Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wanderings

Yes, it has been a while, and as most of you know, I have already left Honduras. I left on April 9 and have been heading south ever since. I´m flying back to the US at the end of July and in the meantime have been to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and am now in Argentina.

The trip through Central America was pretty quick to have more time in South America, but I was able to visit my friend Jessica who is a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Costa Rica. We had a great time there seeing some of her work, meeting her friends, and seeing what a Peace Corps village was like in another country. It was much smaller than Ocotepeque and I could definitely tell that I was in the land of lush flora and fauna rather than the land of deforestation, but there were a lot of similarities in the way she interacted with community members and the relationships that she had with them. After visiting her it was a quick trip through Panama to see Panama City and the canal before hopping on a sailboat to head through the San Blas Islands to get to Colombia.

The San Blas Islands were beautiful. I definitely paid a price to get there (being on a sailboat is nothing like being in a motorboat) but the swimming and snorkeling were fantastic. It took us five days to get to Cartagena, Colombia and I could not have been more happy to set foot on dry land. Cartagena was a fun, beautiful city, then we took off for a town further up the coast called Santa Marta. From Santa Marta a group of us did a five day hike to some ruins in the jungle, which was absolutely amazing. The hike was beautiful and out in the middle of nowhere. Possibly one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. I loved Colombia and from Santa Marta we went to Medellin, which used to be the homicide capital of the world, which I´m sure many of you already know. Medellin has changed incredibly and become a modern, progressive city whose people are really living life to the fullest. I could actually see myself living there.

From Medellin we went to a tiny valley town called Salento, then to Bogota. I didn´t like Bogota as much as we´d heard some stories that questioned the safety there and it kind of felt like a high altitude Tegucigalpa. That´s not a complement. After just a couple days there we flew to the Colombian Amazon (don´t worry, not where FARC is) and took a boat up to Iquitos, Peru where we did an awesome jungle tour. I have now seen pink river dolphins, many, many sloths, six species of monkeys including a pygmy marmoset, and visited a true Amazon town. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Peru included many amazing experiences as I also visited Machu Picchu! It was incredible. We did a two day Inca Trail hike before arriving to the ruins and once we got there, the ruins did not disappoint. It was unbelievable to walk through the ruins buried deep in the mountains high up on a mountaintop. From Cuzco we headed south to Arequipa to hike in the Colca Canyon, and then to cross into northern Chile. Many of the places I wanted to see in Chile are south of Santiago, where it is probably too cold to visit at this time of year. Because of that, we only stayed in northern Chile where we visited the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.

We are now in Salta, Argentina and will be heading to Mendoza (wine country) on Mondya. I have a month in Argentina to eat some great food and to explore before coming home. This has been a wonderful trip so far and I´m excited for what is still to come, but I am also looking forward to coming home. I´ll have several weeks in Davis to enjoy time with family and friends before moving to Boston!! I have decided to attend Boston College for their outstanding Global Social Work program and am really excited to go back to school. I think that being in South America for winter is preparing me for the winter back east. Hopefully at least...

One last bit of news from Honduras before wrapping up: I have started a scholarship foundation for the girls in my Yo Merezco group. They are really bright, motivated girls, but I think only one would have the opportunity to attend university. The others simply do not have enough money. I told them before leaving that I was going to work really hard to get money for university scholarships, and that they in return had to work hard in school to earn the scholarship. They and their families are really excited for this opportunity. I am looking for donations and if you are interested please contact me for more info at sarahcwest@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yo Merezco camp and closing up

Hello!  It's been quite a while since I've written, but I wanted to update those who don't know about the camp that I organized with another volunteer for our youth groups.  It was a four-day camp in a town called Copan Ruinas, which is about five hours away from Ocotepeque.  We left on Friday the 19th and came back the following Monday.  The camp was awesome and all of my Yo Merezco girls had a wonderful time.  They made some new friends and really learned a lot about themselves and their culture.  Some of it was pretty hard work and I'm proud of them for how it turned out because at times it was a bit challenging.  It was also the first time for almost all of them away from their communities (this had some unforseen carsickness consequences) and the first time for all of them to be away from family.

On Friday we started right after getting to Copan Ruins with some introduction activities, rules for the weekend, and an activity called the eight faces of women so the girls could see that women are so much more than just someone who cooks and cleans.  On Saturday they had to do an activity to think about what they liked about themselves, what goals and dreams they have for the future, and got to listen to a panel of successful women talk about their experiences since many of them were able to rise above poverty to find success.  After that session the girls couldn't stop talking about what their dreams and goals for the future were.  It was great!

On Sunday we visited the ruins (which they all loved) and then to this fancy hotel up in the hills to eat our lunch on the grounds.  We ate in an open air place that is designed for yoga and sits right on the hill overlooking the ruins below.  After lunch we were sitting in a circle to check in with them before continuing with our schedule and a conversation started about everything that they've all had to live through.  Most of the women chaperones shared their stories, as did some of the girls, which was really emotional.  I think it was good for some of them to say what they've been holding back for years about emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and absent fathers.  Some pretty scary stuff about home life and what they've been through, but I think it helped the girls a lot to see that others had been through similar things.

That evening we had our clausura (close of the weekend).  Lena and I had gotten every girl's parents to write her a letter about why she's special and why they love her, which was a secret, and gave the letters to them the last night.  People are so closed in this culture and I think it was probably the first time for a lot of them to even hear what their parents really thought about them and got to hear something positive rather than negative.  They were really emotional about this too and will really cherish those letters.  I know the girl in my room slept with hers that night.  This camp was a once in a lifetime opportunity for them and was something I know they will never forget.  When we circled up the last night to reflect on the weekend, there were a few tears when the girls were explaining how much it meant to them.

I've attached some photos of the girls and some of the activities we did.  The first is a photo of all of the girls in my group who went as well as the women chaperones at the Mayan ruin site.  The second is a picture of the mural they made on Saturday afternoon.  They each had to create a couple pictures representing their culture which was then put into a huge mural that we will always have hanging up in our town library.  The third picture is a few of my girls (and chaperones) tracing another for an activity where they had to explain who they are and why they like themselves.  The final picture is at the ruin site again and I've attached it so everyone can see some of the ruins and the t-shirts we all have as a group.  Enjoy!
I also wanted to update everyone on the coming close of my Peace Corps experience!  I'm leaving Honduras on April 9th, which is quickly approaching, and will be heading south until coming back to the US at the end of July.  I'm planning on updating along the way.  These past two years have just flown by, been full of so many ups and downs, but at the end of the day I wouldn't change anything about it.  It's been an amazing and really meaningful experience for me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010

I am looking forward to this upcoming year.  Although 2009 was my only full year in Honduras (2008 was just a month short), I am happy to leave behind the stresses of still being somewhat new, the political instability as a result of the June coup, and the frustrations of unsuccessful projects.  I have my last few months of Peace Corps to look forward to that will be followed by a trip through Central and South America and adjusting back to life in the US.  Things are looking up.

 

My last couple weeks of 2009 were great.  My parents came to visit me again and we were able to spend a couple days in Guatemala and spend time with my friends around Ocotepeque.  The girls in my Yo Merezco group made them a fancy lunch that was followed by some dancing in the library specially decorated for the occasion.  They were able to visit the health center and finally got to meet the doctor I work with, but we were all disappointed not to make it to Polcho to distribute more toothpaste.  It had been pouring for 24 hours and we were unable to make the trip due to the mud and growth of the rivers.

 

After the trip, instead of saying goodbye at the airport, I got to go home with them!  I spent eight days in Davis seeing friends and spending Christmas time with my family followed by a couple more days visiting the boyfriend in Henderson, just outside of Las Vegas.  I can’t believe I’m going to be done with Peace Corps in just a couple months but am looking forward to being back.

 

There are some pictures from Lago Atitlan in Guatemala, the lunch in Ocotepeque, and hiking in Nevada.  Happy 2010 everyone!! 















Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Election Day and Then Some

Sunday was election day, a day much anticipated across the world.  There was potential to end the political crisis as well as for possible violence amid protests.  I was preparing myself for all possibilities on Saturday evening before going to bed, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, I found that I had not anticipated what actually happened.  It was dead silent.  There was no one on the streets and it was as quiet as Christmas morning when everyone is sleeping in after staying up until 1am the night before with firecrackers exploding everywhere.  I went down to my neighbor’s house and spent several hours there chatting with them and watching the news.
Elections here are normally accompanied with wild celebration, more firecrackers, and a lot of noise.  None of that was present last night, even after they finally announced the winner around 11:00.  People in general just want to move past this situation and are looking forward to the future.  I am hopeful that things will finally get back to normal, as normal as they ever are here, and that everyone can move on.

Since the school year ended early, I have been doing a lot more activities with the girls in my Yo Merezco group.  We made and sold bread to fund an excursion we want to take to the nearby cloud forest to go hiking and we also hiked to hot springs in the mountains a few weeks ago.  It was about an hour hike each way, but the uphill on the way was not so easy as we were all carrying food for lunch and I had a watermelon in my backpack that one of the girls couldn’t carry anymore, which we are eating in the first picture I posted.
We spent a wonderful afternoon swimming at the hot spring in both the hot and cold pools and I have posted some pictures of this activity and of making the bread.  The third picture shows the oven we used to cook the bread, and it is a traditional oven that has to be heated with wood, leña,before the bread could be cooked and in the last picture the girls are greasing the pans before we put in the batter.  Enjoy the pictures!


Saturday, November 7, 2009

My 25th Birthday

I’ve now had two birthdays in Honduras.  The Halloween tradition for volunteers here is to go to the Copan Ruins, which is a cute town by Mayan ruins, to celebrate together.  I went for the day before my birthday to see friends who I hadn’t seen in a while and to spend some time in a town where I can feel like I’m living a life of luxury (meaning running water, hot showers even though it was too humid to take them, and a couple restaurant options).

 

After spending some time with friends I took off before the actual Halloween festivities to attend a graduation ceremony.  School here is divided into kindergarten, 6 years of elementary school, and colegio, which encompasses both junior high and high school.  There is a graduation ceremony after kindergarten, elementary school, and high school.  Graduation from sixth grade, the ceremony I attended, is a big deal since some students cannot afford to go to colegio or are needed to help the family. 

After some speeches (fortunately not too many) the students are called up one by one to receive their diplomas.  To receive the diploma, they walk up with their families and padrinos. Padrinos, godparents, are usually family members and are chosen especially for this occasion.  I was asked by the mother of a family who is like my host family here, to be the madrina, godmother, for her daughter, Daritza.  The ceremony was going to be in December but since the school year ended early, it landed on my birthday.


I have posted two pictures: one of Daritza and I with her diploma and the other of the family, one of the kindest and committed families I know here.   It was a really big honor to be asked and it meant a lot to Daritza and her family.  It was a great way to spend my birthday.  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Getting Back to Work...Again

The last couple weeks have been pretty crazy.  (Ex?)President Zelaya snuck back into the country at the end of September and has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy since.  As a result the entire country was placed on a 24hr per day curfew that lasted three days.  It was awful.  No one left their houses and some of my neighbors who actually did leave to go to the emergency clinic were stopped by the police and only let go after explaining their health situation.  The airports and borders were closed for a couple days but I was finally able to leave for my vacation after my flight being cancelled three times.

 

I had a great couple days in DC before getting sick and ended up having to stay two extra weeks until I got better.  While I was there five constitutional human rights were suspended in Honduras until after the November elections and when I got back to Honduras last week I found out that the rest of the school year had been cancelled as well.  School was supposed to end at the end of November and after already missing two or three months of class due to strikes, students started vacation last Friday.  Micheletti decided that every student across the entire nation would pass every class, whether or not they had been passing throughout the year.

 

This leaves a couple projects on hold until school starts again in February but I’m planning more events with my girls group so they aren’t as bored during vacation.  We’re also going to have some more meetings at the health center, which will be coming just in time since we have several pregnant girls, 14 and 15, in our pregnant women’s group.  Every time I try to get some new projects going, the political situation escalates so I’m just hopeful that after the elections everything will calm down and we can get back to our normal lives.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brushing Teeth

Here finally is the video that I took a couple weeks ago in Polcho. All the kids are outside the classroom so they don't drool all over the floor and you can also see Cinthia, the nurse I work with, the mountains, the classroom, and teacher. Enjoy!!



video