Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to wish a Happy New Year to everyone! I am currently at home and heading back to Honduras in a week. 2011 brought about about many changes and it's crazy to think about how much can happen in a year but also how fast it passes! Just wanted to put up a few pictures from my time in Honduras (since I have unlimited bandwidth in the US!) It's the little things!
Back in July on the sunrise hike

The view from our apartment during rainy season

The Amys and I workin' hard in our matching Shoulder to Shoulder polos

Coffee beans drying out in the sun in San Jose

In Esquipillas, Guatemala, home of the Black Christ

Our Shoulder to Shoulder soccer team, we didn't get creamed too bad (I think the other Honduran team took it easy on us though!)

End of the year Dia de Juegos aka Field Day for the Shoulder to Shoulder employees (in front of the Concepción clinic)

 Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2012! Stay in touch!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love December and Christmastime! While it doesn’t feel like Christmas with the warmth here, there are still little reminders in the various Christmas trees scattered throughout town, the December fairs in two of the local towns, and our staff Christmas party coming up! I can’t believe I will be home in a week; time has absolutely flown by. We had a great trip throughout Guatemala last week (and successfully renewed our visas!)…a double whammy! Guatemala is a beautiful country and there are still so many parts of it I want to see, but thankfully we already have plans to make it back there in the spring.
First, we went to Pulhapanzak Falls in Honduras. This entailed having a guide lead us to the waterfall by means of jumping over cliffs in the river until we went under the waterfall and up through a cave. It was definitely a little scary at times as you couldn’t see or breathe but worth every minute!
Amy, Amy and I about to go into the waterfall
             Thanksgiving Day took us to a small little town in Honduras where my travel buddy Peter and I enjoyed a Central American style Thanksgiving dinner of empanadas and horchata at a little stand right off the highway.
Our next stop was Antigua, the language school capital of Guatemala. Antigua was beautiful, clean, and the most touristy town I have been to in Central America so far.  The cobble stone streets and colonial architecture made me feel like I was in Europe and we met a lot of Europeans and heard more English than Spanish…something I’m not used to! The Mayan culture is also very apparent in Antigua and there were many women with brightly colored garb selling their textiles on the streets and in the markets.
A street of Antigua with the volcano in the background
 From Antigua, Peter and I took a night bus up north to Flores and the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The night bus was first class, complete with leather reclining seats, and a little snack pack of juice and crackers. It was definitely the nicest bus I’ve been on here!
We arrived in Flores, a small little island on Lake Peten Itza, at 6 am. You can walk all around the island in about 10 minutes and I loved the small town feel and the architectural style of the tin roofs and wood houses.
From there, we took a bus to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.  Tikal was a Mayan metropolis and was once home to 10,000 people. We wandered around the temples and the sacrificial altars under a jungle canopy of monkeys swinging through the trees. It was beautiful with all the lush vegetation and the moss growing on the temples and was definitely worth the ten-hour trip!
The view of Tikal pushing through the jungle canopy from the highest temple
One of the many temples in Tikal
 Our last stop was to a little town on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Only accessible by small boat or “lancha”, we took the two-hour ride on a river, passing many natives in their wooden canoes, an old castle, wooden houses on stilts, and many yachts. Livingston is a town different from the rest of Guatemala, as it is known for its Garifuna culture. The Garifuna are descendents of African slaves who were deported to the northern coast of Honduras and to the Caribbean coast of Guatemala when the British defeated them. Livingston was a quirky little place and definitely has more African influence than I have seen anywhere else in Central America.
My travel buddy Peter and I
 Overall, our trip to Guatemala was a perfect mix of outdoor adventure, beautiful scenery, relaxing, and experiencing a new culture. I hope we make it back there in the spring!
This week I am wrapping up stuff around the clinic here and preparing for our “Día de Juegos” aka “Field Day” and staff Christmas party!  It should be a good way to wrap up the first half of my time here and while I am a little sad to leave for a few weeks, I am so excited to see family and friends and be home for the most wonderful time of the year! I hope this finds you all well during the holiday season and if anyone is around Colorado in the next few weeks, I would love to see you!

Monday, November 21, 2011

No Easy Answers

“¡Regalame uno!” aka “Give me one!”
      In my last week spent in the little community of Agua Salada, I got asked for everything from my watch to money to soccer cleats. Hearing this phrase continually, I couldn’t help but think about the way the culture has changed here. The members of the University of Wyoming brigade told me that in their five years of visiting the same community, the way the locals approach them has shifted. Brigades come to this little community, set up a health clinic in a church for a week and typically see over one hundred patients a day and pass out free toothbrushes, shampoo, lotion, toys, and other various objects.  They are no doubt helping the community and developing relationships there but through this aid, we have in a way trained them to rely on outside influence rather than change from within. I am reminded once again that development work is hard. We need a sustainable solution instead of a band-aid. Shoulder to Shoulder has definitely done a great job of this in our two main clinics where the idea is that we work side by side with locals and don’t just give out services and free stuff but work as a partnership.  
Some local kids at an English class offered by the brigade
However, in the smaller communities where we come and provide free medical care and give free things, it gets a little trickier. If the gringos come to town, give out services for a week and then leave, it is no wonder that the locals ask for things. It is what they are used to and we can’t blame them. I look at the influence of development here; the endless Coca-Cola signs, the millions bags of chips in the corner stores, the Coke bottles all around, the continual TV watching now made possible by electricity, and I wonder..... To me, what this has produced is more pollution, less time for relationships, and more stuff clouding the lives of the people here. We want to make their lives better and healthier by putting our United States influence in the mix, but the truth is that if we were to bring every country to the economic status of the United States, we would not be able to sustain ourselves.  So what’s the answer? As I am approaching five months here, these are the bigger questions I struggle with. We no doubt need to improve the status of living here, but there are also many beautiful things that I have learned from this way of life. The systems here are different and can be unjust but this doesn’t necessarily mean our system is better. As I recognize this and see our influence and how it affects life here, I realize that is a lot more complicated than it seems.
With some local girls at a home visit
Patients waiting outside the church clinic
 Undoubtedly, I am continually challenged and inspired everyday. My time with the University of Wyoming was a great reminder that what I will take away is not necessarily the work (although I am really enjoying this too) but the relationships I am building. I got to help translate and observe in the medical clinic and was able to see some interesting cases. The doctors and nurses pulled a lot of wax, dirt, and larvae eggs out of ears (which I enjoyed seeing a lot…maybe a little too much!). We did a few home visits and one memorable one was to a woman named Maria’s house. She was the cutest eighty-four year old woman and was so full of life and affection! Her house is on top of hill, you have to walk up steep mountain hills with lots of big rocks and she has been doing this for sixty years!  I went with two family medicine residents and they injected her knees (which clearly hurt for a reason!) and her shoulder. She told us about her husband who had lived to be ninety-four years old. She was so thankful for everything we brought her and I’m so excited to visit her again in March when the other group from University of Wyoming comes back. It is these little moments that reaffirm why I am here and make it all worth it!
With Maria at her house in Agua Salada (I loved all her necklaces!)
 I am finally “home” in Santa Lucia and it is so nice to see all the people I have been away from for over a month. However, I leave tomorrow on my “mandatory vacation” to renew my visa (hey, I’m not complainin’). We are probably going to take the ferry north to Belize and then go down through Guatemala but are currently playing it by ear. It should be a great trip! I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be grateful for and am so thankful for everyone in my life. I am thinking of you and missing you all!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bucket Showers, Clorox in My Nalgene, Beautiful Sunsets = Time Passing By in the Blink of An Eye

Forgive me for not writing for so long! By the time I realized it was October, it was gone! Hmmmm…where to start?
In Mid-October, it rained and it rained a lot. We’re talking the whole south of Honduras in a state of emergency, landslides galore, trees falling down on the road, and not seeing the sun for almost two weeks. Life here kind of stopped, the buses weren’t running, the power went out frequently, and school was canceled since the roads were muddy and some parts were submerged in water so they were too dangerous to cross. And then what happened? It stopped. The sun came out, the roads dried up and it hasn’t rained in this region of Honduras since and it most likely won’t rain until May. How’s that for an abrupt change?  I already miss the rain and wearing my sweater, not a good sign for the next 6 months!
On October 20th, we picked up the University of Rochester at the airport and we rode in trucks (still unable to brave the roads in a bus) to a community called San Jose, which is located about two hours away from where I stay in Santa Lucia. This little community is tucked away in the mountains and was my home for the past two weeks.  We stayed in a house specifically built by the University of Rochester for a future volunteer and did not have electricity and running water but it was wonderful (hence the title of bucket showers and Clorox in our drinking water for extra measure)! Everyday started around 7:30 for breakfast and then we hiked to schools to do a project with the kids, went to houses to see patients (we helped with a machete wound and ankle injection), and the residents also stayed in the clinic to attend patients. It was a great learning experience to see the relationships that the University of Rochester has built with the community as they have been coming there twice a year for eight years.  They do microfinance projects (we met with a few women who have started fruit selling businesses and paid back their loans in full with interest!), build latrines, build cook stoves with chimneys to reduce the rate of respiratory diseases, and have recently started with fish farms as a means to support the families who own the farms and the idea is to eventually sell the fish for profit. The community is much poorer than the one I live in Santa Lucia. No one has electricity, most homes are made of wood with dirt floors, and there are few roads, which limits access to school and other amenities. It was great to be stationed right in the community for two weeks getting to know the families, loving the technology free life, and hiking around on beautiful mountain trails. I am truly so lucky to get to be meeting all of these dedicated and idealistic people. The family medicine residents were so convincing…they almost convinced me to be a doctor…almost that is. 

The San Jose scholarship students and their parents

The students at the local elementary school lined up to sing the Honduran National Anthem before class
 Several of the more notable incidents that happened during my time in San Jose were (almost) seeing a birth and the Day of the Dead. The night before Halloween, I was standing out on the road talking on the phone to my sister Erin, when I saw a bunch of lights approaching in the distance. Thinking it was a custom for Day of the Dead, I kept talking. As they approached, I realized they were carrying someone in a hammock and were calling for a doctor. It turns out, they walked four hours up steep mountain hills with a woman who was in labor. About twenty people accompanied her to the clinic and then turned around to make the four-hour trek back. Her family, a midwife, and a few others stayed and the residents broke her water and coached her through her contractions. I thought I would be able to see my first live birth but unfortunately as her contractions were too far apart after two hours, we called a truck to take her to the nearest hospital in La Esperanza about two hours away. We put a mattress in the back of a truck and she rode on the bumpy roads with a midwife, talk about a way to make the baby come sooner! We saw her two days later and her and her baby were healthy and doing well!
The sunset with the volunteer house we stayed at in the foreground
Working hard (or hardly workin') at the pharmacy
Hiking in the mountains to one of the school visits
Also, another interesting cultural tradition I witnessed was Day of the Dead. November 2nd here is the day to celebrate deceased loved ones. In Honduras, this celebration lasts nine days. All of the families get together to walk to the cemetery and they bring gifts and the favorite food of their deceased family members to the cemetery to remember and celebrate their lives. The cemeteries here are very colorful and full of fake flowers and this tradition was very interesting to observe. It’s a great way for the whole community to unite and they all walked the multiple miles to the cemetery together, remembering those who have passed away, something I think we don’t do enough of in our busy lives. Overall though, it was wonderful being nestled in a little community getting to know its people, its problems, and its customs and I was sad to see the University of Rochester brigade leave!
The University of Rochester grupo in front of the clinic in San Jose
 After they left, I got to spend a few days in the city and then went to the airport to pick up the Montana State University brigade. There are twelve undergraduate nursing students and some faculty and we are staying at the clinic about an hour away from my home base. So far we have done a lot of home visits and given educational talks about multiple health issues. This weekend I will go to another community about an hour away with the University of Wyoming and will be with them until November 20th. Clearly, life here is busy and flying by a little faster than I would like it to but I am loving it and know I am thinking of you all!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Call Me....Profe Maggie?

I guess you could say I’m following in my parent’s footsteps as I signed a contract back in August to teach English to the fourth graders once a week. Since I signed this contract, I have taught class once. Yep, that’s how many times they have had actual class on a Friday since the beginning of September.  Whether it’s for teacher meetings, holidays, or other random reasons, school here is always canceled. I truly love teaching the kids though (it’s yet another test of my patience) and their teacher Profe Rene also does a lot of work with Shoulder to Shoulder and he has been a great role model for me here. He lives right by the clinic and has named this part of town “Barrio Cincinnati” since there are so many gringos (and a lot from Ohio) coming all the time. 
A group of sixth graders has also asked me to teach them English a couple of times a week which I love. It’s so nice to have a small group and get to know the students one on one. They usually come find me at the clinic on the afternoons when we don’t have any library activities wanting to play soccer; I can never say no!
My little sixth grade English group making cake at the clinic
Seeing as the weekends are pretty slow here, we usually come up with random things to do. Last weekend we had a Pirate Party. For this party, we made eye patches and gave pirate names to everyone, played games with pirate themes, and sent  Amy (another volunteer here) on a treasure hunt for her cake. There is a website called PirateCon (meaning Pirate Convention) and if you register your fiesta, then it shows on the website. Seeing that Honduras has never had an official Pirate Con, we decided to be the first! 
Shiver me timbers...the lassies and our attempt at being pirates

Both Amys and I getting ready to walk the plank

As a means to get out into the community, I have been going to a Bible study through the Catholic Church on Tuesday nights with my roommate Amy. Surprisingly this community has a higher percentage of Evangelicals than Catholics, which is very atypical of Latin America. The  Catholic Church can’t afford a priest, so they only have real mass about once a month but  the people here have taken initiative and run prayer groups by neighborhoods and do a Celebration of the Word on Sundays in place of mass. It has been a good reminder about the bigger picture for me and the last few themes of the group meetings have been about jealousy and communication in marriage, a theme I can’t really contribute to! However, it has been interesting seeing the problems, concerns and beliefs that affect the people in Santa Lucia. Last night, I was called on when I wasn’t paying attention so I’m sure I spit out something incoherent in Spanish….whoops. We always get food though, so I’ve learned to eat a smaller dinner on Tuesday nights as it rude here to deny food especially in a home. Last night we had tamales and coffee…yum!
One thing that constantly frustrates me here is the lack of concern about the environment. People here throw their trash on the ground or out the window all the time. There is trash everywhere. I know it is lack of knowledge about the environment and also lack of infrastructure for a proper trash disposal system but this is  one thing I cannot get used to. We also don’t recycle here and a little piece of me dies inside every time I see a plastic bottle in the trash or on the road. People here drink a lot of pop too so it is definitely a huge problem! The other clinic has started recycling and composting though so I am hoping that we can start this in Santa Lucia too. One of the ways people get rid of their trash is by burning it. The rate of respiratory disease here is very high and I’m sure part of it is due to this and also to the wood stoves that many women use in their homes. Nonetheless, it is just one more thing I can be thankful for. In the United States, we never realize how lucky we are to have proper infrastructure like a good trash disposal system, an education system where teachers actually get paid consistently for their job, and a water treatment system where we never have to worry about the sanitation of our drinking water. This has definitely put a lot in perspective for me! Thinking of everyone at home and in their respective countries! Paz!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reality Check

“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Mother Theresa

 I live like a king here. I have filtered water, three meals a day, tile floor in my room, and my laptop. Even though I may have to take a military shower or maybe the Internet won’t work for a couple of days or maybe I will have to deal with ants crawling in my bed at night, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  I love the carefree life here, the way I feel riding in the back of a pickup truck or on top of a bus with the green mountains stretching for miles and miles. But the truth is, the reality of life here is not always carefree and easy like I have portrayed it to be. The truth is that in Santa Lucia alone, 71% of the population doesn’t have a filtration system for the water they drink, that only 7% of the total population has gone to school past their primary education, and that 50% of the houses have a dirt floor (a true indicator of poverty: the richest in the area have tile, then cement, and then dirt). Sometimes it’s easy to forget these things with the people I interact with everyday when I am not seeing their homes and their lives firsthand.
Students playing a ball game "Quemado" in front of the clinic for Independence Day
 It is easy to block out the realities of life here in town where the poorest of the poor don’t live. When I work with the kids I can focus on their spirits and their zest for life, on the way they bring treats for me everyday even when I know they don’t have the extra money for it and in the way they smile and laugh despite what their situation is at home. But I’m reminded in the little things too. For example, I am reminded when one of the students Fernanda, who stays after to help me clean, tells me that her mom and sister are both deaf and that her dad left them so they have no means to make money. All of her older sisters and brothers have dropped out of school after 6th grade because it is too expensive for them to pay for the uniforms and the school supplies and they need to help at home. I know Fernanda is bright as she reads very well but as I look at her torn shirt, her shoes that are too small, and her eager eyes, I can’t help but be sad for what her future holds.
Students outside of the library at the Dia de la Independencia celebration
 I am reminded in the harshness of life here as I talk to the translators for the brigades who have traveled and lived in the United States. One translator in particular, Alex, put everything on the line in his 20 day journey crossing through Guatemala and Mexico. He had friends that didn’t make it and were killed and others who got sent home and had to try three or four times to get across the border. Once they get to the United States, they are forgotten. People don’t even look at them or see them as people. Instead he worked for $4.50 an hour, sixty hours a week and lived in a cramped apartment with eight other people. He sent money back to his family when he couldn’t even afford to pay his own rent. The immigrants are not there by choice but rather by necessity because they have no opportunity here and all they want is to support their families. Most all of them are illegal “aliens”, no one in America cares about them yet they sacrifice everything just for the one chance at improving their lives and the lives of their family. The richest people in this community are those who have family in the States or those who have gone to the States and returned home to live. If this is what everyone is seeing, why wouldn’t they try for a chance to get this too?
View from riding on top of the bus (my new favorite activity in Honduras)
 Things have to get better here and it has to be from within. The problem is that when these living conditions and corrupt government systems have been in place for so long, it is going to be very difficult to change anything. But instead of getting frustrated, I have to focus on the small changes I can make. I may not be able to give more jobs to the people in this community but I can help a deserving student get a scholarship to attend high school through the education program. I may not be able to prevent someone from getting a parasite or diarrhea through the unfiltered water they drink, but I can help plan a medical brigade that will treat them. It is a complicated life here full of hardship and I know that no matter how helpless the reality may seem at times, I must focus on the little things and on the relationships I am making and through this, I can still have hope that things here can and will get better.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life on the Frontera

By request I am finally posting pictures of where I live and random details about my life here the past few weeks! I am living in an apartment behind the Shoulder to Shoulder clinic with six other people. I share a room with another volunteer Amy who I could not be more thankful for. She is my workout buddy, my dancing partner, and  my sidekick. She is so positive and wonderful to be around! We also live with two other Americans, a Honduran nurse, and a Honduran family (the husband is the accountant for Shoulder to Shoulder and his wife is the dentist).  We have an office and living type space and a kitchen upstairs. There is also an identical apartment right next to ours where the other Honduran nurses and doctors live.

My bed (complete with my unused mosquito net)

Our apartment  (the roof of the clinic is in front and my room is the middle one on the left)   

 Right now, we have a dental brigade from Ohio State here so it has been nice to have some fresh faces around the clinic. Today we went to a school with them and they handed out toothbrushes, did a demonstration on how to brush teeth properly, and gave fluoride treatments to each student. Shoulder to Shoulder is working on getting fluoride treatments twice a year to all the schools in the area, as a means of prevention rather than reactive dentistry where the dentists just pull teeth. While teeth pulling no doubt still happens a lot (about 1 in every 3 patients), teaching the kids proper dental care is much more sustainable.

It’s official. I survived my first sickness and never have I been so thankful to live at a clinic. We’re talking issues with both ends…. not fun. However, in the morning is all I had to do was walk down the stairs and 5 minutes later I had an I.V. in and medicine in hand. I was only in bed for one day. Thank goodness. However, the same thing came back again so now they are treating me for parasites. Hopefully this will be the last time! It’s times like these when I still want my mom and my nice, warm bed at home but I could not be more thankful for the doctors and my roommates here who took good care of me!

On Saturday was Dia de los Niños. Yep Honduras has a whole day for celebrating kids, they have the right idea if you ask me. This day is even bigger than Christmas for the kids because they get gifts and candy. The Friday before the big day, we walked down to the school where they had games like pin the tail on the donkey, potato sack races, a soccer tournament, and handed out cake. We have been trying to have a celebration at the clinic for the past two days for the kids in the community but there has not been power. At the clinic, we have a generator so we are not hit as hard but because there is still no power in the community, the baker in the town couldn’t make the cakes for the kids. Hopefully we will have it tomorrow (which is also Honduras Independence Day)!

A potato sack race at the elementary school for Dia de los Niños

  One of my favorite things about brigades is meeting the translators. They are usually Honduran males about my age from the coast who have either attended bilingual school or lived in the States. It’s fun to talk in Spanglish with them and while we usually talk in Spanish, it’s nice to have someone who knows English to correct and help me when I need it. They teach me the street lingo and I have to say I am pretty jealous of their bilingual capabilities, I am amazed at how much they know!

Josh (one of the translators) and me (yes that is a PIKE shirt he has on, apparently I'm still in college)
The high school in Santa Lucia also has not had school for the past two weeks but various classes finally started up this week. A lot of the teachers have not been paid for months and are now refusing to go to class as a result (can’t blame them). The problem is that if the teachers do not show up to class, then they also jeopardize the students in losing their year of school. Since the school year is from the end of January to November here, if the students don’t finish their last three months of school, they will have to repeat.  Now, only a few of the teachers are attending class (the ones who have been paid) but it is better than nothing and hopefully the government will come around soon as I have been told that is something that happens every year. 
The girls in the Yo Puedo program (I swear they are usually happy) with their crocheted napkins that they sell for 100 lempiras (5 dollars) as a part of a microfinance project to support their school
 Life here continues to be slow and calm yet new and unexpected everyday. September and October are the “coolest” months of the year (which still means high 80s with lots of humidity) so I have been enjoying the fog and the rain everyday and am trying to soak it up before the dry season comes in November! I am keeping busy with the education program (we are planning expansion into two other communities) so this means a lot of collaboration between the States and Honduras and I'm also keeping busy with brigade planning and other random tasks as well (my next brigade comes in November). I hope this finds you all well and enjoying the start of fall! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nicaragua? Cheque.

 I’m back to the frontera after a nice vacation in Nicaragua! Some highlights of our trip include:
·     Crossing my first border (legally) by foot. I’m not going to lie, it was a little intense, a lot of hasslers and insolent immigration officials, but we crossed successfully! We also got our visas renewed for another 90 days (one of the reasons for the trip). Perfecto!
·    Trying probably one of the most random sports near Leon, a colonial city in northern Nicaragua. Volcano boarding entails hiking up Cerro Negro (a small volcano) and then sledding down the ash on a contraption that looks like a sled. The tour was complete with orange jumpsuits, goggles, and a couple of wipe outs on the way down. It was also topped off with one of the most fun four wheeling adventures I have ever been on and some very minty mojitos back at the hostel. I was still cleaning out black ash out of my hair and ears days later.
The five volunteers (aka Power Cinco) looking like escaped prisoners prior to boarding down the volcano
  Staying on the island on Lago Nicaragua, the biggest lake in Central America and the only freshwater lake in the world with sharks (I was hoping to see one but didn't!). Known as Ometepe, the island has two volcanoes and takes about an hour to get to by ferry. We stayed at this beautiful farm that has been converted into a hostel in the countryside. While described in the Lonely Planet book as a “field hospital” for its simplicity, it was one of my favorite places on the trip. We had a beautiful view of the volcano and the lake. This combined with the delicious food and the cheap $3 a night price tag was unbeatable!
·    Hiking the smaller volcano on the island called Magdalena. It was an 8-hour hike in total up through the rainforest ending at a crater lake covered in clouds at the top. It was beautiful and left the five of us, muddy, sore, and ready for bed at 9 pm!
The view of Lago Nicaragua and the bigger volcano Concepcion on the island from our hostel
  Renting a house for 3 nights near a secluded beach close to San Juan del Sur. We were a muddy five-minute walk on a dirt road to an almost deserted beach. It was beautiful!
·    Going to Playa Maderas- the home of the Nicaraguan surf competition and having some of the best fish tacos I have ever eaten. It’s always an adventure watching the surfing crowds and the people the sport attracts. Since the surfing competition was taking place the day after we were there, it was too crowded for us to try surfing. One day though!
The beach close to our house in San Juan del Sur
 Having the best Chinese dinner I possibly have ever had in Tegucigalpa (the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day could have helped too). Kind of ironic, good Chinese food in Honduras? I think so.
·    Riding on a variety of buses and never knowing what to expect. Whether it was a charter bus almost breaking down on the way to Tegucigalpa, a school bus complete with a plasma T.V. blaring Latino music videos in northern Nicaragua, or standing in a packed city bus through Managua with the door constantly flinging open, there is never a dull moment traveling in Central America.
The Power Cinco at a little French cafe we found in Leon, it was so delicious we went there twice in less than 24 hours!
Nicaragua was a great trip and just another reminder of the abundant beauty here. We met a lot of interesting people (locals and tourists), had a lot of fun as a group (maybe a little too much fun at times!), and I could not be more thankful with how the trip went. I am so lucky to have a great support group here and while the trip was wonderful, I am also thankful to be back in the tranquility of Santa Lucia and the countryside.

P.S. Right now I am reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. If you are looking for a good read, I would highly recommend it! Thinking of you all!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

La Paciencia

         Last weekend, I accompanied the last brigade on the eight hour journey to San Pedro Sula in order to drop them off at the airport. As I sat in the car on the way back as we climbed our way up mountain hills and rocky roads at a mere 10 miles per hour, I realized how the journey and the condition of the roads is also a metaphor for my time here. It takes us anywhere from three to five hours to get from the city of La Esperanza to Santa Lucia but we've been told the distance is only about 30 miles, however because of the unpaved roads, thirty miles is quite the trek! If there is one thing that I have learned during my time here, it is patience. Just like traveling to the city takes a long time, moving forward and making a change here is also a long process.
First, I have learned patience with time. Nothing will start on time here. Whether it’s a meeting that starts an hour late or traveling to a school to meet with the fifth and sixth grade girls, only to have to wait for an hour while they finish their recess and then pulling them out of class instead, I have learned that time is not really a concept here. Letting go of this sense of this control has also been a beautiful thing!
Patience with groups. Helping lead my first brigade made me realize how long it truly takes a group of 18 people to get anywhere. Everything takes three times as long and once I realized that, I could breathe a lot easier.
Patience with myself. I have days where my Spanish hits a wall or where I feel so overwhelmed with all the work there is to do and will often get discouraged. But I have to realize that my Spanish will come little by little, that I have learned so much, and that even if the work I am doing here only makes a small change, a drop in the ocean is better than none.
Some of the students at story hour after school

Patience with the type of work I am doing. I am learning that development work is hard, very hard. While there are many people who want to help, this type of work must be so much more than good intentions. It is not only looking at the programs we want to implement but also at the cultural practices, at the problems evident in the community, and at the way the community will receive the help (which is not always in a positive manner). Trying to establish a mutual relationship that is not just give on one side and all take on the other is a very challenging task. A lot of times, those communities living in poverty are built on an “aid dependency culture” in which organizations come in and give them what they need instead of establishing an alliance where there is work put in on both sides. In some ways, this type of aid does more harm than good and the community has to be invested in the project or it will fail. Building a sustainable relationship takes a long time.
Patience with the students.  Everyday I look forward to working with the kids in the library, it is one of the best parts of my day!  However, the school system here can be so frustrating at times. The culture of machismo is aggravating and yet this is just part of the culture that I must learn to deal with. In the after school programs I help with, we do a reading club. The students read a book and either write a summary or give a summary in person. However, because their schooling has mostly consisted of copying from their teacher, thinking critically to write a summary is not a learned skill. I tell them not to copy the book word for word, but they don’t know any better.           
Also, in the girl’s empowerment program Yo Puedo, we travel to different schools to talk about self-esteem and then the girls do their own little craft (a crocheted napkin or work in the school store) as a means of learning microfinance. The money they make goes to the school and the girls learn valuable skills. The program is a means to help girls feel like they do have a future besides becoming a mother and staying in the house, a common theme for the women here. However, because the girls are so used to subduing their thoughts and remaining quiet in class while the boys speak up, it is often very hard to get them to share, another cultural phenomenon that is ingrained from a young age. Yet is not their fault, it is just they way it works here and by recognizing this, I can also recognize that making a change for the better may not be my own concept of change but rather completely different from what I expected.
The students with their paper bag puppets at the after school program

 Patience. Things here happen little by little and that is ok. Just like riding on the roads is not always comfortable and sometimes feels like an exasperatingly long time for the amount of ground covered, being patient means I just have to sit back and enjoy the ride and know that one day we will reach the destination, it just may take a lot longer than expected.

         On Wednesday, I’m going to Nicaragua for a nice vacation with the other volunteers. We’ll be going to the Lago Nicaragua and to the beach for a few days! I will have limited access to e-mail for the next few weeks but please stay in touch still! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blessed to Be a Witness

           This past week has been a whirlwind of ups and downs and I can’t help but be reminded of the Ben Harper song, “Blessed to be a Witness.” The things I have seen here have challenged me and broken my heart but they have also made me realize how blessed I truly am.
            A group from a large Catholic Church in Cincinnati, Ohio came to spend the week here in order to get to know the community, the problems that exist in the area, and discern what they can do to help. They will be building a bilingual school in a neighboring community called Camasca. It was truly a joy for me to watch these people grow and change throughout the course of the week based on what they had witnessed. One day we went to Camasca (where the school will be built) and we were literally treated like royalty. There was a band that followed us around, the elementary and high school set up a performance for us where the students sang and danced, and they sat us up on the stage up front and center. It was quite the experience and yet another reminder of the hospitality of the people here. When we went to the high school, we walked through a tunnel of applause and they served us wine while we sat on stage. Again, I am constantly surprised and amused by the actions here and I hope these unexpected moments never cease during my time in this community.
The front of the clinic
            One of the hardest moments for me so far has been a home visit I went on with a few of the other members of the group this past week. This is a family that lives back in the middle of nowhere in a wood shack that is falling down. They are squatters and the owner of the house is trying to get them out but they have nowhere to go. The mom, Julia has three other kids and now is pregnant with triplets! One of her sons also passed away a few years ago from rheumatic fever (a heart disease that can come about from untreated strep throat) and her husband is blind. Julia is the only source of income for the family as she sells sand (about 2 bags a day) and this barely covers enough to supply food for the family. Since she is now pregnant, she is unable to sell the sand. Her daughter is eleven and has never been to school because it’s so far and she doesn’t want to walk by herself. It is one thing to hear about these situations, but sitting in the house in the midst of the poverty and the filth and seeing the people it affects broke my heart. I feel like everything that could possibly go wrong for this family has. Julia is a little woman, not more than ninety pounds, and despite her situation, her and her husband sat there and smiled and shared with us. I just can’t imagine how she will ever support three more little babies.

The students from the elementary school in their garb for a folkloric dance
     After the visit, I was very emotional and felt so hopeless as to what we could we do for this family. However, Doctor Ruben, a very dedicated doctor for Shoulder to Shoulder who works relentlessly for the people here, has arranged for Julia to go to Tegucigalpa (the capital city) for care. Shoulder to Shoulder will pay for her to go there once she is at 27 weeks (just 2 weeks away) and will cover the expenses while she is there. While this is huge help, I have no idea how she can continue on with her life after they are born. Thankfully, the group from Cincinnati is banding together to help with a house for this family. As I am confronted with the suffering apparent here, I can’t help but be thankful for my blessings and for the people in this world like Ruben who are so devoted to improving the lives of others. I recognize that while it never gets easier to be in the face of such agony, I have to have hope that things will get better and know that I am blessed to be a witness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

La Vida Hondureña

So in a nutshell here are some updates and random observations about life here so far!

1) I just found out that besides working with the brigades (American medical groups) who come down, I will also be helping out with the education program. We have a library here and I will be working with a Honduran named Kelvin to help with the after school programs. On Mondays, we do a story time where we play a game, read a book, and then do a craft relating to the book. Tuesday is reading club, Wednesday is life skills class for the fourteen-year-old students and Thursday is another story time usually with a faith-based theme.
2) Running alone here as a female is nearly impossible as there are a lot of hills, rocks, and dogs that chase you. It’s always an adventure (and usually one I choose not to partake in).
3) The food here is delicious! We usually have beans, tortillas, eggs, chicken and veggies in some form. The fresh fruit is amazing. The Marias (the cooks who work here) also make a killer pizza on Saturday nights!
The road in town leading to the clinic

 4) As I guessed before, nothing can really ever be planned ahead. Something will always change or come up. It’s just the Honduran way. For example, yesterday Kelvin and I expected to have 20 students present after school and we only had materials prepared for 20. Yep 31 showed up.
5) Soccer aka fútbol is huge here. School is canceled when the elementary schools play each other (and they only have a half day to begin with). Yesterday I was playing with some girls from the education program and kicked the ball over the fence…whoops. It took us about a half hour to figure out how to get it.
6) A lot of the dogs here are mean. Hondurans keep them as pets (well feed them anyway) and they guard their houses and sometimes will growl and chase after you when you walk by. I usually carry a rock with me for this reason.
7) Since being here, I have painted more than I ever have in my life, I have helped put up a counter and learned how to use an electric saw and drill (well watched others use it if you will) but needless to say I’m becoming pretty handy.
Kelvin the Education Director here reading at story hour
8). The other day we went to the river on the border of El Salvador to swim. We walked over the bridge to stand on the other side. A new country? I’d say that counts, right?
9) Cold military showers aren’t so bad especially when you are drenched in sweat from a mere twenty-minute walk into town.
10) The geckos here are soooo loud. I honestly don’t know how it’s possible that so much noise can come from such a tiny little thing.
11) Some of the executive board members came from the States and brought us a whole lunch box full of dark chocolate. It has been a lifesaver this week.
12) I rode with Kelvin on a motorcycle to two neighboring communities today to visit the schools there. Shoulder to Shoulder runs an empowerment program for girls in fifth and sixth grade at nine different schools in the region. Being the clueless gringa that I am, I wore flip flops. While we were going over hundreds of rocks up a steep hill and I’m holding on for dear life, Kelvin turns to me and refers to the road as “tranquila” meaning calm. Not exactly the word I would use.
13) This week I finally get to move into a room in the apartment upstairs and I’m so excited to get settled in somewhat. However, I leave on Friday to go get a brigade in the city and won’t be back to Santa Lucia for a week!

Miss you all! I will try to update soon!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beauty in the Little Things

“ While the world is in worse trouble than we usually think, it is also a more wonderful place than we realize.” –Dean Brackley
View from our sunrise hike
This morning we got up to do a sunrise hike to the top of a nearby mountain. It was breathtaking! We were above the fog surrounded by green mountains that seemed to stretch on forever, it was the perfect start to the day! In this region, the stunning scenery exists alongside the evident injustices.  The people here are so far removed from the city that they have limited access to their basic necessities. Most children in Intibuca do not continue school past sixth grade, many women raise their kids on their own with little income and prior to the clinics established by Shoulder to Shoulder, the nearest hospital was three to four hours away. However now that Shoulder to Shoulder has a contract with the government, there are clinics staffed by at least one Honduran nurse in most of the communities. With that said, access to care is still limited. Yesterday, while we were painting inside the clinic, a father and his nine-year-old son came in. They had traveled for two hours to get to the clinic as the little boy had been bitten by a dog and had a huge gash in his leg. While we painted, we listened to his screams from the other room and watched as more patients filed in waiting for care that would not have been available to them just a few short years ago.  The Shoulder to Shoulder model focuses on primary and preventative care rather than specialized care. Instead of treating chronic diseases and pulling teeth, the organization concentrates on caring for those with common illnesses and educating children about proper dental care as a means of future prevention.  Through this, Shoulder to Shoulder has set up a more sustainable system that is available to the people of Intibuca all year. 
The 5 volunteers and brigade assistants
 Life here continues to be an adventure everyday. Whether its hiking at five am and being followed by two men carrying machetes (an essential staple for most campesinos), getting picked up and riding in the back of a pick up truck while walking to a neighboring community, or having the power go out while attempting to cook dinner for fourteen people in the middle of a thunderstorm, I am constantly reminded of the unpredictability of life here. Yet that is what I love about it! As I get to know the Honduran staff at the clinic and talk with those in the community, I am always amazed at their spirits despite how little they have. They are truly an example for me in how they live their lives and I continue to be inspired here everyday with everyone I am meeting. Thinking of you all!
P.S. The Internet here is very touchy and goes out constantly so the best way to keep in touch for me is e-mail!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Adventure

After two hours of sleep, a nearly missed flight in Houston, and a relatively short journey to what seems like another world, I have arrived safely into San Pedro Sula. My first few days were very atypical of my future time here as we went to two nice shopping malls, ate at a delicious Italian restaurant and had Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. However, the poverty is still evident here as I encounter the beggars on the streets, the trash everywhere, and the random sites of goats and horse drawn carts galloping down the roads. Sites such as Pizza Huts on every corner with tin shacks behind them and people riding in a cart pulled by a horse while talking on a cell phone show the contradiction of the appearance of wealth and the apparent poverty coexisting. Yet even in my short time here so far, I have experienced the warmth of the Honduran people in their smiles and willingness to welcome us gringos. It is also nice to know that everything I need is in the city. The market we went to sells everything from toothpaste to remote controls to pirated movies that aren’t even out on DVD yet (Que Paso Ayer? Parte Dos aka the Hangover 2 is literally on every street corner).
We stayed in the city for two nights in order to pick up all the volunteers from the airport. Besides me, there are four other volunteers who will be doing the same job as assistant brigade coordinators. We will also work on individual projects when there are not brigades here. It has been wonderful getting to know everyone and we have a fun group who will be good travel buddies and a great support system for me during my year here! After staying in the city, we began the trek to a brewery which is about two hours outside of the city. The brewery is also a hotel owned by an expatriate Oregonian who brews his own beer and runs an ecotourism resort. We ate under a little cabana, surrounded by a pool and the Pandora station “The Coffeehouse” blaring in the background, not exactly a true reflection of Central America! 
Our view of the clinic from where we will be living.
 We then continued on to where we will be living, which is another six hour drive through smaller towns and winding dirt roads. It’s funny that while the plane ride from Colorado is relatively short, the travel time within the country will definitely make up for it! We are in the southwest corner of Honduras and almost to the El Salvadoran border. The region in Intibuca where we will be living is the poorest region of Honduras. It is beautiful though and we are surrounded by lush green mountains on all sides. This first week has been very busy with staff orienting, meeting the Hondurans who work here at the clinic, traveling to neighboring communities, and painting the basement of the clinic where pregnant mothers will be able to stay before and after they give birth. Since many people come from hours away to receive secondary medical care here, it is definitely an advantage to have a place for them to sleep overnight.   I am excited to see the logistics of the organization though and can already tell that it is clearly making a sustainable difference here not only in health but also in education, nutrition, and dentistry.
Another volunteer Amy and I in the room we will be staying in for a few weeks.
 Some tidbits I have learned about Honduras so far:

·    It is not customary to tip except for at nice restaurants and in resort towns. Sweet…cheaper taxis!
·    You always use the usted or vos form (you formal) even if it is a close friend.
·    Balleadas are a well-known dish here that consists of a tortilla, eggs, cheese, beans and a sour cream type sauce. Yum!
·    From July to October, it will rain every afternoon and probably night, and when it rains, it pours!
·    A break after lunch (at least until 2) is key.

Other volunteers Amy and Amy painting the basement of the clinic.
More to come soon!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Leap of Faith

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

            I have my suitcase packed, my passport in hand, and I leave at 5 am tomorrow morning. Am I ready? I don’t think I can ever be completely prepared for what’s ahead but I think it’s best that way. Besides, planning ahead in Latin America is futile anyway and that was one of the reasons why I fell in love with the culture in the first place.  It is this perspective that has given me the “Latin American fever” and I am so blessed that I get to return again to experience a new country and culture.
            I am so thankful for all my wonderful family and friends, your support has and will mean the world to me so please stay in touch!
            Side Note: My blog title stems from my time spent abroad in the Dominican Republic. “La Sopita” means “Little Soup” and was the nickname given to me by the campo community where I stayed. In the D.R., there is a soup broth brand called “Maggi” and my host family thought it was hilarious that I had the same name as a soup and thus the name stuck.
            The next time I write, I will be surrounded by español, mountains, and humidity. Dios Mio!