I was assigned to La Masica as a member of a Peace Corps health project to address the education and prevention of HIV/AIDS and Maternal and Child Health. Towards that end I have involved myself with the local Centro de Salud and have gone out to the aldeas with a health team to provide health care and education and to give talks to groups, as well as going out with the Jovenes Sin Fronteras to youth workshops aimed at condom education and risk recognition. I had not yet started to develop a weekly HIV curriculum at the local colegio with one of the instructors but I had involved myself with weekly HIV support groups at the Hospital Regional Atlantida in La Ceiba. In addition I had made contact with other HIV prevention groups through my work at the hospital. Two weeks ago I made a trip up to an aldea called El Recreo to observe the JSFs give a cineforo presentation to the entire small village: A DVD about HIV/AIDS on a local television held in a communal hall with an oral presentation and discussion afterward. I also accompanied the local school instructor to one of his classes and observed the teaching method and curriculum. He and several other instructors who go to these mountain villages are funded by an ONG (Non Governmental Program) called SAT (Tutorial Learning System) by which the students earn a colegio diploma. This week I met the Executive Director of SAT in La Ceiba and learned that they have these rural educational programs in 12 of Honduras’ 18 departamentos. This week I also met the staff of the La Ceiba Red Cross who do HIV/AIDS education and outreach using the same methodology as the Jovenes Sin Fronteras. Next Tuesday I will be going to a 3-day Micro-Business workshop developed specifically for people living with HIV/AIDS, accompanied by three Honduran counterparts. Then when I return to La Masica I will be transferred to another part of the country to begin anew similar contacts that I have developed here on the North Coast over the past two months, with the goal of integrating myself into the community to which I will be transferred. I was just beginning my work here and now I have to go.
I spent the weekend of July 18th in Trujillo. If I am going to be transferred from the north coast I had to visit one of the premier sites in Honduras. Trujillo is where Cristobal Colon stepped onto the American mainland for his first and only time in 1502, also his last voyage to the new world. This is where my friend Jen is posted. It took me five hours to get there because of two road blocks due to the political unrest. It’s normally a two and a half hour trip. Fernando and Linda are posted to Santa Fe, a small Garifuna village a short distance from Trujillo. We spent the weekend at a grand Garifuna fiesta dancing and eating and drinking. My last night there I had dinner with Jen and her host family at a restaurant on the beach. Jen graciously transferred her pics from her camera to my memory card and I transferred them to my computer’s hard drive. I sure miss my stolen camera.
I was notified by the Country Director last Tuesday, July 14th, that I was going to be transferred from La Masica due to an assessment made by Peace Corps Administration that the North Coast had become a security risk for PCVs because of narco-traficante activity in the area. The North Coast of Honduras is viewed as a major narco-corridor for the movement of drugs from Colombia to Mexico to the U.S.; especially since Mexico has cracked down on the drug cartels in recent months. The present volatile political situation in Honduras hasn’t helped. Bad news seems to come in a torrent. This week I also learned that three of my fellow PCVs had chosen to take an ET (early termination) from service. Derrick, Annie and Lindsay are going home. Of our original Health Project group of fifteen only eight of us remain. I don’t know to where in Honduras I will be transferred, but I will find out in a couple of weeks. It is so sad because I have made great friends here in La Masica and my two months of work were just beginning to come to fruition.
Honduras is geographically composed of 18 departamentos. Kind of similar to ‘states’ in los estados norteamericanos. I live in el departamento de Atlantida. This weekend I went to the small city of Olanchito (40K) in the departamento de Yoro which borders Atlantida inland, about two hours by bus into the mountains from La Ceiba. Two of our companeros had birthdays where ten of us north coast volunteers posted to sites in Yoro, Atlantida y Colon gathered to celebrate in style. Jenn, Jill, Leala, Fernando, Iljeen, Mateo, Katie, Rebecca, Linda – all 20-somethings – and me, participated in a ritual as old as mankind, although they didn’t know that. Our diverse group of ethnic hispanic, african, caucasian, asian, men and women norteamericanos from New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Seattle, and Maine came together like moths to a flame to be among our own kind. For the first time in my life I experienced the feeling of being an “American.” Our language, our culture, our slang, our idioms, our music, our recognition of self, exploded in my head like nothing had ever done before: not even when I was a soldier in the military. It was a recognition of being unique; of being ‘us.’ I love my country. I am proud of my country. I am glad to be in Honduras as a representative of my country. I will never forget my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers; our most noble of citizens.
I spent the holiday in La Ceiba with four of my companeros; Rebecca, Jill, Matt and Iljeen. For hours we sat on the beach and laughed and talked and drank beer. I rented a hotel room on the beach for $7.50. The others shared a room and paid only $3.75 each. What a great day and night we had. No tourists in sight. The beach deserted. We had it all to ourselves; the fantastic restaurants with the fabulous views of the Caribbean waves rolling onto the sand at sunset, the wonderful tropical ambience. There is no better way to spend an American holiday than with friends from home in an exotic locale. We didn’t want it to end. We’re making plans to go to Cayos Cochinos for a long weekend.
My Peace Corps E-Zone Coordinator told me last night that I could leave La Ceiba this morning, that the political situation appeared to have calmed down somewhat. I took a taxi to the bus terminal about 10AM and climbed aboard an express busito bound for La Masica. A busito is a modern, air-conditioned 15-20 passenger mini-bus, as opposed to the larger, cheaper yellow “chicken” buses used by most commute passengers. The chicken buses are essentially old, used, converted American school buses pressed into commuter service. As soon as the busito reached the first bridge out of town across the Rio Danto we came to a dead stop. A large crowd of yelling demonstrators had blocked the roadway and the vehicular bridge traffic in both directions came to a halt. Our busito driver promptly plunged the bus down a dirt road to the water where he drove against the shallow current passing taxis and other cars stuck in the sand trying to also cross to the other side. We, however, made it. It was like something out of Indiana Jones. We emerged under the bridge on the other side of the river and made it up to the pavement, got back on the highway and made it home. Our normally 30 minute trip took us 2 hours. If I had taken a “chicken” bus I would still be in La Ceiba tonight. When I got home I discovered that a workman who had been painting my room when I left stole my digital camera while I was gone for 5 days. He actually stole it the first day I left. No pictures for a while.