable pose. I slept with a down jacket and a hat and gloves on.  Never have I been so ready to get out of bed at 4 am! We were woken up and told that the sky was clear for the sunrise, so we began the last hike up to the summit. And that was when I got altitude sick (I know putting my Colorado roots to shame!). It wasn’t too bad, but I was dizzy and very nauseous. Nonetheless, we made it to the top and set up our sleeping bags, snuggled in and watched the beautiful sunrise and I knew it was all worth it! It was breathtaking. I feel like I could see everything, with Mexico on one side and Guatemala on the other! There were also a ton of locals who hiked it (some barefoot naturally) as it is a very spiritual place and they did ceremonies for Holy Week. We made it back to camp to a breakfast of oatmeal and granola and descended the mountain, returned in chicken bus to Xela, and went to bed promptly at 8 pm. I was sore for a few days after but also extremely content!

The view of the sunrise

Kate and I attempting to snuggle in and stay warm on top of the mountain

The view looking towards Mexico, with the shadow of Tajumulco in the foreground

  •  The next day, we decided to go to Lake Atitlan but only went to one little town known as Pana, which was extremely touristy! Not really wanting to deal with the hoards of Semana Santa tourists, we walked around, got rained on, and decided to head back to Antigua so we could haul it back to Honduras.  Knowing it was a risk as it was Good Friday and the busiest day of the year in Antigua (you have to make reservations months in advance for a room), we decided to chance it anyway. As the bus for Honduras leaves at 4am, we figured we could just find a place to kill time until 4am if needed!

Relaxing  at the lake

  •  Right after arriving in Antigua and going into numerous hotels asking for rooms and being rejected by all, we were getting a little worried. So I said to Kate, “By the grace of God, let there be an available room.”, somewhat joking but seeing as it was Holy Week and all, I was hoping maybe the Big Man would be on our side. Sure enough right after I said that, we hear a Guatemalan across the street ask “Are you looking for a room?” We just looked at each other and started laughing but went over to talk to him and it turns out his friend was taking advantage of the loads of tourists in town and was renting out rooms in his little compound. We were a little skeptical but he seemed trustworthy and we were so grateful for a place to sleep that at that point, we didn’t care! So we got to spend the last night in Antigua, eating street food, seeing the “alfombras” which are carpets they make on the cobblestone streets from sand or sawdust in beautiful colors, and we got to see one more procession. Things seriously could not have worked out better and I just couldn’t stop smiling and laughing the whole night.

One of the many carpets on the streets for Semana Santa
  • We left at 4am the next day and spent the next two days on buses to get back to the frontera. We are now home safe and sound, the University of Cincinnati Family Medicine brigade is here, and I am trying to enjoy every minute of what little I have left (less than two months!) as I know it will fly by!

·    One last thing, just a little plug, but Shoulder to Shoulder was featured on this Foundation Beyond Belief website, check it out!

Miss you all! Hope this finds you well! Stay in touch!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Just a Photo? Think Again.

Despite having been here for 9 months, I am still surprised everyday at the little cultural differences that pop up. So let me just tell you this little story. Hondurans hate and I mean hate their photos being taken (at least the majority of the employees in the clinic). A lot of the people here are very shy and have what we refer to here as “pena”, or are embarrassed a lot. So yesterday, I had to take all the employees’ photos for an identification card for Shoulder to Shoulder. I made an announcement at a clinic wide meeting last Friday saying that this Tuesday was “Photo Day” and that everyone should come to work well-groomed to take a picture (even though they already all do that on a daily basis). I thought that telling everyone a few days in advance would alleviate some of their embarrassment, allow them to prepare and primp, etc.…. boy was I wrong! I had people hiding from me, people who refused to take the photos when others were watching, and people who made me redo it 4 or 5 times even though this will just be a little picture on a card. What should have taken an hour at most ended up taking the entire day, as I would have to ask multiple times/ even beg for people to take a photo. Now I know no one likes his or her individual photo taken, but doing it in Honduras takes this dislike to a whole other level. What I don’t understand is that the doctors in the clinics are continuously taking photos on their phones and modeling for each other to post on Facebook, hmmmm the irony of it all! But again, I am reminded that nothing is quite as easy as it seems! Sometimes all I can do is smile and laugh even though I don’t understand. Happy Holy Week! I will write after my little vacay. :-)
A little pic from a recent hike in Santa Lucia, hoping this will all be green soon!