It’s a Saturday night and I am sitting in my apartment, drinking beer, listening to Manu Chao and reminiscing about my time in the Peace Corps but more importantly my time in Honduras and I thought it was time to put pen to paper.  We, all the volunteers that were in Honduras prior to being yanked out due to escalating violence, have been home for about two months.  I can only speak for myself but the adjustment back to life here has been bittersweet.  My transition back into life here was pretty easy; thanks to some great friends but for every one thing that I love about being home I miss two about Honduras.

I vividly remember walking through the streets of Tegucigalpa with my friend Byron to return a razor because I forgot to remove a sticker and was under the false impression that it was broken – stupid gringo.  The trip was unmemorable but what I do remember was the energy pulsing through me and how alert and alive I felt because there – in Honduras – you never know what is going to happen.  I remember standing on the balcony of a home in Tegucigalpa and watching my best friend propose to his girlfriend.  I remember getting my coworker into a fight because we were throwing ice at the locals and I remember being scorned the next day by our boss for causing a scene.  I miss the salsa clubs in Tela, the overcrowded two-story Salva Vida tent in La Ceiba and the white sand beaches of Roatan.  But the most memorable thing I remember about Honduras was walking through the security check with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye because I was leaving a couple of people that did and do mean the world to me.

Everyday on my way to work I drive through a Mexican barrio and I can’t help but feel that somehow there is a small piece of me belongs there and I want to stop and talk about the weather over a piece of bread and a cup of coffee.  I hear conversations in Spanish and voyeuristically listen, not because I care what is being said but because I want to feel normal again and above all I miss my friends.  I truly feel that they are some of the best people I have ever met and I hate how distance changes things.  I miss picking mushrooms in the woods; I miss fishing for minnows with a broken fishing pole and I miss when perfect strangers ask you how you are doing.  For everything that we have, paved roads, a functioning government, etc. we lack in humanity.  I was shocked the other day when a stranger in the elevator asked me how my day was.  The first thing through my head was, “What does this guy want?” I had to stop and chastise myself for becoming so callous so quickly. I see myself starting to revert back to my former ways and it alarms me.  I hate how materialistic that I have become so quickly and I struggle daily to remind myself that one’s valor is not derived off of a paycheck or other material things. 

Life is short and I have had the incredible luck of living it twice.  People ask me how was the Peace Corps and would I recommend it for other people.  I hope that this blog answers that question.

I can’t wait for I my vacation in May and spending five hours on a (mostly) dirt highway in the back of a pickup truck (please have the mini cooler with beer ready) on my way to Gracias to watch my friends get married, I can’t wait to harass my friend Angela’s mother about taking her on a date and I can’t wait to see everyone. 

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Es el sábado por la noche y estoy sentado en mi casa, bebiendo cerveza, escuchando a Manu Chao y recordando mi tiempo en el Cuerpo de Paz, pero lo más importante de mi tiempo en Honduras y pensé que era el momento para poner la pluma al papel. Nosotros, todos los voluntarios que estaban en Honduras antes de ser arrancado, debido a la escalada de violencia, han sido el hogar de cerca de dos meses. Yo sólo puedo hablar por mí mismo, pero el ajuste a la vida aquí ha sido agridulce. Mi transición a la vida aquí era muy fácil, gracias a unos grandes amigos, pero por cada cosa que me gusta de estar en casa me olvido de dos de Honduras.

Recuerdo caminar por las calles de Tegucigalpa con mi amigo Byron volver una navaja porque se me olvidó quitar una pegatina y se encontraba bajo la falsa impresión de que estaba rota – estúpida gringa. El viaje fue poco memorable, pero lo que sí recuerdo es que la energía circula a través de mí y cómo alerta y vivo, porque no me sentía – en Honduras – nunca se sabe lo que va a suceder. Recuerdo estar parado en el balcón de una casa en Tegucigalpa, y viendo a mi mejor amigo de proponerle matrimonio a su novia.Recuerdo que mi compañero de trabajo en una pelea, porque estábamos tirando de hielo a los vecinos y yo recuerdo haber despreciado al día siguiente por nuestro jefe de causar una escena. Echo de menos los clubes de salsa en Tela, el hacinamiento de dos pisos, la tienda Salva Vida en La Ceiba y las playas de arena blanca de Roatán. Pero lo más memorable que recuerdo de Honduras fue caminando a través de la comprobación de seguridad con un nudo en la garganta y una lágrima en mis ojos, porque me iba un par de personas que recibieron y me refiero a todo el mundo para mí.

Todos los días en mi camino al trabajo me conduce por un barrio mexicano y no puedo dejar de sentir que de alguna manera hay un pequeño trozo de mí pertenece a ella y quiero parar y hablar del tiempo sobre un pedazo de pan y una taza de café. Escucho las conversaciones en español y el voyeurismo, escuchar, no porque me importa lo que se dice, sino porque quiero sentirme normal de nuevo y sobre todo me olvido de mis amigos. Creo de verdad que son algunas de las mejores personas que he conocido y no me gusta cómo la distancia cambia las cosas. Echo de menos buscar setas en el bosque, me olvido de la pesca de carpas con una caña de pescar rota y yo echo de menos cuando perfectos desconocidos le preguntará cómo le está yendo. Por todo lo que tenemos, caminos pavimentados, un gobierno en funciones, etc que nos falta en la humanidad. Me sorprendió el otro día cuando un desconocido en el ascensor me preguntó cómo era mi día. La primera cosa por la cabeza fue: “¿Qué quiere este hombre?” Tuve que parar y castigar a mí mismo por ser tan cruel con tanta rapidez. Me veo empezando a volver a mis antiguos caminos y me alarma. No me gusta lo materialista que he llegado a ser tan rápida y lucho todos los días para recordarme que un valor no se deriva fuera de un cheque de pago u otras cosas materiales.

La vida es corta y no he tenido la increíble suerte de vivir dos veces. La gente me pregunta cómo fue el Cuerpo de Paz y se lo recomendaría a otras personas. Espero que este blog las respuestas a esa pregunta.

No puedo esperar a que mis vacaciones en mayo y pasar cinco horas en una carretera de tierra (sobre todo) en la parte trasera de una camioneta (por favor tenga la mini refrigerador con cerveza preparada) en mi manera de Gracias para ver a mis amigos se casan , no puedo esperar para acosar a la madre de mi amiga Angela acerca de cómo tomar ella en una fecha y no puedo esperar para ver a todo el mundo.

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“Hey man, do you want try this tequila my girlfriend brought me from Mexico?”  It turns out the correct answer to this is “no” but this is a lesson better learned the hard way, at least that is what I tell myself. The answer of “yes” initiated an almost unforgettable night, mostly because of my inability to remember any of it, and a hangover that I will never forget. Gracias has many hidden treasures, one of which is Café Kandil or just Kandil. The owner of Kandil, Byron Mejia, is an artist whose work has been featured in expositions around the globe and Kandil itself is a lounge, the likes of which would not be out of place in a bohemian New York neighborhood, that features his work and is generally a great place to throw a few back after a long week.

There was a time in my life that I thought artists were touchy feely types incapable of truly relaxing and letting go, always thinking about world issues and the importance of things most people find trivial. That was until one of them drank me so far under the table I was below the floorboards, which is pretty difficult to do when everything is concrete.  The night started off tame enough, a few beers with a new volunteer and some banter about work.  Due to a host-family imposed curfew the new volunteer escaped without a scratch at around 10.30. I was not so lucky.  The fatal misstep occurred when I decided to use the restroom before walking home, stupid in hindsight, since it is perfectly acceptable to pee on the streets here, instead of walking out at 10.30 with the other volunteer. As a saddled up to the bar, post pee, to settle my tab, the fatal phrase was uttered, “Hey man do you want try this tequila my girlfriend brought me from Mexico?” I haven’t learned much while I have been here but turning down generosity does seem to close doors and when you make $236.84 it’s really dumb to turn down free stuff, especially when it’s alcohol.

The first shot came out and went down without a hitch.  It was smooth, real smooth, and quite possibly one of the best tequila shots I have been lucky enough to drink. I was quickly offered a second but this time with a tomato juice chaser.  The catch was that the tomato juice came in an 8-ounce container.  Doing some quick calculations I realized that meant an additional 4 to 5 shots of tequila so I did my best to chug the whole bottle after the first shot but I was stopped and told that I needed to save the rest for the upcoming shots.  After a blizzard of shots, which most likely resembled the post robbery scene from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, I was tipsy to say the least but a strange sense of calm over took me as I (falsely) realized that I wasn’t that drunk and the normally alarming sight of another bottle of tequila emerging didn’t scare me at all.  Byron and my other friend, Gustavo, insisted that we needed to try some of Honduras’ finest tequila just to compare.  This one was a little bit stronger, scratch that, way stronger but after the amount of hair that I had grown on my chest from the last eight shots I could have fought the entire male population of Gracias and won, so another bottle of tequila was just child’s play.

About an hour later I found myself navigating the dirt street that runs in front of my house, a task that was made that much more difficult by the torrential down pour taking place and the freshly dug trenches for a new and improved sewer system being installed.  After a poorly placed right foot my sandal decided to break, which sent me tumbling into a trench worthy of a World War I battle.  Covered in mud, reeking of Tequila, and with one less sandal I pulled myself out of the hole and stumbled the final 100 yards to my front door.  After successfully opening the front gate to my apartment I stumbled the final 100 feet to my porch where I decided to collapse and sleep, probably because the last ten feet seemed like a task akin to scaling Everest.  The only thing that woke me was the Ranchero music, that the maid likes to play while she cleans, reaching my eardrums like a swarm of angry hornets.  So at about 6am I sheepishly slinked inside, peeled off my muddy clothes, removed my contacts, and called it a night day.

While I felt like I had to share this story to let my friends know that I have not lost my lust for irresponsible and inappropriate child-like behavior, I have been searching for something of value to pull out of this story.  What I found after reflecting was not what happened during the blurry series of tequila shots but what happened before and after: the unyielding kindness and always-forgiving nature of the Honduran people around me despite being in the mist of an unprecedented security situation the likes that would have many people rattled to the core.  My friend Byron donated not one but two bottles of tequila just to make sure that we had a good time.  Doesn’t sound like much but considering that he could have made enough money off each bottle to buy a month’s worth of groceries, quite a big deal.  And hats off to my poor landlady who almost assuredly saw me in a crumpled muddy mess that morning but told my boss during a routine site visit a week later that I was always well mannered and rarely drank.

I have encountered some of the most genuine and kind people over the last year of my life and instead of being preoccupied with how I am going to get through another year I am worried that I don’t have enough time left.  So in closing I would like thank all the people who have made this last year unforgettable and I hope the Google Translate of this makes sense.

“No, I don’t think so: a pump would need gasoline, spare parts, regular maintenance.  Ultimately the contraption would fail them.  They were better off hauling water the ancient way, with donkeys, goatskin pails, and goatskin water containers that when filled looked like little fat goat corpses.”  Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

Sitting at my desk unable to focus on anything work related I decided to try and finish another post before I leave for an upcoming trip to America’s Playground, a place better known as Las Vegas or if you happen to be in Latin America Las Begas. I can’t remember exactly what it was that compelled me to write down that quote but I think it was because rarely have I seen so much knowledge summed up so succinctly, especially from a qualified source – more frequently quotes about development and foreign aid come from academics deeply immersed in thoughts about how the world should work instead of how it does work.

We, in the Peace Corps community, are asked quite frequently what it is that we do, whether it be our friends, our family, host country nationals and/or quite recently our bosses from Peace Corps.  Tricky question to answer, a lot of other aid agencies have big shiny things to point to JICA (Japan) built a bridge over a river, GIZ (Germany) – endlessly funny although they don’t understand the significance of their own acronym when pronounced in English, which in itself is puzzling because quite a few of them speak English and can tell better dirty jokes than me – started a micro-finance cooperative, and USAID gave $80 odd million dollars for an irrigation project but what is my crowning achievement you ask, working with a fellow in the office to improve his Excel skills.

My opinion about a lot of things has changed over the last year, especially my opinions on development and foreign aid.  I have read a lot of articles written about the insignificant amount of money that we, the United States of America, spend on foreign aid and development and how we should spend more.  The amount is almost always contrasted with our ever-mushrooming defense budget, which is a completely unfair and unjust comparison.  Don’t get me wrong the amount of money spent on defense every year is out of control and a wider reflection of our non-sustainable imperial complex but that is a completely different article for a completely different blog.  It’s just that the amount of money spent on defense compared with any other budget line item looks horribly lopsided and allows you to draw a conclusion without thinking and in this case leads you to conclude that the amount of money designated for foreign aid and development should be increased.  My opinion is quite the opposite; the amount of money spent on foreign aid should be drastically reduced and the development budget should be left alone.

Before venturing any further, a distinction needs to be made as to the difference between foreign aid and development. Let us define foreign aid as any group that is primarily engaged in giving money away and let us define development as any group that is actively involved in the development of people on a person-to-person basis.

I along with any other Peace Corps volunteer that you run into that can tell you about the multitude of three quarter constructed decaying recreation centers or the fields full of high tech unused irrigation equipment, and in my case a house that I saw full of half the equipment that would be needed to build latrines, the other half was sold by a person within the community that decided the cash would be better.  These outcomes say nothing of the people I work with or the country that I live in because we are all human and we all respond to incentives in a similar manner.  Three quarter constructed recreation center, sounded better when the idea was proposed and we thought that it was going to have a television and you were going to build it. Fields full of irrigation equipment, gee I sure wish someone would have shown me how to use it better and left me a manual in my own language (true story). Supplies for latrines, I think I would rather feed my children and myself with the proceeds.  None of these outcomes make anyone a worse person but they should tell you something about foreign aid.

Most of the time foreign aid is a waste of money and even worse it promotes laziness and a sense of entitlement, which is becoming ever more prevalent not only in the developing world but also in the developed world. I work with an office full of motivated people who would like to do nothing more than change the lives of the people in the communities that they live in permanently.  Their approach is simple, they work with community leaders to coordinate and deliver educational talks on a variety of issues business, health, and education but I can only imagine that it is a little bit difficult to garner attention on the long-term when someone is giving away $80 million dollars next door.  The incentives have been skewed and the people that have done it are so caught up in the euphoria that comes along with giving that they forgot to consider the long-term effects of what they are doing.  Even worse is the cronyism, corruption, and political philandering that often accompanies these projects – something that definitely leaves a country worse off as a whole while enriching a few.  There is a stretch of road that I use on a monthly basis that has taken over 5 years and counting to pave; in the Unites States it would have been done within six months. Think there might be a problem?

Not to discredit Mr. Kennedy but there is no way that he could have known the genius of the program that he was designing.  The Peace Corps, in most corners of the world, functions on a very personal level and for next to nothing.  It has allowed a virtual army of Peace Corps volunteers to witness the things that I am talking about on a first hand and very personal basis and speak about them intelligently.  For the most part I dislike the music of U2, something that would greatly disappoint many of my Honduran coworkers, but I have nothing against Bono.  I just find it hard to believe that you can understand a culture, their needs, and the things that would benefit them most by (private) jetting in, parading around with a few highbrow politicians, and holding a few fly covered babies.  The Peace Corps, on the other hand, takes a very different approach, we live in the communities that we serve, we take time to get to know the people within them, and above all we do not come with a sack money to give away, we come only with the knowledge that we possess. So when asked what my greatest achievement is so far it is most definitely working with my buddy Onan on his Excel skills.  This is something he wants to learn, will increase his earning power, and didn’t cost anybody a dime.

Now, I am not against all giving but be absolutely sure that the community receiving the benefit actually wants it, has demonstrated buy-in and that there will be a person from your church, club, government, etc. on the ground making sure that things are going where they are supposed to go for the life of the project, day in and day out, and that people from the community will have the knowledge to utilize the equipment or things that have been donated after you leave.  If you can meet these criteria, then give away but I bet you can’t.

Sorry in advance to all of you looking for a more light hearted article and big ups to all my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers sleeping on tile floors because it’s to hot to sleep in your bed, eating cups of noodles for the fourth day in a row because you ran out of money, and any poor soul battling parasites.

With my inevitable, albeit temporary, return to the greatest country on earth, otherwise known as the United States of America, looming I have started have started to reflect back on the last nine months I have spent here in Honduras. Below are some things that I am thankful for, most of which my friends and family will find utterly surprising.

Thank you Peace Corps/Honduras for the following:

Introducing me to a new breed of people, the do-gooders. Until coming to Honduras I was convinced, as I believe Charles Darwin would have been, that these people couldn’t exist, as natural selection would have taken care of them. Since coming here I have met a mountain of them and as their name suggests, they are just out to help people other than themselves, which is a mind blowing concept for someone as self-centered as I am. This experience has also opened my eyes to possible career paths, think Republican Party strategist.  I am not and don’t claim to be a Republican but I do understand their mortal enemy a lot better than most people.

Making me sit on a bus for at least eight hours every month. There is nothing like sitting on a bus for an extended period of time to prompt some deep self-actualization. The second part, and coincidentally least publicized, is the fact that you will be spending this journey with a very interesting cross section of people and likely in a very uncomfortable situation.  The other day I stood for a three hour bus trip smashed up against a not attractive nursing women and a man that had not taken a shower and/or bothered to put on deodorant for at least three days.  Was I bothered?  Nope.  I just stared out of the window and thought about…. well I suppose I forgot but I remember it being important. These challenging times have built up my capacity for patience and tolerance of people different than myself to levels never seen before.

Teaching me, or rather forcing me, to learn Spanish and making me adjust to another culture. ¿Usted tiene frío?  Hearing that sentence nine months ago put me into cold sweats, as I would have had no idea what was being said to me.  Now it just makes me laugh because this country, barring a few places, is hot as shit.  I also remember arriving nine months ago and being greeted with English speaking Peace Corps staff and Pizza Hut pizza, which was a horrible trick as dinner was in Spanish, like a telenovela that you can’t turn off, and accompanied with fried bananas and mantiquilla (a strange sour/sweet derivative of butter?).  Now a meal doesn’t feel complete without either and my xenophobia has been dialed down to levels most people would find tolerable.

Making me a patriot. If you don’t think – I am assuming that my entire audience is from the United States – that you live in the greatest country on Earth you should leave, literally.  I hear that Iraq is accepting applications for citizenship.

Things I could do without:

Roosters. Roosters do not sound like the wind up storybook barnyard animals of your youth; they sound like a cross between the screeches of a cat in heat and the screams of a dying person.  Also, contrary to popular belief they do not crow at dawn, they crow at every hour but, including but not limited to 2.30a, 3.15a, and 4.45a.

The deeply ingrained Honduran belief that corn tortillas are vital to every meal and the accompanying grief that you will get for not eating them. No explanation needed.

Honduran Slang. There is nothing like the healthy addition of some caliche, Honduran for slang, to make an otherwise perfectly understandable sentence completely incoherent to a non-native speaker.  ¿Que pija es esa chava? or ¿Te gusta chupar pollo? I won’t enlighten you as to what either of those means as this is something best learned the hard way and I imagine some of my audience may not appreciate the translation.

And with that I am out.  My countdown clock tells me that I have 8 days, 2 hours, 1 minute, and 51 seconds till I eat Chipotle and get ragingly drunk with some of the best friends a person could have.

The power was just out for third time this week and I adapted like clockwork: turned the brightness on my laptop down to the lowest possible setting, lit candles and started to boil water for dinner.  When the power came on two hours later I found myself thanking God that it wasn’t off for longer because if it had my favorite watering hole would have forgone opening up.  Immediately after this I started to think about what my reaction would have been like back home.  And that is when it hit me: my norms, if they weren’t strange enough before, have become completely warped.

I haven’t posted anything in a while, mostly because I thought that nothing worth mentioning had happened.  Shortly after the power came on I began thinking about the things that I have seen over the past month or so and realized that I had more than enough for a blog post.  The one is about my buddy Bluto (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent).

Bluto is a bolo.  What is a bolo you ask?  A bolo is an alcoholic and not any run of the mill I lost my wife, kids and job alcoholic either.  This is party for a week sometimes two weeks straight alcoholic.  I know you’re reflexively thinking ‘I have partied like that before.  You ever seen me in Vegas?’  You haven’t, take my word for it, that is unless you like dropping peyote.

The most common outcome is that said bolo will pass out in an extremely awkward position in an extremely awkward place, usually on a busy sidewalk in the center of town on a Wednesday.  Occasionally you get to witness something extremely entertaining, two bolos fighting – usually no one gets hurt.  Sometimes you see something you know will end badly, like a bolo juggling machetes, in this case the only thing damaged was his forehead when it bounced off the river rock street after being tackled by the cops.

But back to Bluto.  The Saturday night after I arrived in site I was invited to one of the local bars by my site-mates.  I had some reservations about drinking because my host mother frowned upon drinking and I had no key to get in, which meant that I would need her to open the front door.  Regardless, two hours and one too many beers later I needed to go home.  I walked out the front door of the bar into a deserted street and immediately turned the wrong way.  After walking around in circles hopelessly I approached the second person that I had seen in the last 45 minutes to ask for directions.  This is when I met Bluto.  Bluto was pressed up against a light pole, his back to me using one of his hands to prop himself up.

Me: Excuse me.

Bluto: hrhhrrrhrhhhh

Me: Do you know where the police station is?

Bluto (slowly turning towards me): Why? Do you need help?

Me: Uhhhh.  No everything is fine. I live right next to it.

Bluto: That way.

Me: Thanks man.  Have a good night.

Bluto: You as well. Go with God.

What made this exchange odd and worth writing about is that Bluto was urinating when I approached; something that I didn’t notice when I approached him, probably due to the fact that I was intoxicated as well.  When Bluto turned to face me he forgot to do two very vital things: stop urinating and put his dick away and his golden rainbow came within inches of sandal clad feet.  After our exchange I wandered off a little less lost and Bluto turned to finish what he had started.

What still gets me to this day is not that he forgot to put his crank away but that he had the patience to answer my question, be genuinely concerned about my safety, point out the direction that I needed to head and then tell me to “Go with God”.  I have seen Bluto several times since, usually passed out in the blazing sun, uncovered and on a busy sidewalk but he seems to being doing ‘well’ – everything is relative, you know.

Something needs to be said for life’s small victories.  I recently had quite a big-small one.  After scouring two grocery stores (that term is used with quite a bit of liberty), visiting the local market and bartering with a neighbor for some eggs I managed to coble together the ingredients to make pancakes from scratch.

Over the last month or so I moved into my own apartment, assisted with the construction of a champa, walked in my town parade and drank copious amounts of chicha.

When you join the Peace Corps you agree to stay with a host family, whether you know it or not, for a fair amount of time.  In Honduras, it’s 5 months, 3 during training and 2 in your site.  I have lived with three separate and very different families.  All of them were great but eventually every bird needs to leave the nest, especially a 28-year-old one.

Looking for an apartment/home here is not quite like what you’re used to.  It’s more akin to solving a crime than anything else.  You go off of evidence, large patches of unstained concrete shaped like spent volcanoes – this is a good sign, this means that concrete was recently being mixed in the area and you may be in the immediate proximity of a new or remodeled habitation, rumors, “well so and so has a brother who has a friend that might have an apartment for rent in the center of town” or every once you stumble across the Golden Ticket for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and find an actual for rent sign with the proprietors number attached.  After being dragged around town for more or less six weekends, in something I can only relate to the Batten Death March I ended up deciding to move into the second place I looked at but that’s just fate I guess.  The proprietors were nice enough to donate a fridge, bed and some miscellaneous furniture until I have the time to build my own.

The town of Gracias just got through celebrating Dia de Lempira.  This fair takes place on July 20th every year and celebrates Lempira’s last stand against the Spanish Conquistadors.  During this weeklong celebration there are 3 parades (that I counted), a miss india bonita contest, a visit by a Honduran orchestra and a reenactment of Lempira being cornered and shot by the Spanish.

My coworkers were very enthusiastic about me participating in the final and biggest parade with them and the rest of the students from the school.  This was something that I wanted to avoid not because I don’t like getting up early and walking 2 miles very slowly but because I wanted to avoid being the only Gringo in the town parade, something that I was sure would draw ridicule and humiliation.  To my surprise, I made it through the entire thing without being called a Gringo or having anything thrown at me.  At the end of the parade just before I was about to turn and head back to my house for a much-needed shower I was invited by a co-worker to try chicha.

The drink is something that I can only compare to moonshine.  From my understanding it can come from either corn or pineapple.  Instructions: take some corn or pineapple combine with water and sugar put the concoction in a jar close the lid and wait.  The time you wait depends upon your desired level of intoxication.  Thinking of serving this delectable treat at a holiday party, might want to play it a bit safe and uncork at around 7 days.  Looking to burn the house down and wake up in a ditch wearing nothing but a woman’s blouse?  In that case you should give yourself about two weeks worth of lead-time.  Judging from the burning sensation in my mouth, throat and stomach after ingestion I would say I was drinking something closer to the latter.  There is nothing more refreshing after a two-mile long procession than a glass of room temperature chicha that is unless you have the good fortune to have four. In anticipation for the mind-altering punishment that I knew I was in store for after ingestion I did a Fairbanks Shuffle and disappeared.  The river rock streets, which are normally nothing but an inconvenience, become infinitely more difficult to navigate when you are doing the drunken walk that can best be described as being pulled by an invisible leash because your head seems to lead and your body seems to follow, reluctantly, as if there is a delay in between the intention and the firing of neurons in your brain that gives the instructions to your body to move.  Luckily, I did make it home before the clothes came off…..

“No sir….. You accept it. Life’s a wild ride buddy. Not enough time here on earth to stay bitter about anyone’s actions.”

-Jacob S. pontificating at a bar somewhere in Boston at approximately 10am on a Thursday.

I have learned that life is an experience best viewed from a distance and preferably with a good cup of coffee. I say this while sitting in a hammock a 1,000+ miles from home, reflecting on an action taken the other day that would have tied me up in knots for days if the reaction of my action had any perceived concreteness even with the excellent, borderline philosophical, advise above. I will not bore you with the actual event, partly out of my own personal embarrassment for letting something like it trip me up in the past and partly because it serves no broader purpose in this post.

I have started to sense a growing amount of distance and space from the life that I had. What I have now is a surreal focus on the immediate. I have started to see problems and perceived solutions with clarity that my life has lacked up until this point. It is not that I have become smarter or that things have become easier. The noise has been reduced, considerably – the only handicap that I seem to have now is an incessant urge to check Facebook, a need that I hope fades with time.

Friends and bonds formed have been reduced to one of two things; a valuable connection: someone communicated with on a regular basis or on the other hand someone whose friendship was in a sense, a trophy of my popularity. It seems that my communications have a purpose or rather have to have a purpose, as there are very few concrete tangible things one can receive from a phone call or an email.

I have virtually stopped watching television as well. I understand the gist of most programs and can usually follow the plot but it turns out I am not the biggest fan of Dona Barbara or most of the other telenovelas, which blare into your conscience whenever the television is turned on. I have stayed connected to the world with The Financial Times, which is delivered to my Kindle (your welcome for the plug Amazon) and have found that at times, even this can be information overload but how else would I get priceless quotes like “ass to kick” from my President or follow up on the much rushed and sure to be faulty financial reform bill (people should run from or better yet write their representatives about anything named The Dodd-Frank Bill).

Graduate School, a goal I had set to achieve shortly after entering the working world has also been called into serious question.* Replacing it are goals, scary ones at that, of pursuing a life that’s rewards are pure unadulterated enjoyment.

As far as changes here I can’t say that there have been many. Some notable ones are that I will be moving into my own apartment in a week. I found a store that vends beer for the equivalent of $.52 as long as you return the bottles and that work is becoming a little bit easier each day.

*Don’t worry Karen, I still plan on going and I know that you think my life has been about pure unadulterated enjoyment.

The last two weeks have been filled with half understood conversation and semi awkward moments, which usually occur after I blurt out a well thought out Spanish phrase and someone mistakes my well planned axiom for a true functioning understanding of Spanish.  I have also been trying to digest what it is I will be responsible for, the layout of the town and the social norms.

Gracias is clustered around a town park and a huge Catholic church and many if not all of the buildings maintain their colonial appearance.  The towns lay out is pretty standard of most towns in Honduras, it seems that the Spanish left behind mostly religion and architecture after they were done with the country.  From what I can tell the town is about four or five streets wide and about 15 or 16 streets long.  The primary streets are stone, concrete, river rock or some combination thereof and the secondary streets are dirt.  The town has a supermarket, a restaurant called The Flavor Garage, a place to buy used American shoes and clothes and no fewer than ten cell phone shops.

What I first mistook for coldness I quickly came to learn was shyness.  The other day I was invited into a pulperia (like a mini 7/11 in your parents living room) by the owner to escape the sheets of rain assaulting everyone and everything in Gracias.  The proprietor and me had a conversation about life in Gracias, his burgeoning family and why I was here.  And after the rain stopped I left without purchasing a thing and an open invitation to return and chat, something I am sure would have never happened in America.

My work partners have also been working real hard to make me feel welcome, the other night they invited me to a going away party for the head of the police.  I accepted the invitation without much of a second thought.   The night came and when I was picked up we started to head in a direction that I had never been before.  After bumping down a dark rutted out road for about ten minutes I started to worry and then it came into view, the penitentiary of Gracias, and all those questions I had about where the storylines for horror movies originate from became a little bit more clear.  After we rattled up to the front gate of the penitentiary I unquestioningly followed my coworker out of the tuk-tuk.  While being escorted up to the front of the building I started to think, well this all makes sense I mean the guy is a police officer they probably have a room on the outside for functions like this.  As I learned, this was not the case; they had reserved a very special room for us, the prison exercise yard. After being locked in to the yard, as I have heard it is called, I noticed the menacing stares of some inmates who shared a window with the yard. I questioned my coworker as to what type criminals were housed here and she nonchalantly replied “kidnappers, rapists, murderers, etc.”, oh well good, I was really worried there for a minute. The party turned out to be one for the history books, about 20 people attended and it wasn’t long before one of my deepest desires came true, a DJ showed up with four massive ass speakers so that we could karaoke until the sun came up.  Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you have heard Honduran karaoke under the stars in the center of a prison exercise yard surrounded by inmates that could double for MS16 members in Sin Nombre.

The only other notable exception to normalcy these last couple of weeks was what I assumed were gunshots one night.  After a couple of repeating rounds I noticed that no one was running so I just assumed this was just a routine police exercise.  Since I live within relative proximity of the police station I didn’t think this was a big deal – don’t question this, just know that if you visit Honduras that your norms are no longer that useful.  When I was awoken the next morning at 5 am by an explosion that shook my window and could have destroyed a VW Passat I was more than a little worried.  It seems that regular firearms testing had morphed into large munitions testing.  These began occurring with a regular amount of frequency and eventually reached one occurrence per hour.  Convinced that this was no longer a routine police exercise I spoke with one of my coworkers who informed me that this was an annual thing in Honduras.  Apparently the Catholic Church in Honduaras celebrates Christ’s resurrection with the help of explosions that could have rolled back or destroyed the rock that covered Jesus’ tomb.  The last of the IED’s was detonated this afternoon and just when I began to think I could deal with this one time a year I overheard the guy next to me express his excitement for the holidays and the massive amount of fireworks that were sure to come.

A lot has gone down since my last post.  I failed the language interview. Spent an extra week in intensive Spanish classes. Spent an hour on the side of a busy street because of a blown out tire.  Pushed a car up a muddy road. Passed the language interview. Had a private swear in ceremony. Rode a bus for eight hours. Met my new counterpart. Visited the Mayan Ruins in Copan Ruinas. And, finally made it to my city.

My first language interview went about as well as the final flight on the Hindenburg.  An extra language facilitator was brought in to, well I guess mix it up, and guess who got her.  That’s right I did.  Walking across the lawn towards that fateful classroom I started to feel a bit nervous, a feeling that I would equate with Stage One of bubble guts.  Upon crossing the threshold and laying eyes upon my interrogator I went straight to Stage Four.  Needless to say it didn’t go so well.  I was approached a short time later and told that I was going to get to spend an extra week in intensive Spanish classes.

The week went down without much trouble that was until the night before my second interview.  My family, God bless them, wanted to give me a proper farewell, which in Honduras or maybe just in my family is done with fried chicken and ice cream.  Well ice cream is a tricky proposition in some parts of Honduras because of the lack of grocery stores on every corner.  In my case it required a short trip to Tegucigalpa.  After purchasing the ice cream I noticed that the right front tire of the car looked dangerously low.  After mentioning this to my host father he took appropriate measures and drove us to the nearest tire shop to get some air.  We got air, made a quick stop at the neighborhood chicken fryer and hit the road.  About two kilometers later I heard a pop and felt some rubber graze my hand.  I didn’t even need to look down to know what had happened.  After an intense hour of battling Sanpopos, winged ant like creatures that normally appear in Honduras after rain, help arrived, our neighbor with a jack and an extra tire.  And then the rain started.  You are probably thinking to yourself, so what’s the big deal?  Well in Honduras when it rains, it rains and when your driveway is a steep dirt hill this usually spells disaster.  I would say that we made it up a quarter of the way before all traction was lost and the car began to slide backwards. One hour and a lot of mud later we made it home and enjoyed liquid ice cream and fried chicken.

Now, I am working with an Escuela Taller (technical school) in Gracias, Lempira.  I will be the in-house business advisor to their business incubator.  I will try to take some photos of the town and post them as most of the photos on the Internet do it little justice.

As a final note, I know that I have not been good at posting pictures but as luck would have it I did have a friend who did a great job. Link to pictures of Ojojona (where I spent the last 2 months). Thank Owen.

I have been here for almost two months and it feels like two weeks.  Spanish is coming along nicely and I have lucked out twice with host families, so at this point I have no complaints.

Spanish isn’t an extremely difficult language to learn although it is a little challenging when you need to do it in three months.  It has been on mind 24 hours a day 7 days a week, literally – I had a dream the other night and parts of it were in Spanish.  I often worry that I am not picking it up fast enough, although, I did have a light bulb moment the other day while sitting in Price Mart (Costco in Honduras) with my host brother.  I realized that, while eating the same hotdog that any American enjoys on a typical Saturday morning run to Costco, that we were having a real candid conversation about the biggest problem his city has.  This was an oddly reassuring thing and at that moment I realized that if I was somehow abandoned in the center of the city I could get home, a trip which can be pretty confusing since the city doesn’t really have a uniform set of streets or addresses.  I also realized that I have learned a lot in two months.  On to the nightlife…..

The other night was movie night – I know please refrain from leaving comments that are too degrading – and we watched The Hangover.  The town that I am in has rules, and one of them states that certain businesses, specifically places that serve alcohol, are to close by 6:00 pm, so you have to be creative.  After prepping my family about the content of the movie, so as to avoid any of the younger ones from seeing anything that could scar their long term development and removing one of my host nephews who has a habit of trying to watch things he’s not supposed to, a few of the other trainees, two of my host brothers and me watched The Hangover.  This was a difficult call as The Hangover has a lot of content that does not translate into English well, a fact that is apparent when watching the subtitles on the bottom of the screen.  At the end apparently this wasn’t an issue, as it seems that awesomeness translates well into any language.

After learning Spanish, the next biggest concern for me now is where I am going to be placed for the next two years.  This process carries as much mystique and secrecy as the Masons did in the 60’s.  At this point my fellow aspirants and me have had two “interviews”.  During these interviews we review the information that has been presented to us to insure that a tangible amount stuck and we are also asked questions about our interests and the type of community that we would like to live and work in.  Most things are open for discussion but one might receive particularly icy responses if too many probing questions are posed about specific sites or statements are made about the likes and dislikes of certain types of climates (i.e. ¨I really like it when it doesn´t get to hot¨).  Any tangible information about specific sites that an aspirant may receive usually comes from an outside source.  This information is third hand at best and the validity is negligible but it serves as one of the only ways to try and maneuver your way into the spot you want.  For instance I learned that there are at least two sites open for the type of work I am interested in from a volunteer that visited.  I cross checked this information with another visiting volunteer and it turns out that both of the sites open are right up my alley.  I have one more interview left before I have to stand before Jesus, literally his name is Jesus, be judged and receive my destiny, so I suppose I should start strategizing.