May 2011 Archives

The Joy of Mango-ing

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Waking up in Sulaco is like waking up to an orchestra of noises; birds and rosters crowing, donkeys and cows  hollering, dogs barking, motorcycles revving, and if I'm lucky sometimes NSYNC blasting from the neighbors house : ). Although it's a smallish town of 7000, I think it's noisier than most big cities I've been to. The humidity is already thick in the early morning hours, with much more intense heat to come once the sun is out. It's the type of weather that makes clothes just seem unnecessary, and cold drinks and frozen treats the best things in the world. Did I mention that I love this weather!!?

If any of you don't know me well, I'm not too keen on waking up early (that may be the understatement of the century!).  So I've taken to skipping the official group breakfast on most days and instead can wake up a bit later and just enjoy a mango before I get to work for the day.  So if you have never eaten a mango from its' country of origin, you are missing out on one of life's finest. Fresh, ripe mangos are one of the most delicious things this earth has to offer. They are so sweet and juicy and the flavor is incomparable to the mangos you can buy at the grocery stores in Minnesota. In the mornings I will take my mango and carefully peel the skin off, making sure to also scrap the remaining fruit that's on the skin off with my teeth so I don't waste any. I eat the mango over the balcony so that I don't have to worry about the mango juice that is dripping down my chin, hands and even elbows and can just let it fall on to the street. There is just no way to eat a good mango without making a mess.  Which reminds me of a story my dad loves to tell about his uncle, Tio Ramon, who was a total manners fanatic. Tio Ramon lived in my fathers house when my father was a child and he always had perfect, old school table manners, which he strictly imposed on others as well.  So one day my father and his brother got really excited about trying to see how Tio Ramon would eat a mango.  They bought the mango and excitedly presented it to him in hopes of a great show. But Tio Ramon simply said "gentlemen don't eat mangos".  Well Tio Ramon, you missed out big time haha.

Anyway besides the mangos and the homemade tortillas the food here isn't too exciting and definitely not healthy.  They fry a lot of their meat and cook everything in lard.  There is generally too much salt and they serve any meal with soda (usually coke). Pretty much every meal here includes beans, tortillas, fresh cheese and some sort of meat.  Sometimes they throw in eggs or rice and even some vegetables.  One of my companions is starting to say  ¨If I have to eat beans one more time...  ¨ I'm still fine with them though, but I do miss my vegetables and the diet here worries me. I have noticed that there is a large percentage of overweight individuals in the older half of the population. But that may have to do with the fact that I have seen more potbellies in the last week than I am used to due to the funny habit Honduran men here have of standing around with their shirts half folded up in the heat of the day, which comically accentuates their pop bellies.

Since we are staying in Sulcao (the nearest town that has a hotel) everyday we need to get a ride into the communities that we are working in. There are nine different communities that we are working at, so some days it feels like I'm spending half of my day in a pick up truck. We pile a couple people in the front seat, but most of us are in the back. If we have room we also pick up anyone on the side of the road, from schoolchildren to old men with machetes.  The rides have become an enjoyable part of my day. It's incredibly refreshing to feel the wind zipping around me while watching the beautiful Honduran landscapes rolling by; green mountains and hills in the distance, small plots of agricultural land growing corn or yucca on either side of the rocky, dusty road. Its just the beginning of the rainy season so the land still looks a bit dry, and the rivers are low. But it's getting greener everyday.  And we have been lucky, it has only been raining in the evening so far, so we are able to get in full workdays in the sun everyday.  We are usually the only vehicle on the road. Sometimes there is another truck or person on a bike, horse or donkey. Our driver likes to joke about how much traffic there is when we run into a herd of cows on the road. Our driver Ernesto, has become our best friend here. He is the community plummer and he takes us around in his red truck all day, back and forth from community to community for us to do our work. So we have gotten to know each other pretty well and I am sure he will be the person I will miss the most when I am gone from here.  Ernesto is a big guy for a Honduran. As one engineer but it, in general, everything here is smaller except the bugs, the kids are scrawny, you can see all the ribs on the skinny dogs and horses that run around and the adults are short.  But Ernesto is about 6 feet tall and solid, with a loud voice and charismatic personality.  He gave me a nickname, Teresa la Mexican, La Reina del Sur (Teresa the Mexican, the queen of the south) during the first week and since then others in the community have started to call me that as well. I guess it's from some narco drug lords song, but I can't say I mind the nickname too much haha. Oh and did I mention that he keeps a steady supply of mangos available to us??.... I am a big fan : )!

Thanks for reading!

Diarrhea Diaries

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It only took one day for The Diarrhea to claim its' first victim from our group. Between stomach issues, sunburns, blisters and overheating, we have had at least one person down per day. But luckily no one has had any really serious problems and everyone has been recovering pretty quickly. Which is good since we have so many things to pack into two weeks for this project.  This is the 3rd implementation trip our group has made, and we hope that the next trip with be for the installation of the water system.

My part in the project is on the community education side, so I have spent most of my days so far sitting in on meeting with the communities and their water boards.  Most of the engineers are working on technical aspects, going out and surveying the community for the system designs and gathering water and soil samples.  I got to join the engineers a couple times this week. I enjoyed being able to see what they do and getting to walk around the communities.  They have been measuring the water tap locations at every house so I got to talk with the families that live there and take in the landscape. And there never fails to be a trail of children following after us. They love staring and giggling at us.  As I was watching one of these trails of engineers and children from my water board meeting on a porch nearby, it made me laugh to see a young Honduran girl walking behind one of our female engineers with light hair, reaching out and touching her hair with curiosity, well another Honduran teenager behind her kept slapping her hand away to keep her from doing it. The whole time this was happening, the engineer was completely oblivious to the commotion her hair was making. 

It's interesting, part of my work here is doing sanitation education, but I have definitely been learning a lot about sanitation as well.  Mainly that sanitation is a lot harder here; no wonder diarrheal diseases are such a problem.  There is only running water for parts of each day, if at all.  It is super hot, humid and dusty.  There are animals, and therefore their poop, pretty much everywhere.  I went to wash my hands the other day and found some little wormy things swimming around in the water bucket that we use to wash our hands (I think they were mosquito larvae). When I went to bed last night I found two ticks in my bed. (None attached to me yet, so that's good.  Although I may just be missing them since the freckles I have all over my body are the same color as the ticks I found haha). This trip has also been my first time having to shower out of a bucket, which is actually not too bad, it just takes longer since you can only use one hand to wash while pouring the water over your body with the other hand.  The diligent hand washer that I am has been really struggling to feel clean with the conditions here.  I hope that this project will at least get rid of the water scarcity barrier.

Anyway we are staying very busy and learning and experiencing many new things every day. While doing a group Skype meeting at the internet café in town to EWB members in the US the other night, one of the engineers Robert, and I started playing a ¨how many unusual things will walk right by the front door ¨ game. We had a piglet, a 2 year old girl by herself, a three legged dog, a chicken, a small boy on an adult sized bike with 2 other kids chasing after him and a cow. Come to think of it, I would guess that none of these things are actually that unusual here in Sulaco.

Have a good week amigos!

On the Way to Hell

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Arriving in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, it kind of feels like I never left from my travels in Central America a year ago.  I'm in a new country but it feels mostly familiar; precariously swerving along dusty mountain roads in an old van, passing fields of sugar cane, rural road side shops and towns, with everyone along the way stopping to stare at the spectacle we foreigners are. The air is hot and sticky, but after this year's long Minnesotan winter it feels incredibly delightful to me.

For the first couple hours of our drive to our destination town, (Sulaco, about four hours south west from the airport we arrived at) I eagerly looked out the windows taking in the new scenery. We stopped once to rearrange all the luggage and engineering equipment that was tied (not very securely) to the top of our van and were able to buy a few coconuts to drink. We giddily passed the coconut waters around in the van and chattered about the adventures to come in the next week. After we settled into the drive and some of my fellow travelers started to dose off, I was reminded of a discussion our group had on the trip here about the ethics of this trip. It stemmed from a lecture that we read by Ivan Ilich about how wrong and harmful it is for Americans to do service trips in developing countries. He referred to the famous Irish saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." This same topic of service trips and projects through non-governmental organizations has already come up in at least three of my classes this year, and we go back and forth with this argument. Should we really feel good about swooping in for two weeks to help with a community project or are we simply causing more problems? Well after thinking about this I still haven't come to a clear determination. I think that one thing that sets us apart is that the group of communities that we are working with in Honduras had to apply to Engineers without Borders asking us to help with a water supply project. So if they solicited our help does that make a difference? We are definitely not forcing this on them. Also, even though we are only here in the communities for two weeks, this project has been being worked on from Minnesota since 2009 and had ongoing regular communication with the community (including two previous trips). We also have an organizational commitment to continue working with this project 2 years after it has been implemented. We are going into this project planning to make it sustainable, and maintainable by the community.

While I do agree that many service project and trips can cause a great deal of damage, especially in the after math once the foreigners leave, I still believe that if done correctly with the right conditions, they can be a good thing. But I continue to worry that this is just ideological thinking on my part, my own ignorance and inexperience justifying it. So even though I may not be sure if what this whole project represents will actually do good, what I am sure about is that our group needs to remain aware of and try to avoid, the pitfalls that are easy to fall into coming from an ethnocentric culture to a less developed place. We may be experts in our fields back home, but here we don't know a damn thing about what is best for the communities in particular situations.  Therefore, we need to spend a lot of time listening. We can share with them the work that we have done to prepare and design this project, but they need to be in control of the direction that this project goes. We have put a great deal of time into creating a number of alternative options for the project which we will explain the cost and benefits of to the communities, then let them decide. Over the course of this trip, I am certain that we will be learning a lot from the communities. According to Ilich, it's okay to go to developing countries to travel and study. So at least for me, I can look at this as that I am here to study and learn and will help as much as I can in the mean time.

As we arrived at our hotel, members from each of the communities that we are working with were waiting for us. They surrounded us as we got unloaded out of the car, while many more onlookers leaned over the balconies above to look at us. They embraced us, fed us, and told us how happy they were to see us. And in that moment my good intentions felt right, so for now to hell with them I go.

On the Road Again

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I just finished my finals I am now more than ½ done with my masters degree in environmental public health, yah!  I feel I have learned so much in the last year, and met a lot of very amazing like-minded people in the school of public health.  But it seems like the more I go to school and learn, the more I realize I don't know.   And I always thought it would be the other way around...

 

Anyway, today I leave for Honduras to do my field experience.  The field experience is a required part of my degree program, with the purpose of getting us out in the public health arena in the real world to practice applying our skills.   I am going with Engineers without Borders to the area of Sulaco, Honduras to work on a water supply project that serves 9 rural communities. This project fits well for me because I have a global concentration in my degree, I always like an opportunity to improve my Spanish, and water issues are one of my main interests in public health.

 

I feel like I am pretty comfortable traveling in Latin America after doing it alone last year.  What I am most anxious about is going with the responsibilities of being the only public health person in the group.  But none-the-less, I am very excited to go on this new challenge and to roam new territory. I will be helping with community education and health surveying among many other things.  My main goal is just to help the engineers in whatever way they need and to make sure that everything that we are doing is in the best interest for the health of the communities that we are supporting with our project. 

 

Sulaco is going to be very rural and I'm not even sure if I will have internet access while I am gone, but I will write as soon as I can and I will be taking a camera and a flip video cam so I should have some interesting things to share soon!!!

 

Paz amigos,

THERESE

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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