Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

My birthday has always been one of my favorite times of the year simply because I always get an overwhelming outpouring of love and thoughtfulness each and every year for as long as I can remember. What´s interesting is not the same people remember every year, nor do they all remember at the same time, but nevertheless, I there are well-wishers, here there and all over. It never fails that each year, I receive a couple of random greetings from people out of the woodworks, so it has been fun finding out every year who they are going to be.

This year is no different in its level of awesomeness. Just when I thought being in Honduras would pose as a challenge, somehow I knew deep down that my day would find its way to prove to be special. My first birthday song (en español!) came in at 12 a.m., December 9th, from a friend in town, followed by a long distance call from the Philippines at 12:02 a.m. that came with a song number as well. Did I ever get to say that I LOVE IT when people sing Happy Birthday to me over the phone? I think it´s the most hilarious and fun thing.

My plans for the day were to attend a Christmas party at a nearby mini-resort for the network of women´s group that I am working with- only they turned the party into one birthday fiesta for me as well! When I arrived, birthday music in Spanish was blasting from the speakers and everyone surprised me by jumping from behind the bushes. My “party” was made up of almost 25 awesome women all in all!! Most of these are people I´ve only seen about a few times since I started working in Honduras, and yet they drowned me with kind words and some presents and as the picture shows- in icing. Yes, I got my cake and ate it too! Not to mention a piñata and merengue time with the ladies!

In the evening, I got to attend my first ever Honduran wedding to accompany my host mom, so that was cool. I felt like I had another big party with a ton of people, at no cost to me! Haha. Capped the evening by going dancing with some friends and then the following day, I went to celebrate again out of town with another volunteer who had the same birthday as I do- so we had some adventures in La Ceiba. Everything was chill and good.

Messages and phonecalls continued to pour in throughout the weekend and through the mail- both snail and electronic. Some people form here called me too and I never even told them when my birthday was! As always, I can´t really complain about anything, if at all, I feel so blessed to have so many amazing people in my life who continue to prove that distance doesn´t matter- and neither does being “recently acquainted” because in my three months here in Olanchito, a lot of people have come to embrace me as their own.

I´m 29 years old and it´s amazing how I don´t feel a year older. If anything, I know I´ve definitely matured more in my thinking but my heart is definitely getting younger and younger. Unlike the majority of people who freak out every time they turn a year older, I am the exact opposite, feeling more brave to embrace life as the years pass. I don´t think I ever have to worry about getting old- especially here in Honduras – I´ve had countless arguments with people who tell me I´m lying when I give them my real age, but when I tell them I´m 22, the argument comes to a halt. Case closed, indeed.

So this is a special shout out to each and everyone in my life who ever remembered when I had a birthday and made an effort to make me feel special. Every message, every phone call, every gesture- they all have stayed in my mind and heart and continue to make me feel mmm…good…deep inside.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Excerpts from November

Nov. 2nd Apartment Blues
Moved into an apartment and I was back on my own. Sort of. Still had the previous occupant’s things and it took two weeks to get rid every last one of his things. Now I´m enjoying all my loaner items- bed, desk, drawer, stove, some kitchen items. My bed sheets are brand new, however, and a refrigerator may actually be within reach. But for now I will continue to enjoy my consumption of room temperature agua, since I made it to a month without the luxury of the ice box. It´s not so bad once you get used to it.

Nov. 4th and 29th ¡Viva Cuba!
Attended a ceremony on the 4th to honor the presence of the Cuban Ambassador to Honduras in our town. Our Mayor spoke endlessly on the glory of Cuba and how wonderful anything and everything that is Cuban. Heard the Cuban National Anthem for the first time, which lasted about 30 seconds as opposed to the Honduran anthem of 3+ some minutes. Saw members of the Medical Brigade from Cuba as well and they lived up to their reputation that I have heard about beforehand- creidos, i.e. snobs. But, the Ambassador was very nice to me when I introduced myself and he actually shook my hand.

On the 29th was a day to commemorate the Cuba – Honduras friendship. When it was time for the guest of honor from Cuba to give her speech, instead of the usual flowery declamation, she suddenly went into political discourse lambasting U.S. policy and the Bush administration and the evils of North Americans and how mighty Fidel is for making it to his 80th birthday. Hmm. Being the lone estadounidense in the crowd, I could only imagine what could have happened if the fired up speaker suddenly realized that there was an enemy amongst the audience. For once I found it convenient that no one in Honduras ever initially perceives me as from the U.S., only from China or Japan - the only two countries in Asia, according to the knowledge of the majority here. But I digress, needless to say, it wasn´t a very comfortable situation.

Mental note: I should avoid future events of this nature so that I will not have to be obliged to join the crowd when they burst into their chanting of ¡Viva Cuba! and ¡Viva Fidel!

Nov. 5th – 23rd. Speak Spanish to My Ears
I attended series of workshops with varying themes such as Human Rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Water Sanitation Laws, Emotional Intelligence, Conducting Feasibility Studies for Development Projects, Functions of the Powers of State and the Transparency and Audit Committees. Oh yes, all of these were in español.

Although I have been told by a lot of people that my spoken Spanish is perfecto or excelente, I still have my doubts. However, I do know that my comprehension has definitely improved, I would say up to 97% after surviving all these workshops, sans a dictionary, and even understanding technical terms. Kudos to my dedication and endurance! Sitting through classes of legalese in English wasn´t the most exciting nor easiest thing for me, what more, in Spanish. But “I´m doin´it…and doin´ it well," to quote an LL Cool J song, I think.

Nov. 13 If You Look Foreign, You Must Have Dough!
One of the men I have seen frequent the municipality on behalf of his group suddenly called me on my cell phone (a colleague just conveniently gave it to him) to ask to meet with me because his group needs help acquiring land and no one else in the municipality has been able to do it. Uh, sure thing. That was my cue to recite my spiel of "Peace Corps does not provide financial resource, but human resource” and went on to offer him instead to connect him with an existing organization that works on his issue. Just another day in Municipal Development work, I guess.

Nov. 14 Definitely in the Boondocks
I visited a 20-year old community of about 25 houses in one of the neighboring mountain villages of the city. When I arrived, I asked where the bathroom was and I was advised to go behind the church. Was the bathroom behind the church? No, the river lay behind the church. I was told to go there because no one would see me there as I took care of my business (just #1, for the record). So, as I was doing my first ever squat-to-pee in Honduras, it dawned on me that there was no bathroom anywhere there because there was no water system, hence no latrines, and of course, no electricity either. I had my first hand experience of the reality of the majority of the people who are living in the rural areas, outside the comforts of the city. It was sobering for me and a good reminder of what I´m supposed to be doing in this country. So no more whining ever about my apartment blues, where, although I had a leaky faucet at first, at least I have running water. And a toilet.

Nov. 23 and 24 Turkey Day
I had turkey! I had turkey on Thanksgiving Day in Honduras! Thanks to a volunteer friend’s mother (fabulous Ms. Viviana from San Diego) who came to visit the country for her daughter’s birthday and invite her friends. The lucky souls were treated to two nights in Hilton where they served a traditional (well, close enough- the turkey was real, though!) Thanksgiving Meal. Woohoo! The following night we enjoyed some wine, various cheeses (none of which was quesillo!), fruits and cold cuts. We had a lot to be thankful for indeed!

Nov. 26 Good Morning, Politics
Shortly after getting out of bed I headed out for the grocery and passed by a nearby store where I started chatting with the owner. When he found out that I´m from the U.S., he immediately went on about the injustice of how immigrants are treated there and his sentiments against the construction of the wall and then reminded me of the disasters that resulted in every Central American nation’s relation with the U.S. from the Reagan era. I have to admit I was blown away by the depth and breadth of his knowledge of history and politics – this was definitely not a typical chitchat with a Honduran. However, this was also at around 8 a.m., the morning after traveling on a bus for eight hours. I let him finish what he had to say and then politely told him that not all North Americans ( I learned that it is more p.c. to be specific and not just say “Americans” because Latin Americans are also Americans, not just the gringos.) share the same opinion with the current U.S. administration and then I excused myself. On a different day or time, it would have been interesting to pursue the political discourse, but that early morn, I just wanted to buy some groceries.

Nov. 29 Meeting with the Big Cheeses
My Peace Corps supervisor came to visit me at my site and meet with myself and my counterpart, the Mayor. It was all procedural, in order to check how things have been with work, health, life in general and discuss any issues. Over lunch, a graceful dance of politics and diplomacy between my jefa and the alcalde ensued and I would have to say it was productive and very helpful for me. At the least I would say that the past couple of months have been a frustrating uphill battle trying to find my purpose and way in and through a political world. Although I know that it will not be smooth sailing from here, hopefully having found some common ground from the discussion will result in progress.

Nov. 30 Beauty amidst Sorrow
Maritza is one of the best girlfriends of my host mother, Rosa. This week, her family suffered a tragic loss when her younger brother, a lawyer, was murdered in the capital. I wasn´t able to make the trip for the burial, however, when the family returned, I accompanied Rosa to visit their home since Maritza has become a friend of mine as well. It was an honor for me to be welcomed into the home and be allowed to witness incredibly intimate moments. I am familiar with the process of mourning when a loved-one passes away, but I have never been in a situation wherein a loved-one´s life was stolen. It was painful seeing the mother and the siblings of the deceased grieve. However, I found beauty in all of this - the maturity and strength of Maritza´s eleven-year old daughter consoling and embracing her mother as she cried and cried, people from the community visiting the home to be empathize with the family, intimate friends running the household and entertaining guests so that the family can mourn in peace. And in the middle of all of this, Maritza´s brother, Anoel, whom I met for the first time that evening, took the time to sit with me and get to know me, setting aside his own need for space in order that I could feel more comfortable in the home and with the situation.

This brings me to the realization that all this month I have been frustrated and stressed over not being able to do any tangible work even though I have been here, there, and everywhere trying to get to know communities, people and organizations. Someone once pointed out to me that building relationships is work. Whenever I go out I carry around a little notebook, writing names of every person I meet. Every so often I review these names and even though I don´t always remember everyone, everytime, most often I do and the effort has always been vale la pena (worth the trouble) when the eyes of someone whose name I remember light up. Last time I counted the names was over two weeks ago and I was at over three hundred people. This doesn´t even include the people I met before September 9, when I moved to this town. I guess 300 new acquaintances, several already dear friends, in about two months time is not bad work at all.

I guess what I am trying to say is that reaching a level of confianza (trust) the way I have with Maritza´s family, where I was able to go in her room, despite being the extranjera (foreigner) that I am while other visitors could not, is an amazing thing for me. And thanks to Rosa and other colleagues who have introduced me to various circles, I have reached this level of intimacy with other families as well. The concept of volunteer work being that of building relationships more than anything is starting to make more sense. So, no, I have not saved Honduras and I don´t think I´m going to- more than anything I think it is saving me from myself and any risk of having lofty aspirations. However, I will continue on with the kind of work I have been doing putting people first and I know somewhere out of all of this, a project of some sort will come up where it will be my turn to make a positive difference in somebody´s life.