martes, 14 de septiembre de 2010

Ready for Space

Am I ready? Sr. Froilan seems to think so. I was sitting on the ground outside Tio Moncho’s side door studying his jicaro trees all bursting with green these drizzly days. In the dry season the branches look pencil drawn, like a million spiders with their eight million legs sticking out in all directions. When every inch of them is covered with tiny leaves, the result is a very bushy ball of green. Tio Moncho was next to me wearing his trademark wife beater shirt, blue gym shorts, and skinny gold chain with a small cross around his neck. We were talking about life, women, the rain, soccer, and the recent news of the massacre in Mexico. Senor Froilan is an old man who is “like family” to Moncho. He is always at the house doing whatever chore he can come across wearing a dirty, long sleeve shirt tucked into dirty jeans with evident years of hard work to match his hands and face. He masks it well, though, with his constant smile. As is his custom, he was sitting about ten feet from us on the plank of wood he carries everywhere he goes.
He stood up and asked excitedly if I’d ever been to the moon. “They do that over there (referring to the States),” he said to Moncho. I chuckled and said, “No, but let’s go. You and me. Right now.” I was serious. If I had a spaceship I would take him and we would go to the moon at this very moment. He laughed and said he wouldn’t be able to make it. They do all sorts of tests and he would never pass. I knew where this was going. The same conversation we always have: me running down the street the first time he saw me.
“Eduardo is ready for space. Si hombre, let me tell you, the first time I saw him ba –ba – ba – ba – ba (slowly moving his arms back in forth in a runner’s motion) ohhh hombre all the way to the bend in the road and back ba – ba – ba – ba – ba just running. No reason. Just running. Oh yes Eduardo is ready for space,” He explained to Tio Moncho who also likes to recount that first encounter with the tall white dude running just for the hell of it. That was the first and essentially last time I ever went running in town after I raised a number of protests from worried on lookers who insisted I would get robbed if I went beyond the houses. I tried my go-to joke that the robbers can have my undies if they want them because I don’t carry anything else. It didn’t work. So I stopped (I also try to keep the attention level on me as low as possible and running through town has the opposite effect). But if Sr. Froilan believes that that single, probably less than one mile run prepared me for the final frontier than I do to.
A few weeks ago I went to have some adventures with my friend Hayley in her site a few hours north of me in the mountains just outside the capital. She claimed the trip would take a majority of the day but I got lucky with busses and rides and made it in just a few hours. Hayley carries an earth tone fanny pack full of toys and snacks and all times. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen Hayley not wearing board shorts and a tie-dye shirt. Hayley has much more energy than her one year old dog, Igor. Hayley can very quickly string together 8-10 adjectives in Spanish or English to describe her last meal or snack. Hayley loves to talk about snacks and soda. Hayley gives every man, woman, child, and dog the time of day and has got to be the most beloved person in her small little mountain community.
Shortly after I arrived, we hiked up a small, overgrown path through “no fatties allowed” pass, up and down muddy hills until we at last came upon the watering hole. A roaring creek winds its way under and around boulders creating a system of caves and slides. The stream of white pours into the first pool just where the path meets the water. From there it falls into another below it, then another, then another all the way down to the valley below where it calms and meanders back towards town. Sitting in any one of these perfectly round pools creates the impression of a sheer drop off directly beyond it. Amazing. We splashed around with Igor and the neighbor’s dog, Kaiser and talked about cookies (then ate them), our bewilderment that haters existed who wouldn’t want to experience something that awesome any chance they got, formed a plan to start a blueberry farm with overall Thursdays (as in you must wear some sort of overalls on that day of the week), and wondered if we would see the trolls that she had been very seriously warned about who supposedly wander around the rocks smoking dope and (obviously) have long beards and tall hats. We genuinely wished that we could actually believe in things like that. Butterflies were everywhere. Blue morphos with jet black undersides contrasted by sparkling emerald blue topsides. A bird escaped from the Planet Earth dvd box set and landed on a mango branch right in front of us. Also covered in blues and blacks except with a small upside down triangle on its back containing every color imaginable and a split tail of two skinny feathers with blue paddles on the ends. We were without words for a few minutes.
The next day we packed spaghetti and soda, and headed off in a pack of dogs and kids that are way too freaking cute through corn fields and banana groves, across rivers, around bends up into the mountains and back down again all the way to an even more magnificent watering hole kept in constant motion by three converging massive waterfalls. Hayley tried swimming under one of them and almost drowned. It was not funny for 6 seconds or so and then very funny for the rest of the day. That night we sat in hammocks and ate lots of food. I fell asleep exhausted and full.
Back in town, after a few weeks of hiatus due to a teacher strike, we are moving along again and I’ve been relatively busy. I am about half way through my “I deserve” sex ed class with the 6th grade boys and girls in separate groups. Many an evening is spent drawing graphic pictures of the human anatomy that I’m thinking of submitting to a comic book about scary aliens. The kids are awesome, though, and really enjoy the course. As do I.

sábado, 24 de julio de 2010

Tio Moncho

I woke up to a phone call from my friend Morlin. He could tell I had just woken up and didn’t miss the opportunity to remind me that I am a lazy bum that sleeps many hours later than every other person in town. It was 7:15. He asked if I would accompany him to Monchito’s house whose mother had passed away the previous night and where the wake was now being held. I dropped all my plans for the morning (drink coffee) and headed straight there. This is my uncle we’re talking about!
One of the first community events I went to a little less than a year ago was the national election that was shrouded in some controversy due to the coup in June 2009. I went up to the school to see if there would be some action but, of course, there was none whatsoever and it was a rather boring non-spectacle. While sitting outside the school gate throwing rocks at other rocks and talking to Morlin about his views on what had gone down in the capital, his uncle Moncho approached us and took a seat. To this day, I have never met anyone so warm and welcoming on the first meeting as Moncho was to me that election morning. He invited me over for lunch and insisted I think of him as family. Since then he has been my uncle Moncho.
Rarely a day went by that I didn’t stop by his meager but comfortable house that sits in the middle of an enormous, beautifully kept piece of property covered in jicaro trees and chickens. Monchito is in his early 40’s, has an amazing mustachio, and lost his wife more than a decade ago. Since then, he has taken care of his mother and 16 year old son, Jeffery, in the same house he grew up in. Often on weekends we walk out to his family’s property up the road, scour the mango trees, and shoot at doves with our slingshots in vain. Between my gringo goofiness, Morlin’s general goofiness, and Jeffery’s teenage goofy insistence on complaining about everything good or bad, we make quite the posse. I’m surprised Moncho isn’t mortified to be associated with us.
About 6 months ago, his mother suffered a stroke and our expeditions out to the mangos came to an abrupt stop. She was embarrassed for me to see her in a debilitated state and therefore I had to see less and less of my second family. But Monchito asked me to still come over every once in awhile just to sit outside in his yard and catch up. He never left his mother’s side and the exhaustion was obvious. By the time she passed away last week, I think his tears were a mixture of both sadness and fatigue. I walked into the room where the wake was being held and he embraced me like an uncle to his nephew.
Since being here, I have been to a number of wakes but this was the first one in which I was especially close to the family and was able to see more of the full process. When a family member passes away, that is only the beginning of the stress. It usually goes something like this: on open casket is placed in the main room of the house sitting on top of giant blocks of ice. That room is filled with women and their small towels. Every woman carries a towel. It is their swiss army knife. They use it as a sweat rag, a fan, a shade umbrella, a flyswatter, and general accessory. They wear it as a hat. They wave it around like a rolled up “We Always Believed” t-shirt at a Rockets 94/95 NBA Finals game. I like to imagine that they have the same animosity towards the gnats they are waving them at as I did for John Starks. These women with their towels sing songs and pray. Outside are all the men. They talk about soccer or the heat and it is not uncommon to see a few spiking their coca cola cups with a little splash of guaro (grain alcohol/ gasoline). It is the family’s responsibility to feed all these people.
When I first saw this transpire I was sick to my stomach and refused the food. I couldn’t believe that the grieving family had to foot this responsibility in addition to everything else. A lot of people were walking in, grabbing a plate, and leaving without saying a word. But seeing it from behind the scenes gave me a better perspective. Those closest to the family rally to the cause and the entire yard becomes a Thanksgiving Day kitchen. Before anyone else arrived, an army of apron adorned women tended to the massive cauldrons of chicken, rice and tamales while us strong men set up everything else. It was an honor for Tio Moncho to host the town in remembrance of his mother and an honor to see how his family and friends came to help.
After the burial comes the Novena- 9 days of prayer, song, and mourning in the same living room where the casket once was and there is now a shrine. They sing a vaguely in unison call and response prayer song and one old deaf lady sings her own thing whenever she wants. Then they will do the same thing 9 days leading up to the 40 day anniversary. Then again at 6 months. And again at a year. A lot of remembering. A lot of mourning. But like I said, it is an honor for me to be taken in as a part of Monchito’s family and I can see the pride in his eyes behind the tears when he sees his house fill up with those wishing to remember what a great woman his mother was.
Other news:
My intake of and hatred for soda has increased 100 fold.
My intake of and love for coconut cookies has increased 100 fold.
Three new games have taken the Tular streets by storm. 1) Marbles. I never learned how to play but am learning now. My thumb is sore. 2) Roll a tire down the street with a stick. Classic. 3) Group of boys stand in a circle with a rock in the middle. Whenever you bend down even the slightest to pick it up, you are fair game to be punched very hard repeatedly. The goal is to grab the rock without getting punched. American suburban mom’s would love it.
Little kids don’t let bikes way too big for them get in their way of fun! One sits on the main bar of the frame (the one connecting the handlebars to the seat post) with both legs to one side and does the steering. The other crouches and puts his leg through the middle of the frame (under the main bar- normal bike riding has your legs over the main bar), both feet on the pedals with legs splayed out as far as humanly possible (thus looking like a crab), holding on to the main bar above him. Are you getting this? It is amazing.
Goats no longer respect my god-given human authority.

by the way, this picture is the view from my front door.

sábado, 19 de junio de 2010

El Nino is Spanish for...the nino

The winter has brought all sorts of new friends to the area. First of all, my friend Mr. The Electricity Going Out who likes to stop by at least a few times a week usually in the evening when his presence is most appreciated. The other is Mr. Firefly who likes to fly around my room at night and communicates with me via his butt and the blinking light on my ipod. The last friend is actually an entire orchestra- The Tular Bullfrog Symphonic. They perform out in the hills and shoot lasers at each other all night. It’s quite melodious.
The coming of the rainy season has also coincided with several other events that collectively have made the past month or so pretty eventful. On the first night of a training last month, I sat outside with one of my best fellow volunteer friends wishing I could somehow store the cool mountain air in a nifty bottle to be used when I returned home. We talked about the usual (“So who do you like? No, I mean like like like?”) and amidst some discussion about our views on development and our role here, he informed me that he had come to the definitive decision to leave the country and go home to his family. In complete understanding of his reasons for departing, I was still deeply saddened to see him go. Its not at all the external factors that make this experience difficult. We all expected, and in my case have grown to really love, a change of pace, unreliable electricity, outdoor almost everything except your bed, goat poop in front of the door every morning, loneliness, frustration, etc. But when you really start to grapple with whether or not your work in your community is best for the people of that community and best for you, things get all tangled up in your brain and home seems really far away.

[We’re going to make this sort of a “Choose your Own Adventure” kind of blog post. If you would like to hear more of my rambling and ranting on this subject, scroll now to the post “Arrested Development” below. If not, please continue reading.]

Each place and each person is different and he made the right choice to do what his heart told him to do and I know it wasn’t easy. After a day or two of annoying myself with my moping and some reflecting on how I felt about everything, I actually got a little burst of energy and optimism that hasn’t fully exhausted yet. I might even go out on the skinny limb to say that I’ve been pretty busy with work. At least planning my day around World Cup games makes it seem that way. Don’t you wish you were watching in a country where the only thing they care about is soccer all the time, not just for 4 weeks every 4 years?
Life was proceeding well and work was picking up…and then old lady Agatha decided to pop in and brought 6 days of relentless rain with her. On the 5th day of that rain I hopped on a bus with soaking wet socks (in my top 5 worst feelings ever) and rode to the capital to pick up my… mom! After months of anticipation, seeing her walk through the terminal was surreal and amazing. We got some delicious food at a restaurant where we could gawk at salsa dancers, booked a room at a fancy hotel, I took a piping hot shower, and we took full advantage of the free cocktails that came with the reservation. Over the player piano I heard the news that the south was flooding. “Well this should be interesting.”
I woke up the next morning to my neighbors frantically calling to inform me that they were taking as much as they could carry out of my house because the river (1/2 mile away!) had left its banks and was starting to warm its toes by my 1 burner electric stove. They grabbed my computer, my guitar, a stack of books and hit the road. What friends! Geez, amidst the chaos of getting their own families to safe ground, they burdened themselves with my junk. Going back a few paragraphs… I can always think about the amazing friends I have in town, how incredibly lucky I am to call them as such, go drink some coffee with them, kick around the pelota, talk about the heat, and those vines in my brain come untangled a bit. I was pretty worried but the roads were closed and what could I do? Go back to the hotel bar and search for the best response to questions about what I’m going to do with my life.
My muddy, smelly, mosquito ridden house was not the most ideal place to welcome my mother to my life for the past year. We got to work and spent two days clearing out the remnants of the storm and getting rid of the stuff that got ruined (I needed new clothes anyway). What a mom eh?! Unfortunately that didn’t leave much time for meeting all the people that wanted to meet her and I will not stop hearing about it until the day I leave. I try to explain that my mom is the only person I know who can get sunburned while being indoors and therefore only had a few hours at dusk to meet everyone. They are still angry. We did have some nice dinners with great people and I think it was comforting for my mom to see the loving care with which the community treats me. I don’t think she loved the heat (see picture). But all in all I’d say it was a success- I got to see my mommy and she got to make sure that I haven’t withered away into skinny oblivion.
Other news:
-I have a camera now (expect more pictures!)
-I have my recording equipment now (expect recordings from The Shampoo Effect as well as my solo side project soon!)

Arrested Development

Last week, while I was waiting in the airport for my mom’s delayed flight to finally come in, I wanted to barf. This time it wasn’t the bus tacos that I just cannot resist but instead a bunch of matching tucked-in light blue t-shirts, cherubic smiles, and goatees galore. It could only mean one thing: it’s mission trip season. One Spring Break in college I went to a small village in Northern Mexico and helped for a week to rebuild a church and ate tortillas with old ladies and felt great about the fact that I was doing something “good” with my time rather than getting drunk on Lake Travis and mistakenly yelling out “I love you Mario Gomez” to Save by the Bell’s beloved AC Slater whose name is actually Mario Lopez (I had to wait another year for that one and it was actually Mr. Sean Greenberg responsible). Every Spring and Summer, hordes of groups like the one I was with make their way down here and, just like I did and am possibly still doing, royally screw things up.
Let me back up a few months to the first time I helped translate for a medical brigade that comes down here every year to hold walk-in clinics in rural villages. This particular group of very nice and very knowledgeable doctors, nurses, and translators would drive down a different dirt road every morning in big white vans packed to the gills with basic medications, vitamins, and medical supplies to give away in the town’s health center. Behind a blanket or flimsy door would be the makeshift OB/GYN room and the rest of the space would be filled with tables to be used for general consultation. Stretching down the street would be a line of people who had heard that it was American doctor day. One by one they would sit down and tell me their ailments which I would then relay to the doctor or nurse. All the kids had the flu, all the adults had pain everywhere in their body, and everyone complained that their pee was neon in the middle of the day. A month’s worth of vitamins and antihistamines for the kids, ibuprofen for the adults, and “don’t drink pepsi when you’re working in the blazing sun, drink water.” High blood pressure and symptoms of diabetes were common and those particular patients were given a week’s supply of medication and told to see the doctor in town. They almost always replied that they already knew they needed medicine but couldn’t afford it which is why they had come to us in the first place. The visits started to go like clockwork and I was seeing almost fifty people a day. Many of the kids would walk out the door and get back into line with different adults and do it all over again. Free medicine- why wouldn’t they?
I do not at all want to discredit what these fine doctors were doing. Many of the people we saw were greatly lacking in access to general health necessities and I have no doubt that when the doctor came out from behind the sheet, turned off her spelunking head lamp (eww), and called the next pregnant woman into the room, she was helping them in a vastly important way. But after a day or two I started to see the look on the faces as we pulled into town and I was not at all proud of what I was doing. I was ashamed. From their point of view, they were in need and the white people stepped in to fill it just like they always do every couple of months. How could they not see themselves as charity cases? We have stuff and they don’t and for one day we give it away because we can and they can’t. Some sort of infrastructural problem in the community? Well, just wait awhile and an American NGO or mission group or some other outside organization will come and fix it for us for free then leave. This isn’t helping someone to get their feet under them temporarily like after a natural disaster. This is the way in which foreign aid on the personal and governmental level continues to dig the dependency hole deeper and deeper.
What makes me barf about mission groups is that they do a little construction project, drive down the streets literally throwing toys and clothes at open arms, and then tie it into a message of accepting Jesus (not always) that subconsciously implies that maybe they too could have all this material luxury if they do so. Let me once again clarify that I do not think these are bad people with malicious intentions. In fact they have great intentions and I can personally attest to the spiritual value of working in communities in need. I also stress that I am not at all implying that the people welcoming these groups into their communities are lazy, selfish, or ungrateful for accepting the free gifts. I am surrounded by wonderful families that work harder than I could ever imagine. But its hard to take pride in your community and to want to fix the inherent problems yourself when someone else will eventually do it for you for free. And how does that make you view yourself if you are always in the position of receiving aid from elsewhere? Its no mystery why people always assume I’m rich and wonder what it is that I brought to give away no matter how meagerly I live amongst them. The color of my skin speaks louder.
I realize I am making huge generalizations and for that I apologize. There are a lot of organizations, medical brigades, and mission groups that distribute aid in a responsible way and the communities greatly benefit in the long term by becoming more self-sustained in their efforts. But a lot of money and work is wasted on short term benefits that become long term damage. I also realize that you may be saying to yourself, “Well this is a rather hypocritical rant. Aren’t you doing the exact same thing you’re complaining about? Aren’t you just giving stuff away? Two years may be longer than a week but it’s still temporary. You leave and they’ll wait for another like you.” Yes I know. That is what my friend who left was battling with and something that is always in the back of my mind. But there are ways to help others responsibly and I am searching for them all the time.
I’ll give you an example: there is a town here in the South that is infamous for being completely swept away by Hurricane Mitch in the early 90’s. As is often the case after large scale disasters, the international community was eager to act and all sorts of groups flooded (maybe not the best choice of words) in. Some of them had no plan at all upon arriving and turned into a huge burden like we saw in Haiti. But the German and American governments acted quickly to set up temporary housing (tent-city kind of thing) and set about rebuilding the town. German engineers drew up a blueprint for a basic cinderblock house that each family would receive if and only if they put in 80 hours of work. The new town is beautiful and, although it isn’t perfect, the people have a sense of pride in what they built themselves and work hard to maintain and improve it.
In my case, I want the only reminder of my presence here these two years to be knowledge, new skills, and good memories. I want to change the mindset in myself and others that the best solution to the problems abroad, many of which we have created (a point that cannot be overstated), is a blank check. That money is nothing but a shovel. If and when we can instead provide, or better yet allow others to create, their own wood, hammers, and nails, they will be used effectively from within to build a ladder that will stretch far beyond level ground.

sábado, 24 de abril de 2010

The Shampoo Effect

Last night I sat on my front porch with the lights off and watched the end of “summer” dramatically roll into town in the form of giant cumulonimbus anvils silhouetted by the constant stream of lightning within them. Wow look at my fancy sentences! I’ve been reading fancy books. I say “summer” in quotes because as you may recall, the change of seasons here has nothing to do with a change in temperature. In fact, it feels hotter now than ever because of the humidity. But at least the dust has turned to mud, the brown is slowly turning green, sticks in the ground are slowly becoming sticks with flowers on them, and the river is running again. I have a lot of good stories to tell and here is one of them…
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Semana Santa (the week of Good Friday-Easter) which is Central America’s biggest holiday and for the most part their version of MTV Spring Break with a dash of Jesus. In some places, the religious aspect dominates the celebrations (as it should Mom!) with somber marches through the streets behind men clothed in purple hooded gowns (that would probably not go over too well in the States) carrying a giant cross. But here everyone seemed to ask not, “what are you doing for Semana Santa?” but rather “where are you swimming for Semana Santa?” My answer was El Salvador and it was amazing. A couple easy bus rides took us straight to our beach paradise destination that would be our home for the week. The first thing I saw was Steve, who came to meet us from Guatemala, gazing at the ocean meticulously combing his mustache with his thumb and index finger. He had his token young European traveler friend in tow. The rest of the week was spent either in a hammock, in a hammock chair, bouncing on top of waves, being crushed to the ocean floor by waves, eating pupusas, or having adventures in the sand. The trip was given an extra bonus when my friend from high school, Drew, arrived with his two friends Jeff and Kyle. We all shaved mustaches and had a glorious time. Lucky for us, the ladies thought ahead and had fake mustaches sent from the states so that everyone could join in on the festivities. Drew caught me up on the news from H-town and which members of our old crew now have real life jobs and/or real life kids. The three of them came back to my town for a night and played a dusty game of soccer with the locals. Try to imagine the town’s reaction upon seeing not one but THREE gringos walking their streets one of them with a giant surfboard under his arm. I was proved wrong: it is indeed possible to be stared at even more. On a side note: I recently discovered that I attract more attention than most volunteers. They complain when they walk around with me that more people yell at them than usual. Yeah they complain. I have to live like that!
Back to work. My days are kept pretty busy with English class for the teachers, teeth brushing with the littleuns, music class where we make homemade instruments and learn about the world through music (my fav obv), reading tutoring, and this and that. Life has been good. Unfortunately, part of the experience is that every 6 months I have to say goodbye to good friends that have finished their service and are going home. Last weekend was Joel’s despedida and he will be greatly missed (tear). Almost every adventure of the past 7 months has involved Joel and I’m already looking forward to seeing him again in a little more than a year (more like a little less than a year and a half but you get the point). Here are some pictures from Steve and others! The Shampoo Effect is the name of the band Steve and I started while he was here. We play mostly weird semi-offensive electronic music. A few sample song titles are “No Juice Mondays” “The thing is…there’s no mayonnaise” and “You fit my chest hole.” The last one is inspired by the fact that my sternum caves in quite a bit creating a cavity in which the perfectly sized hand, perfectly cupped, can push down on top of it and make a funny toot noise.

Enjoy the pics! Amapala sunset, my neighbor, my shower/bathroom/wash area, my house, my boys (ryan, luke, and steve)

sábado, 20 de marzo de 2010


Miles Davis said “Less is more.”

I certainly agree with the king of cool in regards to music, make-up, mayonnaise, and the length of blog posts and I seem to have really embraced it in regards to frequency of blog posts. However, I don’t think this little adage applies to my months of February and March where a more apt description would be something like, “More… is More fun.” This is my roundabout way of apologizing for how long its been since I last posted something which might be kind of rediculous because that assumes you were upset in the first place. Either way, it has been a combination of laziness and busy-ness that has prevented me from writing anything and whether you noticed or not, I am going to try to catch you up on the fun part of the More.
I left you last with an intense cliffhanger about my house. Finally… reprieve. My house is little, yellow on the outside, and pink and blue on the inside. It looks like a nursery where half of the house is expecting a boy and the other a girl. I have a sweet little front porch area that is utilized to watch the amazing sunsets behind the melon fields that are just down the road. I have yet to see an un-awesome sunset here. February through April is melon season which means very big business around here. That also means trucks and busses hauling workers and harvests day and night down my street. Throughout the day I can see the heat vibrating off the bent backs of the workers milling up and down the rows and rows of green. Not to worry, they get a little breeze when the boss comes to check on the fruits of his labors from his helicopter. I have a pretty big yard area (mostly just one giant pile of rocks) and a pila/washboard/shower/toilet area just outside my back door. There is a rickety old barb wire fence around the house but I am happy to allow the yard to remain a major thouroughfare for kids and animals alike who both love to stick their head in the door to see how I’m doing. My neighbors have 2 goats but they decided that they like my food scraps more and have made my back porch their more or less permanent residence. As far as furniture goes, I am still living in somewhat of a spartan manner. I have a bed, and a little dresser for clothes in one room, a hammock in the other, and a mini-fridge and one burner stove in the kitchen. I swept AND mopped today so the floors are looking mighty shiny. I found out they’re blue! Who knew? This would be a great place for a picture of my house. My camera is still broken and makes all the pictures come out all psychedelic like the one at the top.
That guy, the famous Steven Zamora, has pictures and will soon give them to me so I can dispense them to you. Don’t worry. Perfect segue to start talking about hosting my first visitor. You guessed it. Mr. Steven Zamora. If you tell me you’ve ever seen a more beautiful mustachio, you are a liar. He stepped out of the cab wearing that marvelous strip of hair above his lip, a v-neck undershirt, and below the knee khaki shorts. It wasn’t until recently that I found out I am way out of style and looking might 40 year old manish in my above the knee shorts. He had a backpack full of clothes and canned sardines but it turns out the clothes just consisted of 8 of those same shirts and I therefore never saw him in anything else. I freaking love that guy. We went on some adventures for awhile and made it back to my little town just before I had to take off for a week long training thingy. I assumed he would want to hit the exciting central american backpacker road full of Germans, cock fights, and cheap beer. But instead he opted to stay by himself in my house and take over my life for a week. As far as I can tell nothing was screwed up too bad but we’ll see. Actually everyone loved him as much as I do and he seemed to have really made himself at home. In fact, when I walked in the door after being gone all week he made sure to repremand me for not wiping my feet. That weekend we threw an epic party for Graham who (tear) left to get back to Scotland or Sweden or some other magical place where fog sticks to your cheeks like chocolate. The party was awesome enough to keep Steve around for an extra week and I think he left satisfied. He has since cancelled his return flight and is kicking it in Guatemala.
I had a second visitor last weekend: a new health volunteer who just got to country and was sent to see how I live. When the power went out, we were left with no fans which means no sleep unless you are used to losing a few pounds of sweat into your sheets. We sat at the dinner table at 3am and ate all the yogurt that was going to go bad. Welcome buddy.
February also meant that school finally started which means that I finally have something to do besides walking around with my backpack on trying to look busy. I do a little english class for the teachers, make my pops proud by showing the little-uns the importance of keeping our teeth in existence, started a basketball team for the girls in what would be the equivelant of middle school, and intersperse all that with some music/art activities. The moms at the kinder all banded together to thank me for putting work into the dental hygiene demonstrations and gave me a lovely gift of pepsi and pop rocks. Their hearts were in the right place. Its been great and things only keep piling on. Holy week is coming up which is a big deal in these parts. My plans are still undefinitive but it is generally a time for the beach seeing as it is considered the hottest week of the year. When are you coming to visit?

domingo, 10 de enero de 2010

Girlfriend of the Sun

A Honduran politician in the early 1900’s once bitterly crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it down on his desk exclaiming that it now accurately represented a topographic map of the country. I don’t know what exactly the context was but perhaps he too had just spent 12 hours in a bus with his knees crammed against his chest and his shoes covered in baby vomit traveling only a few hundred miles as the crow flies. What else could make him so angry? In truth, traveling for many hours doesn’t really faze me all that much anymore. I used to avoid the 2 ½ hour trip from Austin to Houston like the plague but would now travel that kind of distance for a jar of peanut butter. I try not to think about how many hours of these 2 years will be spent either waiting for or riding a bus but I know I’ll probably get a lot of reading done. The busses themselves offer a pretty interesting glimpse into many different subcultures of Honduran society and have a complex system all to themselves. First there are the drivers or “chofers” who take great pride in passing any car, truck, or other bus going any slower than their desired speed thus decreasing the trip time by a few seconds and increasing my laundry load. Next, the “cobrador” or guy with gelled-up hair and lots of cologne collecting the money. The advanced calculus that he uses to determine exactly how much each person owes based on where they got on and where they get off (there are very few actual “stops”) amazes me. I often have to break out my mental calculator to disprove his “round up on the gringo” theorem. And then we have the “ayudante” who helps everyone by cramming as many human souls onto the bus as possible and assuring that you can indeed move further back if only with a bit of flexible imagination. Collectively these three fellows get me from point A to point B and I guess that’s all I could ask for. It’s the other business men on the bus that really fascinate me though. These people have found the bus to be the perfect mobile public forum to sell products, services, and ideas no matter how ludicrous they may be. Anytime the bus is moving slower than 10 mph, swarms of pirate vendors will surround and board the bus with tacos, fried plantains, green mangoes, and sodas. No matter how crowded the bus is, they find a way to get themselves and a hot tray of food up and down the aisle. “Oh how these vendors annoy us,” says the man in a white coat and hair slicked back, “good thing I’m here to sell you a product you really need.” He then busts into a spiel about his Chinese magic pill that cures everything from headaches to mosquito bites to cancer while at the same time making you a pro with the opposite sex. I hate when these spinsters actually make a sale which, unfortunately, is often. One man got on the bus to sell a teach-yourself English book and loved to give examples of his impeccable pronunciation which of course led to all eyes being averted to me for approval. I opted not to tell him that being able to say “I is liking speaking the English” is not the best marker of fluency. On my regular route, there is a jolly old hombre who comes on with an armful of useful items like lighter fluid, magnifying glasses, batteries, and plastic baseball bats. Jugglers, fire-twirlers, singers, dancers; they all make their rounds and meet back up at the end of the day to discuss their failures and successes. It makes for an interesting trip to the market. My bus has a sticker on the front proclaiming that my town is the loving partner of our Earth’s sun. That’s nice.
I made my longest trip to date this past week traveling from the Southland out to the Western department of Lempira, a trip that would be relatively quick if I didn’t have to sidestep El Salvador. The plan was to meet up with some of my closest friends from training to ring in the New Year after celebrating Christmas in site. I woke up sweating on the morning of the 24th wishing more than a little that I could be at home getting ready to eat my mom’s delicious waffles and watching my beautiful niece, Ella, make out with the cold window pane (see the hilarious pictures here) but felt better once I got outside and headed out for a slingshot hunting trip with Morlin and a new friend Moncho. We headed north on the only road that runs through town towards the sugar cane fields that are currently being harvested. The collection process consists of burning the unused parts of the cane which is picked up by the wind and rains down black leaflets every afternoon and leaves the fields an apocalyptic charred wasteland. School busses that bring in the laborers lined the street and we walked past groups of men washing up from the night’s extremely hard work getting ready to finally go home for the holiday. We turned off towards the mango groves that were our final destination and forked into a 3 pronged creeping barrage of small rocks and curses combing the thick mesquite for any signs of life. My father has always said that he loves hunting because it provides some sort of mystical connection to our primal instincts and our ancestors that depended on their own hands for what they ate. I always loved it because it meant I could spend some time outside away from the city with my dad but, to be honest, never felt totally comfortable with the odds in favor of the guy with the gun. If archery hunting provides more of that instinctual connection (and narrower odds), then the sling shot is a time machine back 10,000 years. We made our way through banana groves swarming with mosquitoes, crossed the river, cut across more sugar cane, and eventually made it to the mangoes that still have a few months to go ( I can’t freaking wait!). As usual, no stone from my slingshot ever came within 5 feet of anything I was aiming at but I had a great time and got to explore more of the surroundings of Tular. We came across some abnormally large jícaros which I used to make some cups pictured above. That evening, I ate dinner with my work counterpart who had family visiting from all over Honduras. Afterwards we went to set up for the big dance that would be the library´s biggest fundraiser of the year. I spent the rest of the night trying to look intimidating with my arms crossed and my chest bowed up working as the door man. It wasn’t my typical Christmas Eve but everyone was in an extremely festive mood and the party raged until 4:00am. Christmas for Hondurans is celebrated entirely on the 24th and by the time the morning of the 25th rolled around (very late for me) life was back to business as usual.
A few days later, I woke up around the same time as the chickens, hopped on the bus, and started the long trip towards Celaque, the tallest mountain in the country and our goal for the New Year. Once again, the air coming in through the window dropped and I watched the absolutely beautiful Honduran country side roll by. The amazing thing about a country with such expansive altitude disparities is the number of different climates and landscapes you get to see in a very small area. The sharp wind-blown features of the South gave way to billowing sheets of green plains, wildflowers, and quaint little mountain towns in less than an hour. Quaint- what a great word. I guess having little right after it is a little redundant. My Dad’s favorite word is Kiosk, also a good one. We all met up in the town of Gracias where the married couple that lives there was nice enough to host us for the evening as we prepared to climb the mountain the next day. Most of the faces were either new to me or ones I’ve been missing since training so the remainder of the night was spent catching up and sharing funny stories. We left the next morning with our packs loaded with food for 12 and snaked our way up the trail towards the first campsite and half-way point to the summit. Ahh the smell of a campfire, ahh the night sky miles from any city lights, ahh the crisp air at 8,000ft. It’s like that mattress commercial- you just wanna say ahhh. The next day I woke up with a little evil guy inside my stomach trying to talk the semi-processed food into vacating the premises immediately. Luckily, they held strong until that evening and I was able to make it to the top and back before they complied to his wishes. The mountain was absolutely beautiful. We very leisurely weaved our way through towering pines interspersed with enormous ferns under which one would usually expect to find a troll lounging with his legs crossed and his hat pulled down over his eyes. The air was almost always foggy and very moist and had that coolness to it that sticks on the end of your nose. We reached the top with a triumphant dropping of packs, snapped some photos, ate some sandwiches, and turned around to head back to camp. From the lookout point, you are supposedly able to see all the way to San Salvador but we learned that Celaque does indeed deserve its designation as a “Cloud Forest.” After a bit, though, we were rewarded with a small window and a stunning view of Honduras below us. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate 2009. That night, my grand plans to ring in 2010 were thwarted by that evil guy I told you about earlier who finally got his way around 11:00pm and kept me up for the rest of the night. Hey at least I got to see midnight roll around. If it hadn’t been for such a fun time otherwise, I think my mood would have been pretty sour. But as it was, I had an amazing trip with an amazing group of people and was very sad to see everyone part ways. We stayed the next night in a beautiful hostel overlooking Gracias and took a dip in the hot springs that stay open 24 hours and are a total party scene. I got back on the bus and back to real life. Happy New Year.
Last Thursday I was able to watch Texas play in the Rose Bowl and tried to explain to non-American football fans how my heart could be so invested in a game that wasn’t soccer. It turns out it is actually a good thing I wasn’t able to follow the season very closely this year or I would now be in a deep depression that would last for weeks. That being the only game I’ve watched in its entirety, the funk passed rather quickly. There’s always next year. I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas Day and/or 8 Crazy Hannukah nights and brought in the New Year in style. Coming soon: What do you eat? What is your house like? What exactly do you do all day? What do you do when goats get into your house and are totally freak out? All great questions that I will attempt to answer.
The Three Obviously Best Albums of 2009:
1) The Wonderful Organization- TWO (
2) Umphrey’s Mcgee- Mantis
3) Opposite Day- What is is?

ps. My camera started turning all natural light purple so all my pictures are really weird. But there are lots of other people who have great pictures from the Celaque trip and they are coming soon...