Saturday, December 5, 2009

Phone Business

Last night after dinner, the topic came up of how cheap phones are in Honduras and how ridiculously and unnecessarily expensive they are in the States. Keep in mind that this is mostly comparing a pay as you go plan, vs a contract plan, but in the States, pay as you go is not particularly economical if you talk more than... 20 minutes a month. Contracts are available here in Honduras, but most people don't have them--they work best for people who also pay for cellular modems to go with their computers and monthly internet access in addition to their mobile phones.

Comparison #1: Actual cost of basic phone
-in Honduras: 450 lempiras ($24)
-in the US: $79 dollars assuming renewal of 2 year contract, $200 and up w/o the contract renewal

Comparison #2: Cost per minute to call US-Honduras or Honduras-US

-in Honduras:15 minutes for 10 lempiras ($0.04/minute
-in the US: $5 phone card used from a land line gets you about 24 minutes of talking time to Honduras... or approximately $0.20/min
-in the US: My cell phone company's international calling plan was $1.25 a minute to any country.

Comparison #3: Switching/activating phones
-in Honduras: almost all phones are used with a chip, so changing phones is as easy as pulling out the battery and changing the chip. If you want to switch numbers, it's ok. You can save all your phone book information to your SIM card (chip) so that it is there when you put it in the new phone. Phones are not tied to a particular number, nor phone company.
-in the US: If your phone is from AT&T, it is only "licensed" to be used with that network... with much difficulty you can "unlock" the phone or activate it with a different network, but this usually doesn't happen. So instead of saving money and using the same phone when you switch networks, you have to buy the new phone from your new phone company and probably get stuck in some contract deal like in #1 just to supposedly save a little money on the phone itself.

Comparison #4: Who pays for the call?
-in Honduras: the person making the call is charged per minute, the person receiving the call gets it for free
-in the US: Both parties pay for the call because they are charged by "airtime."

Most of the things that are true about how phones work in Honduras were also true during my time in the UK. Why does the US allow itself to be SCREWED by powerful phone companies who really don't need to charge that much? Is government regulation the solution? Is public outcry the solution? If you think that getting overcharged for phone service is just a way of life, IT ISN'T everywhere else in the world!! My North American brothers and sisters, UNITE AGAINST THE (PHONE) MAN!!! :P

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Five Thanksgivings

Who knew that I would end up celebrating Thanksgiving FIVE TIMES here in Honduras!!! I guess when you can't be with your family, you have to make up for quality with quantity, but I will say that many of these celebrations were pretty high quality, too!!
#1 -- Thanksgiving at the Teacher Houses

We had a lovely potluck Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 21st at the teachers' houses... At the last minute we realized that no one had signed up to bring turkey, so someone ordered out for roast chicken :) Elisa's stuffing was pretty amazing, and Matt made some great mashed potatoes. I, of course, baked the pumpkin pies with a little help from Elena :) I even had a brandied pie filling recipe... mmmmm :) We enjoyed quite a bit of wine and ended up going dancing afterwards (not a usual Thanksgiving tradition, but hey...)

#2 -- Thanksgiving at the Military Base

On Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to be able to experience the Thanksgiving dinner at one of the dining halls on the nearby military base (technically, the Americans rent the space from the Hondurans, and it is dually patrolled). Not everyone gets to go on base, and we got special permission because one of the ninth-graders' moms worked on base and requested for a bus of us to come. It was also odd to pay the dining hall cashiers only in dollars for our meal--Lempiras not accepted. The dining hall was all decked-out (see place-setting picture) and I got to teach some of the students words like "cornucopia." The food was actually pretty good (except the stuffing was like glue--Elisa's still wins. I had to explain to people that that wasn't the way it was supposed to be) It was really nice to see all the effort that the staff on base went through to make the soldiers feel like they were home again. We all felt really very welcomed and I, as an American, really appreciated all their hospitality. I met a very friendly woman from Wyoming who was stationed there and she pretty much couldn't believe that a) I was over 18 and b) that I just up and came to Honduras to teach. It was a little awkward, however, when she warned me very seriously, in front of all my Honduran, English-speaking students, to be safe and really watch out for myself. Um, watch out for all the sketchy Hondurans? That I'm sharing Thanksgiving with?? Oh, well.... Overall, we had a great time, and the parents that came really enjoyed themselves as well!
#3 -- Thanksgiving at School
Technically there were two smaller Thanksgiving celebrations at school... apparently, bilingual schools are the only "cultural" entities in Honduras to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they gave us only Friday off mostly due to the presence of the American teachers. For lunch on Thursday, the support staff decorated the library for us with fall-colored table cloths and gave us a meal of roast chicken, pasta salad and rice (not very Thankgsiving-y, but the decorations made up for it). They also made us little hats with colored feathers in them... awkward moment number two... isn't it a little offensive to still dress up like stereotypical "Indians" on Thanksgiving? But the entire school staff was so proud of themselves and all the work they had done that I didn't want to say anything. I didn't end up wearing my hat, and told other people to turn in backwards so it looked more like a turkey tail than an "Indian" headdress.

We also had a small "celebration" during the last period of the day on Thursday, which for me was 11th grade biology. I baked pumpkin cupcakes decorated with candy corn brought especially for me from the States (Thanks, Sheila!!! I owe a blog about your visit! YOU WIN!) and handed them out to my students only after they got up and said something they were thankful for. A lot of them thanked me for being an awesome teacher (AWWWW!!!) I got a little self-conscious and was like, "um, guys, don't feel obligated to say that," but they were like, "no, we really mean it!!!" So when I got up to say my piece, it went something like "I am so thankful for all of you guys, and I'm thankful for the interesting turn my life has taken in bringing me here... and ... oh my gosh I'm gonna cry..." and then I did a little :P Most people didn't notice (I hope) because they were eating their cupcakes and talking. But I really do love these students and I'm happy we got to share that time together.

#4 -- Thanksgiving out on the Town

Since I had already celebrated with 9th grade at the base and 11th grade in class, it was serendipitous that 10th grade chose to have their own Thanksgiving dinner out on the town at one of the nicest restaurants in town (full, amazing meal still about $5-6.50), La Casita. It was more a time for them to all relax together outside of school (and unfortunately not everyone came) than it was a traditional Thanksgiving celebration, but we did say a quick grace. I was happy that they invited Besi (their "homeroom teacher" while Mircia is out on maternity leave) and me (the 10th grade "assistant"). Besi also brought her 10-year-old son, Samuel (can you find him hidden among the 10th graders??) I had a good laugh because they spent most of the meal taking pictures of each other and looking at them on their cameras rather than actually having conversations or eating, but hey, they're 16...
#5 -- Thanksgiving up on the Volcan

It was a wonderful surprise to be invited up to the farm where Karen, a teacher at the school, and her husband, Ed, live. I've heard that Karen's place is beautiful but it was certainly an amazing experience to find out for myself. This was definitely the most traditional Thansgiving celebration of the bunch, complete with a day of relaxing and watching movies, and taking "digestive walks" around the grounds. Karen lives up on the "volcan" and grows coffee, pineapple, bananas, among other things, and has quite a menagerie of animals! You can see the aviary in this picture where she has 3 parrots who are delightfully noisy :P I also enjoyed playing with her cat, her 4 dogs, and one amazing KINKAJU!!!! It's kind of like a lemur... with a big long tongue and hands that feel like human hands. She was so sweet. It was such a wonderfully restful day, and one that I really needed (sometimes you feel all cooped up in the city, and it was nice to feel some "wide open spaces" to quote the Dixie Chicks).

I am so thankful for all the blessings I have recieved and all the wonderful experiences I have had here so far in Honduras. I hope Thanksgiving was fabulous for my mom and dad, all my friends and their families this year. :)

a little taste of fall...

Right now, we are in the "cold season" here in Honduras. This means that it gets down to about 60 degrees and all the Hondurans bust out down coats and ski hats. :) I think it's rather refreshing--slightly overcast days, finally pulling out more than just a flat sheet to sleep with at night, and enjoying not being covered in sweat on the walk into school. Everyone thinks I'm crazy because I still walk around in short sleeves, enjoying the cool breezes! There have only been a few cold spells of 60 degrees over the last two months, so mostly we enjoy it being ~80. I personally love it because it's my favorite in-between weather. I absolutely love fall and am sad when i miss it, so any kind of fall-like weather is more than welcome in my book!!

To help celebrate fall, my roommates put on a Halloween party at our house and we had a lot of fun with the makeshift costumes we came up with. I was waffling about whether or not I would even have a costume, because I couldn't think of anything good and just wanted to bake stuff and be done with it. I remember going clothes shopping with my friend Elisa a few weeks before Halloween and seeing a black and yellow striped dress. At the time, I was like, hahaha, that dress looks like a BEE!! Who would buy that??? Later, finding myself in a pinch for a Halloween costume, it looked like one of the least-heinous options. I bought the dress and made some antenna out of a headband, pompoms, and pipe cleaners :) Elisa ended up going as a flower, so our favorite party trick was "pollination." These costumes also helped us get into one of the discotecas with no cover the next night. AWESOME!! There is also a classic picture of our fellow teacher, Matt, dressed as the sterotypical American tourist. That's a Spanish dictionary in his hands, and not pictured are his black socks and sandals :)

Our school has been "funny" about celebrating fall holidays as well. All the doors were decked out with fall-colored leaves (even though those are never seen here in Central America) because most of our workbooks and decorations come from US sources. Our conservative-Christian principal outlawed the celebration of Halloween at our school, even though it is not a Christian school. As it turns out, and was explained by another member of the administration, Hondurans don't really have an accurate picture of what Halloween is like in the US. The way he put it, "if you ask an American kid to draw a picture of Halloween, he would probably draw a pumpkin, a happy-looking witch, and candy. If you ask a Honduran kid to draw a picture of Halloween, he'll draw what he has seen on TV--chainsaws, murder, etc." Because there is a lot of petty crime in Honduras, trick-or-treating would pretty much never fly here. It's such big part of the American holiday and what makes it "nice" and "wholesome" for kids, but people hardly have a concept of that here. Anyway, we tried to celebrate it as best we could on our own time, and even brought facepaint for those who didn't dress up.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

oh, that language barrier :P

I would like to think that I'm pretty good at Spanish, but one thing that always throws a curve ball at you are the regional expressions and meanings of words. One of my favorite examples that my friend Lily and I laugh about it that in Cuba, "coger la guagua" means to take the bus. Pronounced exactly the same, but with a dangerously different meaning in Bolivia is "coger la wawa" which means to f*ck the little girl. Ooops. I also was VERY glad that before I went to the Dominican Republic, I read in my guidebook that when asking for a bag for one's purchases, you should always use the word "funda" instead of the elsewhere-commonly-used "bolsa," because otherwise you would be asking for a scrotum. Also highly awkward.

I had a funny moment like that here in Honduras the other day, but it wasn't quite as bad. Locally, people will often use the verb "andar" (to walk) in place of "tener" (to have) such as "Andas lapiz?" (Do you have a pencil?) or "No ando pisto" (meaning, I don't have any money, another fun Honduran slang word). The situation is as follows: I was in a cab and, for whatever reason, it is notororiously hard to be able to get any large amount of change from any sort of vendor here. Since I only had a 100 lempira bill (about $5), and a taxi ride only costs 20, I generally try to make sure folks have change on them. Also, instead of using the word "cambio" (change) for small bills here, people often say "suelto" (like "loose" bills). So, thinking I would finally start trying out the more Honduran grammatical constructions... instead of saying "Tiene cambio?" (Do you have change?) I said, "Anda suelto?" The guy was one of these older, good-natured chatty guys, so his immediate response was "A veces, pero creo que a mi mujer no le gusta." (Sometimes, but I don't think my wife likes it very much) HA! Oh man, that'll teach me for trying something new :P It was just funny how "Do you have change?" could also be taken as "Do you run around like a bachelor?" (soltero, meaning "single," or suelto essentially means loose or released) HA!

Anyway, hopefully I will begin to incorporate more hondurenismos a little more seamlessly into my speech in the coming months :P

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Honduras is going to the WORLD CUP!!

This week is the first quarter final exams week at school and while I haven't had to teach at all, I've been swamped with test writing and grading. I thought I would take a break and go watch the Honduras-El Salvador game in the central park last night. This cute little restaurant next to the church projects it on a screen outside and folks can hang out and enjoy the fresh air instead of watching it at a bar.

Well, things were sort of uneventful until the second half when Honduras scored a goal against El Salvador... Woohooo!! I will say that even though El Salvador was our rival in the match, I'm still in love with one of their players, Alexander Escobar (he's the one on the left). There's just something about that hair... Anyway just winning against El Salvador didn't guarantee Honduras a place in the World Cup. Costa Rica would have to lose against the US or at least tie, and then Honduras would be in. Basically after we scored that goal, it wasn't up to us anymore--we had done all we could. So as Honduras's kickass goalie kept doing what he does best, the rest of us were trying to tune into snippets from the US-Costa Rica game, conveniently being played at the exact same time (I'm proud to say that some of my friends were in the stands of that game as it was being played in DC!!) Soon, the score was Costa Rica 2, US 1 (up from 0!). We kept praying that a) El Salvador wouldn't score a goal and b) that the US would tie it up. By literally a miracle from God, the US sunk another goal with, what... 2 minutes remaining?? 2 seconds? Something like that. Immediately the streets bursted with shouts of joy... "Empataron!! Empataron!! Vamos al Mundial!!" (They tied! We're going to the World Cup!!).
High on the energy, but knowing that it was getting late and we had to get up a 5am for school the next day, we caught a cab home. I changed into my PJs and watched the afterglow on TV with my roommates. Just as I was about to get into bed, I heard the silly, campy little music that comes across all the radio and TV stations right before the President or the Government is about to make a nation-wide announcement. (I recognized it because it was pretty much on 5 times a day during the curfew/political crisis a few weeks ago). The President came on and declared the next day a NATIONAL HOLIDAY in celebration of Honduras getting into the World Cup. Why is that a big deal? Because the last time Honduras went was in 1982. That's the year I was born, people!!
So being freed of our commitments for the next day, we changed back into our Seleccion jerseys and hit the streets. There were pickup trucks full of kids and fans and flags screaming and literally rejoicing (such a cheesy word but so appropriate here!). Because the US was the one that really decided our fate, everyone on the street was like "Gracias a los Gringos!!!" and was receiving us like champions (wow, I think that might be the ONLY time that happens, especially since we were trying to keep our heads down on Saturday during the US-Honduras game!). We just loved waving and cheering to all the passing cars and groups of fans. Fireworks were being set off in the streets of Comayagua, and even bigger ones were being set off in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. It was euphoric.
Again, just to emphasize how important soccer is in Honduras, "wars" have been fought over it
and here is an article from last week talking about the importance of soccer to the national psychii especially in politically troubled times.
I will have to say, this is pretty much the first time I have ever even remotely cared about sports in my entire life. It's hard not to get caught up in the spirit of things here. Viva Honduras!!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tela--The North Coast part 2

Also part of my Independence Day vacation, some friends and I went up to the beach town of Tela. It's considerably smaller and sleepier than La Ceiba, but that makes it less dirty and more charming :) There is a nice little beachfront paseo (concrete "boardwalk") and several really cute little restaurants. Tela, like Ceiba, is a nice jumping off point for touring national parks and tiny Garifuna villages, which I'll talk about in my next post :)

In Tela, we simply enjoyed the palm trees, the sunshine, and the tasty comida costeña (coastal cuisine). Besides lots of wonderful fresh fish and seafood, we especially enjoyed a little Italian place right on the beach that was quite authentic, as it was run by a retired Italian couple. We pretty much wanted to eat there every night because it was so good, but decided against in for the sake of trying everything the town had to offer. Too bad, because I ended up wasting a day being sick on whatever I had at the other restaurant!!
A garifuna woman selling fresh agua de coco (also called "agua de pipa") Hack with a machete, stick a straw in it, and call it a nice snack :) While Garifuna men mostly earn a living fishing, the women sell coconut products (such as yummy pan de coco and empanadas de coco) and offer to do hair braiding.
Enjoying a tropical sunset :)

Museo de la Mariposas--La Ceiba

This is the first of several catch-up posts from my trip to the North Coast of Honduras over the Independence holidays about a month ago. We had 4 days off and we enjoyed them by getting out of town to explore the beaches and the coastal cities. La Ceiba is one of the larger cities on the North Coast and is known as la Novia de Honduras--Honduras's girlfriend or sweetheart, since it is loved by the Honduran people. They probably love it because people here like to PARTY!! While La Ceiba is not particularly known for its beaches, it does have a series of really nice nightclubs and bars that are all right on the beach--or have their own sea walls. You can lean over the railing of the outdoor decks and watch the waves roll in. I enjoyed the bars at the beach in the Dominican Republic more because they actually had nice swaths of beach to lounge on, but even just being close to the water is enough to make your night.

My favorite part of being in La Ceiba was going to El Museo de las Mariposas (The Butterfly Museum). A true DC girl spoiled by the Smithsonian Institute, I sniff out the museums anywhere I go, and I was excited to find something on natural history as well. The museum is run by an American ex-pat from Ohio who taught school for many years here in Honduras. He gives talks to school groups, and there are rumors of the 10th grade parents wanting to organize a trip to Ceiba... I might just get my students in there yet!

The museum wasn't just butterflies, and I learned quite a lot about central american and worldwide insects. One fascinating yet dangerous thing I learned about was the "kissing bug," in the assassin bug family that transmits a parasite responsible for Chagas disease.

Getting up close and personal with a live Hercules beetle :) Don't worry, they don't bite. He was happily sucking on a piece of papaya before we met.

There was also an insect unlike any I had ever seen before--the "peanut head bug." The elongated, lumpy part of its head is actually hollow, so essentially a predator could take a bite out of the insect's head with all its vital organs still intact.

I was also pleased to purchase lots of educational materials for the school there. I think it's important that the kids at our school learn more about what's available in their own country. Since it's a bilingual school, many of our textbooks are from North America and talk about things for which Hondurans don't have much context (one of my students asked me about fall and snow the other day). I thought it was GREAT that the butterfly museum had big color posters of different insects that were native to Honduras, and I bought a bunch of them. I also got a CD of birdcalls of Honduras and a CD-ROM of orchids of Honduras. It seems that folks are very familiar with the national symbols of Honduras (white-tailed deer, orchid, etc) but they don't seem to know much beyond that, so I think we will have fun learning about all this country has to offer together.

Feria Turistica de Comayagua

Today in the central plaza of Comayagua, the first annual "Tourism Fair" took place. It wasn't huge, but it was fun to see different expos, many from hotels in the area, and several artesans from around the country. I spoke with one man from Santa Rosa de Copán who had never been to Comayagua before, so he got his own tourist experience as he sold souveniers from his town. We also were treated to some traditional dances from Honduras (I've seen several of these at school so far, and we still have the school-wide "folk festival" coming up in November!). Enjoy the photos of the plaza and the artesanía!

Ladies and gents in their traditional folk-dance costumes

Beautifully colored basketry :)

Marimba-shaped souveniers, commemorating traditional Honduran instruments :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I was super excited when my Spanish teacher here (yes, I do take Spanish classes as a benefit of my employment) assigned me an essay on "Mammals of Honduras"... let that one sink in and think about how much of a dork I am :) Anyway, in my searching I ran across a list of books (in English) about Honduras, and some of the titles are fascinating.

I had already heard of, and intend to read, Don't Be Afraid, Gringo about land rights struggles in Honduras and a female leader in the movement. I also hope to read Bananeras, about women banana workers and their efforts at labor organization. One title that particularly stuck out for me was "Questioning Empowerment" about development projects designed by women and the different manifestations of power. What can I say, women are cool! There are some great titles if you scroll down and if anyone who is following this reads any, please let me know!!

One thing I will say here is that there is really a DEARTH of books here in Honduras... "librerías" here are more school supply stores than book stores. The English speaking teachers are swapping the precious few paperbacks left in the teacher houses by our predecessors. We are thinking of starting a book club to read books about Honduran culture and discuss it. You don't realize how much of a reading culture we have in the states until you're taken out of it--look at the success of Barnes & Noble and Borders! Apparently there is a bookstore or two in Tegucigalpa but in our town there is one tiny little kiosk in the mall that has only a few titles (at least they have the Popol Vuh!)

One thing I saw in Mexico last summer that I really liked was the fact that on Sundays, a day where most families would get together and bike down the closed-off streets of Guadalajara, they had book promotions. There were little booths along the bike routes where families were hanging out that said "Mexico: A country of readers!" and gave away free NEW paperback books, many on Mexican history. I thought it was a wonderful initiative and would love to see it spread to a place like Honduras!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pics from Independence Day, as promised

Costa Rica's Pabellón Nacional

The French teacher shows off her Catracha pride!

National symbols and leaders of Honduras

The final tableau from the civic assembly

The El Salvador display


Ask and ye shall receive!
After my previous entry's rantings about how there is no locally produced shampoo, I happened across an artesanía fair in the town's central park. Lo and behold, there were not one but TWO booths selling aloe vera shampoo, conditioner, and other personal products. The one on the left cost only 60 lempiras ($3)! The one on the right is larger and certified organic, and cost 70 lempiras. Both were made by local women's cooperatives! Jackpot!!! I even got to try a dessert made from aloe vera chunks that was actually quite good (tasted like a cross between lychees and those squishy grapes in canned fruit salad).
Assuming it works for my hair, I'll be buying more of these and supporting the local economy :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cost Comparisons...

I had a slight Michael Moore moment the other day. Does anyone remember the movie Sicko (highly relevant in light of the US's current health care debaucle) when the 9/11 rescue workers go to Cuba to get affordable medical treatment? The one lady ends up crying (for joy? at the unfairness of it all?) because her $250 inhaler in the US costs like $3.50 in Cuba. Well, I walked into a pharmacy here in Honduras with a package of skin cream from the United States... (available by prescription only, trip to the dermatologist, $200...) that itself costs $200 without insurance for 2 oz. $200 for 2 OUNCES!!!! Well, not only did they provide me with said medication without a prescription, but it was a Honduran-manufactured product with the exact same active ingredient for a little less than $9. For the same amount of product!! All I'm saying is that I'm picking up like 6 tubes of that stuff before I come back to the states for good. I guess it makes me sick that US-based pharmaceutical companies, etc, think that it's ok to screw people over all the freaking time.

However, not everything here is cheap comparatively. Lots of things simply aren't manufactured locally. It's possible to get most food items that are made in Honduras or at least from Central America (usually Guatemala), but there are other products that don't seem to be produced in Central America at all. For example, I haven't been able to find cheap, locally made shampoo anywhere. Soap, sure, but shampoo and conditioner are almost exclusively imported from the states and usually cost $4-5 for a small bottle. There is also a distinct lack of hair mousse. Sad times.

Vitamins are another thing that are sort of elusive. I found one general multivitamin that's been doing the job, but for example, it only contains a mixture of 5 or 6 vitamins (mostly B vitamins and Zinc), whereas most normal multivitamins are a combination of some 30 different vitamins. It also costs about $12 for 24 pills.

On the bright side, many times when you see imported stuff from the US, you have a choice. Why do I need a $4 small box of US cereal (they, of course, only have the really sugary ones!) when I can get a $1.25 box of Honduran corn flakes? Think globally, buy locally :)

Toque de Queda/Toque de Guerra

I usually try to keep my blogs upbeat and positive, which is why I've been putting off this entry for a while... Most folks, I believe, are aware of recent political events in Honduras--my awareness was rather limited, but I've learned a lot in the last week or so just from watching the news/talking to people. Back at the end of June, there was a coup. Two weeks ago, Mel Zelaya, the former and some would claim rightful president of Honduras entered the country somewhat secretively and has been camping out at the Brazilian embassy ever since.

The de-facto leader, or as he refers to himself, the "constitutional" president, Micheletti, instantly declared that the nation be put on national curfew (toque de queda). As far as I can tell, this was done to squelch any organizing or protests amongst Zelaya supporters and it worked. When the curfew was briefly suspended on Wednesday to allow people to go out and buy food/supplies, the protests resumed and there were national fuel shortages due to the panic over how long this curfew could have lasted. When we went out even in Comayagua, the streets were gridlocked with people out buying staples in a frenzy (like Northern Virginia supermarkets before a predicted snowstorm).

In terms of how this affected me personally, we had two days off of school because of the curfew, and were somewhat afraid to walk down the street even to the pulpería (local convenience store) at first. Once things calmed down and we realized our neighborhood wasn't really a war zone, we just focused on watching the news pretty much 24/7. I must admit, as much as I really dislike that "I'm proud to be an American" patriotic song, the line about "at least I know I'm free" did strike a chord with me during the Honduran nationally imposed curfew. I have never really experienced what "not freedom" is in terms of political decrees, and while it wasn't awful, it really did feel limiting, uneasy, and arbitrary (dare I saw unjust?). This is why many people half-jokingly call toque de queda (curfew), "toque de guerra." (something like "state of war" or "a touch of war")

One comment made by one of my roommates was that Micheletti and his rich friends were essentially unaffected economically by the national curfew, but those who live on daily wages and who sell their wares in the street took a major hit. Some businesses have closed down or have limited their hours due to the political instability. As my roomie says, "Micheletti doesn't give a crap about the ladies selling tortillas in the streets."

I'm not going to offer much political commentary because I'm sure others do it a lot better than I do. Here are some articles regarding the current situation:

Especially alarming are the smear campaigns and the media censorship
(Thanks, Dad, for the NYT link. The smear ads were well-done and on the air constantly... kind of disturbing propaganda)

Two reporters from a Guatemalan TV station were beaten, bloodied, and thrown out of the country, and their reporting was taken off the air for several hours (replaced by oh-so-informative reggaeton music videos). It was also absolutely intriguing to watch pro-Micheletti Honduras news stations and then watching pro-Zelaya Venezuelan news essentially making fun of the de facto government, calling them pirates (one of the reporters even wore an eye patch!) and calling the whole situation pathetic. I then switched to the more balanced Al-Jazeera and felt a little better.

Here is a REALLY interesting public announcement from the US Embassy in Honduras regarding the constitutional rights Micheletti has suspended during this most recent political crisis...

Most notably, the following rights have been suspended:

Article 69: The right to personal freedom
Article 72: Freedom of Speech
Article 78: Freedom of Association
Article 81: Freedom of Movement
Article 84: The right to due process

Hope you didn't want to speak out against the government or anything... Here's Amnesty International's take on the issues:

Right now, we are no longer on toque de queda, although it was briefly imposed again last Saturday night, ruining my social life (haha). Basically, daily life continues as normal for now, but we are all waiting to see who will make the next move, and what national consequences it will have.

Baleadas and homage to Doña Iris

Baleadas. Addiction. These two words go hand-in-hand.

Baleadas, as you can see above, are essentially a wheat-flour tortilla folded over refried beans, shredded queso duro (a salty, hard cheese), with a smear of mantequilla (most Spanish speakers will think this is butter, but here in Honduras, it's more like Salvadoran crema). Sounds simple, right? Not too special, right?

Well, this lady, Doña Iris, is a freaking MAGICIAN, because she makes the best flour tortillas in town. They are thin and light and stretchy and you really have the right balance of tortilla to beans (not too bready, not too beany). Also, she works at lightning speed and is really a lot of fun to watch. Out of the picture to the left is her husband, who tag-teams with her, handing her things she needs, bagging up the baleadas "para llevar" (to-go), and collecting the money. Really, the tortilla is the best part of the baleada (which is why making them at home with store-bought flour tortillas truly pales in comparison) and it really makes it worth buying from those who do it right. And Doña Iris does it right.

Doña Iris apparently started selling her baleadas, like many women in Comayagua, on a streetcorner. According to my roomies who have been here a while, she did well enough to eventually be able to rent a storefront. Now, every few months, she adds something to it... another set of tables and chairs, a fan, and now, a TV! This is definitely a testament to her success, but even more impressive is that one baleada sencilla (just beans, mantequillla, and cheese) costs 5 lempiras. That's like 30 cents. Think about the volume you have to sell to turn that kind of profit. Also, baleadas are considered more of a breakfast food or mid-morning snack. That means Doña Iris closes for the day by around 10:30 or 11 am. Think about that sales volume in only about 4 hours. Damn, she's good.
Baleadas also come in many different varieties (especiales, as you can see on the sign). You can get them with scrambled egg in them, with chorizo (sausage) , chicken, and even slices of avocado. That means for a few extra lempiras, you can come up with something much like a pretty hefty breakfast burrito. Oh, did I mention there's usually hot sauce to shake on it if so desired?
Pretty much all of Honduras is addicted to baleadas. Here in Comayagua, there is even a business called HiperBaleada that makes their money on the true addicts who need home delivery of baleadas. Their baleadas (hyper-sized) are about the size of a dinner plate, or a small pizza folded over. The tortilla is thicker and sometimes feels a little like pizza dough, too. It's an interesting concept, but I'll take Doña Iris's any day.

Here's an English-language website that has a little more info on how to make baleadas, although it's pretty easy:

The site also includes other Honduran recipes for your perusing:
Happy noshing! More food updates to come :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Costa Rica/Sustainability on the Brain

I just got an email today from the alumni network of the School for Field Studies, the organization through which I studied abroad in Costa Rica in the fall of 2002. The experience decidedly changed my life in terms of the way I think about the business of living, and was my first glimpse at a Latin American country.

The email was about a return-visiting Alumni program:
Sounds like a wonderful opportunity and a thought-provoking experience. I am definitely thinking about getting back to visit (and had been before I read about the program)--not only because of my amazing experience there at the center, but because Costa Rica certainly seems to be ahead of the game in terms of sustainability and solutions to common problems.

Indeed, I am constantly comparing my specifically Central American experience there to the one here in Honduras. There´s quite a big difference in the way trash is dealt with in Honduras, Costa Rica, and in the states. For example, while recycling facilities do exist in Honduras, there is no official pick up. In fact, garbage day might as well be called scavenging day. No one separates their trash into recyclables/non-recyclables so there are plenty of people roaming the streets on trash day going through people´s garbage to pull out the recyclables. This would not be so bad, except that people also throw away their toilet paper instead of flushing it, and I feel like that´s more of a public health/sanitary issue than trash in the US. Anyway, I personally have started separating my recyclables to at least save people a little dignity. Other folks who go scavenging are looking for something specific to salvage, such as the man asking if we had any used shoes.

By comparison, trash was separated into trash and recyclables in Costa Rica, with 2 pick-ups weekly... one for trash and one for recyclables in a town MUCH smaller than Comayagua. A local association of disabled citizens earned income by sorting and packaging the recycling and selling it to distributors. While the Center for Sustainable Develpoment Studies amounted to a small farm and was probably not the norm, I was impressed that we burned our toilet paper trash, composted our food scraps, separated non-compostibles for the hogs next door, and saved many of our recyclable materials for re-use (art projects and collage postcards). We even discussed making our snacks more sustainable by creating less packaging waste, and ended up doing a lot of baking instead of buying plastic-wrapped goodies from the pulpería (a kind of convenience store). I really felt as though I was living the ¨examined life¨ that Socrates was talking about.

Overall I think the fact that someone is willing to salvage other people´s trash is a good thing, and there really is a thriving market here for used goods, but I wish that it could be dealt with in a way that really does provide a more dignified income for people. Not sure how that would be... other than having separate bins for things, or modeling the system in Costa Rica. I think the fact that dumpster diving is illegal in the states is moderately ridiculous. The only reason I can see for the law is to protect people from identity theft, but I feel like if you are too lazy to take something to the thrift store and someone else knows how to fix it/use it, I see no reason to prohibit people from salvaging.

Another comparison between Costa Rica and Honduras is regarding it´s land use. While it is a point of pride and a somewhat well known fact that Costa Rica has approximately 25% of its land area as national parks or protected private preserves, what is not as commonly known is that Honduras has a higher percentage (around 32%) and an overall higher acreage of forest cover to its name. Granted, Honduras is a slightly larger country anyway, but... Unfortunately, while there are many national parks, much of this forest cover is preserved almost by accident, simply by not being developed, and has many current and future threats from squatters, logging, and ranchland (Costa Rica has many of the same problems, but designating the land as protected slows it down to some degree).

Anwyay, I am definitely comparing my experiences in the two countries in many other ways, but that´s all for now.

Día de los Niños/Día de los Maestros

Here in Honduras, we just celebrated el Día de los Niños on September 10th. Essentially, this days is a national holiday (not one where people get off work, but national all the same) honoring children. In some ways it seemed to be an excuse for a lot of shops to have sales on everything from piñatas to pizza, but there were radio ads from the government celebrating the youth of Honduras and it truly was a day for kids just to be kids.

Our school celebrated with an assembly/variety show put on by the teachers to entertain the kids, including funny skits, song, and dance numbers. I sang a song in Spanish :) It was so much fun and the kids really liked it because it was a purely non-educational assembly and the goal was for them to have fun and for the teachers to show them some love. After the assembly, the primary school grades stayed behind in their classrooms and had a party with games and piñatas. The older grades, however, did something a little different.

I was assigned to 8th grade for the day (who aren´t my students but who are a fun group just the same), and like all the other secondary grades, we were assigned a local public elementary school in the area. As one of the richest private schools in the city, this was considered a really fun way of giving back to the greater Comayagua community, and parents and students pooled resources and put on a party for the students of their adopted school, including games, lunch, cake and piñatas. For kids who probably don´t get too many parties, this was something really special.

The school we adopted, Escuela José Trinidad Cabañas, was essentially a one-room schoolhouse with a big porch on the outskirts of town. There were only two teachers assigned to some 100+ students, with one teacher taking on 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades, and the other with 2nd, 4th and 6th. Some classes were held on the porch, others inside, but all had to have rotating lesson stations to give each grade level appropriate material. WOW. I was at once impressed with and sympathetic towards those two teachers there! It was definitely in stark contrast to the facilities and the organizational structure at EBH (my school), and while I sometimes lament the lack of resources at my school, I have no idea how I would handle the situation if I were working at a similar public school in Honduras.

Realizing there would not be enough space at the school, we moved our festivities to a field owned by one of the locals. It was fun seeing the Honduran versions of simple childhood games (things like red light green light and simon says, only with different names and instructions). Once the too-cool-to-really-participate 8th graders ran out of game ideas and went to prepare lunch for the kids, I taught the kids sharks and minnows (my poor translation--tiburones y peces). Since it involved more running than the other games, I think they liked it the best.

It was interesting to compare the public/private systems and also get a glimpse at a more rural school. I think it´s a really good idea for the EBH kids to get out and see how the other half lives, especially since the teachers here are always complaining that the kids are spoiled. In fact, my 10th grade student´s younger brother (both from one of the richest families in town) was in the 8th grade group, along with the family bodyguards... which still really weirds me out. I hope activities like this inspire more service-oriented activities in students personal lives and future professional lives.

To keep things fair, September 17th is el Día de los Maestros, or Teachers´Day. To celebrate, my 11th grade students called in all their teachers to thank them and handed out very neatly presented goodie bags full of little candies and treats. Soooo cute! They´re my favorite class anyway, but this really sealed the deal. Apparently, it´s normal for teachers to get little presents from students on that day, but since the 17th is during our independence day vacation this year, I´m not sure if students will do anything big. Personally, I´m touched by the whole thing, and I like the fact that the two holidays are only a week apart so we can all reciprocate and feel the love. While there is a Teacher´s Day back home, I don´t think there is such a thing as an official children´s day in the United States (correct me if I´m wrong), but it seems like a really nice way to affirm the value of children and of having a good childhood.

el Mes de la Patria

We just finished out the month of September, which in Honduras is called ¨el Mes de la Patria,¨ or essentially the month in which most of the patriotic holidays fall. Shops and schools alike are decked out in the Honduran flag, and we´ve probably had 3 civic assemblies so far. Along with teachers´day and children´s day thrown in for fun (see previous post), September 1st was Flag Day, and September 15th is Honduras´s independence day. This is also why Hispanic Heritage Month in the US begins on September 15th--five Central American countries share the same Independence Day. There was even a holiday to celebrate when the independence day scrolls were first brought to the colonial capital, Comayagua!

I have to say that the social studies department at the school has had the students extremely busy lately preparing not only the civic assemblies but especially the independence day celebrations where students put on traditional dances as well as set up ornate displays for all of the Central American countries. Of course, it was also a fundraiser for the different classes and lots of regional treats were sold. I, personally, was thrilled to have another taste of the yummy empanadas de piña that I enjoyed wholeheartedly during my semester in Costa Rica. 10th grade was representing Honduras and sold baleadas from Doña Iris (see previous post about baleadas!) and also Catrachitas (literally, "little Honduran things") which are esentially a tostada with beans and that wonderful salty queso duro.
Unfortunately, I did NOT bring my camera on Independence Day and I didn't get pictures of the amazingly impressive displays (live animals for Costa Rica! A huge papier mache volcano for El Salvador!) but one of my fellow teachers did pass along her photos on a CD, so I'll be posting those soon.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pulhapanzak Falls

Before the soccer game yesterday, Elisa and I went trekking out of Comayagua for the first time and took a bus north towards el Lago de Yojoa. It was one of those days where we didn´t really have a plan, we just went out on a scouting mission to see what was there. It´s this beautiful lake in central-western Honduras that´s fed by waters from a nearby cloud forest. The bus passed by all these little restaurants with fresh fish from the lake that we have sworn to go to next time when hopefully we find a more flexible mode of transportation.

The waterfall, about 25 minutes north of the lake, was AMAZING!!! It had the same soaking mist as Niagara Falls so I´m surprised that any of my pictures came out with all the water droplets on my lens! I didn´t learn too much about the history of the area, but I did figure out that Pulhapanzak is a Mayan word (western Honduras is about the farthest extent of the range of the Maya). I was glad I had Elisa as my day trip buddy because she helped me notice a lot of amazing little creatures and details while we were walking around. We saw leaf-cutter ants (she told me that they harvest leaves not to eat themselves, but to feed the fungus that they cultivate to feed their entire colony--how cool is that?? Agricultural ants!), a whole bunch of amazing land snails that loved soaking up the moisture from the spray from the falls, and Elisa´s favorite, the fuzzy white caterpillar (barely visibe in the picture below). I enjoyed checking out all the crazy plants climbing up and hanging down off the trees.

Right when Elisa and I had finished checking out the falls and were wondering what else there was to do, one of the guides there convinced us to take the ¨cave tour.¨ This consisted of getting into our bathing suits, walking down under the waterfall under slippery rocks, getting a pounding from the water above, and tucking ourselves into a few little coves and a bigger cave behind the waterfall. The water was pounding down so hard that all I could see was white spray, sometimes my feet, and my sopping wet hair in my face. The guide would grab us by the hand and lead us one by one through the sections under the falls, showing us where to place my feet. because visibility was so short, I wonder how anyone was able to find the caves in the first place!! Essentially every time I would go ahead and wait for the guide and Elisa to come meet me, all I could see was white, thinking, are they coming? Are they ok? And then at the last second they would appear out of the mist right when they were upon me. It reminds me a lot of the scene from the last of the Mohicans when they do the same thing, only in our case it was a lot more waterfall and a lot less cave. It was so much fun and definitely an adrenaline rush. Here´s a gratuitous swimsuit photo with our guide, Luis.

I can´t wait to get back to el Lago de Yojoa to be able to explore more. There´s a microbrewery that was unfortunately not open for lunch when we got there, and I must get back there!! The beer here is not much to write home about, haha. There´s also several national parks and private ecological reserves in the area that are great for wildlife watching. Perhaps next time it will be a weekend trip instead of a day trip for scouting. Anyone who´s considering visiting... this could be a lot of fun!! :)

When in Rome, Cheer for the Home Team

Last night was my first experience with soccer in Honduras. Granted, while I was studying abroad in Costa Rica, I got to go to a live local league game (Liga Deportiva de Alajuela vs. Heredia) and was thoroughly impressed, but this was a national game and it was a BIG. DEAL. I was gone for most of the day visiting a waterfall (separate posts & pics to come) and as we were heading north on the highway towards San Pedro Sula (where the games are played) was a MESS! It probably took us half the time to get back down south in the afternoon.

The great thing was that as we passed all the little towns on the way, everybody was wearing their futbol jerseys... random people walking by the road, people in the towns hawking flags, stickers, etc. At one of the bus stops, this sort of spirit song was playing non stop REALLY LOUDLY at a nearby clothing store. It was punta music (kind of like really fast merengue with more African drum influence), saying ¨Vamos, vamos todos, a la selección!¨ Someone´s ringtone in this internet cafe was even that song!!

When we got back into Comayagua just after dark, this little field was set up with a huge screen like a drive-in movie with the pre-game show on, with cars all around and cheering people. As we made our way back to our house, there were chairs pulled around every pulpería and home to watch TV through the windows. While I was getting ready to go back out again, you could literally hear the cheers along with the game´s action in waves through the neighboring streets. Firecrackers were set off at the first goal. I missed the first part of the game getting ready and getting into town... by the way, catching a cab during game time is almost impossible because the streets are completely cleared of cars!!

Finally we got down to the bar (Sangrias) and watched the game with the rest of our friends. Luckily we got to see two more goals with the energy of the crowd there. It was definitely some good times. The only way I can think to describe the energy of the national games is like having SuperBowl Sunday every week only without the ridiculous amounts of food. In fact, for the game against Mexico this coming Wednesday, all the school children at EBH will be ditching their uniforms for futbol jerseys and jeans as a spirit day. Wooohooo!!

GOOOOOOL!!!! (Right after goal #3)