Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just another week in Tegucigalpa

We spent our weekend in the mountains with Jorge and Monica in a quiet forested area up above the little town of San Juancito. They own a little retreat/getaway on the edge of La Tigra, the first national park in Honduras. We spent our weekend hiking in the park, and Chris and Maureen from Nueva Suyapa came and visited for a night. It was a great escape from the city and quite close by, though that means a two hour bus ride and a vertical ascent that leaves you breathless on arrival. The food was fabulous, with the first salad we've had since we've come to Honduras - right from their garden. Jorge is a horticulturist and Monica is a veterinarian, so they grow many of their own vegetables and spices and tea, and they inoculate most of the dogs between their home and Tegucigalpa. Actually, Chris vaccinates many of the dogs while Monica takes down their information. It's a long story, but it basically involves Chris getting dragged into jabbing 70 something mangy dogs and accidentally sticking himself with a doggie needle. Monica assured him that he won't get some dog-disease human-jumping variant, but we'll just have to see.

I started working with Chris and Maureen this week in Nueva Suyapa, on the edge of town (feels a little bit like the edge of the world). I started tutoring Carlos, a third grader from Nueva Suyapa and have been observing Chris and Maureen run and grow a few different businesses that are becoming vital to changing the Nueva Suyapa community. It's an honor to be involved, and I'm trying to grow my job description from "watch and learn as much as possible" to "Someone Who Contributes." I do feel like I contribute, but it's an experience that leaves you going home wondering whether you've changed and grown more than the community you're working with.

Emily, on the other hand, has had a great experience running into some of the directors from St. Jude's research hospital who commissioned the project she is working on. The director of the international program and some other visitors were at the hospital this week, and Emily was even more impressed with the organization and vision after getting to meet various members of the organization. We're interested in pursuing more contact with them when we're done with this project.

Honduras Tip: when you coat yourself with bug spray, don't forget that aggressive (and somewhat rude) mosquitos bite through the seat of your pants. Oops!

Check out pics from our weekend and more from the hospital:

Monday, February 12, 2007

Where Franchises Go To Die

Church's Chicken? Alive and well in Tegucigalpa. KFC? Still slinging chicken. Wendy's? Pizza Hut? TGI Friday's? Applebees? Ruby Tuesday? Tony Roma's? All rocking and packed with people.

Why? Why so many, why so popular? The first question is easy - a greasy law states that "new" fast food franchises are tax exempt for the first ten years of operation. Sweet! Why so popular?... It's like the music here, all 80s, all the time. It's just what you listen to. It's THE thing to do.

This Sunday we re-attended Ram's Horn Four Square (actually called La Cosecha), where unfortunately the ram's horn didn't make an appearance. The music was again rocking and the message solid. We went to an English speaking church in the evening (a bit of a shock) and got a more familiar, if not local, experience. We even met a crew from Oregon teaching at the international school here. It was so inspiring to look around the room and see all the different ministries represented, and the cool people behind them. Our taxi driver who brought us there told us the ride was free, no charge. He must have been impressed with our piety or the fact that we volunteer at the public hospital. We were touched but paid him anyway. Free cab ride? I haven't heard of that anywhere. It made up for a rather rough day of getting yelled at by some street kid while we were hauling groceries home.

We spent some time with our new friends Chris, Maureen and Anna on Sunday night. It was our biggest night out so far - we ate 14 pupusas (tortillas stuffed with cheese, meat, or a combination of the two) and three platters of "pinchos" - giant shish-kebabs. Today we snagged a bus ride out to Nueva Suyapa to check out their turf, where they showed us several of the many businesses they are incubating, their friends and their home. It was really eye-opening, and filled us with some new dreams of how to be part of communities. We're still thinking about it at home this evening, talking about the possibilities. One of the fascinating aspects is the "trickle-down" effect of changing a community through opportunity. More kids are going to school, more jobs are being created, more opportunities are appearing from where there was nothing. We were impressed, especially since a lot of this work goes on in the face of some incredible obstacles like local gangs and corrupt government.

On a lighter note - While Em was working at the hospital, a little adorable, un-shy and curious girl came up to her and showed off her "pelo nuevo" (new hair) that she was growing under a hat her grandmother had made her. She was bouncing around the room, excited to be done with chemo and feeling back to normal. Emily responded by almost melting, then resolving to always be ready with candy and stickers for these cute young ones.

We are headed to the mountains around Teguc this weekend to get some fresh air and hopefully find some good hiking. That, and not see any fried chicken for 2 days in a row.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Honduran Intersections

I honestly believe you could spend the rest of your life at a Honduran intersection if you refused to step in front of a moving car.

I also believe if you actually crossed the street when the green "walk" light was on (at the only intersection that has one) you would immediately be squished flat.

Enough about traffic. We were at the cafe at Hotel Marriott yesterday and witnessed a well dressed looking American dude meeting with a well-to-do Honduran. He was selling a high quality digital camera. He explained some of the features and the purchaser left very pleased. The next couple waiting sat down at the table and proceeded to buy a late model laptop. Apparently this "rep" was some sort of technology consultant who met people at coffee shops and sold them the latest and greatest technology. I gave him my resume.

Laptops and coffee shops don't go together the same way they do in the states. Instead of working quietly with headphones, the thing to do is play all your latest music acquisitions at full blast so everyone can enjoy them. We unknowingly tested this theory when Emily put on headphones to try and get some work done - she plugged the headphones into the wrong slot and realized after a short while that she could hear music DESPITE her headphones and not through them. No one batted an eyelash - it's what you do!

Other things you do in Honduras - put sugar in coffee, toppings on pizza and ketchup on tacos. Our first night here we ordered a PLAIN CHEESE PIZZA at Pizza Hut and got the same look I gave a single file of ants streaming from the electrical outlet of our kitchen marching to eat a pineapple left out on the counter. Our server confirmed 6 times that we didn't want any toppings. It was on the menu, we didn't invent the Honduran cheese pizza. Same thing with sugar in coffee - to refuse this condiment leaves you wondering what you might have accidentally said in Spanish. The server dejectedly puts the sugar back in the dispenser not knowing what else to say. Imagine walking up to someone you've never seen before and yelling "I hate you!" Same reaction. The ketchup on tacos is just sick. You have to specially request no ketchup, and that requires a manager to confirm the order.

We finally met some Americans who live here, who could be described at "legitimate". They've started a community of evangelical christians that live in the slums of outer Tegucigalpa with the population they seek to help. They've been training local Hondurans to become leaders in the community, start businesses and just help the local population in general. We are really excited to see what they do, we are planning on meeting with them later this week. What they've described to us sounds similar to some of the dreams Emily and I have shared. We'll keep you posted on where that leads.

Click here to see some more pictures of the past weekend in Copan, Honduras. Daveyray, our friend from DC, took some time from his busy schedule learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala to meet up with us and explore some Mayan ruins.

That's it, other than confusing a recent celebration of a Honduran holiday with an active early morning gun battle. It ended up being a holiday after all.