Thursday, January 28, 2010


A few randon comments on our past few weeks;

A couple of weeks ago it was very chilly here. Not by the standards that we are used to back home, but damp and with temperatures that got down to 7 or 9 degrees C.(or the low 40s.) We spent a couple of days in meetings where everyone was bundled up in coats, hats and scarves and whatever else they had, as it was just as cold inside as out, with no heat, and we slept under blankets and sleeping bags. But then it got warm again and it has been beautiful for the past several weeks. Temperatures have been in the 70s and ideal for walking, hiking or running. The coldest temperatures were surprising even to the locals. Our recent weather seems more like what is common, with periodic cooler and damper weather, but not generally as cold as it was during the first week of the month.

The day before the earthquake in Haiti, we had a slight tremor here. We were sitting around a conference table on the second floor of our NGO when everything started to shake gently. This came in two waves and lasted for about ten seconds or so. Nothing broke or fell down, but the movement was definitely noticeable and everyone left the building calmly. A small quake of about 4.9 was reported near the Guatemala border, centered about 50 miles from us. We apparently are at the western end of the same plate that lies below Haiti and what we felt here may have been something preliminary to that horrible event at the other end of the formation.

Yesterday the new government took office, without controversy. In his first act, which he took during his inaugaration speach while standing on the platform at the stadium, President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo signed a document granting a right of safe passage and some degree of amnesty to former President Zelaya and his family. Zelaya then finally left the Brazilian embassy, where he had been since September, and flew to the Dominican Republic with the President of the DR, who was one of the few foreign officials from this area to attend the ceremony. This seems somewhat ironic to us, or part of the circle of life, however you may see it. We originally went to the DR due to the controversy over President Zelaya here, and now that we are peacefully here in Honduras, he has gone to the DR to seek sanctuary, as well. Almost everyone here is hopeful that the new government will soon be recognized by the international community and that foreign aid will be restored. The economic situation of the government is nearing a crisis situation, without that anticipated aid.

A couple of weeks ago we spent a few days at Lago Yajoa, the largest natural lake in Honduras, which is not far from here geographically, but is about a five hour bus ride. It is a very beautiful lake surrounded by high mountains and lush vegetation. We spent one morning in a little row boat on a guided birding tour that was fascinating, given the wide variety of water birds, migrating birds, tropical birds and raptors. Even as non-birders, we could appreciate this as a special opportunity, and we now have 46 new entries on our bird list. There is an interesting colony of ex-pats, American and British, living in that area, the first significant group we have seen here.

All is well. Keep in touch.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Feliz Navidad

We have had a pleasant Christmas week. We spent the first part of the week in Copan Ruinas, which is about a three or four hour bus trip from here. The Mayan site there is really quite special, with the best stella and glyphs that I have seen among the numerous sites in Mexico and Guatemala that I have visted previously. The main Acropolis area is set in a dense jungle with amazingly colorful parrots and strange, small four-legged creatures. There is about a ten-acre area that has been substantially reconstructed, with some large pyramids, but there are also many mounds, covered with enormous trees, that remain to be fully explored. The stella are fantastically detailed, with a high degree of relief, perhaps due to the relatively soft tuft stone that is available in the area. The general area is a pleasant, fertile valley, relatively narrow, and it is difficult to understand how or why this was such an important Mayan center of art and science 1500 years ago. We will try to post some pictures soon, which will not quite do the site justice, but will give you some idea.

The town of Copan Ruinas is primarily a tourist town, with scores of hotels and restaurants, but it is actually pretty nicely done. It has picturesque cobbled streets and everything is well kept and feels quite safe. There are also a couple of nice museums there, in addition to the very good sculpture museum at the ruins site. For the first time since we have been in Honduras, we actually saw some significant number of tourists, primarily European, but the numbers are still far below average. As a first stop for most of the people traveling overland into the country, this does not seem like a true introduction to Honduras, as it is unlike anywhere else that we have seen thus far, but it is a pleasant place.

For Christmas here in Santa Rosa, "peace on earth" and "silent night" are celebrated with an amazing amount of fireworks. Noche Buena seems to be as important as Christmas Day for family gatherings and for many people this celebration involves shooting off lots of very loud fireworks. Much of them are more for noise than visual effect and around midnight, the sounds were stunning. Christmas Day itself was a very nice day, and much more peaceful. Peace and Joy to you all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our New Home

We are now living in our own apartment here in Santa Rosa. Since the first week in July, we have been living with various host families in the DR and here in Honduras- five different ones. Although everyone has been exceedingly gracious and welcoming, it is quite a relief to finally have our own place. We no longer have those conflicts with the kids about sharing the bathroom, we can come and go when we want without having to disturb the whole family or make someone get up and unlock the door, and we have our own kitchen and living room. Hondurans seem remarkably willing to have visitors on little notice and also seem to genuinely enjoy sharing their homes with friends, relatives and us. But we still feel the need for more private space, a clear cultural difference, and really like having our own place now.

We now live in an apartment not far from where we have been and convenient to the central area. It is one of three units connected by a breezeway, with virtually no setback area from the adjacent building. This means that we get no direct light into the apartment and have trouble telling what the weather is without going outside, but we are secure. The building has thick cement walls with a metal roof. We have not had a hard rain since we have moved in so we still don´t know how loud it will be in a storm, but the good thing is the space. The kitchen is plenty large enough and opens into a sala, living room area. We also have two bedrooms, one of which is now being used for yoga and meditation. Except for the lack of natural light, it all seems very comfortable and is within our Peace Corps budget.

The apartment came completely unfurnished, as is typical, and so we have spent a good bit of time acquiring the things of daily life. We now have a bed, closet space that we have made by hanging rods from the exposed metal beams on the ceiling, a small stove which we bought and a refrigerator and dish set that we got at a discount from a missionary couple that was leaving the area for Mexico. We also now have a tv, a couch that we got from another volunteer and several of the ubiquitous molded plastic chairs. We are still looking for a table and some sort of chest of drawers and we seem to be adding small kitchen items on a regular basis. Peace Corps gives us a settling in allowance, which is not quite enough for city living, but covers most of these expenses. This process has been an enjoyable exercise, but it also seems highly inefficient, given that every volunteer basically starts from scratch, unless there happens to be someone else leaving just when you arrive. That did not happen for us. This is reminiscent of college days, but without the aid of Good Will or any other used furniture places. Those things don´t exist here.

One luxury that we do have now is an "electro ducha" for the bath. All the places that we have been until our most recent home have not had any hot water. The "electro ducha" is a a device about the size of a pineapple that attaches at the shower head and heats the water as it comes through. We had a problem with the heating element of the first one that we tried, but that is fixed now and the system works remarkably well. On the warmer setting it can get too hot. It is wonderful not to have to take a cold shower every morning. The lack of hot water heaters probably saves an enormous amount of energy nationwide, not keeping all of those tanks of water hot all of the time. We are still adjusting to the fact, however, that there is no hot water in the sinks. They use a soap paste that is designed for cold water use. It is not quite the same as hot water for heavy grease, but seems to be enough for sanitation.

There is also no heating in any of the houses or offices here. So far,it has been an unusually warm and dry season and we have had only one cold front. That has been nice for us thus far, but farmers are suffering and water resources are down. When it does get cool, it feels cold. Temperatures in the low 60´s or high 50´s don´t sound cold, but with no heat in the house, everything is that temperature all the time and we felt cold when it did cool off. Mostly, however, the weather has been very comfortable and we have been fine.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Election

The long-awaited election went remarkable smoothly and with very little controversy. Despite the various warnings that we had gotten from the PC and other sources about the potential for some forms of political disturbance, almost nothing seemed to happen. It was a bright, sunny day with a lot of people standing patiently in line and notable only for how quite everything was. The turnout seemed good, although perhaps not as high as the initial sources suggested. They seem to be having trouble figuring out how to account for the approximately 1 million eligible voters who now live in the U.S and don´t show up at the polls, even though there were five locations in the U.S. where they could have voted. The news coverage was thorough and there did not seem to be any indication that the results were not legitimate. The results came in a little more slowly than promised, but seem reliable. Almost everyone that we have spoken with seems pleased with the process, even if they may not have particularly liked the results, and generally characterize it as having been a uniquely open and transparent election. The National Party, which is the pro-business party and more conservative, won handily on a campaign that proposed unspecified changes while highlighting the fact that they were not at all linked with either Hugo Chavez or Mel Zelaya. The Liberal Party, which holds a majority, was divided by the current controversy and hurt by the fact that Zelaya is a Liberal. The results have been generally interpreted here as a rejection of Zelaya´s efforts to forge more of a link with Chavez and his political allies, who are the dominant force in Latin American politics in many areas right now.

In a related development this week, the National Congress considered the possible restitution of Zelaya, as it was required to do under the accords that were brokered by the U.S. about a month ago. Restitution was soundly rejected, by a vote of 111-14. Again Zelaya seems to have badly misjudged his level of support,as it was he who had pushed for having Congress decide this point and his party, the Liberals, still hold a majority in Congress. (With the recent election, it seems clear that the National Party will have a majority in the next term, although with the very complex form of proportional allocation of seats that is used, the exact results of that allocation still have not been finally determined.) The international community is apparently disappointed that the coup was not undone, but Honduras seems to be getting used to going its own way these days.

We found all of this to be very interesting and hope that it is not too esoteric for you all. The World Cup draw for Honduras looks very difficult, but much more favorable for the U.S. This topic will now replace politics in public discussions somewhat, I suspect. We are well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving and a few other thoughts

We had a very nice Día de Acción de Gracias. It is, of course, not a holiday here, since the Pilgrims landed elsewhere, so you don´t have to worry about buying last minute things that you need any time of day on Thursday. We had an excellent turkey dinner with several other PCV´s and a Honduran friend. It was an amazingly successful effort to recreate a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with most of the same things, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetable caseroles, cranberries, pies and more, that we would have had at home. It did seem a little odd that the rest of the community was paying no attention to the event, but we felt very thankful nonetheless.

Please don´t worry about whether or not John was able to see a couple of football games for the holiday, including the Texas victory over the forces of darkness. Santa Rosa has a very extensive cable tv system, with more than 100 channels, including networks from Honduras, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Germany and the U.S. Included among the U.S. networks are a couple of ESPN channels and Fox Sports. Most of them are in Spanish, but one of the ESPN networks and one of the CNN networks are in English and several of the movie channels show a mix of movies in English. This was something that we did not expect in our Peace Corps experience.

Another thing that we did not expect to find was decent Chinese food, as it usually does not translate well in most of the Spanish speaking places that we have visited previously. But Santa Rosa has a good Chinese place that we like. There is also another one that is supposed to be pretty good which also has motorcyle home delivery which we will have to try soon. So far we have not gotten any menus under our door, but perhaps that will be coming soon. There is also a Cuban resturant here that we like and we celebrated our recent anniversary there with a very good meal.

Thanks to Peace Corp, I have now read War and Peace, which I might not have gotten through back home. It offers quite a lot of insight on many topics and a huge story. While I can´t be as quite effusive as many, and may not call it the single greatest novel of all time, it is certainly worth reading the next time you have time for about 1400 pages.

This is the election weekend, with the voting for President, Congressional deputies and mayors on Sunday. We are hopeful that this will provide an opportunity to end some of the on-going political problems. We do not sense much tension in our area, but there are concerns that there may be some actions elsewhere in the country. We have been directed to stay near our homes this weekend, not to travel on the highways and to be prepared for possible curfews again. It does not seem likely that the elections will really be disrupted, but there may be some sporadic violence or demonstrations. Former President Zelaya, who has been living in the Brazilian Embasy for more that two months now, would seem likely to do something before too long, as well. The candidates were all selected long before the change in government last summer, have seemed to run pretty unimpeded campaigns with very heavy tv advertising, and seem likely to get a pretty good turn out. We don´t expect much to happen, but we are becoming more accustomed to the unexpected, the longer we are here. We will let you know what occurred soon.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Carrera de las Cintas

We had an interesting experience over a recent weekend. We went to the Festival de Maiz held in a small town about an hour away from here, at the invitation of a PC volunteer located there. Entering the town, we found a number of the streets leading into the central plaza decorated with garlands of elaborate dolls and figures made from corn husks. The women of the town had spent weeks making all of these decorations hanging across the streets. The parade was just starting when we arrived. For those of you familar with Bisbee parades, it looked very familiar. There were a dozen or so pickups and a few ox carts decorated with corn themes and with corn queens and princesses on the back. There were a couple of marching bands --not clear whether this is an economic thing or a cultural preference, but the bands generally lack horns and wind instruments, have a lot of drums and engage in intricate marching formations. The only unusual thing about the parade was the fact that at this event, only a month before the elections, there was not a single politician riding in the parade or campaigning in the crowd. The population of this town of several thousand had more than tripled for this event. There were a lot of food booths, music and a small town gathering feeling.

The most interesting event was the carrera de las cintas (race of the ribbons). In this event, the guys with the good horses - not the ones that you usually see carrying wood or milk on a daily basis - line up on a dirt street about 100 yards from where a rope, about ten feet high, has been hung across the street. Attached to the rope are little ribbons (or velcro strips) with metal rings, about an inch in diameter, attached to each one. The riders head toward the ribbons at full speed, one after another, and attempt to put something like a pencil through the hole of the ring as they ride by. When they catch a ring, it pulls off of the rope and they wave it over their heads. It is pretty difficult to do this, so there are a lot of attempts before most everyone finally gets it done. The fast horses and the crowd and the general lack of any reasonable safety precautions make it an exciting event. When a rider does get a ring, he is awarded a red scarf and gets a kiss from a young girl. I think that there is an entry fee, so it also works as a fund raiser for the festival.

Back on the political front here, things seem sort of like this type of contest. It is hard to get an accord through a small ring, at full speed. Careful readers will recall that last week we wondered how the unity government would really be structured. It appears that we were not the only one who thought that there might be some confusion with this point. The two sides had very different interpretations of this provision. Mel Zelaya, the former president, thought that this meant that he would be restored to power by Thursday, apparently. We did not read it this way, but our Spanish is suspect. But neither did the current administration, who just forwarded a list of recommended names to participate in a unity government. Zelaya responded by stating that the deal was off and the accord was broken. It appears from press reports that the U.S and other foreign powers really want the election to continue to go forward now, even if the former president does not at this point, so we will see what happens next. The ballots are already being sent out to the voting sites in preparation for the Nov. 29th election date.

We have had a relatively dry fall until this week. By mid week we were getting weather caused by a Class 1 hurrican, Ida, that hit the coast of Nicaragua and caused some damage there. Honduras missed the winds, but got a lot of rain, which has continued through the weekend. Here in our city, we are just damp, but life and travel are more difficult out in the rural areas. It looks like this storm may strengthen and will be a late tropical storm or hurrican on the gulf coast in a couple of days. We will be connected with you in having shared that one.

All is well here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

End of the Crisis

There were political developments in Honduras this week. After negotiations had broken down last week, several high level U.S. officials, including the Asst. Sec. for the Western Hemisphere, flew in and helped to encourage the parties to regroup and to structure a deal. The U.S had apparently been trying to avoid taking the lead role in this process, but is getting some credit for having helped to make this finally happen.

The deal is more of a framework than a clear indication of what will really happen next. There will be a ¨government of unity and reconcilation¨designated by both sides next week and it will be interesting to see what that actually means. The Honduran Congress will ultimately decide whether or not former president Zelaya will return to office and under what conditions, although there is no specific time table for this decision and they may wait until after the election. There will also be a Committee of Verification to enforce the terms of the deal and a Truth Committee to determine what actually happened before and after June 28th, the date of the change of government (and the date that we left home.) This latter group, however, will not start to work until next January, when the new government is in place. The most important points are that 1) the elections scheduled for the end of November will go forward and will be recognized internationally and 2) both sides will ask that Honduras´relations with the rest of the world be normalized and the aid programs be restored. It does not appear that anyone really expects profound change from any of the candidates who are likely to win (all of whom were chosen by their respective parties long before the current crisis and most of whom have avoided saying much of anything about the change in government during this campaign and negotiation process), but most people we talk to seem to agree that having the election will be the best way to put all of this trouble behind and to move forward in some manner.

More personally, we spent a good part of the first few days of this week looking for a house or apartment. It went better than we expected and was an interesting way to learn more about the town, walking through neighborhoods looking for ¨for rent¨signs. There are a large number of small rooms without kitchens for rent. These are intended for the numerous students who live here and attend one of the three universities or who have moved here from a smaller community to go to high school. Several of these young people also eat with the same family that we are living with now and pay for food on a monthly basis, which is common for students. We will continue searching and are still optomistic that we can find a suitable place.

With our respective work programs, we are starting to do some legal work in preparing summaries of a couple of laws. We can read law, even if we cannot speak about it very well. The Honduran Ley de Municipalidades is only a little bit shorter than Title 9 of ARS and preparing a summary of key points will be a task that we will confront in the coming weeks. We also helped with the Habitat fund raising dinner this week which was a nice event with an impressive marimba band. Eliza is now very skilled at making lovely paper flowers from dyed papel higiénico.

We had our first intestinal problems this week, but have recovered and are doing pretty well now. All the best.