Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pit Stop in San Salvador: Return to Central America

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in the San Salvador airport. I didn't notice the name as I checked the menu and eagerly selected 3 different kinds of pupusas, corn-flour tortillas, filled with: cheese, beans and chicharron.
I am writing this post after an extended blogging dry spell, completely leaving out my experiences from living at the Iguana Research and Breeding Station (IRBS) on the Bay Island of Utila in Honduras, and my trip to Nicaragua with fellow FBC intern B and her sis. I have a hard time finding a healthy balance between enjoying being in the moment of my new and exciting surroundings and taking the time to write about these experiences. Maybe one day I will master that art, but in the meantime I am too excited to backtrack to those stories in the past so that I can share what's happening in the present.

I am in Central America. Again. Just when I thought living 6 months in Honduras would satisfy this constant urge to be immersed in Latino culture, I made the decision to return after barely one month of having come home to Ottawa. The reason I chose to do so is not because I don't love the city, my friends or family, because I truly do. I have loved being home, seeing old and new friends alike: from high school to FBC. I have gone to Caliente, the local Latin dance club, several times to practice my salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaeton moves. I was nostalgic every time. Going to the Latin block party on Sparks Street downtown was a great time, making it feel like summer for just a fleeting moment before the clouds rolled in. Permanently. The weather in Ottawa has seriously been sub-par this season. Just when I was hoping to have 2 summers this year, I will only be having one, which will be in the Caribbean. I honestly can't complain. I am so grateful I could finally redeem those 40,000 Aeroplan points I've been saving up for what feels like forever, to invest a whole $78 in taxes to make this flight possible.

So here I am, sitting in an airport cafe, having now eaten all 3 pupusas and feeling no remorse. I will proceed to finish the smoothie which is a serious explosion of flavour, and I will top it all off with a coffee. I'm not sure how Salvadoran coffee is since I don't recall ever having tried it, but with Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica having a good track record, I don't think I will be disappointed. I don't think it's possible to be any more disappointed than I was when I had no other choice but to drink Mr. Sub coffee at the Ottawa Greyhound bus station. It was foul. Rank. Pumped with caffeine and drained of flavour. I know I'm a coffee snob after having tasted the real deal here in Central America. The table I am sitting at with my ghetto laptop has coffee beans under a glass pane which has to be a good sign, as if it were such a big commodity that it can be used purely for decoration. As a side note, we should be inspired to do the same with flax seed in Canada because we are apparently a big exporter, something I discovered by chance in a supermarket in Managua, Nicaragua.

Only 4 hours left before I board my next flight to the "most violent city on Earth" according to the Guardian, where I will be welcomed by the suave taxi driver I had the pleasure of meeting the last time I was there. I will stay at the Posada Bed & Breakfast, a sweet place with a pool where I stayed with my parents as they were heading home and with B and her sis as we finished our trip in Nicaragua...so many memories!
I wish I could experience them all over again but I'm excited to make new ones, particularly while doing my Dive Master course at Turtle Eco Bay Resort in Cayos Cochinos! If I see a turtle I think I'll cry happy tears. Scuba diving can be an emotional sport.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The other side of Honduras

I realize my previous posts have been a bit pessimistic, critical and not painting Honduras in the best light. Aside from the two assaults and difficulty in making local friends here, this really is a beautiful country.
Before starting the Christmas holidays I spent several of my weekends outside of La Ceiba to get away from the city.

There are many places to see nearby, including Cayos Cochinos, only 45 minutes away by boat from the Sambo Creek beach and with some of the most turquoise and clear waters I have ever seen. I stayed on the island of Chachahuete with a Garifuna community, in a simple cabin just a few feet from the shore. I loved hearing the waves so close by at night. The coral reef is impressive and I saw lots of types of coral (brain, fan...) and fish snorkeling right off the shore. We asked one of the fishermen Naun to take us to the larger island Cayo Mayor so we could go for a hike and look for the endemic Hog Island boa...we saw three!

The following weekend I went rafting with Laura and Brittany on the Cangrejal river. I had gone rafting once before just outside of Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica but the scenery here was much more impressive with the cloud forest in the background. At some point we stopped to walk through the jungle for 20 minutes before reaching a secluded waterfall, where the water was very cold.

These past two weeks during my holidays have allowed me to see the Copan Mayan ruins, the Pulhapanzak waterfall by the Yojoa lake and the Bay Island of Utila, with some fun experiences along the way...
When we were in Copan, we decided to go to hot springs about an hour away called Luna Jaguar which were gorgeous. It was right in the middle of the rainforest and had lots of little pools of hot, cold and sulfurous water. Just as we were about to leave, I thought I'd use the washroom but rather than making the whole effort to find my way in the dark I decided to squat discreetly behind a car in the parking lot. After my time at FBC where I was too lazy to make the trek at night time (it was 20m away from the cabin,) especially since it had been confirmed that a lynx lived nearby, I developed the bad habit of doing my business wherever I could. I'm not saying that it's right or good because I remember being disgusted by the men urinating on the walls in the streets in India, but that's what happened.

I've learned my lesson not to be too comfortable going in public, especially not in the rainforest, where red fire ants live and on whose home I stepped on. Within seconds I felt my legs tingle, then get warm, then feel like they were on fire. I had hundreds of these vicious little things all over my body. I frantically tried to shake them off but they had wasted no time in going underneath my layer of clothes and nesting their pincher into every crevice of my body.

And so it began, I started feeling faint, broke into a cold sweat, lost the colour in my face, eyes rolling back into their sockets and started losing consciousness (this is what my friends told me I looked like), not before violently vomiting the only meal I'd had all day. I am so grateful that I had my friends there to look after me, especially Luis and his cousin Alberto who took me to the hospital through the winding gravel roads.
I was able to get an injection for my allergic reaction and was put on an IV (my first was only a few months ago) for 4 hours. I didn't realize just how bad I looked until I saw myself in the mirror back at Luis' friend's place. My lips were swollen and I had a bright red rash on my chest, and this was after my friends had told me I was looking better. For the following 5 days my entire body was covered in this rash and it took everything I had in me not to scratch myself until I bled. At least I was "allowed" to pick at my split ends (which is another bad habit) as a distraction from itching.

After spending a day in Pena Blanca by the Yojoa lake to see the 43m tall Pulhapanzak waterfall which we crawled under, we made our way to Utila. I finally got my PADI Open Water certificate, it was amazing! The coral and fish were so colourful and it was an incredible feeling being able to breathe and glide smoothly under water. On our "fun dive" day we saw dolphins from our boat and the captain tried to get as close to them as possible so we could jump in and swim with them. I was able to see them underwater for about 3 seconds, but I still have a clear image of the sight. We weren't the only ones with that idea because several other boats were chasing after the dolphins, coming from all directions, trapping them unfairly within a daunting circle of ogling tourists on noisy petrol-guzzling boats. It didn't help that our captain was setting off firecrackers into the ocean just for kicks. I was happy that they were able to swim away.

People in Honduras have an unhealthy obsession with firecrackers. I hate the things. They're so short-lived, scare the crap out of you (fine, just me) and leave an unnecessary mess of burnt paper and plastic. On New Year's day in Utila the streets were covered with a thick layer of this garbage. If you're going to set something off, at least let it be something pretty that everyone can see, like a firework. That's the end of my anti-firecracker rant.

The next stop in our itinerary after Utila was in Livingston, Guatemala, to renew our tourist visa. It's a small port town that's over-priced and filled with tourists but it still had its charm. I particularly liked seeing the mix between the Mayan women in their traditional outfit including an embroidered shirt and ankle-length skirts and the Garifuna women selling pan de coco and offering to braid your hair. I saw a Mayan woman in her traditional wear also had braids with the those colourful plastic beads, it was cool.

One of my favourite parts was the fact that the lush jungle came right up to the water's edge, leaving little room for a beach, unlike in Honduras. Another neat thing were these public washing stands. Imagine a square ceramic pool, with basins along the edge where you can rub your clothes vigorously against a grate to clean them (the way most people do their laundry) and all you have to do is byos (bring your own soap). I think that's one of the best ideas ever, for the whole community and even for tourists who are on the go.

After our 3-day getaway we made our way back to Honduras with a fresh new stamp in our passports. Mira and I were feeling adventurous and decided we would do everything we could to make it back to La Ceiba the same day. The whole trip lasted a total of 10 hours getting on and off boats, shuttles and buses. It was a miracle we made it in the time we did and we couldn't have done it without the help of Ramon, the coffee plantation worker who accompanied us to San Pedro Sula by taking the shortcut. He mentioned collecting coins from all over the world and was so happy when Mira pulled out a loonie, quarter and cent, which he said he would keep de recuerdo, as a souvenir.

Meeting Ramon meminded me that people in Honduras can be friendly, kind and helpful, and not often out to get me as I'd convinced myself in a paranoid way. I realize that in order to change my experience from a negative to a positive one, I had to change my attitude. Nobody wants to be friendly with the girl who looks at you skeptically and critically (i.e. me), even though I do so unintentionally. My heart still skips a beat when I'm alone on the street and I see someone approaching me out of the corner of my eye.

The lesson I've learned, with the help of wise friends and family members, is that the less positive experiences are opportunities for learning and recognizing that what seems to be a negative situation can turn out to be the most meaningul in terms of personal growth. I can´t saw that my internship here has been a walk in the park up until this point but I know that the challenges I´ve faced have allowed me to learn more about myself by pushing outside of my comfort zone. When it comes down to it, that´s mainly what I came here to do...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is it carelessness or pure misfortune?

I was hoping to write a blog post on a more positive note than my last one this time but, as luck would have it, last night I was the victim of another robbery at gun-point. This is my second in 1.5 weeks (and counting?). I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry about the situation, or both, I just know that I have so many mixed emotions right now it's hard not to be pessimistic about my time so far in La Ceiba.
When my boss from FBC first took me aside and asked me whether I was really sure I wanted to go to Honduras, because it is a dangerous place and very different from Mexico or Costa Rica, considering that I am "a softie" (a direct quote that I refuse to agree with as I stand by my argument that my reaction to e-coli poisoning in the water I was informed was safe to drink being more violent than others' is NOT a reflection of my personal strength), I was offended. Did she think I wasn't capable of living under difficult conditions? I've lived abroad for a big part of my life and it's not like I've never been exposed to hardships, so why was I being put under the magnifying glass to determine whether or not I was apt for this internship. Looking back, I realize now that it was a question of my safety being put at risk rather than doubting my ability to live in a less developed Central American country.
In that sense, she was absolutely right to ask if I was sure about my decision. When I chose to come to Honduras, I suspected I would be faced with challenges, but two gun-point robberies is not what I had envisioned. Last night, I was walking with two other interns on the street I live in to catch a cab just down the road. We were on our way to the hotel A's friends were staying at, where they have a pool. I was carrying my bag (a terrible habit I haven't quite seemed to learn to drop but stashing my valuables in various crevaces of my body to minimize the probability of being robbed), when all of a sudden a ridiculously loud motorcycle came barreling down in our direction. I moved onto the sidewalk to get out of the way and let them pass. Little did I know, until it was too late, that it was two men, the driver and the assaulter, about to make their move.
For reasons unknown, I was the only one targetted. I had my bag strapped over one shoulder under the sweater I was wearing. These guys were clearly amateurs, as the assaulter jumped off the motorcycle, didn't utter a word, and waved the gun around in my direction as if he was carrying a flashlight. He tugged at my bags, looking puzzled as to why it wasn't budging. After I managed to get my sweater off, he took both of my bags, the one with the money ($5) and my cards (I can't even justify why I had them with me), as well as the one with my towel and bathing suit. I don't see what kind of point they were trying to make by stealing everything I had, including things that would be completely useless to them such as my bikini, when all they really wanted was my phone and my money.
I could spend an endless amount of time asking myself why I was the only victim in both cases (the first time I was the only one with the bag so that may be justified but yesterday we all had bags) but I would be wasting it. The truth is, it doesn't matter where you are, who you're with, what you're doing, what time of day it is, whether you're a "gringo" or a local, these corrupt thieves will attack whatever and whomever they can. The most pathetic part is that they don't target the people who actually have the money, such as CEOs and bankers, but rather every day people, like foreign volunteers or local government workers (someone I work with was also assaulted at gunpoint last night, in a cab) because that's all they have the guts to get their hands on. When I told a local friend of mine what had happened the first time around, he told me a story about Cuban volunteers offering medical services in Honduras being assaulted and, once they explained what they were doing in this country to the assaulter, the son of a gun actually did. He even apologized for having approached them in the first place.
Somehow, I don't believe either of the people who robbed me have any sort of conscience and would have thought twice about robbing me after I'd explained to them that I was just a measly volunteer trying to offer my skills and to learn as much as possible from their environment. Luckily I haven't been physically harmed in either case. It's sad to have to spend every day wondering whether today will be the day it is "Game Over" in my video game-like life here. I don't want to have to count down the days until I get to leave, because I am finally starting to meet more local people. I think I can (relatively) enjoy another month here going to my dance classes with L, the new addition to our intern family, going out to dance one of these days, to the beaches and to the hot springs. After that, I will be ready to be transferred to another internship to a more isolated but safer place. I recognize that I am facing these daily challenges and sometimes it's hard to find the answer to the quesion "why am I even here, if I am constantly the victim of an attack and resentment/hatred towards 'gringo' foreigners is almost tangible?" but I know that I will be a better and stronger person at the end of it all, and for that I am thankful.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Busted.

I'm starting this post on a bit of a sour note because, as of two hours ago, I am phoneless and $40 poorer. Yes, it finally happened. I was with A and M, who are visiting from out of town, and we were on our way to the Expatriados bar when a man on a bicycle approached us, flashing the gun he had tucked into his belt, told us not to scream and to give him everything we had. My first thought was: "Awww, shit." Ever since arriving in Honduras, I feel like I've been living a game of 'Gotcha!' every day, where I'm constantly looking over my shoulder, paranoid that someone is out there to get me. If you don't know this game, I should tell you it's very fun to play with friends but not in real-life as a daily threat. The rules are as follows: someone has your name as their "victim" and this person cannot "get" you unless it is just the two of you, with no witnesses. In general, I try to make sure that when I am walking, there is more than just myself in the street. So far I have been able to do so, but tonight I let my guard down.

Let me tell you how it all started. A is celebrating her 25th birthday tomorrow and we wanted to celebrate by going out for the first time since arriving in Honduras. As luck should have it, tomorrow the municipal elections are being held and there is some strange law that states that no restaurant or bar can serve alcohol today or tomorrow so that nobody protests at the polls tomorrow. Really? If people can't drink at the bars but they can in their own homes, how would that discourage them from supposedly acting up at the voting stations the following day? Anyway, because of this law all bars, particularly in the Zona Viva, are closed today except for the Expatriates.

Since it's only 2 blocks away and it seems ridiculous to pay for a cab to take us that distance when we can walk it so easily, we chose the latter option. Of course this was a mistake. Even though the security guard in the neighbourhood surprised us by accompanying us to the main road, he didn't cross over to the other side by which point we were no longer safe. We were easy prey for the Thief on a Bicycle with a Gun. I had brought my $2 army knife but there was really no competition there. Whether or not it was loaded, I'm not sure, but I definitely wasn't going to take a chance trying to find out.

I didn't put up too much of a fight. I did pretend I didn't have my phone on me at first and, after he'd taken it out of my bag, I asked if I could at least have my SIM card, to which he responded "no" and when I protested that it was only $2 ("son 40 lempiras!") he said that he was very sorry ("lo siento mucho"). I doubt he was, but at least I tried. I wasn't as afraid as I thought I would be in that kind of situation. It was my first time being robbed at gun-point. I was more frustrated than anything, and annoyed at myself for having brought so much unnecessary change on me, as well as my Iphone. It was a free hand-me-down from my sister so I didn't lose anything of great value, however it was convenient to have around to upload pictures, to use WhatsApp messenger and to access wifi. It's impressive that I've "lost" it during my fifth week here, since it's a whole 2 weeks later than when I'd lost the Itouch  I used to have while on my Eurotrip in Paris at the time!

I could spend all my time worrying about what I no longer have and wondering how I could be so irresponsible but in reality, all things considered, I got off easy. The thief didn't assault us in any way or ask for anything that could put myself and others in danger, such as the keys to my house. We all walked away safely and unharmed and at least we were not alone. While it's a shame to have gone through that, I am grateful that I was with my friends at the time and that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Even the taxi driver's warning from earlier in the day to beware of thieves on bicycles right on the corner of my street could have been a clear sign to me, foreshadowing near-future events, but I liked to think things weren't as bad as he was making them out to be. I was wrong. At this point, there's no sense in dwelling on what's already in the past, but at least I can take it as a lesson to always be on my guard and to remember that it's better safe than sorry.

 I suppose you haven't really experienced Honduras until your life has been put at risk. At least I can cross that off my bucket list now. I'm excited to have more authentic experiences, ideally not life-threatening, during my time here!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just Dance

This is my fourth week in Honduras and my placement here in La Ceiba is taking me a while to adjust. I have a small room, which is fine because I survived the woods in New Brunswick! I think I would sleep fine if it weren't for all the noise all. the. time: the crying baby and barking chow-chows next door, along with the loud traffic. I would close my windows but it gets so hot and stuffy in my room. Lately it's been cooler because it's the rainy season which is nice, except the streets are flooded. Someone on their bike the other day was riding in water halfway up to their tire! I am so glad I brought my boots with me (best $30 I ever spent at Canadian Tire).
One thing I might complain about is that my work could be a bit more laid back...I live with my supervisor Juan Diego who's from Spain and away from his wife and son so works all the time to keep himself distracted I think. I wish I could be as excited as he is for me to go through 3 of the Honduras education curriculums of 400 pages each to see how we can incorporate more environmental themes. We get to work around 8am and don't leave til 5 or 6pm. At least we get 1.5-2hours off at lunch. The office is only a 5 minute walk away which would be so convenient if it was safe enough for me to go walking daily on my own!

I'm finding it pretty hard to work in an office all day. The projects I've been working on so far have been pretty good, a mix of everything between writing a proposal for funding from Putin (yes, you read that right, some real estate guy from Germany came in saying he was going to Russia to see his bestie the president who apparently has money to spend on organizations such as CREDIA, el Centro Regional de Documentacion e Interpretacion Ambiental) and other research/writing projects. It all sounded a bit fishy to me but who am I to judge? CREDIA has been funded by a European Union PROCORREDOR project which ends in Dec so after that they don't have much money to keep more than five staff , at which point I don't know what my role as an intern would be, other than writing more funding proposals to a questionable audience!

More recently I've been working on a Turismo Educativo Cientifico project to promote Cuero y Salado, a wildlife refuge nearby, as an ideal place for professors and students to do research as well as for ecotourists to appreciate the biodiversity. Tomorrow Ian, Aisha and I are going to Boca del Toro in Cuero y Salado to do an environmental education workshop, where we will be performing the Wetland Worries puppet show in Spanish. I will also be facilitating a drawing class for kids to create their own mural of a mangrove ecosystem! I'll be spending the weekend in Salado Barra, where Anna and Mira are living, and will get to see what it's like living without electricity or a fridge!

Two weekends ago I was with 2 other interns Ian and Aisha who live in the same house. After having fresh coconut water from the street vendor, we walked by the beach and ended up in a really rough neighbourhood by accident. I've never seen so many death stares in my life. One crazy guy saw us and, in a fit of rage, picked up a plastic bottle from the ground, flung it at us, then took out his knife saying he'd kill us! He missed and kept walking without looking back...I was very rattled by the experience!

One thing I am SUPER happy about is that I joined the gym that's only 2 blocks away. I've been to 3 dance classes already and it is the most fun EVER. Think pelvis thrusting, bumping and grinding, ass-shaking...basically a really good time. The other day we did the horse-riding dance to the Gangnam Style song. TODAY was the BEST part. I you haven't already had the privilege of seeing it, I have this "signature" move where I am leaning with one arm back, knees bent, feet on the ground and pelvic thrusting upward. It may sound vulgar and it probably looks it to, but it is hilarious to do and watch other people's reactions. My teacher did that move. Straight up, it's a thing over here! You would have been so proud! But actually the best part is that she made us use a plastic rod and use it as if it were a strip pole, to the following song by Mariah Carey and Busta Rymes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t89ixWFgwY
I don't think I've ever humped an inanimate object/the floor so much in my life. Since joining the gym, I've set a goal to talk to a new person every day. It's taken a little while to get started, but so far so good. It's amazing how much I appreciate even a bit of small talk. The other day, 2 girls told me they liked my rainboots. It literally made my day. I felt like I was the new kid in elementary school just dying for someone to start a conversation with me. Today a local Honduran girl even told me that I dance well! I am way beyond flattered! I may be the only tourist in the class and stick out like a sore thumb, but at least I can dance!

In terms of traveling, I've only had 1 free weekend in 3 weeks (last weekend there was a recycling day where we did a puppet show on worms/compost), so I haven't really been going to the national parks nearby to hike or go rafting like I've wanted. I also want to go to the nearby bay islands like Utila to snorkel and get my diving certificate.
 Last weekend, we went to a "private" beach and to get there we rented a taxi. The driver Alberto was great! He was a perfect tour guide, pointing things out to us, stopping along the way to take pics of hidden waterfalls and a local fisherman with the big catch of the day (yellow-tailed tuna)! We also got to try almonds straight from the fruit! It was awesome.
I also went up into the rainforest to the Cangrejal river to go swimming. You could see the waterfalls and the cloudforest in the distance. It was a gorgeous secluded place with lots of plants, flowers and birds.

I'm looking forward to more weekends off so I can see all the beautiful things this country has to offer!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Let the Culture Shock Begin

It's official. I've entered into the "culture shock" phase of my experience here in La Ceiba. I'm able to recognize this change because I am aware of the 4 different stages of one's experience abroad in a culture  with which they are unfamiliar, including:

- the "honeymoon" stage: where everything is new, exciting and overall great
- the "culture shock" stage: where everything isn't as great as it first seemed, you start to notice little (or big) things that are not "normal" in your own culture, or that you're not used to having to deal with back home
- the "negotiation" stage: where you start to accept the differences in your new culture and try to embrace them as contributing to your unique experience, while starting to create a new niche for yourself
- the "mastery" stage: where you've finally gotten into your "groove," you feel like you know your new home quite well and are confident enough to get by without requiring other people to help you along the way

Going back to my current stage, the second week at work has been overwhelming. We had a group of more than 50 students come to CREDIA with a one-day advanced notice, for which the interns had to prepare a list of questions related to the "Story of Stuff" video (in Spanish) by Annie Leonard we had shown them. I wasn't expecting to have to be prepared to facilitate a discussion on consumerism and its environmental, social and economic impacts in a language I'm not fluent in but sometimes the best way to learn is to be thrown into something and figure out how to make it work, which it did in the end.

It's never a dull day at the office. Just when you think you have your work under control, some last-minute commitment is thrown your way and it is expected that you deal with the more pressing issue above all else. It can be frustrating because there is definitely a different sense of time here. Ahora means "at some point in the future," ahorita means "at some point in the near future" and ahora mismo means "right now," but that doesn't always tend to be the case. Our maid, Dona M, doesn't come when she says she will and shows up when we're not expecting her. She's a sweet lady but I haven't (yet) been able to embrace the casual attitude she and most other people have here towards time.

One of this week's highlights was going out with a couple of coworkers to eat baleadas, flour tortilla with refried beans with cheese, at a street stall parked on the old railway tracks that Standard fruit used to come in and out of the city. It was neat to sit at a picnic table in the middle of the street, surrounding my oncoming traffic in both directions, while the local woman who sat next to me asked if I could pass her the chile, as if we were all part of a big family.

After eating, we went to the Jaguar, a bar set right on the beach with a vew of the ocean.  Under this large beach hut there were hammocks and a main centre-piece of mosaic flooring which reminded me of the artwork in the ASOPROLA community in the Amistad National Park in Costa Rica. The owner, Roberto, served us Giffity, an herbal liquor traditionally brewed by the Garifuna people Cayos Cochinos Islands. Behind the bar were shelves stacked with jars each containing a special drink that had been concocted on-site. It looked like a series of science experiments. Out of one of these jars came a delicious juice made of roses, which I had never tried. From the long menu's selection, we could also choose: mango, passion fruit, starfruit, guanabana, and so many more.

Even though I was happy that we'd finally left the house the other night, which was exactly what I'd wanted, I still have this feeling that there's something missing, like I haven't quite figured out what it is that's so great about La Ceiba or Honduras for that matter. I didn't feel motivated or excited to do much of anything on this beautiful Saturday morning. After reading several chapters of Pablo Coelho's Once Minutos, or "Eleven Minutes," a story about Maria, the young adult who leaves her small hometown in search of a "better" life but soon realizes that it is much harder to be away from home than she expected, I was inspired by the author's message that life is what you make of it.

In order to get myself out of the house, I resolved to sign myself up at the Nautilus gym, where they offer dance, zumba and spinning lessons. Best of all, they have an outdoor pool! The feeling of my 15 minutes of freedom outside the house, and not in a cab or some other vehicle that was taking me "safely" to my next destination, was glorious. I really dislike the feeling of being locked-in and unable to walk around on my own. Even though the gym is only one manzana, or block (newly-learned word which does not mean apple in this context), away, it's nice to know I have somewhere to go to burn off some energy and/or tension. Baby steps...

P.S. For those who enjoy books like Coelho's that encourage self-reflection, I also recommend his novel Veronika Decides to Die. It's more uplifting than it is gloomy, I promise!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Adapting to the Honduran Culture

My first week  at CREDIA, el Centro Regional de DocumentaciĆ³n e InterpretaciĆ³n Ambiental, has been a very full one. So far, I've helped my boss JD with the revision of a chapter in the informe, or report, that will be sent to the EU to prove that their funds have, in fact, been used to develop beneficial environmental projects.
The office space that I share with my coworkers is gorgeous, surrounded by a lush garden with avocado, mango and mangosteen trees, along with many other tropical plants. We've already taken advantage of the papaya tree in our garden to make smoothies and juices. I love having such easy access to fresh fruit and knowing exactly where they came from. It reminds me of FBC's community shared agriculture (CSA) garden, where we could gather all the ingredients we needed for the meal we were about to prepare. It's too bad they don't have any kale here, as I was starting get used to the idea of having the leafy super-vegetable infiltrate every single dish I would eat.
My time here hasn't all been fun and games. For instance, I can't help feeling frustrated about not being able to wander the streets of La Ceiba (during the day of course) because it's too dangerous for a gringa to do so. Until a couple of days ago when I went to run some errands with coworkers, I had only seen my house, the route to the office which I walk with JD, I or A, and the mall, for which I was also accompanied. It's funny because a couple of years ago I would have been happy to be chaperoned everywhere I went since I didn't like being on my own. Ever since my trip to Europe, I have learned to appreciate traveling solo, along with all the opportunities that come with it. I am still trying to come to terms with my limitations as a white female in a less secure and more machista latino culture.
While I don't like to compare new experiences directly with older ones because it inevitably takes away from the excitement or novelty of the one you are currently living, it's almost impossible not to do so. I do think it's important to recognize it, though.
Until last night, I haven't had any success feeling rested by the time I wake up in the morning, whereas normally I sleep like a tank and you couldn't raise me from my slumber if you tried. I've been tired all week from a lack of restful sleep and it's starting to take a toll on me. I'm not sure if it's the heat, the noises, or a mix of both but I am definitely not used to either.
There are uncanny parallels between my home in San Jose, Costa Rica and my current home in La Ceiba, Honduras. While the chihuahas kept me up in the night in CR, chow chows are barking their heads off until the wee hours of the morning over here. It turns out that our neigbours next door run a kennel and just as they're getting rid of, or rather finding a home for, their last pup, a new litter is on its way. They also have a very whiny and unhappy baby in the mornings. At 7am the children from the local school are screeching with delight as their teacher encourages them to sing louder. The traffic here is constant and someone somewhere is always honking their horn. I know I seem bitter about all these things right now but I'm sure I'll become accustomed to the amplified sounds and appreciate their unique contribution to my experience soon enough.
Another similarity between both homes is the proximity to a gym. I loved having access to the Diamond Gym in San Jose, where I could participate in fun aerobic classes in which the larger lady next to me was doing pirouettes between moves (show-off) while I was stumbling over my feet. We'll see what this Nautilus gym has to offer.
This weekend was just as busy. We had a group of Scouts camp out in the botanical gardens at our work for the first time. While the whole event was a bit scattered and slightly unorganized, it was great to see how excited these kids were just to be there and to learn about nature. We did a night walk and listened to the owls perched high up on tree branches. The fireflies were out in full force, like a flickering constellation in the garden's ebony sky. At the end of our little hike we met a tarantula along the path...just what I needed before going to bed. Good thing I, JD and I live close enough to walk home and go to sleep in our "safe" beds, free of scorpions and other creepy crawlies, but not the mosquitoes or ants. Those nasty things will track me down wherever I go and leave my skin raw and red from feasting on my entire body.
Thankfully, after saying goodbye to the Scouts, we had time this afternoon to go to a beach called Sambo Creek. It was pleasantly quiet and secluded and, although it was overcast, we still enjoyed swimming in the Caribbean Sea. I even soaked up a bit of sun through the clouds.
I hope that, as I continue my stay here, I can be more comfortable getting around on my own while acknowledging which places are not safe to be in, especially as a gringa, or North American tourist. The difference here is that I'm not a tourist but rather a volunteer for a local organisation and, as such, there are certain expectations of me I may not always be so eager to meet. I guess that's just part of working abroad! I'm trying not to let the fact that I've already overheard casual conversations on two different occasions about someone or other being killed deter me from leaving my house. According to the locals there's a lot to discover in this city. I'm looking forward to the day I get to explore some more.
Bring it on, week #2!