Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Volunteer Empowerment Act

On March 1st of this year, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT, along with cosponsor Edward Kennedy, D-MA) introduced S.732, The Volunteer Empowerment Act. It is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

I read about the bill in a recent issue of WorldView magazine (a Peace Corps magazine). Unfortunately there wasn't much information on what the bill actually said. So, I went online and looked it up. And for the first time in my life, I read a piece of legislation from start to finish.

S.732 (summary, full text) is a bill the Peace Corps needs. Most importantly (to me) the bill would:

  • Increase Volunteer input. For example, Volunteer input would be included in performance reviews of high-level staff (e.g. APCDs and Country Directors) and Volunteers input would also be sought in evaluating the effectiveness of programs and initiatives.
  • Protect Volunteer rights. It would mandate whistleblower protection from administrative separation, and create an appeals process for administrative and medical separations.
  • Target experienced Volunteers. The bill mandates an increased focus on recruitment of Volunteers with at least 5 years of professional experience.
  • Provide additional funds for 'Third Goal' projects. The 'Third Goal' of Peace Corps - increasing domestic understanding of foreign cultures - will for the first time receive financial support in the form of small grants available to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and nonprofit organizations with RPCV board members.
  • Increase overall funding of the Peace Corps in order to achieve President Bush's pledge to double the number of volunteers. This, to me, is the most important and by itself makes me support the bill.
Right now the bill is in committee. Most bills don't ever make it out of committee. It would be a shame if that happened to this bill. Here is a list of the members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Please, if your senator is on this committee, take a few minutes to write them urging that they act to move this bill forward.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Today I was in the office with Kenny and he told me that his cousin Damian was in the hospital. That morning he had been found convulsing and vomiting blood. He had had an attack like this once before, a few months earlier. That time he was taken to Ceiba for a battery of tests and no one could figure out what was wrong. So far, that was the case again. After Damian regained lucidity, the docs couldn't find anything wrong with him.

Kenny told me that most folks thought it was Gubida, the spirit of a relative or ancestor. Apparently, Damian's grandmother had died a while ago, and they had not done any of the traditional ceremonies to appease a dead spirit.

He told me, "If the hospital can't find anything then they will do a baño and a chugú." The baño is a ceremony where a pit is dug and filled with seawater collected at a certain time, then a ceremony is conducted to invite the spirit to bathe. A chugú is a day long ceremony for communicating with spirits. Participants are sometimes possessed by spirits to communicate messages and requests to the living.

I asked Kenny if he thought the problem was medical or spiritual. "I think it's spiritual," he told me. "This isn't the first time that Damian has been possessed, and other relatives of his have dreamed about his [dead] grandmother. If they do the ceremonies hopefully he will be cured."

I found it strange to be having a conversation in which spiritual beliefs were given just as much weight as science and medicine. But it also struck me that Damian was taken to the Hospital first. Only when the doctors there were stumped did people look for supernatural causes and cures. With all the Garifuna that I know well, this has been the case. They believe in both science and spirits. They are two separate but equally valid worlds. When it comes to illness, the general opinion is, "If science and doctors can't cure it, then it must be spiritual."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where the hell have I been?

Late August to September 2: Vacation with Nina. We went to La Ceiba, Whitewater rafting on the Rio Cangrejal, and to West End and West Bay on the Bay Island of Roatán. It was a great trip, but quite a culture shock to go to such touristy places with all sorts of luxuries and the high prices that accompany them.

September 3 to September 5: Consolidated to Siguatepeque because of Hurricane Felix. The Mosquito Coast got hit fairly hard, but we barely even got any rain inland.

September 5 to September 7: Back in Trujillo. Madly running around town trying to organize a Men's Health workshop for later in the month.

September 8 to September 10: In Santa Barbara with fellow PCVs Mary, Allison, Kendra, Katie and Mollie, to celebrate Mary's birthday.

September 11 to September 13: Reconnect and Project Workshop in Siguatepeque, an annual meeting for Health and Water & Sanitation projects.

September 14 to September 16: In Comayagua, fellow health PCV Conor's site and former capital of Honduras. We gave an HIV charla and condom demonstration at a pool hall on Friday night, then watched the parades and other festivities for Honduran Independence Day on the 15th. Traveled home on the 16th.

September 17 to now: Working to promote and then run the Men's Health workshop here in Trujillo. It went well, but was poorly attended. Meetings with the local HIV+ support group; the director and head doctor of the CAI (Centro de Atención Integral - department of the hospital dedicated to HIV testing and services); preparing materials for and teaching english classes; work for online macroeconomics; killing thousands of ants that had moved into my house while I was gone; cleaning up after the killing; lot's of laundry (washed by hand of course).

Estimated Hours of Bus Travel: 50

Sorry for the long dry spell here, and for the lack of details in this entry. I'm going to try to get on top of blogging about life here and post some decent entries at regular intervals soon. Hope everyone is doing well.

Monday, September 3, 2007


I've been on vacation for the last nine days, and today I was supposed to head back to Trujillo. But that was not to be, as the Peace Corps ordered all North Coast volunteers to consolidate to Siguatepeque to ride out Hurricane Felix. I'm safe and sound in a very comfortable and modern conference center here in Siguat, so don't worry about me. But it looks like it could be bad for a lot of Hondurans. I really wish I could be in my community, but I know that it's probably best for me to be here. I'll write updates as I can.

Friday, August 17, 2007

6 Months and a Hurricane

Six months ago tonight, I and about 25 other bleary-eyed peace corps trainees and boarded a bus in Georgetown and headed for Reagan International Airport. We flew to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to San Pedro Sula. And so began the Peace Corps Experience. It was supposed to start a few days earlier, but we were snowed in for a while. Now I'm living on the Caribbean coast and barely even remember what it's like to feel cold. Time flies!

To celebrate, we've got a hurricane warning. Hurricane Dean is heading over this way, though so far the predictions have it tracking a bit north of us. Even so, it's expected to be Category 4 by Monday, so we could still get some heavy wind and rain. Exciting!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Coke Label

Coke Label
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel


Promised drop by drop

100 Calories (5%*)
Contains thousands of smiles
Good source of hydration
Low-Sodium Drink

* % of daily recommended allowance of FAO/OMS (WHO)

Walking 30 minutes daily and smiling is part of your well-being.

The Coca-Cola Company:

Is this label on American cokes? I suppose none of this is a lie (thought the hydration claim is pushing it), but it's certainly misleading. And it works. Many people in Honduras actually believe that Coke is good for you.

A Moment in Trujillo

Walking back from English class on a hot, muggy night, my clothes stick to my sweaty skin. People are out and about in Cristales, walking, talking, sitting on doorsteps, illuminated by passing headlights and the occasional streetlamp. I cross the bridge to the road that runs along the beach and am treated to a spectacular view: a lightning storm over the Bay of Trujillo. Bolts of lightning streak across the sky, lighting up the clouds and reflecting off the black waters of the bay. I stop and watch one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I've ever seen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Peace Corps on the Radio

One of my favorite talk radio shows, KQED's Forum, spoke with the director of the Peace Corps in their latest show. There is a link on their website to stream the show or download the MP3. You can also subscribe to the podcast with iTunes.

I haven't listened to the show yet (the connection from the internet café is painfully slow today) but as soon as I do I'll post my reactions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Trash, Trash, Everywhere

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
Littering isn't littering in Honduras. To us, just the word has all sorts of negative connotations. None of that exists here. Littering is as normal as breathing. Everyone does it, without thinking. It's such a huge problem that a during a rainstorm a couple months ago, trash clogged the storm sewers in Tegucigalpa and caused widespread flooding.

Is it simple a lack of education and socialization that causes this? Partly, yes. Parents litter and kids copy their parents. But as with most problems in Honduras, the full answer is more complicated. The litter problem in Trujillo is a microcosm of the development challenges in Honduras as a whole.

In Trujillo we have municipal garbage collection in and around the center of town. There are public garbage cans on almost every street corner in a three block radius around the central park. That area of town (where there are garbage cans and weekly collection) is much cleaner than the rest of Trujillo. Most places in Honduras (even big cities) do not have public trash cans or regular garbage collection. It's like living in a city where the sanitation workers are permanently on strike, and hooligans have stolen all of the trash cans from the street corners. The images coming out of Oakland during their recent garbage strike showed how important these services are.

Of course, in Oakland the trash was piling up in specific areas (in and around overflowing dumpsters and trash cans). In general, people were putting the trash where it was supposed to go. Here in Trujillo, I've seen people toss empty soda cans into the street when they were less than 10 feet from a trash can (and don't even get me started on recycling). What is the solution to this? Some would say that it's the responsibility of parents to teach their kids how to behave like responsible citizens. I agree, but what should a society do when private citizens are failing to get the job done? That is when the government should use its resources to promote socially responsible behavior. Providing the cans and collection services is a definite prerequisite. On top of that, a carrot-and-stick campaign of education and enforcement should be waged to get people to change their behavior.

But here in Honduras, that is anything but simple to do. There's a sign on a bridge in Cristales that reads, "Don't throw garbage in the river. 1,000 Lempira fine." The banks of the river right below that sign are literally buried under garbage. As far as I can tell, this sign is the entire anti-littering campaign by the local government. There are no PR or education campaigns, and there is no enforcement of littering laws. Why is there no enforcement? Well, first of all, there is no blanket anti-littering law for the municipality, or if there is then nobody knows about it. Secondly, police officers don't patrol the city, so they can't spot litterbugs and cite them. Even if the police officers did patrol and cite people, hardly anyone could pay even a modest fee, and the paperwork overhead would swamp the officers. Most likely, it would become another way to for the police to extract bribes.

Lastly, there seems to be no political will to actually implement hard-hitting measures to effect change. Mayors often spend most of their time currying favor with influential citizens through backroom quid pro quo deals. They spend the entire year before the election campaigning and spreading money around to garner key endorsements. This leaves little time or money for projects that would actually improve life for the majority of citizens.

There are no doubt even more barriers to resolving the litter problem than the ones I can see. And this is just littering. Much deeper and more serious problems exist with security, education, health, and poverty. The interconnectedness of the causes and effects of these problems is so great that it just makes your head spin.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Recently, I've been spending a lot of my free time on do-it-yourself projects, big and small.

Shortly after moving in to my apartment, I did a load of laundry and hung it to dry on the clotheslines behind my apartment. In the late afternoon, I came down to collect my clothes. My socks were missing. Someone had stolen them. Luckily I brought plenty of socks with me, so it wasn't a huge loss. But I realized that I couldn't dry my clothes out there unless I wanted to eventually lose my entire wardrobe. What to do?

Brent suggested an obvious solution: run a clothesline on my roof. Almost all Honduran buildings are built in a piecemeal fashion: one room or one floor at a time, whenever there is money for materials. (Interest rates on home loans are often 30% or higher, so people don't usually get financing for buying/building homes). Because of this, there's always rebar and extra pillars sticking out of the roof, ready for the time when the owner might eventually add on to the building. It was simple enough to string a rope along from rebar to rebar, and there was my new clothesline. I've had no problem with disappearing clothes since then.

On a trip to Tela a few weeks ago, I bought a hammock. I had never mounted a hammock before, and didn't really know what I needed. First I looked up the spanish words for hooks, screws, mounts, drill bit, etc, and wandered over to the hardware store. I walked out of there with everything I needed, and with the help of a power drill borrowed from Brent, I now have a hammock in my living room!

The biggest project so far has been furniture building. This past week I built my first piece of furniture: a table. I looked online for different table plans, and ended up adapting the plans from a workbench (it was the simplest and most sturdy-looking). I bought about 300 lemps of wood from the lumber yard, and cut them up with a handsaw (also borrowed from Brent). This took a looooong time. But after a couple days, I screwed all the pieces together, and whallah! A sturdy living room table.

Here are my plans, for those interested:

Raw supplies
(1) 2"x2" 14' long
(2) 1"x6" 10' long
(1) 1"x4" 14' long

Cut four legs from the 2"x2". I made my legs 33" long, which is about the height of a tall dining table. Cut the 1"x4" into three 2' long pieces and two 4' long pieces. Cut the two 1"x6" boards into eight pieces 2.5' long.

Start making the frame by screwing together two legs with one 2' piece of 1"x4".

Complete the frame by joining the legs with the 4' lengths of 1"x4". Screw in the remaining 2' piece of 1"x4" as the center support.

Line up the 1"x6" pieces on top, and screw them in to make the tabletop.

All done!

Chinese Peace Corps

I was reading the July 7-13 issue of the Christian Science Monitor World Edition (they give free subscriptions to Peace Corps Volunteers) and spotted this interesting article: Young Chinese vie to join their 'peace corps'.

China has just started a pilot volunteer program with 50 young men and women in three countries. They plan on expanding this to 300 volunteers by 2009. The article is a good read, and the two volunteers interviewed say things that many Peace Corps volunteers say. I definitely related to this passage about volunteer Sun Yingtao in Ethiopia:

During his time in Asossa, he has lost 10 pounds, and, he says, pulling up sleeves and pant legs to prove his point, received 188 bug bites.

I feel your pain, Sun.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Odds and Ends

First off, some good news: mail has started arriving in the States! I got emails today from two different people saying that letters and cards had arrived. Finally.

Today I went to the office of the Empresa Hondureña de Telecomunicaciones (HONDUTEL) to get information on activating the phone line in my apartment and getting internet service. First they guy at the counter tried to send me away saying they didn't know anything about the house where I lived, but I kept talking and finally they admitted that yes there was a physical line there and I could pay to have it activated. He then gave me a few forms that I had to go out and make copies of myself, at my own expense.

Finally, as we were filling out the forms, I started asking for details on the pricing of the phone line and "unlimited" dialup internet. The Hondutel Guy was somewhat evasive of my questions. Finally I asked him to just tell me what the monthly rate would be for phone plus internet. He said, "About 300 Lempiras a month, plus connection charges." Connection charges? "Oh, you get your first 200 minutes of calls free, then we charge 35 centavos a minute." So, the internet is technically unlimited, but after less than 3.5 hours of online time, I have to start paying by the minute for the connection to the call center that is less than 2 blocks from my house? "Yes, but 35 centavos is cheap! It's practically free!" Actually it isn't. 35 centavos a minute works out to 21 Lempiras ($1.10) an hour, and since dialup is so slow, I'll probably be connected for several hours a day.

I told the guy that I would be signing up with Tigo wireless internet and left the office, wondering how business like HONDUTEL maintain their existence. Of course, that is currently an empty threat because Tigo oversold wireless connections and are stretched beyond capacity so they aren't signing up any new wireless customers for the time being.

Lastly, I want to put a request out to folks who are reading this blog. I've been using my kitchen a lot, but my repertoire is pretty limited. I didn't bring down any cookbooks. Could y'all send me recipes? The simpler the better. Many ingredients are not available here. Beans, rice, corn, flour, oatmeal, fruits, and veggies are easy to get. There are some spices and canned/packaged foods, too. A recipe for Chili, for example, would be perfect. Thanks!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Since arriving in Trujillo, I've sent a number of postcards and letters to friends and family in the States. As far as I know, none have arrived. Meanwhile, many of you have sent me letters and packages, all of which have arrived within 3 weeks of their postmark. Today, I went to the post office and asked them if they knew why none of my letters had reached their destinations.

The guy behind the counter pulled out a La Prensa article from June 27. It was titled ¿Para qué te escribo?. The lead sentence said that no international mail had been delivered for the last 25 days because of a problem with air freight contracts. The article went on to explain that on June 1, the contract between HONDUCOR (the Honduran Postal Service) and two airlines, TACA and COPA, expired. HONDUCOR planned on changing carriers to Federal Express, but had not signed a contract with them. So there was no one to fly mail out of the country.

Bags and bags of mail were piling up in the storerooms below Toncontín Airport. The director of HONDUCOR, Nimia Valladares, could not be found for comment. Postal employees at the HONDUCOR offices at Toncontín Airport said she was in the old offices in downtown Teguz, but the employees there said she was at Toncontín.

According to the assistant to the director of HONDUCOR, air transport was to resume the day the article was published, but according to other sources many details in the contract with Fedex had yet to be worked out. Who knows if the mail has even started going out now, 3 weeks after this article was published.

In the States, this kind of breakdown of a key government service would have been headline news that day it happened. And really, it wouldn't ever happen. Here in Honduras, it wasn't even written about until the crisis had gone on for 25 days. And even then it was just a small article in the back of the newspaper. Gotta love Honduras!

UPDATE: As of July 13, mail was still having problems getting out of the country.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Settling In

Mujeres de Mi Pasado
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
According to the Peace Corps, the first three months in site is called the "Community Entry" phase. This is the phase where the volunteer learns the layout of the community, finds housing, and begins forming relationships (both personal and professional) with host country nationals (HCNs). About 2.5 months into my community entry, I am really starting to feel like I have found a place for myself here. The process goes in fits and starts, and some days I still feel frustrated or bored or lonely, but those are much fewer and farther between (and were never that many to begin with).

Little things happen that buoy my confidence and comfort. For one, I am able to hold much longer and more involved conversations in Spanish. And for the first time, I've been able to successfully translate a bit of wit and humor as well. I have honduran friends who I can call to hang out with on weekends. Work-wise, the success of the Men's Health workshops has given me a sense of momentum to take on more ambitious projects. Lastly the fact that I have a place to call my own, where I can be by myself and cook for myself, has also been a great help.

On Thursday we attended a presentation in Tocoa by the UN on the progress in Honduras toward the Millennium Development Goals. The UN presenters arrived over 2 hours late, and they didn't have enough snacks and water to go around, so I was faint with hunger by the time we finally got out. We headed straight to a Chinese restaurant. It took us over an hour to get a platter of fried rice. The service there was so bad that even the Hondurans were complaining.

The Men's Health Workshop on Saturday went wonderfully. We had 30 participants, up from 17 last week. Apparently people told their friends. The attendance and positive feedback we got make me think that there is great potential for doing ongoing work with men here in Trujillo.

The participants were also very enthusiastic. My favorite part of the workshop was when Mary was leading a discussion about intimate activities a couple can do that don't run the risk of transmitting HIV. All the easy ones (kissing, hugging, massages) were shouted out right away, but there was more hemming and hawing as the ideas became more intimate. One guy started to say, "If the guy touches her part....and she touches his part..." and another guy jumped up and shouted, "Mutual masturbation!" The whole group started cheering and applauding and high-fiving him as if he had just kicked a game-winning goal.

After the workshop Mary and I made Jambalaya for a little dinner party with our sitemates and Johnny, who came over from Casa Kiwi to visit. It was a night like so many back home: good company, good food, good music. It's such a seemingly small thing, but those are the things that make it possible to be happy.

This week is a bit slow as a couple of my counterparts are out of town. I'm taking advantage of the downtime to work on my apartment and do laundry. I will be traveling to Santa Rosa de Aguan on Thursday to give a hygiene charla with Agua Pura. Santa Rosa is a fairly isolated community a ways east of here. It used to is only be accessible by boat, but now there is a dirt road.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Men's Health, Day 1

Saturday, July 7th was our first Men's Health workshop, something I've been organizing with the Foro Nacional de SIDA. We did half of the full workshop yesterday, and will do the other half next Saturday. In a nutshell, it went great! We had about 20 people show up (more than I expected, we had quite a full house) and they were all very enthusiastic.

At about 8:30am, Mary and I went to the OFRANEH Office to start setting up chairs for the workshop. We were ostensibly supposed to start at 9, but I had worked over an hour of leeway into the schedule since I assumed we would probably be starting about an hour late. People started to shop up around 9:30. By 10:00 most of the participants had arrived, and we got started.

Mary started us off with Lenguaje de Hombre (Man's Language), an activity about slang words used in the street, and why we use them.

After that, I ran a game called ¡Diga la Verdad, Hombre! (Tell the Truth, Man!) where participants had to answer questions about HIV, condom use and sexuality and then scramble to change seats, musical chairs style (there was always one less seat than the number of participants).

After a short break, I ran another activity called Chicas Calientes (literally Hot Girls, but it's a double entendre because caliente can also mean horny). The guys really got into this (because there were 8 scantily clad women posted up on the wall), and learned about the chain of transmission and how it's not possible to tell if someone has HIV only by looking at them.

Mary continued with Fluidos Pegajosos (Sticky Fluids), a lesson on which fluids transmit HIV, and the different situations and actions that carry risk of transmitting the infection.

Alan's kids really wanted to participate in the activities; I distracted them with my camera. They loved to pose for pictures.

While Kenny set up for the last activity, I did a quick activity called Si Da, No Da (a play on SIDA, the spanish acronym for AIDS).

Lastly, Kenny (one of my counterparts at FONASIDA) did Póngase el Sombrero (Put on the Sombrero) a lesson in how to use a condom properly. First 10 volunteers had to organize the steps to properly use a condom. Then, Kenny demonstrated the proper way to put on/remove a condom, and lastly the whole class practiced with plantains.

We got a lot of really positive feedback from the participants, and they all said they would come again next week, and bring their friends! I'm not exactly sure how we'll fit more people if that does happen, but I figure that's a good problem to have.

After the workshop, Mary and I were in need of some R&R, so we went to a beachside restaurant/hostel outside of Trujillo called Casa Kiwi (it's owned by New Zealanders). We met up with Johnny, and Irish med student who has been volunteering with Agua Pura down in Choluteca. We swam, watched the sunset, and played with an enormous starfish.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Herman the Gecko

Herman the Gecko
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
A quick word on bugs: They are everywhere. I always equated the tropics with big, marvelous looking bugs, but that's not the case here in Trujillo. Bugs are pretty much the same size here as in the States, just here there's about 100 times more of them, and almost all of them bite. Needless to say, I hate them. I wish horrible, painful deaths and all small, black, winged pests that invade my house to bite my flesh and suck my blood.

Which brings me to geckos. Geckos are everywhere in Honduras, and I love them. They're adorable yellow-green translucent lizards that scurry around your house at night, eating bugs. The eating bugs part is why I love them. Anything that reduces the population of mosquitos, flies, sand flies, ants, and the million other pests we have in Honduras is a friend of mine.

Geckos only come out at night. During the day, they find little cracks and crevices and nooks and crannies to hide in. My apartment, being almost completely bare, has few good hiding places for geckos.

Earlier this week, I was putting away some clean dishes when something moved inside the tupperware dish I had just picked up. It was a gecko! I guess my dish rack was the best hiding place he could find. I quickly snapped a top onto the tupperware, and looked inside.

He was a cute little guy, and the first gecko I'd seen in my apartment. I wasn't going to keep him in the tupperware as a pet (how the heck would I be able to get enough bugs to keep him fed?) but I did hold him long enough to take some pictures and name him Herman. After a while I let Herman go, and he scurried off to hide behind some shelves. I saw him again that night, running along the wall, chasing down the few bugs that managed to squeeze in through the screens covering my windows.

Geckos make a very distinctive (and loud) chirping sound from time to time. At night sometimes I hear Herman chirping away in my kitchen. It makes me happy to hear the call of my friend and ally in my never ending war against bugs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Health in Trujillo, Colón, Honduras

The Three Goals of Peace Corps

  1. To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers;
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The Twin Goals of the Health Project
  1. HIV/AIDS Prevention
  2. Child Survival

The Health Project of Peace Corps Honduras has two main goals: Child Survival (decreasing infant/child mortality and by extension maternal mortality as well) and HIV/AIDS prevention (preventing new cases of HIV and preventing existing cases of HIV from advancing to AIDS). When I arrived in Trujillo, I wanted to get a sense of what the public health situation was as it relates to these two goals. Doing so might help me prioritize certain projects, but more than that, it would allow me to increase your understanding (Peace Corps goal #3) of the public health challenges facing Trujillo, the Department of Colón, and Honduras in general.

Goal #1: HIV/AIDS Prevention

Right now, there are approximately 1,200,000 people living with HIV in the United States. That is about 0.6% of the population. In Honduras, there are at least 63,000 people living with HIV, or about 1.5% percent of the population. That's nearly triple the rate of the U.S., and is probably more due to chronic underreporting of cases. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get data about people living with HIV in Colón or Trujillo, but if I can find the data, I'll post an update.

People Living with HIV/AIDSAverage New Cases of HIV Per Year (2004 – 2006)% Of HIV Cases Receiving ARV TherapyCondom Use
USA1,200,000 (0.6%)14 per 100,000 People70.1%15.7%
Honduras63,000 (1.5%)
26 per 10,000 People
34 per 10,000 People

From 2004-2006, there was an average of 14 new cases of HIV per 100,000 people in the U.S. In Colon and Trujillo (and probably Honduras overall, but I couldn't find the data) the rate is an order of magnitude greater: 26 per 10,000 people in Colón, and 34 per 10,000 people in Trujillo.

According to UNAIDS, 70.1% of HIV cases in the U.S. are receiving Anti-Retroviral (ARV) therapy. It's half that rate in Honduras, only 35%.

What about prevention? If one is sexually active, the best way to reduce the risk of infection is by using a condom each and every time one has sex. In the United States, the percentage of sexually active adults who reported using a condom every time they have sex was 15.7%. (Note, this survey interviewed both single and coupled people.) In Honduras, that rate is less than a third of the U.S., only 5%. Colón actually has the highest rate of condom use among all departments, at 7.5%.

A few years ago, Honduras passed La Ley Especial de VIH/SIDA (The Special HIV/AIDS Law) guaranteeing rights for people living with HIV, explicitly outlawing discrimination, mandating free and low cost confidential testing at health centers, and also recommending that health professionals encourage all pregnant women to get tested for HIV. In Colón, pregnant women have made up an increasing percentage of the new cases of HIV, from 11% in 2003 to 28.3% in 2006. This increase could be due to the increased efforts to detect HIV in pregnant women, or it could be for other reasons (for example, unfaithful husbands infecting their wives).

Number of New Cases that are Pregnant Women (% of Total New Cases)

Colón11 (11%)18 (22.5%)12 (23%)15 (28.3%)

Goal #2: Child Survival

Infant and Child Mortality is one of the best indicators of the overall state of public health in a country. One reason why is because so many factors influence the health of a child: nutrition, water and sanitation infrastructure, education and health of the parents, and access to prenatal care, to name a few.

Neonatal MortalityInfant MortalityChildhood Mortality
USA4.6 (2003)6.9 (2003)

Neonatal Mortality refers to death within the first month after birth. Infant Mortality is death within the first year, and Childhood Mortality is death before the fifth birthday. In the U.S. Neonatal Mortality is at about 4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. Infant Mortality is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. In Honduras the rates are much higher: Neonatal Mortality of 18 per 1,000 live births, and Infant Mortality of 27 per 1,000 live births. But the most alarming statistic is childhood mortality: 37 per 1,000 live births. Stated another way, 1 in every 25 babies don't live to see their fifth birthday.


<1 Year Old1-4 Years Old<1 Year Old1-4 Years Old
USA 0.97%

Colón 2477 (33%) 4314 (13%) 827 (11%) 1353 (4%)
Trujillo 405 (28%) 797 (13%) 76 (5%) 181 (3%)

Of course, just because a child lives doesn't mean he is healthy. A variety of ailments affect Honduran children, most common among them Diarrhea and Respiratory Infections. In the U.S., fewer than 1% of kids under the age of 5 are brought to hospitals or clinics because of diarrhea. The only statistics I could find on childhood pneumonia or respiratory infections in the U.S. are from the 1930's, probably because the rate is so low that it's not even on the public health radar anymore. Here in Trujillo, and in Colón, that's not the case at all. In Colón, 33% of infants and 13% of children aged 1-4 are brought to hospitals or clinics for diarrhea. The rates are almost the same in Trujillo. 11% of infants in Colón are seen for pneumonia or severe respiratory infections. The rate is lower in Trujillo, but still high (5% or 1 in every 20 infants).

Malnutrition is also a significant problem among children. I'm fond of showing this graphic at diarrhea prevention classes about the relationship between diarrhea and malnutrition.

I couldn't find specific data on malnutrition, but there were statistics on anemia (iron deficiency) which is an indicator of malnutrition. In the U.S., anemia among children was 2.9% in 1985. In Honduras, that rate is 37.3%, and Colón has the highest rate of childhood anemia in the entire country at 45.2%. Nearly half of all children in Colón have a measurable iron deficiency.

Anemia in Children

USA 2.9% (1985)

Honduras 37.3% 23.0% 13.5% 0.7%
Colón 45.2% 27.3% 16.4% 1.5%

Anemia in Women

USA 20%

Honduras 18.7% 16.0% 2.3% 0.4%
Colón 22.1% 18.8% 2.7% 0.6%

It's interesting to note that the rates of anemia among women of childbearing age (15-35) are roughly the same in Honduras and the U.S. A variety of factors could contribute to this. The high rate of diarrhea in children, for one. A lack of knowledge about childhood nutrition could be another reason.

New Digs

The View from my Apartment
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
Happy 4th of July everyone! To be honest, I didn't even realize the significance of today's date until one of my sitemates called me to make independence day dinner plans.

This weekend I moved into my own apartment. It's a spacious 1 bedroom about a block and a half from where I lived with a host family. It's on the top of a hill, and has a great view from the roof to the Northeast.

Trying to furnish my apartment revealed an unexpected quirk with Honduran cost of living. While it's normally very inexpensive to live in Honduras, the cost of furnishing an apartment is far greater than in the States.

First off, apartments generally do not come with stoves or refrigerators, things that are pretty standard in most rental apartments back home. On top of that, there is almost no second hand market in Honduras. And when things are sold second hand, they're nearly as expensive as new goods.

Our moving in allowance is about $225. That would be more than enough for me to get the basics for an apartment in SF because I could get most stuff for free or next to nothing off of craigslist. But here in Honduras, a stove cost me $175 and a refrigerator $80 and wait, I've already used up my moving in allowance. Admittedly, the stove is a luxury item, but I am going to go crazy (not to mention have a heart attack) if I can't take control of my diet. It's been nothing but fried, fried, fried, boiled, fried, fried, get the picture.

So, I've spend a bit of my own savings on some other apartment necessities, but the place is still practically bare. Next month, I'll use some of my monthly living allowance to buy lumber and I'll build some furniture. I'm looking forward to the project...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Trujillo Taxi
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
Another question from my grandmother Ruth, and the answer deserved it's own blog entry.

How do you travel from place to place? Do you do lots of walking or are there buses?

Here in Trujillo, I walk everywhere. I do have a bike, but the tires are flat and the only pumps sold here in Trujillo are useless pieces of junk that don't even push out enough air to inflate a beach ball. I'll eventually get to Ceiba and buy a real pump, and then I might use the bike a bit. But even then I'll still probably walk everywhere.

If I'm tired or carrying a bunch of stuff or just feeling lazy, I'll take a cab. Taxi cabs are all over every city in Honduras. They're white with a colored stripe (the stripe in Trujillo is light blue) and it costs 15 Lempiras (about 80 cents) to go anywhere in town.

For longer trips, there's the Honduran public transportation system. How to describe it? In a sound bite, I would call it "miraculously effective." Effective because you can get from almost any part of the country to any other part of the country (Gracias a Dios excepted) for a reasonable price and in a reasonable amount of time. Miraculous because Honduran transportation is the most haphazard, slipshod, run-down, disorganized and utterly chaotic "system" I've ever seen. It makes second-class Mexican buses look like luxury cruises on wheels. Yet somehow, it works.

There isn't one or just a few bus companies. There are dozens, if not hundreds, in Honduras. Each one operates on a small number of routes, and often has it's own stop in the cities and major towns it passes through. Trujillo actually has a bus terminal, but many cities don't, and where you catch the bus depends on which company you're riding with. Despite these complete decentralization, it's actually pretty easy to get from place to place. All buses fall under one of the following categories:

Directo - "Directo" means direct. But in reality, "directo" means slightly fewer stops. The only truly direct buses are the Hedman Alas buses, which are extremely expensive and don't really count as Honduran transportation because the average Honduran could never afford them. Directo busses usually only stop at major towns/cities and don't enter the city, instead pausing a few minutes on the shoulder of the highway. And they usually don't stop in the middle of the road to pick up passengers. On average, directos are a little bit newer, a little bit more comfortable (the seat might recline, and there might be legroom for someone taller than 5'6").

Semi-Directo - Meaning "semi-direct," these buses make more stops, for longer, and will usually enter the city, crawling along unpaved roads, letting passengers on and off. They will also pick up passengers anywhere on the road. People just stick out their thumb or wave their hands to get the bus to stop. Bus quality is pretty low. Usually these are old school buses, designed for elementary- or middle-schoolers. That means no legspace. The tires are usually bald and the engine sounds like it's about to fall out of the chassis.

Indirecto - I've heard talk of these, but I'm not sure if in practice there is a difference between Semi-Directo and Indirecto. Indirectos ("indirect") are probably just like semi-directos, just with even more stops and even worse bus maintenance. And it's hard to imagine semi-directos being substantially worse. And who would want to advertise being an indirecto?

Rapidito - These are usually large vans or minibuses. They run a fixed route, usually connecting two or more neighboring towns. They pick up anyone who flags them down, and drop them off wherever they ask. They usually seat around 10 - 15, with little standing room. That doesn't stop them from cramming in as many people as possible, which is especially uncomfortable when you're a 5'10" gringo forced to bow under the 5'3" ceiling and stare at either the breastfeeding mother who has somehow fit herself, her baby and her two other kids onto a single seat or at the machete-carrying toothless campesino who's missing 3 fingers.

Urbano - Urbano ("Urban") buses follow a fixed route through a large town or city. There's an Urbano here in Trujillo that goes through most of the major neighborhoods. It's a clunky old schoolbus, but at least the trip is short.

All of these buses run with a driver and an ayudante (helper). The ayudante announces stops and walks the aisle from time to time checking tickets and collecting fares. These different transportation options form a pretty good transportation network. But a critical ingredient that keeps everything working (relatively) smoothly is the jalón. Hitchhiking. I've heard of PCVs who have jaloned hundreds of kilometers because they missed a bus. And it is often time the only way to get around rural areas.

There's a whole system to jaloning, with hand gestures and etiquette. The jaloner starts by standing on the road, sticking his thumb out at passing cars. When a car passes, the driver who doesn't stop will usually respond with one of three hand gestures (instead of just blowing past without acknowledging the jaloner). All five fingers bunched together and pointed upwards means the car is packed and there's no room. Pointing ahead in an arcing motion means sorry, I'm just going alli no mas (there no more). Wagging your index finger side to side just means no.

If a driver decides to pick up a jaloner, he'll pull off to the side of the road and the jaloner will come up to the window and state his destination. The driver will say where he's going and where he'll drop of the rider (if he's not going all the way). The jaloner jumps in (usually into the back of the pickup truck), and holds on for the ride. Upon reaching the dropoff point, the jaloner jumps out and thanks the driver. For longer jalons, the jaloner may offer to pay some money for gas.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


What's this? Two blog entries in two days! Something must be going on. Well, yes. I've been sick with diarrhea and a cold for most of the last two weeks, and finally am starting to feel better, and so I'm sharing my joy with you. Yay.

Several other volunteers have blogged recently about what their average day looks like, so I figured I would do the same. My work is very different from day to day, depending on if I'm working with the Foro, or with Agua Pura, or with the Ministry of Health. But otherwise it goes something like this:

6:30amWake up
Light Exercise
Breakfast (Corn Flakes and tea - Thanks Parents!)
8:30amStart Working
Sometimes this means going out for meetings or fieldwork, sometimes it means staying in to write up documents, study, or make charla papers. Often times there isn't enough work to fill up the time until lunch, so I'll go to the internet cafe for a while.
11:30amLunch (I eat at a little eatery called Merendero Nayarit about 3-5 times per week and converse with the owner, Doña Reina)
12:30pmSiesta (As far as I can tell, Hondurans don't take siestas. I do. The heat is usually unbearable by this time, so I just lie in bed with the fan blowing on me full-blast.)
2:00pmContinue Working
Usually I save indoor work for this time, since walking the streets is no fun at this hour.
5:00pmHead over to the basketball court and play pickup
6:45pmStop playing when it gets too dark to see, head home for dinner.
9:00pmRead in bed, fall asleep

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Q & A

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
My soon-to-be 95-year-old grandmother (Hi Grandma Ruth!) and my mom (Hi Mom!) each sent me an email this week and asked a few questions. Since I'm having a hard time coming up with ideas for blog entries, I figured I'd answer some of them here.

Is Trujillo is sort of isolated from the rest of the country being surrounded by mountains and tropical forests? Since Trujillo is on the coast do you get storms such as hurricanes, etc.?

Trujillo is nearly at the end of the coastal highway, CA-13. The highway technically ends at Puerto Castilla, but the road is really bad after Trujillo. Trujillo is more isolated than anywhere I've ever lived, but in the range of peace corps sites is not very isolated. It is a roundabout trip to get to the nearest city, La Ceiba, as the Highway heads east, then south around the mountains before finally heading northwest back towards La Ceiba. It takes about 3.5 hours one-way. Luckily, stores in Trujillo sell most everything that one needs, but prices are quite a bit higher than in Ceiba.

Trujillo does get storms, though the land here seems much better equipped to handle precipitation than other (more deforested) parts of Honduras. We had a wet front come through here and move on into the center of the country, where it wreaked havoc and caused severe flooding. There were barely even any puddles here. And the north coast does sometimes get hit by hurricanes. But only about once every 20 years. And the last one was in 1998.

Does it rain for long periods or just short time? Is it always quite a downpour?

May through July is a mini-rainy season (the real rainy season being November through February), and we get afternoon showers more often than not. It's usually a big downpour. Like afternoon thunderstorms in certain parts of the States. Unfortunately, the rain does little to lower the temperature. It just makes everything damp.

What you do for meals? Are you able to get fresh fruit and vegetables? Are there restaurants where you can get good food?

Food-wise, I eat breakfast and dinner with my host family, who has a muchacha that prepares their meals. I stick with Corn Flakes for breakfast, but she does make me dinner every night. There are plenty of places to by fresh fruits and vegetables (though there's not much variety). There are two supermarkets, each about the size of a 7-11. They carry a lot of foodstuffs, including peanut butter and cheese. Occasionally I skip dinner at home and cook a communal dinner with my sitemates (There are two other Peace Corps volunteers here and a Canadian volunteer). There are a lot of restaurants in Trujillo, though not much variety in what they serve.

My host family is very caring and feeds me well, but I am still looking forward to being able to cook my own meals and have my own place. This saturday, I signed on the dotted line for a one-bedroom apartment! I'm moving in on July 1st. The total cost is 2,000 Lempiras (a tad over $100) a month. Of course, it's unfurnished, and I don't have a lot of money to fill it with stuff. So it'll be like camping for a little while. There is a lumber yard nearby, so I'll probably buy some wood and make shelves and a desk for cheap.

On the lack of direction from Peace Corps...

I didn't mean to make it seem like Peace Corps is not giving us any support or direction. There's just a limit to what they can do for us. Each community has different characteristics and needs, and only the volunteer on the ground can make the contacts and form the relationships that are necessary to really know a community. I think Peace Corps does a very good job at giving us the resources we need to be effective volunteers, however the bulk of the work is still on the shoulders of the volunteer.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

This blog entry was brought to you by...

...candlelight. Yup, the power is out for the umpteenth time, so I'm writing this entry by hand and will post it whenever ENEE (the national electric company) decides to give us some juice.

I've been in site for 3 weeks and things are going pretty well. There have been some frustrations and adjustments, but overall I've been happy and confident that coming here was the right decision. My mental well-being can be attributed to four things: regular exercise, staying busy, making local friends, and great long-distance support from friends and family. I sure do appreciate hearing from everyone, and I know I'm not the best about staying in touch, so thanks for the emails, calls, letters and text messages.

So, what's been happening in old Trujillo? (And it is old by the way. Trujillo celebrated it's 482nd birthday on May 18th.) First, I should explain a little about how Peace Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) operate. We arrive in country as trainees all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and go through a pretty rigorous training for 11 weeks. At the end of training we swear in and become official Volunteers. Each of us is assigned (some would say unceremoniously dumped) to a community, where we will work for two years. We're not assigned to a specific project, job, or organization. We're given a few contacts in the community (usually people or organizations we could potentially work with) and the rest is up to us to figure out. That figuring out part is called "community entry" and it's a process that (according to the Peace Corps) takes three months on average and sometimes as long as six months.

Community entry is a little like settling in to a new town -learning your way around, getting to know your neighbors, making friends, establishing a daily routine- except that no one speaks your language, cultural norms are very different, and everyone thinks you're a tourist. At the same time, you're trying to find work -by making contacts, attending meetings, visiting different offices, making presentations and so forth- except no on has heard of your company, they assume you're a medical doctor, and they're put off by the fact that you don't have an office. My strategy for community entry has been to leave the house every day and find someone working in the health sector to talk to, meet with and/or follow around.

Last week I attended a daylong Malaria training for schoolteachers. The Ministry of Health has developed an educational module for 5th and 6th graders to teach them about malaria. I had mixed feelings about the meeting. First off, the training was about 85% lecture on public health statistics and 15% reading the teacher's manual word-for-word. There was no discussion of learning goals and objectives, how the teach the material, or what information should accompany the different activities in the module. There was no practice. This is a HUGE problem in Honduras. From Public Schools on up, all teaching methodologies are based on lecture, memorization and repetition. Actual learning (in terms of understanding concepts well enough to teach them and/or apply them in novel situations) is a concept that just doesn't exist for most Hondurans. I'll probably do a separate post just on education issues, because the effects of poor education pervade all aspects of life here.

Last Friday and Saturday I attended a seminar for people living with HIV put on by FONASIDA and OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras, a Garifuna organization). It covered a lot of topics, such as adherence, self-esteem, and discrimination. I got to know several people who belong to the self-support group here in Trujillo, and hopefully I can start building on those connections because I would really like to work with them more.

This week was a little slower, but I did go out once again with Pure Water, and made firm plans with their Health Promoter to develop a diarrhea prevention charla that they can give at community meetings. This is my first real project!

I also got my hands on a whole stack of health statistics for the Municipalities of Colòn from the Regional Health Department. I've spent a couple days going over them and am writing up a summary, just so I can have a better mental picture of the health landscape here.

Yesterday I toured a US Navy ship. The HSV-2 Swift is docked at Puerto Castilla on a training mission. Their civilian liaison works for USAID and organized a latrine project with Brent, the business PCV here. She invited Brent and the rest of the PCVs to come take a tour of the ship along with the mayor, governor, and some other municipal employees.

In the afternoon, I attended a community meeting in Guadalupe Carney, outside of Trujillo. Alan, a new friend of mine here in Trujillo, is the health técnico (health technician) responsible for Guadalupe Carney, and is working with them to organize a community health committee. The committee would first work on malaria control issues, but then would address a variety of health issues in the community. I introduced myself to several of the community leaders there, and will be going back there a few times in the coming weeks to see if there is some work I can do with them.

This monday I'm leaving for Juticalpa to attend a 3-day Men's Health workshop. I'm going with a friend who works at FONASIDA, and hopefully when we get back we can start working on plans to implement the Men's Health curriculum here in Trujillo. I see a lot of places where it could be really useful: The Centro Penal (prison), the Navy Base in Puerto Castilla, and with the scores of unemployed young men who live in town.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why Honduras isn't the USA (and vice-versa) #2

The fluids episode!

  1. Water runs occasionally. And sporadically. Sometimes it's a trickle, sometimes there are some pascals behind it. But one thing that running water never does is run on schedule. Sometimes I get water one hour a day. Sometimes 6 hours a day. Sometimes 5 minutes a day. I keep a spigot open and a bucket underneath it to capture a few gallons whenever the water gods deem me worthy of an H2O delivery. The water in this bucket is all I have to brush my teeth, bathe, flush my toilet and wash my hands until the next time water flows through the pipes.
  2. Fluids come in bags. It's a common sight in Honduras to see folks walking around on a hot day (which is every day here in Trujillo) sucking on clear or light blue bags. These pouches are found at every cafeteria, pulperia, and churro-vending hole in the wall and can be bought for 2 Lempiras. Each one contains 0.5L of water. But water isn't the only fluid that comes in bags. Sodas do too. Well, not at first. Sodas come in glass bottles, which the store needs to keep in order to get the deposit back. So if you want your soda to go, bag it up! The cashier will pour your soda into a little baggie, stick a straw in the top, and you're good to go.
  3. The National Soda of Honduras. Well, not really, but Hondurans love it. Tropical Banana it's called. Banana-flavored soda. And not, you know, real banana flavored, but that fake radioactive banana flavor that cheap hard candies were flavored with in the 80's. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to choke down a glass of the stuff in order to be polite. Yum.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

First Week

Today marks one week here in Trujillo as a volunteer. "One down, 103 to go," says Mary, a friend in nearby Sonaguera. This week has definitely had it's ups and downs, but overall I would say it's been a pretty good week. I still don't have a very good idea of exactly what I'm going to end up doing here, but I've got some leads, I'm making connections, and that's a good start.

Highlights from this week:

  • I spent two days installing biosand water filters with the local chapter of Pure Water for the World (PWW). Tuesday and Wednesday we drove out early in the morning to Dos Bocas, and aldea about 45 minutes east of Trujillo. The filters had already been delivered to many of the houses, we just had to fill them up with the layers of gravel, gravín (fine gravel), and sand, then teach the families how to use the filters.

    The work Pure Water does and the challenges they face are a good example of just how hard it is to improve people's living conditions in a sustainable way. The water filters are fairly easy to use, and when properly cared for will last for years and years. They produce very clean water. PWW chooses communities with a high incidence of water-borne illness (mainly diarrhea), poor water sources, and low likelihood of getting a new water system in the near future. One would think that putting a filter in every household would produce a huge drop in the incidence of diarrhea. But usually the drop isn't that big, if it's there at all.

    Dos Bocas is a perfect example of why. Animals outnumber people in the community by 10 to 1, if not more. Dogs, pigs, sheep, chickens, and ducks roam freely through kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms. Kids are almost always barefoot, if not completely naked. Few houses had proper sinks, fewer still had soap. Flies swarm dishes and leftovers in the kitchen. Latrines aren't always well-maintained, and sometimes they aren't even used. Education levels are extremely low (at least one quarter of the heads of family couldn't even sign their names on the receipts we gave them) and many people don't understand the connections between hygiene and disease. Behaviors developed over a lifetime contribute in many different ways to the contamination of the entire household.

    PWW has a monitoring program to check in on families who have received filters and counsel them on maintenance of the filter as well as general cleanliness and hygiene issues. One of the things we've talked about is developing a more detailed charla about hygiene and diarrhea that we can give at community meetings. But knowledge does not necessarily bring behavior change. I take it for granted that my parents told me to brush my teeth, wash my hands, shower regularly, wear shoes, etc. If I had grown up on a farm, I would have learned that animals are not allowed in the house. But imagine if you had never received any of that training as a child. How likely would you be to change your behavior if some gringo came by and told you to?

    That said, I'm still very impressed by the work Pure Water does. They deliver easy-to-use, durable filters. They recruit community leaders to help install the filters, so that those leaders then become "experts" and can help other families maintain their filters. They have a monitoring program, and incorporate an educational component that attacks the knowledge/behavior side of the problem. Change might not occur quickly (it never does) but they seem to have a good strategy and a good group of local employees who are committed to the project over the long-term.

  • I attended an HIV/AIDS prevention taller (workshop) put on by Foro Nacional de SIDA (National AIDS Forum). The Foro is one of my main counterparts and I had been feeling a little discouraged at the beginning of the week because I hadn't been able to get in touch with them. But I spent most of Thursday at the taller and then at a youth meeting at the Foro office. There is a daylong HIV prevention seminario (seminar) next week, followed by a ceremony of solidarity for people living with HIV/AIDS.

  • I got a haircut at my new favorite barbershop, Barberia Manhattan. They trimmed and styled my beard as well. It is a...different look, for sure. I'll post pictures sometime (a memory card is on it's way!).

  • Yesterday, Mary bussed into town and we headed over to Casa Kiwi, about 5km outside of Trujillo. We had a day of beach, sun, and relaxing. The sunset over the Bay of Trujillo was incredible (again I apologize for the lack of pictures). A thick haze turned the sun a deep, dim red, and the water glowed with iridescent reds, greens and blues.

    Unfortunately, the late afternoon also brought out the sand flies (ejenes). These nasty little buggers swarm all over you, and their bites hurt. They're easy to kill once they land on you, but there are so many it just doesn't matter. I am completely covered with bites. And they itch like hell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

New Mailing Address

Just finished Day 2 in Trujillo. I'll write a full entry this weekend, once I have some time and energy. In the meantime, here's my new address:

Raphael Crawford-Marks
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 9
Trujillo, Colón, Honduras
America Central

And here's a google map I made of Trujillo.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Hey y'all, I will be getting a PO box as soon as I get back to Trujillo, so hold off on mailing me anything until I post my new address. If you've sent something to my Teguz address, don't worry, I'll still get it...

Monday, April 30, 2007


BTW, I have a cellphone now, my number is 504 9837-9755. I believe you dial 011 if calling from the USA. You can also send me text messages for free from this website:

The site is in spanish, so here's how you use it:

1. On the homepage there is a red/pink box in the lower right hand part of the screen. The first box is the area code, and should be preset to 504.

2. The box next to the area code is where you enter my number: 98379755

3. The box next to my number is where you put your name.

4. Click 'Invitar o Adicionar' (my number should appear in the box below)

5. Enter your message in the text area below my phone number.

6. Click 'Enviar Mensaje'

7. If I have money on my phone (it's a prepaid thingy) I can write back and my message will appear in the lower text area, like a chat session.


Thursday through Saturday was my first visit to Trujillo, which will be my community for the next two years. Before the visit, we had to meet our counterparts. On wednesday morning, we hauled all our luggage to the central park in La Paz, where we were met by a bus carrying the business group from Cantarranas. It was great to see old friends again after 5 weeks apart, and we shared stories and site hopes and expectations on during the bus ride to Siguatepeque, the location of our "Community Partner Day."

The event was held in a private conference center outside of Siguat, probably the nicest accommodations I've had since arriving. After unloading my stuff and eating lunch, I met my counterpart. She impressed me as being motivated, friendly, and very outgoing. She works for the Foro Nacional de SIDA (FONASIDA - The National AIDS Forum) in Trujillo. We talked a lot about prevention efforts underway, and working with people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Ever since working with Healing Waters in San Francisco and learning about the PLWHA initiatives here in Honduras, I have been really excited about the prospect of having a site where I could support organizations and groups that do such work.

The day consisted of activities to help us and our conterparts get to know one another and know what to expect from one another. It was fun, but after packing all night long I was ready to go to sleep. But, after the activities and dinner, there was a talent show. I have to admit to being pretty pessimistic about the whole thing and wishing I could just go to bed, but it was a lot of fun. One counterpart from Olancho sang several beautiful spanish ballads, another pair did traditional folk dance. But the most impressive was a Garifuna counterpart to danced Punta for us. Punta is a dance brought to Honduras by the Garifuna. The best way I can describe it is belly dancing on speed. Very entrancing. The music was largely percussion and very similar to some rhythms I used to study, and I'm definitely going to seek out someone who can give me some music lessons in Trujillo.

The next day we traveled to Trujillo. The director of the Health Project gave us a ride to La Ceiba and we took a bus from there, but the trip still took a good 9 hours. I don't think I'll be making many trips to Teguz once I get to site this weekend. But, the tradeoff for the isolation is a lot of natural beauty and a very tranquilo community (but with many opportunities for work). Trujillo is right on the beach of the Bay of Trujillo, a natural cove that makes for very calm, warm water. It is where Columbus landed during his third trip to the Americas in 1502, so there is a lot of history including an old fortress and cemetary.

I stayed with my counterpart, who is Garifuna, and she and several others in the neighborhood showed me all over town and introduced me to several dozen people on Friday. I was invited to meals, and greeted warmly by all. There are pickup basketball and soccer games nearly every day which should help me get to know a lot of the younger men in the community. Trujillo is pretty big (about 33,000 in the town and 43,000 in the municipality/county) and it is going to take quite an effort to integrate into the community and get handle of who's doing what there. I've been brainstorming different ways of getting to know people and organizations, and will have my work cut out for me when I get back. But it is all very exciting.

There are other volunteers in Trujillo. Two Peace Corps volunteers, and a canadian volunteer with the NGO Pure Water for the World. They invited me over on Friday night for dinner, and brought out a big cake to celebrate my arrival. It said "It's a Boy!" because for a long time they had been referring to me as "it" since they didn't know the gender of the volunteer who was going to arrive.

Saturday I left Trujillo and traveled to Olanchito, Yoro with my sitemates. This was partly for logistics, as the trip from Olanchito to Teguz is a little shorter, and the bus from there is much nicer than the one from Trujillo. The bigger reason was the Carnaval de Jamo. The Carnaval de Jamo is an annuel celebration in Olanchito where people eat iguanas. Jamo is a kind of iguana that they used to eat, until it was hunted to extinction. Now they eat a different kind of iguana, but still use the original name. We were there to eat iguana.

Iguana is served rostizado (roasted) with casamiento (beans and rice) yucca, plantain and iguana eggs. The meat is dark and tough, but pretty tasty. The iguana skin looks rough and scaly, but was actually pretty tender and tasty, like the skin on roasted chicken. The part of the meal that took the most courage to eat were the iguana eggs. Iguana eggs have skin instead of shells, the consistency of a thick plastic bag. It's very hard to break the skin, so you have to bite the skin and tear an opening in order to get at the contents of the egg. As soon as you do, the egg squirts out into your mouth. The egg matter tasted vaguely egg-like, but had the consistency of liquidy, lumpy oatmeal. That consistency was probably the grossest part of it.

Unfortunately, I couldn't take pictures because of my lack of memory card, but a fellow PCV did and I will post them as soon as I get copies.

After lunching on Iguana, we watched a parade (Honduras' president Mel Zelaya was in it) and wandered the streets, which were filled with vendors, stages with merengue, salsa and punta groups, and lot's of people. We went to bed early, but the party went on all night long. There was still music playing when we got up at 6am to catch the bus to Teguz.

The bus ride to Teguz was 9.5 hours long. Then another hour to get to Santa Lucia. We were exhausted after the trip, and I'm very glad I only have to make this trip once more in the near future. Speaking of the future, tomorrow we do our immigration processing, then we swear in on Thursday, and travel to our sites. I think I'm going to break up the trip and stay with some PCVs in Santa Barbara, so I should be in Trujillo by Monday or so.

Monday, April 23, 2007

And the site is....


Info: 1, 2

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why Honduras isn't the USA (and vice-versa) #1

Every so often, I'll see something here or remember something from back home and think of how said thing is emblematic of a cultural/social/political/economic difference between Honduras and the U.S. So, I'm starting to write them down, and here is the first installation of "Why Honduras isn't the USA (and vice-versa)."

1. Dogs get stuck together. This is a pretty common sight in Honduras. Two dogs, joined at the groin, standing around with sheepish looks on their faces. It turns out that when a male dog ejaculates, the head of his penis inflates and prevents him from withdrawing for several minutes.

2. Baby-making/having is no big deal. Cats and dogs are sexual creatures here (see #1). My host family's cat is going to have kittens any day now (I sure hope it happens before I leave). With humans there is also a notable difference. Baby-making is just not as big a deal here as it is in the U.S. Many people give birth at home with traditional birth attendants, and don't get as worked up about birthing and child-rearing as people in the states. In many ways it's refreshing. There's no playing classical music to your unborn child, no convenience cesareans, no epidurals, no doctors treating a completely natural process as an illness. But there are drawbacks as well: poor or nonexistent prenatal care, untrained birthing assistants not recognizing danger signs in time, or giving completely inappropriate treatment for obstetric emergencies.

3. Gestures. In just two months, I have learned to have completely nonverbal conversations. The following two exchanges can be accomplished without speaking any words:

Me: "Hey, can I have a ride?"
Driver: "Sorry, we're packed in like sardines."

Guy #1: "See that girl over there?"
Guy #2: "Where?"
Guy #1: "Over there."
Guy #2: "Man, she's hot. You should talk to her."
Guy #1: "No way!"
Guy #2: "You chicken."

The intricate sign language is fun to use but can be kind of off-putting before you learn what the gestures mean. Especially when people point with their lips. Yeah, it's as weird as it sounds.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Quick update

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel.
Tomorrow marks 2 months in-country. Like many of the aspirantes, I'm getting anxious to finish training and start my service. Exciting times are coming up. Site announcement is next Monday the 23rd. That's when all of us find out where we'll be working for the next two years. After that we travel to Siguatepeque to meet our counterparts (the Host Country National who will be our contact and possible coworker in our sites) and visit out sites. Then back to Santa Lucia to do immigration processing and say goodbye to our host families. Then swearing-in at the embassy in Teguz, then traveling to our sites.

I lost the memory card for my camera so I might not be able to post many pictures. :(

Two weeks ago was Semana Santa, a very big deal in all Latin countries, and Honduras is no exception. The picture here is of an alfombra (carpet) in Comayagua. Starting late at night on Holy Friday, hundreds of people work all night long in making these rugs. Most of them use dyed sawdust, but some (like the alformbra pictured here) are made out of "natural" ingredients like different varieties of beans and rice, fruit husks, wheat, etc. As soon as they finish, there is a big religious procession commemorating the crucifixion of Christ and all the carpets are trampled.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pelea de Gallos

On Sunday I went to a palenque (cockfighting arena) to see my first ever cockfight. It was pretty interesting. I shot video:

The cocks have super-sharp blades strapped to one of their legs, and they go at each other, usually to the death. Bets are placed before each match, with the odds being made according to the weight and possibly the breed/pedigree of each rooster.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

La Paz

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel.
Howdy folks, sorry for the long delay in updating. A week and a half ago, we (the Health Project trainees) bussed to La Paz, La Paz to begin Field-Based Training. The other to projects are in other sites for their FBT, so it's a smaller and cozier group. La Paz, on the other hand, is far from smaller and cozier.

A city of about 30,000, La Paz has two supermercados (a supermercado is about the size of a large 7-11, but they really manage to cram a lot of stuff in there!), 2 discos, and of course countless comedors and pulperias. There is also a hospital here in the city, as well as a number of clinics.

FBT has been intense. We are in class from 7:30 to 5, with a break around midday for lunch. Studying, practicing spanish with my host family, and working on projects takes up most of the rest of my time. The flipside is that the work we are doing is MUCH more interesting.

The two highlights from last week was a talk we got from an organization that works with commercial sex workers in Comayagua, and a two-day men's health seminar and practicum. The Men's Health initiative that peace corps is pushing is really interesting, pretty new, and there's a lot of energy behind it. It's main component is a 4-hour intervention on HIV/AIDS prevention that is delivered in a series of modular activities that are informative, but also really fun. The initiative works to deliver the intervention, but also to train regional, national (and now possibly international) organizations to adopt the intervention and use it in their areas.

After getting an abbreviated training on Thursday, we formed into groups of 5 and delivered the intervention to cadets at the Police Academy here in La Paz. It was a great experience, and now I know that there is work within the health project that really interests me.

My living situation here is also pretty spectacular. I live in a huge house with an herb & flower garden, fruit trees, and indoor patio. My host mother is an excellent cook, and I have four host brothers between the ages of 16 and 24 who are really fun to hang out with (which has helped my spanish!). My house is also centrally located so other trainees will often stop by to visit, which is nice as well.

Not much else to report. I haven't taken any pictures of La Paz yet, but will try to soon. Tomorrow we go to a nearby aldea to weigh babies as part of a anti-malnutrition project. Fun fun fun!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Parque Nacional Cerro Azul

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel.
Last week, all the aspirantes (trainees) traveled to other parts of the country to do a volunteer visit. it's a 3-4 day visit with another volunteer, to give us an inkling of what we're getting in to. I was assigned to visit Jeremy, a PAM (protected areas management) volunteer in Cerro Azul, Comayagua.

Cerro Azul is a small down of 500 people in the Parque Nacional Cerro Azul. The houses run along a river as it winds its way down from the tallest mountain in the area (also called Cerro Azul). Since I was visiting a PAMer, I expected a scuzzy hippie living in a mud hut somewhere. I don't think I could have been more wrong.

My volunteer, Jeremy, is a hardworking, relatively clean-cut guy from Iowa. And his house is far from a mud hut. It was a fixer-upper when he got it, but his stress relief activity has been working on the house and his yard. It´s on the bank of the river (and he had his own little swimming hole). It has a back porch with a hammock. The yard was filled with flowers. The house itself was simple, but had plenty of space, plus electricity, running water, even a heated shower! I did not expect my first warm shower in Honduras to come in a small town in the middle of a National PArk.

As impressive as the house was, the landscape was even more so. Mountains covered with ferns and trees (some trees at least...there's a bit of a problem with people practicing slash-and-burn agriculture there). Birds everywhere (as well as chickens and donkeys). Lot's of water.

As we walked through the town, it struck me that Jeremy knew everyone. And not just their names, but what they did, who their family was, and so on. He stopped and had a conversation with everyone. At home, he said that when he arrived he made a point of introducing himself to every family in town. One of his more time-consuming projects is coaching a youth baseball team. MLBPA gave a grant to the Peace Corps to start up rural baseball teams, and Jeremy's is one of the more successful (at least in terms of attendance). He tells me how hard it can be to motivate kids to play baseball when it's so much slower than futbol and he's the only adult encouraging them to come out. But at baseball practice, nearly 20 kids show up! I umpired a 3-inning scrimmage game, and it brought back a lot of memories of playing little league back in SF. Daydreaming in the field, taking bad angles to fly balls, the satisfaction of driving a ball into the outfield. The kids had fun playing, but by the end of three innings it was clear that their attention was waning. So we packed up the baseball gear and brought out the futbol. Here, just as in Spain, 10-12 year old kids are my match.

Saturday, after batting practice, we took off for Lago de Yojoa. We met up with other volunteers and headed to a nearby waterfall, catarata de Pulapanzak. It's a 20-meter waterfall that you can walk down to the base of and actually stand in a cave behind the roaring water. From there, we headed to a hotel, Agua Azul, on the shores of Lago de Yojoa.

The hotel was really gorgeous, and with all of us cramming 4 and 5 into a room, very cheap as well. We relaxed there, and it was really nice to take a night to just unwind, forget about the challenges of integrating into Honduran culture, forget about the long training hours, and just converse, hang out, and enjoy.

It´s interesting, the challenges I thought I would face here aren't the ones that I expected when I committed to go. While the country is less developed, daily life really isn't that hard. As a health volunteer, my site will likely have all the amenities: water, electricity, probably an internet cafe. But what will be hard is integrating into a culture that is even more different than I expected, where many of my american hobbies and behaviors are viewed at best as eccentric and at worst as iniquitous. Compounding that is the fact that my peers are generally married with kids. We had a presentation on the adjustments that volunteers go through during service, and the presenters said that their best friends were 13 and 64 years old. That seems pretty common for volunteers here.

But even knowing this hasn't fazed me much. I'm still excited to get to my site in 2 months and make the best of it. There's been a lot of talk among the trainees about where in the country they would like to go, north coast, mountains, the west, etc. I thought for a while that I really wanted to go to the North Coast, but the more I think about it the more I don't really care where I end up. Any site I go to will have it's advantages and disadvantages (we're there because of the disadvantages, right?) so I figure I'll just do my best to make it work and figure out how to be productive and enjoy my two years there.