Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Training, The Dirty South, Semana Santa


On March 13 I took the bus down to my old Field-Based Training site of La Paz, La Paz to spend a couple days working the new crop of health trainees. I went with another Health Volunteer, Tania. She and I are both members of the team that manages the People With HIV (PWH) and Support Groups initiative.

For 8 hours over two days we trained the newbies in the methodologies of the initiative, taught them about the challenges facing PWH in Honduras, and did our best to make them want to work with or start support groups in their communities after they swear in. The training went really well, and I'm really excited to work with some of the new crop of volunteers after they swear in in May.

The Dirty South

After training, I aprovechared the fact that this was the farthest south I had been since swear-in last May, and continued on to the southern part of the country. I took a bus to Tegucigalpa and from there to San Lorenzo, Valle on the Pacific coast of Honduras. There I visited Kyle, another health volunteer from my group.

San Lorenzo is a decent-sized city by Honduran standards, with about the same number of people as Trujillo. But even though it's the same size as Trujillo, it has a lot more economic activity. Most of the roads are paved, there's a real supermarket, and a general sense of stuff happening. It's also ridiculously, oppressively, painfully hot. Thanks to everything being paved, the town just soaks up heat. It's dryer than Trujillo, but still humid enough for the heat to linger well in to the night.

Kyle and I abandoned San Lorenzo the next day to visit Matt in Monjaras. Monjaras is about an hour away, so I got to take in a bit of the countryside of Valle on the way. Valle reminds me of California during that oppressive heat wave we had in 2006, except even hotter. All the hills are bone-dry and brown, the only green coming from some irrigated fields of sugar cane and other crops.

Monjaras is a smaller town, but still pretty well-developed (judging by the internet cafes and paved roads). It was cooler and more shaded than San Lorenzo, a welcome change. From Monjaras we took a short bus trip to Cedeño, a beach town a few kilometers away.

Cedeño was packed (this was the weekend before semana santa, and already people were flocking to the coasts) but we waled a short ways along the beach and the crowds quickly thinned. We found ourselves a table at a beachside restaurant and parked ourselves there for the day.

I had been advised by several honduran friends to try Curiles when I visited the pacific coast, so Matt and I split and order of them with our lunch of fried fish. Curiles are a local mollusk. They have a dark, iron-rich blood. They are served raw in a bowl with their blood, chismol (salsa) and lime juice. That sounds a little gross, but they were delicious! They were tender and very flavorful. I highly recommend them.

Semana Santa

I spent a couple more days with Matt and Kyle in the south. On Tuesday morning, I left Kyle's at 3:45am to catch the first bus to Tegucigalpa. My plan was to take a direct bus from Teguz to La Ceiba, but all those buses were sold out because of the Semana Santa travel rush. So I took a bus from Teguz to San Pedro Sula, then waited for hours before dinally catching a bus from San Pedro Sula to Trujillo. I went from the pacific coast to the atlantic coast overland in one day. I finally arrived home around 10pm, exhausted. 700 kilometers, 18 hours. 30 seconds after arriving, the power went out and stayed out all night.

The next day, I noticed that Trujillo had been completely overwhelmed by tourists. They were everywhere. The beaches and restaurants were packed to the gills. The disco was bumping at 2pm on Wednesday afternoon. I felt like I was living in a different town. I hosted some fellow volunteers over semana santa, and we had fun despite the crowds. By Monday, everyone was gone and my town was back to normal.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm Famous!

An article with my picture
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
First, Brent immortalized me in a blog entry about my behavior at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Then, La Prensa, one the the national newspapers of Honduras, published an article about the opening of a new Center for Adolescents in Savá, Colón. Along with the article was a picture of...you guessed it...yours truly!

Some of you may be saying, "Raphael, I didn't know you were working on a Center for Adolescents in Savá." Well neither did I! I once helped out with a men's health workshop in Savá, but that's it. But the photo is from a men's health workshop I did with Mary in Isletas, Colón, a good 2 hours from Savá. The author of the article is also credited with the photograph, so either he knew the photo had nothing to do with the subject or he took credit for someone else's photo. It's hard to say which is more likely. Ahh, Honduras.

(Speaking of famous, could y'all help me become even more famous? It's easy. Just click the green "Fave This Blog" Technorati link on the left (just below the archive links) and add this blog as one of your favorites. Or just click this link. It'll help drive traffic to this site and increase my readership. Thanks!)

Friday, March 7, 2008


Today I got up at 5:15am and left the house a little after 6am. I was supposed to meet Ana at the bus terminal. We were going to Limón to meet with the support group there. I boarded a cab and asked for the bus terminal.

"No hay buses," said the cabbie. (No buses.) Why? "Hay una toma." (There's a 'take.') What? "Tomaron la carretera." (They took over the highway.)

Ah. There was a roadblock. This is a common strategy for groups that are striking or protesting for some reason. I'd heard of them, but never seen one in person. The cabbie said he could drop me off at the roadblock and I could walk past it, then catch a bus to wherever I needed to go.

There were buses and trucks lined up on the side of the highway leading up to the roadblock. The roadblock itself was a bunch of large stones laid out across the street, and about 300 meters down the road a couple giant concrete sewage pipes rolled onto the road. A small group of mechete-wielding campesinos stood around by the pipes.

The scene was remarkably laid back considering that the only paved road in and out of both Trujillo and Puerto Castilla was completely blocked. About a hundred uniformed schoolkids were walking toward town, joking and laughing. Little boys with bicycles were ferrying people's bags from one side of the roadblock to the other for a few lempiras. People were saying hi to each other and stopping to converse for a few minutes before continuing on their way. There were a few cops, but they were just standing around, looking bored.

At the other side of the roadblock was another long line of trucks and buses. I called Ana and she said she would meet me there and we'd take a bus to Corocito, and from there we'd get a bus to Limón.

Unfortunately, we didn't take in to account just how disruptive the roadblock was to transportation schedules. We waited over an hour for a bus to leave for Corocito, and then another hour and a half at Corocito for a bus to Limón. What should have been a 2.5 hour trip took almost 6 hours in total.

On the way back, the roadblock was still there. There were many more cops and soldiers around, wearing riot gear and sporting tear gas guns. From a distance it looked like a tense scene, but up close I could see the cops dozing on the hoods of their trucks, smoking cigarettes and joking with their buddies. This was not the scene of an impending confrontation.

There were more men gathered around the big concrete pipes, with one guy reading something over the loudspeaker. It sounded like he was reading an offer from the government in exchange for ending the roadblock. After he finished reading, he asked the crowd if they would agree to the offer. You could tell by the tone of his voice that the offer was a good one and he expected them to agree. A few people shouted, "No!" and everyone else was silent. So much for that plan.

Overall, the whole roadblock-as-protest thing seemed a juvenile and dangerously provocative tactic. The group did nothing to inform people of why they were protesting. There were no signs, no flyers, no announcements. Nothing to explain to people why they were being cut off from the the rest of the country. Nothing to justify endangering the lives of people (what if there were a medical emergency and someone had to be taken by ambulance to La Ceiba or San Pedro Sula?). I'm pretty inclined to sympathize with protesters taking to the streets, even taking extreme measures like blocking a road. But this group did nothing to justify their actions. It seemed more like blind adolescent rebellion rather than thoughtful protest.

Late last night the group finally removed the roadblock. Who knows if they got what they wanted.