Mar 25 2012

Reflections

Our flights home were uneventful, and we enjoyed the easiest border crossing that I’ve ever experienced. Before spring quarter sweeps us away, I’m pausing to reflect on the trip and it’s broader impact.

Knowledge transfer is a key element in EWB’s model for development work. It was heartening to see that the municipality is incorporating lessons from our past projects into their current work. For example, they are designing a drainage system for our project site that uses many of the elements that we developed together for our last project. During our 2010 classroom construction project, confusion occurred between the municipality and the community regarding who would be providing labor for the project. This resulted in a labor strike. On our new project, the municipality has improved its internal and external communication processes to ensure that all project partners are “on the same page.” Finally, the municipality has recognized the value of requiring the community to make a significant investment in the project. In Luis Garcia (our last project site), community interest has waned. (They’re maintaining the projects on which we partnered, but they’re not “hungry” for more.) Rather than continuing to improve the infrastructure in Luis Garcia, the municipality recognized the value of moving to a new community (Nueva Suyapa) that was motivated and willing to make a substantial contribution. During our “town hall” meeting in Nueva Supaya, I was impressed to hear the municipality echoing the themes of partnership and shared responsibility for which we’ve advocated. Clearly, knowledge transfer is happening in both technical and project management areas.

We’re also learning from our partnership. While we’ve learned much about local materials and construction techniques, I’d like to focus on “soft skills.” We’re learning the art of hospitality and relationship-building from our Honduras hosts. The municipality has been very good to us on each of our visits to Honduras. This time, they provided lodging at Parque Eco-turistico (a private park a few miles from town). Our wonderful hosts (Felipe, Tania, and their mother) provided a luxurious cabin for our use. They also prepared and served us breakfast and dinner each day. It was the best food I’ve eaten in a very long time! Breakfasts began with a plate of fresh fruit (mango, kiwi, papaya, melon and banana), followed by flat cakes, omelets, or baleadas. We washed it down with fresh-squeezed juice (orange, mandarin, or melon, etc.) Wow – what a way to start each day! Dinners were just as memorable. I’ve lost track of all the wonderful dishes that we enjoyed. Here’s just a sampling: stuffed peppers, casamiento (literally translated “a marriage of rice and beans”), flan, and tres leches (a delectable cake drenched in cream). As much as we enjoyed the food, the conversation was even better. In Honduras, mealtime isn’t just about feeding one’s face. It’s about fellowship with family and friends. Felipe, Tania, and their mother welcomed us as family, and we shared many hours of laughter-filled conversation. The biggest lesson I learned on this trip was the importance of building relationships. Our relationships with the municipality, the community, and the Rotary Club will be essential when we return in September. And, for this lesson, we had wonderful teachers in Felipe and Tania.

–Brian Roth


Mar 25 2012

Copan

With our work essentially completed, we took a day off to explore the country. Our destination was Copan, home to an ancient Mayan civilization. An impressive set of pyramids and other ruins remain. Entrance fees for Hondurans (and those who look like Hondurans) are half as much as entrance fees for tourists. So, Mary paid $7.50, while the rest of us paid $15. (We also discovered that souvenirs cost less for locals than for tourists, so Mary helped us to negotiate the best possible deals.) We hired a guide (who turned out to be useless). It was so hot that our guide moved from one shady spot to another and sat while we explored and took pictures. While exploring the Mayan ruins were the highlight of our day, we had an unexpected opportunity to watch and photograph a small flock of Macaws that live near the ruins.

Our visit to Copan included a seven hour round trip truck ride. The second row of seats in the truck isn’t bad for short trips, but it was downright painful for longer trips. In fact, the bruises on my “sitter” resembled those I receive from sitting in the saddle of my road bike for seven hours. For the next 24 hours, we politely declined most opportunities to sit.

On our return trip, we headed for San Pedro Sula to attend a Rotary Club meeting. We had a short, but productive meeting, in which Rotary Club members agreed to help us with the logistics of finding, purchasing, and delivering materials for our project.

–Brian Roth


Mar 21 2012

Our last full day in Honduras…

Greetings from a hotel lobby in San Pedro Sula. We didn’t make it back to our country cabin tonight because we ran out of day light. The mayor felt that it was unsafe to travel the highway after dark. So, when our Rotary Club meeting ended at 9:30pm, we headed for a nearby hotel. There’s just one small problem: we weren’t prepared to spend the night here. We left our cabin this morning with just a camera and the clothes on our back. Oh well – we’ll be able to retrieve a clean set of clothes in the morning when the roads are safer.

Overall, we had a fun and productive day. We’ll post pictures of Copan tomorrow. Our visit to the Rotary Club tonight enabled us to establish a connection with a key project partner.

–Brian Roth


Mar 20 2012

Some catching up to do…

Hey all! Thank you to all of you that have been following our progress here in Honduras so far. The past five days have been a blur of bouncing around in the back seat of a truck like a kernel of popcorn while driving to and from our build site in Nueva Suyapa. I’m pretty sure there is a permanent imprint of the top of my head in the roof of their truck by now. As if that wasn’t enough to scramble my brain we have had endless meetings with the local engineers, the mayor, construction foreman, president of the construction committee, community members, and all manner of other important officials. Names, Spanish terminology, and the 500% humidity have successfully short-circuited my brain. The best part is, I can’t imagine having more fun!

We arrived here in Honduras after almost 24 hours of flying and layovers (mostly layovers) only to discover that our usual ride wasn’t coming to get us. A couple of the officials from the local Municipality came to pick us up and we were tossed into the glorious, albeit confusing world of translation. Despite my time spent in Argentina learning Spanish, I felt like I had a sign scrolling across my forehead that broadcast to the world my ignorance of language and culture in Honduras. We were whisked away to meet with the Mayor of the local Municipality who accompanied us to our “hotel”. By “hotel” I mean that we were put up in a 5-star cabin located on the grounds of El Parque Ecoturìstico El Ocote. The cabin has its own kitchen and mini living room as well as a front and side porch decorated with hammocks. Life is good.

As I mentioned above we have been very busy. It has been a blast to exercise my Spanish speaking inabilities again and I have even done some translating when Mary gets tired or just wants a good laugh… I love it though! There are many challenges that we have worked through but overall our work has gone according to plan, or better. Through the work of our EWB team at Luis Garcia, a strong relationship has been planted and we are already seeing the benefits.

Part of our plan this year was to translate the agreement into Spanish, both to make it easier on our translator during negotiations and to give the engineers and Municipality something that they could look over themselves. Of course we came up with this idea the night before we were presenting our plan to 100+ members of the 12 surrounding communities along with the Mayor and several officials. To achieve this, Mary and I set about the task of translating the document that Professor Roth had modified from years past. This task kept us up until about 3:30 in the morning. By that point we had each lost our minds and were distracted by the geckos that were chirping in our cabin. I decided to call one of them Gequito, which means “little gecko”. Later, upon having it proof-read by our host, we discovered that our minds had likely been abducted by aliens while writing the later portions of the document. I now know what professors think while reading term papers that students whip out the night before. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty!

We made some corrections and quickly printed off a couple of copies to give to the parties involved. That was on Sunday. To our great surprise, when we walked in to the Municipality on Tuesday to finalize the document, they opened the file we had created and proceeded to use it as the official contract! We were slightly embarrassed by some of the mistakes that we had overlooked in our early morning daze, but it was a great feeling to know that we had contributed to the project.

Most of the hard work is over now. We will be meeting with the Rotary Club here in San Pedro Sula tomorrow night after a quick trip the Mayan ruins in Copàn. You can look them up if you are curious, but I’m sure we will have plenty pictures after scouring the place in a paparazzi-like manner. More on that tomorrow. I am headed to bed! Buenas noches a todos!

Jonathan Schreven