Peace Corps Diary #5

April 27, 2009

Daily Disturbing Disclaimer (of Doom and D-words):  It’s all fake, lurid malaria-med induced dreams, no real people, places, names changed to protect mainly myself, yada, yada, Peace Corps personnel not allowed to read it under penalty of me getting to put wasps in your slacks.  Cheke, vayamos empezar.

 

It’s weird to be starting another diary entry so soon after writing my last, especially since I was slacking and only sent the last one today.  Still, so much has been happening since my last entry that I can’t help but to start jotting it down before my mind starts to fade, or really before more activity, work, and wild adventure pushes these aside.

 

I do want to apologize for the seriously disjointed nature of my writing.  I reread them and it’s like a train wreck of swearing, poop jokes, and awkward analogies interspersed with a few real gems of good writing.  Part of it is my writing schedule – sneaking a few minutes before bed to type furiously without proofreading or thinking is not a great strategy – but it also reflects the deranged nature of yours truly, and whatever books I’ve been reading lately.  I finished Hunter S Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt and decided to try a Gonzo journalism approach last time, which worked great but might not have been appropriate for part of my audience, specifically the 8th grade correspondence class I’m supposed to be teaching about life in Honduras, not about how to swear compulsively or place betting odds on my future sex life. (Aside: X-mom, don’t you fret; I’m a perfect angel, can’t you read it in my diaries?  Also you can’t hurt me cause I’m hiding in Honduras, so nyyahhh.) 

 

Anyhow, I’ll be swapping the drunken escapades for serious contemplation and critical analysis at times.  Be aware of the changes, and try to adapt accordingly.  I recommend switching from malt liquor to a dirty martini before the sections where you notice actual intelligent thought, and possibly donning a bow tie, if you can pull that off.  This way the atmosphere (and drunkenness) will add to the whole general effect, and you’ll look like a fancy lad in your tie.  Hopefully that won’t be entirely boring, and if it is, feel free to go ram it up your ass.  My right arm is completely asleep and I’m unhappy about it, as typing one-handed is something I generally don’t do when there’s actual typing to do.  Just to be clear here, this would be a reference to masturbation and watching pornography, which only sinners, heathens, and communists do.  Luckily for me, I’m all three.

 

Right, so we’ve gone super lowbrow right off the starting line, I’ve got feeling back in the ole’ brazo derecho, and I can’t think of any good reason to keep rambling without abrupting lurching topics first.  And so here we go!

 

SEMANA SANTA:

If this was an organized essay or paper or thing that requires some semblance of organization, this would be the overarching topic.  I would write a few sentences explaining that the Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter Sunday, which all the good Christian boys and girls remember as the day a bunch of rabbits fought off the Roman soldiers beating Jesus senseless by pelting them with multicolored eggs, sugary candy, and smaller, marshmallow and sugar rabbits.  Thus the son of god was saved, and Latin America gained a great reason to be raped, pillaged, and forcibly converted to a white man’s faith.  The Spaniards, having taken to heart Jesus’ message of nonviolence, love, and mutual respect for all people, killed, stole, and enslaved everything of value in the area, and indoctrinated the balls off of anyone that wasn’t worth working to death in giant slave plantations and mines.   

 

After 500 years of that, faith, especially Catholicism, is a huge part of daily life.  Semana Santa, celebrating the death and undeath of zombie Jesus, is the biggest holiday of the year, and half the country spends it praying while the other half goes to the beach and gets so drunk they end up having a massive week-long orgy of drink, violence, and board games.  Just kidding on that part, I have no idea what happens at the beach, because my family tends more toward the former and is staying in Pespire the entire week.  As I like to spend a lot of time on my knees pondering the difference between religions and cults, and trying and failing to create some sort of line less Gerrymandered than Texas, this suits me perfectly. Below are a few stories I’ve gleaned out of the past few days – pardon the haze and focus on insignificant details – and pulled out, shaken off, and fried with Mazola oil and butter like everything else I’ve eaten for 8 weeks now.

 

Family Reunion:

From talking with my host family, as I do on occasion when I’m not doing the 8 hours of classes or 3-4 hours of extra homework, studying, projects, and design work we inevitably are given,  I had learned a few weeks ago that a large number of family members were going to be coming into town for the week.  I heard a few numbers tossed around, and they were always between 20 and 25, so I’ve been gearing up for this week for a while, digging trenches, building myself up, dressing wounds, all the stuff you do before an invasion.

 

Really I was preparing for the insane amount of concentrating, listening, and quick-thinking I’ve been having to do.  It is one of the most tiring things a person can experience to have to live in another language, and even moreso when there are two dozen people around you talking, questioning, and keeping you on your toes.  I’ve had a headache for a week solid just from trying to keep moving down the conversation stream without getting eaten by a beaver.  Still, this didn’t happen overnight, so let me jump back a step, to the arrival of my extended family.

 

Coming home from school on Monday, I was greeted in the kitchen by a group of college-aged students who had presumably appeared overnight in my housez ncmb,j (This is the part where I fell asleep and drooled on my keyboard, or teclador if you’re keeping track of the random Spanish vocab I throw your way.) Anyway, walked into a group of about 6 people my age, who are actually really scarce around here.  Most young people are either off in the US working to send money home to their families or in the universities if they can afford it.  These guys and girls were all university students, architects, chemists, and the like.  It was actually really nice, because after the initial awkward “what the hell is this funny-looking white kid doing in our house” moments, we’ve gotten along fine.  Better then fine, actually – I’ve been pretty much accepted into the group, since I say funny things, mispronounce simple sentences, and accept any and all that comes my way. (The secret to acceptance is not having any other choice, by the by.) Plus, this happened:

 

One of the family’s older daughters, Illya, and I got talking about slang and dirty words that first night.  I know my fair share, thanks to a little book Lea gave me a year back, before I was supposed  to go to Bolivia and instead spent a year selling bathing suits and doing wedding events design. (I can write those stories if anyone cares, but frankly half of it would be bitching and the other monotony, so lets keep it here for now.) Still, Honduras has its own slang which has little or nothing to do with actual Spanish, and so I’m keen on learning how to speak like someone from the country and not some somewhat-Spanish-speaking-but-really-butchering honky.  We talked for hours; started at 9, and by midnight we were going strong.  We’d alternate talking about new words and my life back in the states, and at some point we switched to movies and pop culture, and I got to learn the embarrassing fact that Honduran youth know more that I do about American pop culture, actors/actresses, and the like.  Not exactly a surprise, but still… damn. (Fun Spanish word – Puchica pu-chee-ka – it’s like a “damn” or “crap” or “oh hell,” a culturally acceptable common use Spanish swear word.  Useful!)

 

So we found out that we had a really similar taste in movies, and ended up watching Citizen Kane on my tiny computer, since she knows enough English to get along.  About this point the other young girls of the house, (4 of them) come out of the woodwork, and we abruptly transition from movie to talking about boys.  It’s exactly like a group of 17-23 year old girls talking about boys in English, which I guess I should have expected, but it was riotously funny at the time, which was at least 1am by now.  One of the girls was talking about her boyfriend and another guy she really liked, and how difficult it was to choose between the two, and how she was already pretty old to be unmarried, and how getting a new boyfriend might be bad because if that doesn’t work out she might be single forever… I think. 

 

            Honestly once a group of girls here ramps up to full speed, it’s like listening to the chipmunks talking in fast forward.  Add in the natural tendency of Spanish-speakers to drop one of a pair of matching sounds (ex. Hermana anfitriona, host sister, sounds like ermanafitriona out of a native) and you’ve got a machine gun full of unfriendly speech to us gringos.  I smile and nod and can usually get away with the act through most short conversations.  If the other person is the sort that likes to hear themselves talk, I can go on for a while.  Still, sometimes you get caught and everyone makes fun of you and calls you a dumb Gringo, and then goes right back to speaking half words at warp speed, and I get the brain pain trying to listen and translate and respond halfway intelligently.  I think I got caught like 10 times by these girls.  Finally I threw in the towel and hit the sack, because much as I like getting called out on being the dumbest guy in the room, I also enjoy trying to sleep sweating my everything off naked without covers and a fan pointed at me. Still, had to get my beauty rest for…

 

Cultural Day:

Oh Cultural Day, you sneaky little bastard.  I pointedly ignore you for a week and you’re suddenly right in my face, begging to be dealt with.  You’re like the screaming baby in the other room, getting more and more invasive as I keep turning up my headphone volume and pretending you’re part of the background Ratatat beat.  Well, since we’d be asked to plan a party for ourselves and our host families (really just a mandate, but they made it sound oh so polite because they used the subjunctive tense) and had reluctantly agreed to do so, it was our own damn fault for therefore doing nothing at all and having to wing it in the last few hours.  Wednesday of the Semana Santa was our scheduled Cultural party fiesta extravaganza borefest, and so of course we waited until Tuesday at around 11am to really get started.  To be fair, we had what we needed, basically: a venue, PA system, invitations, food commitments from the families, and a basic schedule.  What we didn’t have was entertainment, and we’d been “asked” to do group presentations, skits, whatever, based on our respective Spanish language classes.  So 23 hours before we had to perform in a foreign language, we got down to the business of faking weeks of preparation.

 

My group elected to do an airband of La Bomba, mostly because we kinda knew it, (half the words are some combination of la and bomba) and also because one of the trainers told us that Hondurans liked it.  Also, airbands are so much easier then anything serious that I’m surprised the rest of the lazy bums out here didn’t figure out our same cop-out.  Instead, they decided to teach football, or line dancing, or practical jokes to the Hondurans.  I just so happen to have a copy of La Bomba, so we distributed the music files without paying for them, because I like getting sued by the RIAA, and then sat around listening to the file over and over until we’d reasonably translated the song out, and knew the words.  We agreed to meet up again later, and slacked off as we watched our friends struggle to do something meaningful.  Oh, and later we went and learned the actual moves to La Bomba from our friend John’s dad.

 

That night, after I’d fallen asleep in a hammock and woken up covered in sweat, blood, and tears (all true save that first one) I stumbled late to Ricardo’s  house to meet my team and actually you know, do the thing we were planning on.  It was about 7, 8pm, and all the Hondurans sleep at 9, which meant that we had a whole hour to put together a dance routine and practice before mom starts glaring and we have to go home and hide in our rooms and type long essays on our tiny laptops while we sweat bullets and pray to the rain gods.  Surprisingly enough, desperation, easy lyrics, and a bit of the hooch teamed up quite nicely and we pulled of a pretty sweet dance routine, passable vocals, and I even made up an air guitar solo.  A couple runs through, another beer, and we were off to the racetrack, by which I guess I mean bed again.

 

On that fateful Wednesday, we were up and moving stereo equipment, decorating, and practicing our routine starting about 8am.  Ricardo and I hooked the system up and played Jack Johnson as Reggy, Ricardo, and I moved about a million and half heavy wooden chairs and benches, cleaned the floors, set up chairs, moved tables, and pretty much did all of the work that our group of 16 had promised to get to, just as soon as they got their thumbs dislodged from their rectums.  Our other group members showed up around 9 and we did a few more runs of La Bomba, to a cheering audience of 1 woman on her balcony a block away.  We were actually doing pretty amazingly by this point, so feeling confident, we took a break to shower, (I’m up to like 3-4 a day now) change into nice clothes, and be back by 10:30 or so.  A few others were decorating with balloons and streamers, and I didn’t feel too bad, or at all bad, about ditching that part of the show to kick back with a charamusca (crack cocaine in the form of a plastic bag full of fruit juice, water, and sugar for roughly 17 cents) and wait.

 

So finally, in keeping with Honduran tradition, we started the party a solid 40 minutes late, a bit after 11.  Our families filed in, hauling food and children, and we all helped set up the tables.  We were all set for a fine potluck lunch, so of course at this point we got everyone seated and started doing skits.  X and Jeremy were our MCs, and they had the hardest job of keeping everything running while the rest of us sat around and waited for our turn to stammer out a food recipe or make asses of ourselves.  Luckily for everyone, our group went first, since the Hondurans were a bit mutinous at having to leave the food sitting and watch the gringo circus.  I remember thinking that people would be a lot more tired and bored of the later presentations, and ours would escape their wrath quite nicely.  It’s a lot like the old analogy of not needing to be faster then the bear, but simply faster then your former friend. 

 

We got underway after being introduced, and since our equipment was set up, queued up, and listo a ir, we looked as professional as a dance group without matching gold suits (we decided early on that these were necessary) could.  We totally killed it, cheesy, matching dance moves, a synchronized turn as Reggy belted out a song that pretty much every Honduran knows.  We bopped around with the goofy 50s dance moves, came together for the choruses, and for the guitar solo I rocked around with a air-guitar while the rest of the group members hopped off the stage and dragged people out of the audience to dance.  It worked perfectly; we got a grip of others to dance, I had the whole stage to myself (the video is pretty hysterical) and we just rocked out to the beat.  Pretty much exactly how we wanted things to work, and we got a round of applause as if we hadn’t done it in a day. 

 

The other groups went through their activities, football, line dancing, practical jokes, we got a great reaction as the crowd warmed up to the idea of actually being entertained, and then some of the Hondurans came up and returned the favor.  Our teachers did a pretty great skit to a popular Honduran song called “Hablo Espanol” which we will most definitely come back to in a dozen stories or so.  A few of the local songs, dances, and a whole troop of dancers came out to show us what they had, and it was great.  The last group was especially interesting to me, 4 couples in traditional festival garb, doing some spectacular coordinated dances and making us laugh with their antics.  For their last song the dance troop pulled a few of us out of the audience, and of course I got grabbed, along with Ricardo and a few others.  We all danced and goofed for a while, then broke up the presentations to eat and make merry.  Good food, good company, and we pulled it all off ourselves.  Afterwards the families left, we gave ourselves a collective pat on the back, X and I did a little west coast swing, and we cleaned up the school courtyard.  And that my friends was culture day. 

 

UNO: Serious Business:

When the whole extended family was together in Pespire there were a solid 30 of  us under the same roof, aunts, uncles, cousins, sons, daughters from all over the place.  I met everyone at least twice and I still don’t know half the names.  I get away with it by calling everyone “primo” “tio” or the like.  They crack up, and I come out smelling like a rose.  We’re a small army or a large soccer team, and feeding the troops is a family operation.  When we’re all together, the whole family gets in on the action, and it’s like clockwork, if clockwork was a lot of fast-moving, faster-talking, weird-nicknamed Catrachos. 

 

The nickname thing – I got one the other night after cultural day, because I’d been out having a beer with my band to celebrate our successful show.  The 17 year-old cousins, Alexa and Linda (or by their nicknames, gorda and negra) saw us drinking, and later called me a bolo.  If I recall correctly, I gauged my response carefully and stuck out my tongue at them.  This got me laughed at, but the girls later told me that my nickname is boracho, not borracho which means drunk, but boracho which means I’m a dumb white guy who can’t roll his r’s correctly and gets caught drinking.  To be fair, it could be worse, but now half the family calls me gringito (little gringo) and the other half a dumb lush.  Very blunt people, these Hondurans!

 

Where was I going with this?  Oh yes, the UNO games.  Well that isn’t quite yet, so we’ll just have to wait until it’s done cooking up.  To preface this a bit more, the family has a lot of members, and in addition to the ones in our house there is a whole nother branch living across town, and they run a restaurant, so it’s just natural to go over there and eat every once in a while.  This night we headed out around 6:30, walked/ran/drove the half mile to the other house, and set up on the 4 large tables that this family fills.  The room was packed, I was sitting with the other young people, and someone kept coming around with wine, beers, whiskey, you name it.  As the guest of honor, there was no way I could turn down anything, especially when the other men are all acting like prohibition starts tomorrow, and anyone who doesn’t start getting hamboned is a sissy mcgirlypants.  So I bowed to peer pressure, donned my cape and wizard hat (and new nickname) and got down to the business of drinking a whole lot of alcohol without appearing to be phased by it. 

 

2 glasses of wine, 2 beers, and a large whiskey (they do it right here.  I’ve rarely seen anyone mix whiskey with anything except ice) I was good and set to play some UNO!  Unfortunately for me it was dinner time, but as it turned out I was totally ready for that too, and so we scarfed down delicious chicken, potatoes, tortillas, carne asada, this pickled shredded cabbage/carrot mix that I love almost as much as I can’t remember its name, rice, beans, and probably some other stuff.  It was a feast for our army, and that’s good, because after I dumped food on top of the booze I felt less swimmy and my tongue got easier to move correctly.  We sat around a bit after, cleaned up, joked, made fun of the gringo (oh wait, I was on the receiving end; that sucked) and finally, at long last, it was UNO time.

 

My family loves to play UNO when they get together, and there is very little in this world more entertaining then playing UNO with a bunch of Hondurans.  For one thing they have a little change in the rules down here, namely that any rule can be superseded and any penalty removed if one protests loudly and vehemently enough.  Conversely, people can get penalized for nothing at all if they can’t defend themselves against the charges, which is hard when you don’t really understand what rule you broke, and nobody is willing to explain it because the whole table is singing “Hale hale haaaaalleeeee, hale hale haaaaallleeeeee” (hale = draw a card) at you.  When you’re not the gringo, and able to defend yourself, the game strategy thus becomes one of arbitrarily penalizing those who are low on cards, and then browbeating them (often with the rest of the table joining in) into drawing a card or six.  Many times the actual UNO game takes a backseat to the yelling and throwing of cards and chasing people around the room and laughing until you cry.

 

Because of the rule changes, most UNO games here never end the traditional way.  Nobody ever goes out unless the others aren’t paying attention, and so generally the game continues until someone gets extra angry and has to punctuate their objection with a well-thrown handful of cards, or the game gets ended because more people are going to swap in. (we played UNO in shifts – 16 at a time, but with 30+ people wanting to play we had to!)  Anyway, between the drunks, the cheating, the yelling, cheering, the people, and the whole experience of arguing in Spanish, UNO has been great.  Can’t wait until the next family vacation to play again.

 

Oh yeah, and I really hope that saying “unlucky in cards, lucky in love,” has some bearing, because I’m an AWFUL card player.  At this rate, if I don’t fall into love in like 30 seconds, I’m going to sit in front of the camera with my buddies, recap the episode, and declare the whole thing busted.  Then we’ll toss in a graphic of something that says “BUSTED,” ignore any gaping holes in our experiment, and slap each other on the back for being such cool scientists.  I swear, if whatsherface the redhead, wasn’t so gorgeous I’d never watch Mythbusters again.  Nobody believes half the stuff you bust anyway.  Sheesh. 

 

Why I Won’t Soon Have a Honduran Girlfriend:

Tiene una novia?  Do you have a girlfriend?  That’s one of the first questions I’m guaranteed to be asked by anyone I meet for the first time here.  Not because they’re looking to hook up with me, but it’s just one of those questions people ask out of custom, like where are you from?, why are you so white and yet in Honduras?, and I say, you seem to have hit your head rather hard and are writhing in pain, may I inquire as to if you ok? (Ask my dad that one if you’re lucky enough to see him hurt himself.) I really dislike the question, mainly because it forces me to admit over and over that nobody loves me and I’ll die alone, but also because when you say “no” dollars to donuts you’re going to get set up with someone, or told about some other single person, or just asked point blank “why not?”  And that’s a whole complicated situation I don’t want to get into.  Nonetheless, here’s a few good reasons why I won’t be getting together with any of the locals soon.

 

There’s a lot of vocab involved that I just don’t quite pick up on yet.  You can say one thing and mean a whole grab bag, and I’m just not that good at Spanish to comprehend everything thrown at me.  A relationship is not built on awkwardly telling stories, asking a lot of questions, and staring blankly every once in a while.  A friendship, yes, but how am I supposed to carry on a normal relationship with someone I don’t quite understand?

 

Then there’s the cultural thing.  Here, if you kiss someone its a BIG DEAL.  If there were capital capital letters, like super letters, I would use them.  If only there were some way of changing the size of the letters I write…  But I digress.  You do not just go out and date people.  A boyfriend/girlfriend is someone you are preparing to marry, not someone you’re hanging out with because you enjoy having sex together.  Premarital sex is still not cool in a lot of parts of Honduras, though that’s a lot more common now, but regardless, relationships are considered stepping stones on that whole marriage, baby, house, growing saggy together path that I’ve been trying so hard to avoid my whole life.  So really, if I was to start dating here, I would have to mean it, and that makes things a lot harder, especially in conjunction with #1. 

 

Third, and this is a hasty generalization if there ever was one, but there is a mindset difference here that is hard to explain.  People my age here want to get hitched, have a kid, settle down.  Meanwhile I’m daydreaming of spending the next half dozen years backpacking across South America living hand to mouth and writing, not showering, finding inner peace, and having a thousand and one stories to tell the world when I get back. (or maybe I’ll spoil it for myself and just write them all to you as I go.) Anyway, it’s been hard for me to relate to people my age here, just because they think its crazy that I don’t want to have a family and I think they’re psychotic for wanting to get trapped into that whole mess already.  I mean, look at people who are married and settled and working and surviving… When they’re happy, when they reminisce, what do they talk about?  The time when they were young and dumb and could run around having adventures, or going off to the office, then coming home to watch the kids and paying the bills?  Why would I go willfully into that sort of life, when there’s so many better options out there?

 

I guess what it boils down to is that if I’m going to find a girl that I’d be interested in, she has to be at least as wild as I am, willing to run away at a moment’s notice, ok with sleeping outside, in love with the world and its people, unashamed of being poor and hungry and dirty.  Someone adventurous, who’ll sing and dance and drink and fight, watch the stars, keep pushing me back.  A lover, passionate, intellectually hungry, who’ll tell me just where to shove it when I’m being my mopey self, and who’ll calm me down when I need it.  And when push comes to shove, I’m a lot more likely to find this sort of person among the Peace Corps volunteers, expatriates, miscellaneous volunteers and aid workers living here, the ones who have already made the jump out of the quicksand of a “regular life” then among the natives.  And that’s the cold truth of it.

 

Watching Faux-Jesus Get Mock Murdered:

Hey look, here’s something irreverent, offensive to Jesus lovers everywhere, and pretty damn funny regardless.  We went to see the stations of the cross done, and man oh man, the religious fundamentalism was out in force today.  Someone told me that when Catholicism entered Honduras, Spain was in the height of the Inquisition.  I’m not sure about the dates, but I think they’re close enough for that to be plausible.  Whatever the reason, the local strain of Catholicism is very conservative, and if that wasn’t reflected much in the day to day life, it definitely rears its head when the Semana Santa rolls around. 


The Stations of the Cross here are played out in the streets, with locals dressed as roman soldiers, the Jews who betray Jesus, the thieves who die with the man, and one lucky guy gets to play Jesus himself.  The whole thing is a cross between a re-creation of the death of Jesus and a sermon, and the whole scene, complete with mock beatings, pleading, and general morbid feel, moves slowly down the street surrounded by a throng of onlookers and a few of us curious types.  Every 10-20 yards, the group would stop, the actors would say a few lines, and then the priest or one of his assistants would read a passage, or give a short (5-10 minute) sermon.  You can imagine that this took a while then, to walk the half mile or so to the church.  And I was alright with that, in spite of the blaring sun, the overall boring nature of the event, the repetitiveness.  Part of committing to something like the Peace Corps is putting yourself in another world, another life, and getting outside your comfort zone.  If you do that properly, you’re bound to run into things that you don’t like, or don’t understand.  However, there came a point during the event that I understood just fine and I didn’t like one bit; a point where I suddenly wasn’t ok with the Stations, and I started to strongly dislike the event I was a part of.

 

That point came about 11 or 12 stations into the event, when everyone was good and roasted in the sun, when kids had started to fade off around the edges of the group, and the whole process felt ragged and worn out from overuse.  The preacher got fired up all of a sudden, and started raging against something.  He’d been fairly passive, just reading verses, talking about the life of Jesus, and the change was noticeable enough that I shook off my sun-drenched stupor and actually started to listen to him.  He was ranting against homosexuality, which is a pretty big turnoff for me.  Not a turnoff on the level of fascism or torturing, but blind ignorance is definitely up there.  Worse, in the US when someone starts blaming the sexual preference off a small percentage of the population for societal ills like divorce and crime, they usually get written off as a nut, or at the least a bigot.  Not here.  He was working his crowd, getting people interested.  Attacking homosexuals (not just homosexuality; it got personal) was one of his big crescendos in an otherwise monotonous and repetitive process.  Cultural sensitivity be damned; it pissed me off something awful to hear him spewing hate for no good reason.

 

Still, I stayed through the event out of respect for my host family.  They’re patrons of the church, and I didn’t want to offend them by leaving early..  Still, I wanted to do something and I couldn’t.  If I’d wanted to debate him I wouldn’t have had the words, and he’s the preacher of the church that most of the town belongs to.  There wasn’t anything I could do, and that grated on me.  It got worse in the next couple stations, with the preacher going to his other fallback topics, like blaming rape on women who dressed slutty, and condemning all women who don’t obey their husbands and have enough children.  I bit my tongue and stood through it all, even as I watched my friends drift away quietly into side streets, and Hondurans too.  I was going to get through this so I knuckled down and seethed in the shadiest spots I could find.

 

Finally, 3 ½ hours after we started, we reached the church.  The crowd, which had dwindled from 5-600 to a bare 150, reappeared to watch the finale.  I ducked into a nearby pulperia with Jorge, where we bought bags of water (Best. Idea. Ever.) and charamuscas.  Double-fisting these, we at on a wall in the park to watch faux-Jesus shout his final lines and be dramatically crucified by the Jews and Romans.  Not subtle on the symbolism these folks.  As the event finished, as Jesus died for our sins, the crowd burst into applause.  Jorge turned to me and said “finally!”  We both burst out laughing, and as the crowd disbursed I slipped home to take a cold shower and drink a lot more water.  As I put it on Twitter later, “after 3 ½ hours in the blazing sun, everyone present just wanted Jesus to die already.”  And that’s the awful truth (Spoiler: remember this one, it’ll come back soon.)

 

Back to the Big Empty House:

This one isn’t even a story, just an observation.  When you have a house full of friendly, helpful, genuinely awesome people, and they accept you into the fold and treat you as one of their own, it’s a fantastic life.  When they all leave together, and you’re left suddenly holding the bag as the party files out, it’s all sorts of lonely.  Back to spending my days talking with the maid and playing with her baby, I guess.  At least school picks up again tomorrow. 

 

I find myself not missing home or my old life at all so long as I’m busy.  The hard parts are when I’m stuck without anything to do and just want to talk to someone in English.  Thankfully I have X and a few other friends here, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m stuck in site and feel this way.  Probably pick up talking to myself.

 

GPS Study Death March:

At one point this week we were learning about watersheds, as one of the things you need to accurately design a water system is a map of where the water is, how much of it there is, and how reliable one’s source is going to be.  Otherwise you might waste a lot of peoples’ time, effort, and money only to build a system that doesn’t work.  Given my apologizing skills are a bit underdeveloped in Spanish, this is something I’m trying to avoid if I can help it.  One way to avoid it is to do things properly, and so we’ve been trained in making GPS maps of the watersheds.  (For pretty much everyone except Lea, all you really need to know is that a watershed is an area with common drainage.  It could be gigantic if the country is flat and situated in a lowland, or it could be a single pitch of a mountainside.  They’re pretty important, if you’ll permit me to understate it.)

 

After the theory classes and some vocab lessons in “what the hell is a micro-watershed and how do I say it in Spanish?” (Que pijo es una microcuenca y como se dice en Espanol?)  we set out to practice mapping one.  The spot we headed to was pretty much the ideal site for this exercise, since our training staff is amazing – a horseshoe-shaped valley, a few kilometers across, with steep ridges on 3 sides and a well-defined dry riverbed running down the center.  It’s the sort of place you might see a picture of under the heading “this is a micro-watershed.”  It even had a cattle farm contaminating the groundwater directly downstream from the source, so we got the full lesson bluntly portrayed in one single example. 

 

Anyway, once we bounced our way down the same rocky dirt road that we’d ridden to do our topographic study and system design, we hopped out of the Landrovers, took pictures next to a bull with the largest testicles I’d ever seen (grapefruits, at least) and split into 2 teams, one to head up each ridge.  These sort of studies really can be done solo or with a small team, but since we were practicing they sent all 16 of us, along with a volunteer per group, into the mountains.  It wasn’t a hard assignment – walk along the edge of these ridges, taking GPS points every 20 meters or so, until you meet in the center, then come back down the middle and we’ll go home.  That we managed to screw up so badly is a testament to exactly how many things can go wrong when you toss a bunch of people into the mountains without a clear hierarchy.

 

First, we had to argue between the two groups as to where the watershed should start, who would go which direction, and which group was more fresa. (Fresa can mean strawberry, cool/neat/awesome/badass, or wimpy/stuck-up/prissy/fancypants, depending on context.  For example, when I use my iphone as a speaker system on our studies, the phone is fresa, and I’m being fresa for bringing music along on a hike.  We were definitely the less fresa group of gringos, in the last sense.)  After the dick-waving contest, our group took the harder route up the hill without a path, covered in brambles and lacking clear definition.  Luckily the disagreements over inane details weren’t over yet, and the group began to differ on whether we ought to take the path, or if we ought to follow the ridgeline, like you have to do if you want the study to be at all accurate.  Being one of the ones with a GPS handset, I set out along the ridge along with Beto, Jesus, and Kat.  The rest of the group, along with our volunteer, took the path below.  This, in retrospect, was a big mistake.

 

Within 5 minutes we’d lost them completely from view, were surrounded by brush, stunted trees, and brambles, and could communicate to the rest of our group only by bird calls and whistles.  Nonetheless, we kept going along the ridge, knowing that at the very least, we’d have a better chance of finding our bearings from the top of hill.  And what a hill it was!  We kept climbing and it kept getting steeper, more densely covered in vegetation, and more precarious.  At one point we had a solid 20 foot drop on our lefthand side, a barbed-wire fence to our immediate right, and were using a vine to climb a 60* slope of loose rock that went skittering down behind us and threatened to brain our friends below.  It was a real adventure, to say the least.

 

Luckily, Beto and Kat are some of the happiest-go-lucky people I’ve had the honor of meeting out here, and Jesus is stoic to a fault.  We kept pressing on, stopping only once to discuss a change of course and drink water.  While we were stopped, who should appear but John, one of our long-lost group members!  He told us that he’d doubled back and tried to follow us after it became clear that the rest of the group was going the wrong way.  He’d immediately become separated from the others, so he wisely pushed on alone, with no idea where he was, where he was going, or what he was going to do if he didn’t run into the rest of us.  Like I said, good decisions.  The 5 of us decided to push onward and upward, since the peak was within sight, and we were determined to finish our half of the work.  Hoping that the rest of our group wasn’t lost in the wilderness, we kept going.

 

Reaching the top, we found that we really couldn’t see anything because the plant life was too tall and thick.  Still, there was a fence and a slight clearing, and by standing on a large rock I was able to see that on the other side of our hill was an even larger one that definitely was a part of the same watershed.  Bad news for us – the project had just become impossible for the afternoon, and we now had to make a choice between doing it properly or doing the original plan and just cutting off 70% of the watershed.  This being a practice run, we opted for the easier and less completely insane choice, and kept walking our ridge.  Spirits were high, group unity good, and we really had a great time picking our way through the overgrown trees and vines.  It felt like we were in some Central American wilderness, blazing our own trail.  Weird huh?

 

We were almost done with our half of the trip, having gone across the ridge for casi una semana, dodged the spike pits,  avoided most of the thornier bushes, and completely avoided getting ants in our pants, when we ran into what can best be described as a huge dropoff.  We were now standing at the top of an entire hillside of loose rocks, dirt, and a few spiky trees.  At the bottom, our elusive river sat mocking us, a bone dry reminder of the job we weren’t doing properly.  And far across, coming down their own mountainside, was the other group, which had managed to keep all of their members together and working diligently.  The 5 of us shrugged, and while Kat, John, and Jesus looked around for a safe path, Beto and I set about sliding down the mountain. 

 

It was pretty simple, if retarded dangerous and a bad idea from start to finish.  We just took a step or two toward the nearest spine-covered tree, held our ground, and let gravity take us as it pleased, surfing down the slope.  When we got too fast, we’d grab a hanging vine, or, worst case, sit down and buttslide into a rock or tree.  Aside from the rocks in our shoes, the giant thorns on the trees, and the risk of missing our target and hurtling down the mountain to our doom (or a really hard impact into something unfun) it was a great time.  At one point there was a pitch of perhaps 30 yards of bare, loose rocks and gravel without anything to hold or catch onto.  This blew our normal strategy out of the water, so as Beto looked for a better path, I proceeded to try to walk down it verrryyyy verrrrrryyyy sllooooowwwwwlllyyy. 

 

It worked for about 15 steps, just long enough to raise my hopes, the better to dash them expertly upon the rocky slope.  I fell hard, rolled, tried to stop, failed, slid helplessly down the hill, and all I could do was aim myself at the nearest hard object and hope I hit it.  I got my butt back under me, wished I’d worn Cartharts today, and slammed feet first into a tree with prickles everywhere.  Got a few nasty holes in my hand, but my legs took the shock pretty well and the tree held.  I sat there laughing as Beto yelled down to make sure I was ok, then sympathy fell-slid his way down to me.  “Jeez man, that looked like it hurt.”  Yep, sure did.  We yelled up to Jesus and friends, who were wisely taking a different pitch down, to avoid the large loose uncontrollable rock strewn areas.  Even from 100 yards away I could read Kat’s facial expression.  Idiots.

 

We finally made it down to the river and found that we were only a 20 foot vertical cliff from our goal.  We searched around, I convinced Kat not to try rock-climbing down, and eventually I found a  really cool section of rock wall that was almost exactly like a staircase.  We walked down that cliff with easy.  Just as we were about to leave, Beto looked up the hill and we saw Jorge and Nate (our volunteer) coming down the same rocky patch where Beto and I had had so much trouble.  As we watched, Nate took an awesome spill, possibly better then mine, and then Jorge did much the same.  It was a really impossibly bad place to climb down, and I was cheered by the fact that I hadn’t been the only idiot to try it.  We had one of those great yelling-where-nobody-can-hear-each-other conversations to get them to take the other pitch down, and finally, our group, sans X and Rgirlname was reunited in the riverbed.  What a hike.

 

A short hop later, after walking the riverbed and using a fallen tree as a bridge, getting hopelessly caught up in its crown, going back the other way and just walking around it like normal people, we met up with the other group, who had had a fairly standard hike.  They looked at our sweaty, filthy, injured selves and asked the relevant question: “Where are the other 2 people?”  We had no idea.  Unfortunately for the story, cell phones have been invented, and so I just called X.  Middle of the mountains, lost people, drama, a possibly great story unfolding, and a 20 dollar gadget ruins everything.  Tragedy.

 

“X, where are you?”

“We’re at the cars.  You ditched us in the mountains.”

“Hardly, we were having an adventure.”

“Whatever, come back here, we’re bored.”  Comma, bitch, period.

 

We hiked out down the riverbed, didn’t see any wildlife, didn’t have anything else cool happen.  Such a letdown compared to forming a search party in the woods for our lost friends.  Back at the cars we were greeted by Rgirlname (yeah, I’m sticking with it – feeling uncreative – sue me.) with an armload of adorable kittens.  The ranch cat had gotten knocked up, undoubtedly because she was out boozing it up dressed sluttily, and was a loose feline, and these little bundles of adorable were the result.  So we played with cats a bit, debriefed, and watched a kid suck water straight out of the hose leading into the the cattle trough.  That one hurt my soul.  And that’s how you really aren’t supposed to do a GPS watershed study.  Or go out in the woods.  Or walk down a mountain.  Go us.

 

Hey Kids, What Do You Want to Do Today?:

We want to learn about throwing away our garbage from white kids who barely speak our language! Yay! 

 

We had to give talks to the local school children the past two days on throwing away garbage, not polluting the river, and various forms of trash disposal.  Then at the end, we got to spring the trap on them that their teachers had volunteered them to take part in a city-wide trash cleanup that we had organized with a few local groups.  It was not something I wanted to do, but it went well enough that I might as well share it with you, my captive audience. 

 

Like everything else I’ve done here, our presentation was last minute, on a shoestring budget, (actually no budget) and done with borrowed equipment, things we’d brought from home, and things that we literally dug out of the garbage.  Peace Corps: always classy.  Anyway, we got lucky enough to have the only real teacher, Reggy, in our group, so she took a very strong point on this one.  Because we were dealing with kids, namely kids so hopped up on sugar and caffeine and lack of exercise that they can’t focus their eyes half the time, we did a lot of games, posters, a slide show of pictures:

 participatory activities.  There was some teaching, when we had to put it in, but for the most part it was fun and games and the only thing that makes it not a complete waste of the kids time is that their entire school day is a sad, godawful, useless waste of time, and from my time there I’m surprised the kids can even talk in full sentences.  The place is a godforsaken prison – dark, run down, small, overcrowded, unsanitary, littered with garbage, fallen mangoes, and piles of broken desks, wood with rusty nails, concrete, and all sorts of terrible things.  The school day is 4 hours, from 7:30am to noon with two 15 minute breaks, no lunch, next to no staff aside from the incredibly powerful teachers’ union, classes with no books and little supplies, a lot of teachers some with no higher education then high school, a lack of everything save apathy, kids, and trash.  More then most things here, the school brings home the message of how desperate life can get here.

 

We’re trying to help fix that last part, and so these talks to the students do have an actual point.  Ours went a bit like this: we introduce ourselves, making the kids yell our names back at us, then play a game called penatencia, which involves putting the kids in a circle, asking them rapid questions, and having the person to the right of the one being questioned answer.  When they mess up, and its really easy to do, we give them a simple ice-breaker sort of penalty.  “Dance with me.” “Howl like a wolf.” “Act like a monkey.” That sort of thing.  The kids here are really shy, taught to listen not to speak, and so games like this get them actually talking and moving and laughing, which is a godsend when you’re trying to do group activities the whole time. 

 

After the game, we use the last penatencia to have a kid read our theme off the overhead projector that we borrowed from the Peace Corps.  Then we bored their faces off with some statistics, showed them pictures of trash in town and a fantastic one of a pig eating garbage, then asked them what they thought of garbage and what we ought do about it.  They actually pretty much knew the stuff we told them, but judging from the amount of garbage out in the wild here, it’s more what they do that we ought to be concerned with.  Anyway, we bored them a bit more, then made posters as groups.  Here’s where you really see the difference between American students and Hondurans.  The kids here are unable to do anything creative – it’s just not done!  When we told them to make a slogan for their posters, then color/illustrate it, they just sat there, copied our examples (heading and all!) one by one, and sat there waiting to do something else.  We had to explain a good 20 minutes that they were supposed to use ONE of the examples if they couldn’t think of something better too write, and to draw a picture.  Most of the groups couldn’t think of anything to draw, so in desperation we did an example of that too.  Sure enough, half the undecided kids decided to completely copy our example right then and there.  Out of 20 groups in 2 classes, only one group of 4 boys did an original slogan.  The other 70-odd students just copied one or more of our examples.  Still, they did have fun after we gave them a ton of markers and let them draw…  Art education is important too, right?!

 

I don’t know what we actually taught the kids; probably not a lot.  However I learned a whole lot about teaching, (transitions make or break the whole gameplan) patience, and making kids shut the fuck up and sit still.  The secret to that last one appears to be counting slowly and loudly.  It’s like a dark magic, or the secret code to little kids.  Anyway, the whole point was to practice speaking and presenting in Spanish, which we did just fine.  Next couple weeks we’re doing more of these with smaller groups, and I can hardly wait to choke when there’s nobody to catch me.  And hey, if one kid throws his garbage away properly, that’s a net gain.  And if not, 70 kids know my name and yell at me in the streets.  Progress baby!

 

Playing Barehanded With Shitmud:

So today we had a really fun project, not least of all because it involved mixing cow shit and mud together to make a cheap alternative to concrete.  We were tasked to build “improved stoves” for the 4 families here in town, so named because they’re cleaner burning, hotter, and use less wood then the traditional Honduran stoves.  Plus, they have an oven, which is pretty handy if you made bread instead of eating 15 tortillas a day.  (Aside; today I ate soup with 5 naked tortillas on the side and loved every one of them.  I’d go into tortilla withdrawl without those bad boys – I’m legitimately on a 15/day fix.) Anyway, ovens are nifty, stoves are cool, and anything made out of cow shit is right up my alley.

 

Like usual we piled into the Peace Corps Landrovers, 10-12 people per car, getting all sorts of intimate as we humped it down the road to our construction sites.  Basically the training officers picked out a few local families with little or nothing in the way of an oven, and we swooped in a few days later to build these new ones.  We get practice, they don’t have to cook on an overturned oil drum with some bricks on top. (this family actually was using exactly that.  Mom and 6 kids, and that’s all they had.) the construction total cost, since the labor is us, the bricks are everywhere, and the main ingredients are soil and cow manure. (we named it shitmud, then shitpoop, then shitshit, then back to shitpoo, or something like that.  Nobody outgrows poop jokes when you’re up to your elbows in it – its a defense mechanism.)

 

So we got down to it, mixing mud and manure with the ancient Peace Corps tools, soaking bricks, spackling them together barehanded, saying shitpoo or shitmud every twenty seconds, bashing our heads on the low roof, cutting a hole in said roof in retaliation or maybe to build a chimney, laughing, building, and practicing Spanish.  We went like gangbusters, expanded the original design, and went so fast that the parts weren’t ready the first afternoon (had to get the metal parts machined) and so we called it a wrap, cut all the pieces, and prepared to come back the second afternoon.  Also while waiting, John sat on a rock that was pretty much tailor-made to slip up your butt, and the look he gave me I will never forget!  Kinda like the one you get if you walk in on your friend with his pants around his ankles and certain adult-themed entertainment playing.  Also from this trip, I learned that John doesn’t like “Italian-mannish” women, but wouldn’t know mannish features if they came and slipped a rock up his asscrack.  That’s enough off that.

 

By cutting pieces for the stove I actually mean taking a machete and cutting bricks apart, which it turns out I’m pretty damn awesome at.  I must have cut 20 bricks into various smaller sizes over the two days, and I’m still nursing a messed up wrist from it, but I could get these things within millimeters of what we wanted, shave the sides, pretty them up, and then sharpen the machete on the sides of them when it got dull.  It was definitely one of the more badass things I’ve done thus far, and the list of “things you can do with a machete” keeps growing.  I’m definitely buying one when I get on-site, and one of the sequined/beaded veinas (sheath, but if you accent the i it means vagina, which I learned by telling my Spanish class about a woman pulling a machete out of her vagina and stabbing me with it.  It occurs to me that I might have already written this story.)

 

The next afternoon, (this would be Thursday) we came back to finish our little oven/stove/poo temple.  Darwin (local guy), Jorge, (another volunteer) and I had to fashion a chimney out of two straight lengths of 4” tin pipe, and our eventual solution was pretty good.  We cut about 6” off the end of one piece, cut it to lie flat, drove 4 nail holes in the flat piece and a matching 4 (2 to a side, spaced vertically) near the end of the cut length of pipe.  Then we just ran wire through the holes, twisted it all up with a pair of pliers, and ended up with a very pretty rain cover for our chimney.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but the process is retarded hard.  We had to scrounge a nail out of some discarded wood, borrow a hammer, borrow the pliers from another neighbor, call around to find someone with wire, borrow the one pair of tin snips from one of the other PC groups, walk back to our construction site, machete a hole in the roof, and then finally put our chimney together.  The hardest part of the job isn’t the work, its the work to make the work possible.  Most times the preparation and workarounds and jerry-rigging is a hundred times harder then spackling bricks together with shitpoop or whatever the job is supposed to be.

 

So we finished, took some pictures with the family (send your usb drives people! I’ve got hundreds and hundreds.) received an overabundance of thank yous and some free sodas, and took the stinky ride back home, the rich aroma of success only slightly overwhelmed by sweaty bodies, eau de manure, and more actual manure stuck to our pants and bodies.  We were a pijaza (fuckton, also vergaza) of stank, but we wore it proudly, and celebrated on the ride home.  Luckily for us, we didn’t actually make it home, because you see…

 

Peace Corps is Broke:

Which isn’t really their fault.  If the US government spent 1/10000th of what they spend on bombs on the Peace Corps, we might actually have a program that could make a serious difference.  However that would require the US government to actually care about things like peace, international relationships, and helping brown people.  That won’t be happening any time soon, even with Obama in the White House (actually, adjusted for inflation, he cut the Peace Corps budget, the same budget for the program he promised to double every time he could get his mug in front of a camera.  The same program he and McSame got in a dick-waving contest over in the second Pres Debate as to who could make it bigger.  Yeah, we’re hurting.)  Here’s what it looks like on the ground:

 

The Peace Corps trainees here make about $3/day, and I’ve been doing 8-12 hour days, not including out of class work or homework, since we got here.  That comes to about $.27 to $.37 an hour, or 3 beers a day.  All of our money goes to beer, phone minutes, and occasionally charamuscas (ok, always to charamuscas.)  Worse, anything worth really getting costs the same or more then in the States.  An external hard drive will run you a cool 2000-2500 lempira, which is over half a month’s salary for the volunteers down here. A digital camera could come to 8500-10000 if you want a halfway nice one, and I’ve seen iPhones for sale, but they’re 18000L! The Corps itself isn’t better off; volunteers make less then Honduran minimum wage, staff really isn’t reimbursed for their time, expense accounts sit past due all the time, host families are barely paid enough to feed us, and there’s a whole lot of recycling, scrimping, donations, and pinching.  Therefore, although we got tricked into something nasty Thursday afternoon, but I can’t really blame anyone involved.

 

Carlito, the WatSan program training director (or some title; lets call him the Boss) told all of us before we started on Thursday that whichever groups finished first would be helping Reggy “collect some stuff for tomorrow’s project” down by the river.  That turned out to be the understatement of at least the week, and possibly of the whole Peace Corps service so far.  “Some stuff” turned out to be 20 gunny sacks of soil for a nursery project, and so we set about picking, shoveling, and bitching 1500+ pounds of bone-dry dirt out of a field near town.  To be fair, it was funny just because of how royally boned we’d been.  I couldn’t stop laughing from the sheer ridiculousness of “ok, you 5 go shuffle on over there and grab us a metric shitload of soil, a pijasa of dirt, so we can plant trees tomorrow.  Oh and by the way it’s 5 already and we’re supposed to have finished classes, so lets be fast.”  So, tired, covered in manure, dirt, and each other’s sweat, we set to it.

 

Thankfully it wasn’t just us for long.  Other groups came to join us as they finished, and it wasn’t too long before almost the whole WatSan team was tearing up someone’s fields to steal dirt. (To be fair, we asked, but it felt like we were robbing someone.) We joked, talked about singing some prison chain-gang songs, never actually did, and generally beat the hell out of this soil to get it to unclump.  Breaking up the fields was a bitch of a process: pick it first,  stabby-end, then blade, then smashing it with shovels, then hoe it into piles, then scoop it into bags, then finally haul 50-60 pounds of soil to the cars.  Since some of the people here had no real experience in manual labor, that left about 5 of us working the picks, then switching to the shovels when that needed doing, then hauling the bags too.  We did have some professional bag-holders and backseat drivers though!  The gringo-locust swarm descended, and left only… well, we left the same barren sunbleached fields, but with about .00005% less dirt in them.  It was fun, actually, but only because we only spent like 50 minutes at it.  My sympathy to real chain-gang members, because after that little stint, I was ready to be a reformed man.  Andy Dufrain, eat your heart out.  Me, I’m going to go nurse my blistered hands and think about whatever the hell it was I did to get stuck with that fun little job.

 

Friday of a Million Small Jobs:

Too much happened on Friday to write it all under one title, so here’s what I did, in the best word-vomit I can come up with.  Woke up late after staying up until more-or-less 1am Thursday, since working til 6, then going out to smash 100 lemps worth of beers, then not starting one’s homework until 10pm, then abandoning that  to write letters, journal entries, and twitter blurbs is just about the MOST conducive way of going about getting a good night’s rest.  Ran around like an idiot, took a shower without soap, shaved poorly, dressed worse, and ran off to the great garbage pickup day. 

 

Arriving 20 minutes late earned me a talking to by Carlito and the joy of not having to pick a group of kids to escort around to pickup trash from the streets.  You see, we did those garbage talks earlier in the week for a reason, and that was to get some more participation for this.  Luckily, the teachers went ahead and made it mandatory, so attendance was great! We split up around 8, my group took off down the main road, Ricardo, X, and I escorting 30-odd juvenile delinquents hopped up on coke and sugar bombs to clean the main road out of town.  We did a pretty awesome job at first, as the kids were having fun racing to find bags and used needles and discarded condoms and pornography.  The quality of our work significantly declined about 4 ½ minutes later, however, when they realized that all they had found was bags, bottlecaps, plastic wrappers, and the like, and trash is boring and stupid and nobody likes it, which is why it got thrown in front of the pulperias and houses in the first place!

 

By 20 minutes in, the group had separated somewhat into the kids who cared and kept working, the ones who worked when their teacher or one of us gave them the look, and the other group, the one throwing rocks at each other, slapping people in the face, and taunting the bolo locked up in the police station.   It fell to us to keep up the pace taskmaster style, cajoling and reminding and all but begging these kids to keep putting nasty crap into bags.  I don’t really blame them for not wanting to, but still kids, if you’re forced to do something you don’t want, for purposes you don’t understand, that’s a good chance you’re growing up.  It’s a big part of adulthood, and you might as well spread em and start grinning now.  What else… found a little plastic bag I thought might be cocaine, which is big in this part of Honduras, but I tasted it and it was salt, and that’s why I’m not writing this entry really really stupendously fast and angrily. 

 

We filled a good 12-13 bags of trash, hauled them back to the school, then did the debriefing, which has to be the worst part of Peace Corps – worse then cold showers, worse then ticks on your weiner, worse then shitting water most days.  Debriefing basically means “lets sit around and talk circles about the thing you just stopped doing 5-20 minutes ago and overanalyze it while K sits in the back and tries to sleep without releasing any of his neck muscles so he can stay upright.”  It’s a form of chinese water torture, except they drip useless information you already know into your eyesockets until you want to throw your hands up and scream “fuck it all I’m jumping!” and then leap off your plastic garden chair and try to land hard enough on your neck that the word debriefing explodes in a firey ball of hell and exits the world stage right along with all your teeth and ability to control your legs.  Yeah, I hate debriefing so much that I drew exactly the picture I just put in your mind on the edge of my “what did we learn from picking up garbage?” notes for the day.  And by edge I mean all of it, because there wasn’t anything to write – all I learned from garbage pickup is that if you pick up all the garbage in Honduras, they’ll find a way to put it back before lunch, as was the case here.

 

After water torture, we did an hour of Spanish classes, so my class sat in hammocks and talked about terrorism and it’s causes.  For me, this sort of practice is best, not because I feel some urgent need to talk about economic terror and the ease of manipulating the scared and desperate in Spanish, (though it is fun) but because it forces me to be creative with what I know, to think abstractly, and to learn a whole lot of new vocab.  Impractical in the sense that I won’t use it nearly so much as a lesson on verb tense or venir versus llegar, but more interesting, intellectually stimulating, and a great gauge on the attitudes of my teachers and classmates.  Lots of this, then lunch.

 

I swim at lunch now that the pool is filled, and so after 20 minutes of laps (really like 4-5 strokes a lap, but better then nada!) I showered, ate, then went over to the local NGO’s campus to learn about tree farms.  It was mail day, so people got a lot of stuff from home while I sat on my thumb and discretely stole internet to update iPhone. (Going to be so damn glad when I get a data sim card.) That unaccomplished, we turned to the task at hand, talked about trees, how to grow them from seeds, then did exactly that, from making the soil from yesterday into primo fertilizer by mixing it with yet more 50 pound sacks of manure and straining the rocks, to putting the seeds into juice cartons we’ve been collecting, to organizing by groups and watering.  Dunno what we’ll do with them, but we have over 100 little planted… plants sitting in OJ cartons and plastic bags and containers built out of banana leaves. 

 

Wanted to go home after this and sleep, but instead I went home, grabbed lappy, and came back to the NGO to type out more of this, read Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com and Automatic Earth for my news, legal and economic, and fill up on XKCD.  It’s sad how isolated I’ve become, that something like webcomics feel like an unthinkable luxury.  Also, when it takes a solid minute to load a page, you realize just how much of the internet you don’t need.  Lolcatz?  Out.  Google reader is where it’s at, because I can load 15+ entries of an RSS feed, repeat that in a dozen windows for everything I’m interested in, take them all home, and read them at my leisure without a connection.  This is all I really get of news besides the newspapers I borrow and never return from my Spanish classes, and I haven’t felt so out of touch with the world in a long time.  It bugs me, so if anyone feels like sending me news snippets, or an email of current events now and again, I’d love you for it.

 

After all this, went home for real, did some exercises, got 60/arm in one-arm pushups, and celebrated by writing it right here.  Dressed my wounds, bandaged my cut up toes, cut off a good part of my palm after popping/draining  the blisters, took another look at what might be skin cancer on my arm, resolved to give it another week to show itself as an ingrown hair or something benign, immediately reversed myself and burnt the lump off.  Hurt like something painful, let me tell you.  Took a cold shower, got a bug bite on my ass from the mosquitoes that live in my shower drain, wished strongly that I had sex still, and fell asleep writing in my journal and killed another set of headlamp batteries.  Tragedy, I know.

 

The Rivera Family Vacation:

I swore up and down that I was going to end this rant with Friday, finish all my stories from Semana Santa, and send the whole shitpile to you all by no later then Saturday afternoon.  Instead, I’m sitting here, 3:15 Sunday, writing about my family vacation to Teguc and beyond.  It was a sudden trip; my parents decided they were bored of Pespire, and so Friday night we resolved to go visit the rest of the family in Teguc, then maybe do some other things if we so desired.  That’s how at 8:30am Saturday I ended up in the back seat of the Landcruiser as Miguel (my dad) showed off his Honduran driving techniques, most of which involved passing on the wrong side of the road as either a mac truck or a blind curve threatened to turn us into paste.  Shitless.  That’s what I was scared.  It takes a lot for me to consider putting my faith in a higher power, but the Flying Spaghetti Monster was in my thoughts this day.  A nerve-wracking hour later we pulled into Teguc, ordered some supplies for the family store in one of the 3 malls this city has, and I tried unsuccessfully to get a sim card for my phone.  Turns out that one needs residency to sign a contract here, and even after that got resolved by having Miguel cosign, his national ID wouldn’t come up in the system, so we were SOL.  So close I could taste it, yet no dice.  I’m starting to give up hope of ever having reliable internet access in this place.

 

After that inauspicious start ($5 word!) we headed to the family’s other other house, the one in a gated neighborhood in Teguc.  Like most Honduran homes, this one is a fortress, but at the same time it feels completely open.  The patio areas which surround the place are completely open except for  support columns for the roof, but they make up for this by being barred floor to ceiling.  The garage doors are steel 1/8 inch thick.  Inside, everything is tiled and the brick and plaster walls are a foot thick.  I feel like Honduras is one of those countries where people would survive the zombie apocalypse just fine, if only because they’ve been having to protect, feed, and help themselves their entire lives.  The “survival nuts” in the US would fit in just nicely here, where everyone has a few days (or weeks if rationed) of water, and is used to helping their own. 

 

[Tangent] this attitude is as much a reaction to their societal instability as it is an admirable character trait of the people.  When you’ve been ruled by as many tinpot dictators and petty crooks and well-connected asshole thieving bastards as this place has, you tend to take a few precautions in case the mad emperor of the week takes a running leap at poisoning the wells or cutting off food supplies for a while.  My host brother here in Teguc keeps a loaded S&W .38 on the side table in the front room, and none of the kids touch it.  Nobody goes near the thing except curious gringos.  It’s just a more brutal world, and people act accordingly.  I for one find the no-bullshit attitude toward defense, repairs, survival, and general living refreshing.  It beats the hell out of people demanding more police patrols and a curfew because little Johnny was selling adderall to his friends after class in the park.  Libertarianism is alive and well in Honduras, not because people are diehards about the philosophy, but simply because they’ve seen fascism and dictators and don’t want to go back to that sort of life.  They say you can learn from reflection, from mimicry, or from experience, and also that experience is the hardest teacher.  This country is living proof of both of those maxims.

 

[/Tangent] So anyway, we hung out at the house a bit,  played PS3 and drank Coronas.  This rich family thing is spoiling the absolute hell out of me, but it’s only another 3 weeks.  I’ve really been accepted here though, and that gives me a lot of warm fuzzys.  I’m definitely going to miss being so much a part of a family.  We packed up and left again after the rest of the family got home, and drove back up to my old stomping grounds of Santa Lucia, Sarabanda, and Valle de Los Angeles.  I fell asleep part way, since traffic was godawful and sleeping is my fallback when I’ve no refuge from carsickness.  Gustavo, my host brother, was kind enough to photograph me, and I must say I look very ugly when I’m sleeping.  Now I understand the unhappiness of all the girls who’ve had to wake up next to me in the morning. (aside from the bad in bed part)

 

Anyway, hit Santa Lucia, got a fantastic lunch of carne asada tacos, ran around with the adorable 2 month old puppy that one side of the family just got, tried to ignore the staring 17 year old cousin, and talked, laughed, and ate my way through a lovely few hours in the mountainside.  I couldn’t get over how cool it was!  It was probably 75, 80 out, but to me it was heavenly.  After a few hours there, we moved down the road a ways, visited Valle de Los Angeles and played tourists for a bit.  There was a  pretty huge gringo turnout there, but aside from asking one group of pretty girls why, I generally ignored them.  They were a missionary group on their weekend off, doing roughly what I was, but I couldn’t help but to feel a bit of animosity toward them.  I think it was because I’ve been killing myself to fit in, to not be the gringo, to learn the local culture and social laws.  I’m not perfect by any means, and I take a lot of shit for my foreign accent and looks, but I definitely am starting to fit into the local fabric.  This group wasn’t doing that at all.  If anything, they were either trying their hardest to stand out, or just completely ignorant of the way things work. 

 

The loud, obnoxious, shrill English yelling and laughing is a giveaway that gringos tontos (dumb white people) are nearby, and they were staking their claim all over town.  Crawling around the central square, in all the restaurants and cafes, in the museums and parks.  It was hard to get away from them to be honest, and while the missionaries couldn’t see it, I could practically taste the annoyance of the locals.  It’s one thing to come visit a place – Valle is a tourist trap, after all – but it’s another to overrun the town and just do whatever the hell you want.  This group definitely swung well toward the second, and from the reactions of the townspeople toward me, I realized we were all a) being treated like retarded monkeys, and b) getting taken for a ride.  Deliberate attempts to overcharge I’m used to, and it’s made me much better about negotiating and memorizing prices, but this was borderline vengeful.  Ice cream had doubled in price, and none of my protests, including knowing the woman’s name from previous visits, could bring that down.  I went strawberry-in-a-waffle-cone-less because a bunch of rude white people didn’t know that they’re supposed to be discreet in public, not drinking, yelling, and making a scene.  Fucking tragedy. 

 

After Valle, we rode back into Teguc, where the other jovenes, the brothers and sisters and cousins cleaned up real fast and headed to a concert.  Polache, local folk hero and singer, and his band were playing a show at one of the high schools (yeah, went to a high school show) and all the cool kids were going.  We piled 11 into a van and rode over to the school, got in early, and were treated to a whole lot of shitty MCing and skirt-wearing booty shaking by two guys who either never had used microphones before or were just complete morons when it came to making themselves intelligible.  Either way, they might have been giving us a treatise on how to preserve the traditional family structure in the face of growing rates of family separation, increasing poverty, and the exodus of young men to the US, but I’ll never know because they were completely drown out by the loud, obnoxious crowd chanting “Culeros, culeros” over and over.  Granted, in a homophobic country like Honduras, they were asking for it by dancing around in sequined skirts and hip thrusting, but it was grating as all fuck to hear these kids chanting “assbandits” basically, and MEANING it to be hateful.  Lot of hate here for the gays, in the “there’s one openly gay person in Pespire, and everyone knows about it/is shocked” sort of way.  Anyway, there’s a concert waiting to start, lets check back and see if it has started!


No, it hasn’t.  This was the first 30 minutes of my time there.  Lots of false starts, almosts, and near-misses, but like a G-rated striptease, we didn’t actually see anything.  The crowd got fairly mutinous, and so a team of dancing girls came out in matching blue and red numbers to pop and lock it to some remixed American hiphop songs.  It was very high school, although I did see my first other gringo of the night on stage dancing, and she could shake it, so that was fun.  Finally, after a godawful long time in a dark gym, Polache showed his mug to lukewarm applause.  Then the band set up their own equipment because apparently they don’t do sound tests or have roadies here.  So we sat and watched that, and I realized the sound guy was either totally new to his job or was using his mouth to turn the dials, because that was all over the place too.  Finally we could hear the guitar and the keyboardist wasn’t palpable in one’s teeth, and so estuvamos listos a ir! (we were ready to go)

 

A solid hour after we got there the band started their opening song, entitled “Hablo Espanol.”  It’s about a guy who is poor and a drunk and gets peed on by stray dogs and in trouble with the cops, so he sneaks into the US and works himself to near death before getting deported.  Then he gets back to Honduras and is somewhat rich so he chases after whores for a while.  Then they chant “Hablo Espanol, hablo Espanol, no hablo Ingles hablo Espanol” and a few variations of that for a while.  I think I’m missing part of the cultural significance, but its a very proud song.  It’s a trip to be trying to start a mosh pit at a foreign concert, but we pulled it off for a while, until security guys came and broke it all up.  After that we linked arms and jumped around crazily in a circle, shouted, whooped, and smashed into people like an self-respecting punks and assholes ought to at a concert.  It was good being a delinquent again.  When security came around again to stop this latest bit of fun, one of them lost his nametag, and I pocketed it before anyone realized what was going on.

 

The music was a mix of folk, classic rock, country, and rap.  I know that sounds awful, but like cheese with salt in it dunked in your chicken, (on the bone) corn, (on the cob) and yuca soup, it’s surprisingly good.  Polache puts on a good show – people got pulled up on stage pretty frequently, sang choruses, danced with the band, and Polache (the singer) is pretty funny.  He looks like a bookish, nerdy sort, but he rocks out pretty hard on the guitar too, so I guess that makes him ok.  Plus, he’s new enough to the fame game to be genuinely glad to have fans, and that comes across louder then every speaker tower in the world.  People used to fame, who expect it, live on it, and internalize it, are stupid jackasses who ought to be drug out into the street and shot starting with Kanye West, but those who don’t let it get to them and stay real people ought to be admired.  Polache is one of these. 

 

But K, you ask, how could you possibly know that?  Unless you met the guy and talked to him, how can you tell stage presence apart from his personality.  Well, that’s the start of a funny story that goes a bit like this: after the security broke up our second attempt at moshing and I grabbed that nametag, I waited until security was escorting 20-30 kids on stage to dance with Polache, then walked right back there, flashing my tag to the guy at the door and never breaking stride.  Sure enough, the secret to life, namely “Look like you know what you’re doing and everyone will assume you do” works in Honduras too.  So I wandered backstage, met the dancer girls, talked to a few of them, got approached by another security type, introduced myself as Luiz Cruz, (on my tag) asked him where I could find Carlos, earned myself a disinterested shrug and more time to hang out.  Wandered to the stage entrance, saw Polache launching into another rendition of “Hablo Espanol” (it’s his big hit right now) and I figured “what the hell,” went out on stage and danced with him.  Sang the chorus too.  After the song I walked right back to the backstage entrance, flashed my pass again, and got lost into the madness of the dressing rooms.  When everyone has their specific task to attend to, it is incredibly easy to just get lost in the crowd.

 

Polache said a few words I couldn’t make out, then the band finished their set and exited right next to me.  A group of media looking types were following them, so I tagged along and listened.  They were genuinely happy to have questions asked to them, especially by the student press.  After a few minutes of that, the press left, and I told Polache I was his biggest fan from the states.  He asked me if there were a lot of fans in the US, and I told him there were tons.  This seemed to make him really happy, and I asked him if he’d ever been.  He said he hadn’t, the poser.  After a couple more pleasantries we got interrupted by 2 security guys with mean looks.  One of them was missing his nametag.  The actual Spanish conversation was pretty fast and accusatory, but I got the gist of it.  Luiz wanted to know who the hell I was, why I was impersonating him, and where I’d gotten his tag.  I gave them the best dumb gringo smile I could, told Luiz I’d been looking for him to give him the pass back, said goodbye to Polache and got escorted out of the building.

 

Luckily message hadn’t gotten to the other side of the building before I did, and I walked right back in.  The music had been changed over to Reggaeton and Hiphop and so we had a dance party unfolding.  I was really excited about this… at first.  Turns out young people in Honduras are no better dancers then in the US, and might actually be worse.  The guys don’t move, just kinda thrust their hips, and the girls grind against them like they’re aiming for a prize in the form of an awkward public erection.  Nobody wanted to rumba, salsa, or anything.  After a few dances and a few confused partners I set in to watch the social interactions.  The girls do much the same as here, which is to say they get in a circle with their purses and shoes in the center and dance around them. The difference is that here it’s genuinely for protection, as the guys are like hungry sharks.  They prowl the floor looking for any girl who’s not dancing.  Doesn’t matter if she’s asthmatic, getting a water, on the phone, or just holding a dance move for 2 counts to match the music; if she’s not moving, she’s going to get asked to dance.  I saw 14 year old boys asking girls 5-8 years older then them to dance, guys arguing over who had gotten to a girl first, and girls having to fend off guys every 15-30 seconds.  It was a rabid, bloody, feeding frenzy.  I leaned against a post like Joe Camel trying to get kids hooked on a filthy, life-shortening habit and tried to play find the whitey.  Failed at it: I might have been the only one aside from the dancer girl. 

 

Finally went home around 12:30, not late by any means, but I’d been standing around for a good hour and the dogs were killing.  We piled back into the van, guys 4 to a row, girls sitting on top of us.  We made it to one of the cousins’ house, piled out, ate Papusas (I forget if I’ve described these yet, but lets assume I have) and talked about our different experience.  They thought I was ridiculous for going backstage, and I just laughed at the rapidfire Spanish.  It’s impossible for me to comprehend this language after midnight… Went home, crashed on an air mattress, and there went the interesting part of my weekend.

 

Sunday I’ve been sitting here on this couch on the porch for most of the day, aside from when I was over at Alexa and Michael’s (cousins) family’s house playing Wii and helping Alexa with English homework.  More on that in a sec.  I realized this morning waking up a couple things; first, that the usually disorienting “where in Allah’s green earth am I?” moment you get waking up on some stranger’s floor is compounded a thousand times over when the first voices you hear are the morning hosts of some goofy Honduran radio morning program, cartoonish and weird.  Second, I was washing my face in the sink when I realized that this whole bathroom was suddenly and abruptly wrong.  I stepped back in surprise, hit the towel bar, tripped over the rug, almost landed in the shower.  What had caught me was that the whole place was built for tiny people.  The sink was just above my knee, the toilet seat barely a foot off the ground.  The shower spigot came out at my shoulder height.  I felt like Yao Ming must feel everyday, that poor gigantoid bastage.  Why that surprised me as much as it did at the time can only be attributed to the fact that I wasn’t paying any sort of attention and thus my entire world view was found to be wanting.  That really can mess a guy up first thing in the morning.

 

Oh, so here’s something fun.  I went to Alexa and Michael’s family’s house because I was told to go find my host brother, and I’d left him there the night before.  Showing up, I went upstairs to the bedrooms, and was greeted by Alexa in a Nirvana t-shirt and nothing else.  She grabbed me in a big hug, kissed me on the cheek only because I turned my head at the last second, and proceeded to give me all sorts of impure thoughts about her 17 year old self.  The girl is a looker, it can’t be denied, but it doesn’t help me from feeling like a dirty old man at 22.  Doesn’t help that she’s all sorts of touchy-feely, loves grunge and alt rock, and speaks enough English that we can converse about most anything if I speak slowly enough.  Today she wanted me to help her prepare a speech for her English class about how Nirvana is her favorite band, their history, her favorite songs, and Kurt Cobain, who she finds totally dreamy and who died when she was 2 years old.  So we sat down, and I sketched out a really basic speech while she showed me bug bites on her upper thigh (bear in mind, we’re in “only a t-shirt” territory here!) and I pointedly ignored what was obvious to anyone with a brain.  They warned us in Peace Corps training that colegio girls, the 15-17 set, would probably flirt aggressively, figure out ways to get you alone, and be one of the on-the-job hazards, but I hadn’t seen it up close and personal before today.  Anyway, after a while doing that and forcing myself not to think about doing that by playing Nirvana and singing along, I escaped back home, where I’ve been ever since. 

 

Tonight we head back to Pespire, heat, and training.  I’m not sure what else to write about that,, so I won’t.  I feel like I’ve been adopted into the family, and I’m really glad for that.  I just hope I keep up contact better then I did with my last family here, or I’ll feel like a total shithead. 

 

Epilogue and Stuff:

So that’s pretty much it for the past 2 weeks.  I could write more, have actually, since this file got  corrupted and I ended up typing most of it over, but I don’t think I’m going to include it in the update because it’s not that interesting, or because I’m out of time, or because I’m keeping you all in suspense.  Regardless, I’m tired, I’ve spent the last 6 hours or so typing, with a whole lot of stuff I’m unhappy about to show for it, and I’m going to go to bed.  Or to sleep, since I’ve been in bed for a while now.  Until next time, keep up the random acts of kindness, and I’ll keep being just weird enough to be interesting.  Please, for the love of whichever theory of “this is how everything works in magic lalaland” you personally subscribe to, send me your letters, your poems, your random half-assed emails and notes.  I love getting every one that I do; it breaks into my little bubble down here with a taste of back home.  I’m still loving Honduras, and I’m sure you’ll all figure out when that changes just from my writing.

 

Stay classy, San Diego, and the rest of you, try to up the classiness to their level.  Trust me on this one, it’s not too hard to do.  With love, K

 

PS.  BIG changes are going on in my life right now – I’ll have a little update out shortly, but for now you all should just know that the big box that contains my world has been shaken, scrambled, and thrown out the back door.  Seriously lifeshattering things, so I’ll leave it there at just hints, and tell you all as soon as I can sort it out myself.

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