Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Market

From the Parque la Paz, a vantage point relatively high above Tegucigalpa, you can see the weekend market spread out near the soccer stadium. It looks like any other market, with countless stalls, blue tarps above to keep out sun or rain, milling people and live music.

Upon arrival it becomes a terrifying and overstimulating world of produce, yelling, and near death experiences. Through some horrific miscommunication, the market is set up in the stadium's parking lot. In the off-chance that a soccer match is scheduled for the weekend (as they always are), the parking lot is majestically overwhelmed by a torrent of anxious amped up fans and thousands of actively transacting marketeers all vying for the same space.

As the first people from outside Honduras to ever set foot inside the parking lot/market area, we were welcomed with open-jawed stares and offers to buy produce in 10 pound increments. We would have loved to buy large quantities of zucchini-like squash or squishy local cheese, but we were worried we didn't know the protocols for exchange and about getting run over by rabid soccer fans. In the end we watched the live music/auctioneers sing prices to the excited crowds, and then went home to take a nap and think about what we'd seen.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cardodging and a Ram's horn

You might be interested in an update of our Tegucigalpa experience so far, or at least hearing about what it's like to be newly married and living in a foreign country.

We've spent a good deal of time "cardodging", which some people might call running if it wasn't so exciting. Cars aren't used to navigating around people running for exercise or enjoyment and try to pretend like you aren't there - leading to some close calls. Whatever gets your heart rate up.

We went to church this morning. We found out from the armed guard in front of the church that the service started at 10am. It was fun and boisterous! We recognized some of the songs, and the sermon really challenged our Spanish skills. The people were really friendly and welcoming and we really enjoyed it. One highlight was a man in the front right of the auditorium who had brought his favorite instrument of worship, a HUGE Ram's horn, and blew it with gusto whenever he saw fit. Though quite out of tune and rhythm, it certainly added an interesting element of Old Testament tradition to the otherwise contemporary and charismatic service. You couldn't quite get accustomed to it though, everytime that thing went off, we jumped and then tried to deny the fits of laughter welling up from within. Pure joy.

We climbed to the top of a hill in the center of town with Parque la Paz crowning the top. From there you can see a good portion of Tegucigalpa and hear the incredible cacophony of car horns and city noises. Apparently the monument was erected as a peace tribute to the end of the Soccer War. The Soccer War ran a bit deeper than sports rivalry, but started when Honduras played Guatemala back in 1969.

We also decided it was time to start cooking for ourselves in earnest, partly because we've been eating out since we got married in August except for some lovely occasions with friends and family and some good home cooking. Partly because we like it. Partly because there aren't a whole lot of places to go out to eat in Tegucigalpa. We spent a couple hours at the grocery store today and made a project out of it. We made up a grocery list and realized that although many of the ingredients are available, it's hard to find substitutes for things like ricotta cheese.

We added more pics to the Tegucigalpa album in response to reader feedback (More pics more pics!), now you can have a visual of all that we've told you about. Tell your friends.

Long Awaited Pictures!

First of all, we finally uploaded a select 142 photos from our Fall/Winter Central/South American trip. Check them out! I recommend viewing the slideshow so you can see the full comments. You can speed it up if you're a good reader.

We also have our Tegucigalpa album started!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

We Have Some Catching Up To Do

Last time we saw each other, we were in Bariloche. You are a faithful blog-follower, you! Thanks for tuning in. Since then we made it back to Seattle in one piece after a harrowing 33 hour journey. We lost three good bottles of Argentinian Malbec in the DC airport, so it's still hard to talk about the journey without getting choked up. Apparently "relaxed" restrictions on liquids doesn't mean all the wine you can lug aboard, it means whatever saliva is in your mouth plus a chapstick. We had to check the wine under the plane without preparing it for the rigors of baggage handling, and when we got to baggage claim it looked like a murder scene with a giant purple puddle in the middle of the floor. The rest of the wine (1 liter per person valued under $800 in case US Customs is following our blog) made it safely!

We spent a week in Seattle with Em's family and they pampered us and gave us presents, and we gave them presents and celebrated the birth of Jesus in style. We love them so! We hauled cross country to see my family, exchanged gifts again, celebrated the New Year and had a blast. We love them too! Then we came back to Portland, tried to catch up on four months of mail and find some winter clothes and got bitter real fast. Luckily we have amazing friends in Portland who made our time there a joyous one - thank you amazing friends!

So we recently repacked our winter clothes and found one of our backpacks (Emily doesn't want to see hers until Spring when we can use it for something it was made for, like camping). We even had room for some books and some fancy towels from Costco, just to make it feel like home down here. Where's down here?...

Welcome to Teguc! (Pronounced "te-goose", not "te-guck"). We decided to let United Airlines give us the runaround once more and it took a little while to get here. Two flights and a too-swervy bus ride where they played "The Hot Chick", a movie about Rob Schnyder switching bodies with a high school girl, and we arrived in Teguc! The doctor we're working with met us at the bus station and carted us to our new apartment. She was very nice, and we were in a little bit of shock. Our apartment is an exercise in re-using decor from the 70's and 80's but it's home and it has everything we need. It's up the only dirt road we've seen in the city.

Teguc is a rather friendly city, but it's a little intimidating because there aren't a lot of foreigners here. Five, to be exact, including ourselves. We saw one girl at the park today holding a coffee (dead giveaway) and a couple of Oregonians wearing Chacos that looked like they arrived to work on a hospital project 20 years ago and never left. Guys stared at Emily like she's 10 feet tall, which was troubling at first but easily solved with a sign readable at a distance that says "I neither cook nor bear children" in Spanish.

We went to the hospital on Thursday and Friday, and it was eye opening. There are lines of people outside the hospital, and people everywhere inside as well. We got to see the patient clinic first thing, and on Friday morning we were invited to make rounds with the specialist in the pediatric oncology department. The hospital we are working at is a public hospital for people who can't pay for private treatment, so the patients are needy and there is never quite enough of anything to go around. We have been working at someone else's computer in a 8x8 office with as many as 8 people in there at one time. Luckily we have exciting Latin music rocking at all times.

We all know third world hospitals are rough places, and we're lucky if we never get to see the inside of one as a patient. Yet it was an honor to be invited into a world where innocent children are battling for their tiny lives and doctors do everything they can despite the circumstances to help them. It's nice to feel useful and needed, but this was a humbling picture of need that breaks you. In a good way.

The project we are working on is to research costs of care for a small group of children with a blood disorder called aplastic anemia. The goal is to propose to the Honduran government that it would be more cost effective (and save lives) to provide a more expensive but effective treatment for the condition than to withhold funding.

To accomplish this requires communication between the hospital and St. Jude's research headquarters in Tennessee. More specifically, ridiculous phone conferences where we try to hear the doctor on the other end over the cacophony of the clinic, the other doctors, and general hospital clamor. I think we got disconnected five times, but we finally got everything we needed.

As long as you promise not to tell anyone, you should probably know I've been posing as a medical student just so I can tag along.

Now it's the weekend, and we have time to think about the whirlwind of experiences we've had since Wednesday. We're accomplishing that in a cafe at the Marriott hotel, drinking capuccino and connected with wi-fi. It's an oasis in a troubled land, with the only espresso machine in Tegucigalpa.

Pictures (many of them) to come - we get internet in our apartment next week!