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...