Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saying Goodbye

This week I returned to San Pedro Sula after saying goodbye to my friends and family in La Campa. I spent a final week there, wrapping things up. It was an excellent time and provided good closure, as I spent time with people, visited places one last time, and prepared for the next steps.

On Friday night, we had a little farewell party at work. Lindsey, the other North American volunteer, baked brownies, which were wonderful! We took lots of pictures, and thanked each other for the work that everybody has done over the past year.

"Thank you Alison! You will stay in our hearts always. May God bless you."

I cross-stitched a small version of the CASM logo, and presented it to my colleagues.

My colleagues.

My family.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Heat, ma'am!"

"Heat, ma'am! it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones." ~Sydney Smith, Lady Holland's Memoir

Last week I left the mountainous La Campa for the valley region near San Pedro Sula. A difference in altitude of 1km makes a significant difference in temperature (about 6C). So instead of high temperatures of 30C, we have high temperatures of 35C PLUS the humidity, making it feel over 40C every day. Instead of sleeping with a blanket every night, I kick the sheet off, and wake up sweating. My sweat droplets coalesce into raindrops with unprecedented frequency.

I am spending about 2 weeks in the valley region, helping out at a farm/retreat centre that is being supported by MCC. The property was donated to one of MCC's partner organizations, but they lacked the resources to run it. An MCC family is getting it running and profitable before turning it back over to the management of the partner organization.

I am spending the mornings exercising my landscaping skills, getting muddy and eaten by ants, and loving it. I no longer have to wonder where my insect bites are coming from: they all come from ants. In the afternoons I am helping out at a tutoring program for kids who are struggling at school. Two of the more challenging kids are two siblings, age 8 and 12, who are both still in grade 1.

After spending months living and interacting in a culture that is not my own, it is very relaxing to be living with a North American family, where I know what to expect, and where my actions are expected. Where I can jump in and help with dinner, because it is something I know how to cook. Where I can eat and make comfort food from my home culture. Where I can fully articulate what I want to say, because I can say it in English. Where I can curl up on a couch (what a novelty!) with a book, and not have it be a surprising event. All these are things that it is so easy to take for granted, until you get placed in another culture. Where different foods are cooked by different people on a stove I don't know how to work properly. Where I have to speak another language. Where couches are rarities, and reading for pleasure is practically unknown. So despite working physically harder here than I have yet to do in La Campa, it is easier mentally and culturally.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Be Bored Gracefully

I have just skimmed over most of the blog posts I have made over the past several months. I nodded and smiled at them, but recognized that I have missed out on an important aspect of my time here in La Campa. I have not talked at all about being bored!

Boredom has been a large problem. Similar to other volunteers who have worked with CASM in La Campa, it was very challenging to find work for me to do. I have had the soil analysis project, which was suggested by my supervisor, but which was not really wanted among the communities. And I have been teaching English a few hours a week since March, but at a day to day level, I frequently have come to the office wondering, "what shall I do today?" And often the answer has been, "very little." This has been challenging me for nearly the entire time that I have been here in La Campa. How can I find ways to share my skills with my coworkers who do not seem to want them?

A few weeks ago I came across a quote I wrote down during orientation last year: "be bored gracefully." This is a good lesson to learn, and I have been trying to learn it daily for months. I don't know how well I have succeeded, but it is a life lesson not to forget.

In the weeks since April the amount of work available has decreased significantly since several of CASM's projects ended, and they are now into the second month of searching for new sources of funding. I have been looking at my last seven weeks in La Campa wondering how I can occupy myself with no work!

So, through discussions with MCC supervisors, I now have a plan of work for the next weeks that will keep me from stagnating from boredom! I will spend 2-3 weeks at a farm and retreat centre that is being run by an MCC family, helping them out. I will spend a week in La Campa saying goodbye, wrapping things up, giving a final English exam, and celebrating the abuelita's 96th birthday. And then I will spend the final two weeks with the connecting peoples coordinator, visiting different regions and organizations and promoting MCC's one-year programs for young adults.

I am excited about these opportunities to help out and learn more about other regions of the country, and most of all that I will be able to wake up and say: "This is what I will do today!"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


On Monday, I returned home to La Campa after the MCC Honduras team retreat. All 20 of us gathered in Tela (on the Carribean coast) for a few days of fellowship, sharing, swimming and relaxing together. I had a wonderful time with them, but at the end I had to make my first goodbyes in preparation for leaving Honduras, as I won't be seeing some of them again.

I am back home, and back at the office, but the office is strangely silent. CASM has 7 or 8 offices throughout Honduras, but each office is in charge of its own funding and projects, with guidance from a central office. The main source of funding for CASM La Campa expired at the end of April, and no new source has been found yet (despite having known that it was a 3-year project, scheduled to end April 2011). However, this means that only one of my colleagues is actually receiving an income for the work he is doing. The rest are working part-time as volunteers, including the director of the office.

So two colleagues are considering working every other week, and one is coming in as needed. The caretaker is still coming in every day to keep the chickens fed, the plants watered, and the weeds down. But there have already been a few days when nobody has come to the office, and as I have no keys to enter....

On the plus side, today I finally received the results of my soil samples!!!! Two months after they promised I would receive them, but at least they arrived! So this is a very positive note. Also positive is the interest that another community has shown in soil analysis. I shall just have to pester the lab daily to ensure a prompt analysis of their samples!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Let me take advantage of the good internet connection to post some pictures from the trip Lexie and I took to Guatemala.

On our first full day in Guatemala, Lexie and I climbed this volcano, Pacaya. It is active (you can see steam coming out of the top).

Antigua, Guatemala has many churches. This is La Merced, which was beautiful. I hope you can see the intricate white painting which highlights the carved patterns. The church is flying a purple flag for Lent.

Antigua has suffered numerous earthquakes, so there are also many churches in ruins. Here I am standing next to parts of the ceiling. The rubble raised the floor level at least 2 meters above where it used to be.

We spent a few days in Panajachel, on the Lago de Atitlan. There are many towns on the lake, and regular boats connect them. We took a boat to Santiago de Atitlan, on the far side of the lake.

Guatemala is known for its beautiful fabrics. The markets in Santiago were amazing. This is the tourist market. We also went to the local market, where we were able to purchase fabric that hadn't already been made into something. The bargaining was interesting, as the vendors talked to each other in a Mayan language, Lexie and I conversed in English, and the bargaining was in Spanish.

During the time we were in Panajachel, it was unseasonably rainy and cloudy. Three volcanos surround the lake, but we only got slight views through the mists.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travelling and Staying

Sometimes, as I walk down the road in La Campa, I am amazed and wonder that I really am here, despite having called it home since September. Here in rural Honduras. Here, where I skirt around dogs, horses, cows, chickens, and everything that they leave behind in order to have that walk down the road. Here, where the mountains surround the valley with beauty. Here, where the church is at the centre of the community, and its bells call people together. I notice my town more if I go away for a while, or if somebody comes to visit. Both have happened in the past two weeks, with much enjoyment.

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a holiday in most of Honduras and the rest of Central America. As the office was closed, I took my vacation time and merged it with my friend Lexie’s visit. We decided to spend this week in Guatemala, in Antigua and Panajachel. I was curious to see what differences I could notice between Guatemala and Honduras, and I did notice several, including:
  • Higher and steeper mountains in Guatemala, including the presence of active volcanoes
  • More and better terracing of fields on hillsides in Guatemala
  • Greater prevalence of indigenous clothing and culture in Guatemala (in this case, Mayan)
  • Many more private tour agencies in Guatemala
  • Having to bargain in Guatemala, whereas in Honduras, nearly everything except taxis is a fixed price (as I can’t bargain well, the fixed price is nice!)
We spent the first several days in Antigua, which was beautiful and very tourist oriented. One of the Semana Santa traditions in many cities is to make intricate sawdust carpets in the street which get walked on by the processions which follow. I do not have any pictures, but if you look here ( ) you can get an idea of what they were like. Antigua was also full of old churches which had been destroyed during many previous earthquakes. We wandered through ruins of cathedrals, convents and monasteries which are scattered throughout town.

There are several volcanoes surrounding Antigua, and we decided it would be a fun idea to climb one of them. So we joined a guide, and hiked up! It was beautiful and unearthly! We couldn’t make it to the very top, as last year’s eruption made it unsafe, but we got to walk over the lava field and feel the heat radiating up.

We also spent some time in Panajachel, which is on Lago de Atitlán. This large lake is surrounded by three volcanoes and is said to be extremely beautiful. We were there during an unseasonable time of rain and cloud, and could not see the lake in all its glory. But we did take a boat across the lake to another town, where we accidentally joined a Maundy Thursday procession, and bankrupted ourselves buying Mayan fabrics.

As no buses run on Good Friday, we had to take advantage of the many tour agencies, and join in a private shuttle bus to get to Guatemala City. The difference between the private shuttles and the local buses is astronomical. The price was way more than doubled, there was air conditioning, we were dropped off at our hotel door, there were only foreigners, and there was lots of leg space. But it was boring. The local buses play loud music, squash three (or more) people into a seat, are very cheap, take a bit longer, but give wonderful and colourful experiences. We made it to the city in time to see the Good Friday procession.

This procession was wonderful to experience. Hundreds of men in black robes formed the procession, carrying the Stations of the Cross, playing funeral marches in the two bands, or just marching in the procession. The largest ‘float’ was carried by 60 men, and was Jesus in the tomb. Women, also in black, carried images of the pains of Mary. It was a full experience, with sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of another procession moving through the streets.

On Saturday we travelled for 11 hours, but made it back to La Campa before dark! Our goal was to be in my home community for Easter Sunday, and we were. The service was full, as all the parts that had been left out during Lent were now brought back: incense and gloria and gifts before the altar.

We spent most of the following week in La Campa, as I had to teach and work. Our time here was very tranquilo and very pleasant. After a quick visit to the Mayan ruins in Copán Ruinas, Lexie flew home, and I took the series of local buses that got me home, just in time to prepare exams for my grade 4, 5 and 6 English classes. I don’t approve of a week of exams for kids this young; many of them are quite stressed out. I think that well-spaced smaller tests would be better. The exams were this morning, so we'll see what the results will be!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Favourite Things (In Honduras)

White-washed adobe with roofs of red tile,
Flirting young students just learning their wiles,
Uniformed children all lined up to sing:
These are a few of my favourite things.

Slapping mosquitoes, and chasing off chickens,
Fried plantain pieces, and playing with children,
Finding my students their homework did bring:
These are a few of my favourite things.

When one bug bites, and another stings,
And I itch like mad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Going to bed early, and eating fresh mangos,
Library books, and new patterns to sew-o,
Walking to mass as the church bell rings:
These are a few of my favourite things.

Mountaintop forests, what high elevations,
Washing my clothes without electrification,
Crystal-clear waters that pour forth from springs:
These are a few of my favourite things.

When one bug bites, and another stings,
And I itch like mad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad!

With the really-true dry weather and heat, many insects have emerged which I have not seen until now. Mosquitoes have returned, but so have fleas, bedbugs and a wider option of spiders, along with a host of other biting insects. Mosquitoes seem to be the least of my problems, as they have a helpful hum to identify their presence. In comparison, I have never seen the insects that like to live in the seams of my clothing or the ones that must inhabit parts of my bed. Spiders can move surprisingly fast, and you don’t know one was around until some body part starts itching and turning red. Which insect took 15 bites in a 10cm diameter area of my leg? Who knows! I didn’t notice the bites until the insect was long gone.

In other news, Semana Santa (Holy Week) begins next week. If people can afford to, this is when they travel, and prices (especially at the beaches) skyrocket. My friend Lexie is coming from Ontario, and we plan to visit parts of Guatemala, while still returning to La Campa in time to celebrate Easter Sunday here.