Thursday, July 31, 2008


Hey...long time no talk. I know you´re all anxious to hear what I´ve been up to and why I haven´t written in 2 weeks. Well, things have been crazy busy here as deadlines began to approach. For the last 2 weeks I´ve been working at work and then working at home, trying to get all of our jewelry inventory at the the clinic workshop together and ready for my trip to Roatan (the island) where we sell to high end tourist shops and then I´ll be shipping what we don´t sell here off to the Americas of course. Well, north-Americas I suppose. In preparation for this trip I´ve been traveling all across Honduras gathering last minute materials and that, while enjoyable, has been very stressful. And I´ll tell you why...

I know I´m an American. And I know what people think of most Americans outside of America. Even in that last sentence I´ve shown it. United States-ans (estadounidenses) often don´t recognize Latin Americans as "American." After all, the phase ¨Proud to Be an American¨certainly doesn´t refer to all "Americans"...if if it did, maybe the people who so often sing that song or say that phrase wouldn´t be the same people passing judgement or putting up a wall to keep those other Americans on their respective side of the border. Now, I don´t mean to be oh-so-politically correct...but I had a recent experience that made me realize how much of an "norteamericana" I am, despite my efforts to look beyond the comfort of my life in the States and assimilate, even blend in, with the people and culture here.

Last week, I had to travel to a place called La Arada where a co-op of Lenca women live and make traditional Lenca (Honduran ethnic group) pottery. We order necklace pendants from them that are really nice pottery with different shapes and designs and then we use them in our jewelry line on macrame cords that the patients make at the clinic. Well I went there to pick up the pendants, but since we just started ordering from them and the last order they made was not well done, I had to spend 4 hours at their workshop evaluating each piece for correct shape, size, hole size and shape, design detail, correct burn of the clay, etc. In a nut shell, I was basically this middle-women, in some sort of in-between space, where I had to be firm on what I know of US standards and marketplace and yet respect the work of these women as an art form. Not every design is going to turn out the same. The process to make these clay pendants takes 3 weeks and there are going to be some that stay in the kiln longer and others that dry faster or are closer to the coils. Yet the US marketplace looks for perfection and inventory. Mass production if you will. Not one of a kind, never-gonna-happen again pieces. I felt like my "American" ways were creeping back into me, translating into my work and experience with these women who, let´s face it, need the money. I had to leave 200 pieces behind because they didn´t meet our standards. That´s 2000 lempiras. $100 US dollars. Imagine how many rice and beans that could buy.

Needless to say, I was in a state of emotional angst, mental frustration. On one hand I had to uphold the expectations laid upon me from the business aspect (after all the humanitarian mission that founds the organization and microenterprise can´t survive if we buy things we can´t sell)...and yet on the other hand I knew what I was withholding from those women. As I got back in the car trying to cope with my internal conflict, the reverend asks me what´s wrong. I told him that, well, I just felt very American and didn´t know how to accept or deal with that at the moment. He looked at me and made sure I knew that I was norteamericana...that all those in the Americas are Americans. And how I was feeling wasn´t just reflective of US perspectives or expectations, but that anyone running a business has to have his or her best interest in mind, whether Honduran or United States-an. He´s right I suppose. But I still find myself in this limbo-place...working for people in the States but working with native Hondurans every day...high Type A expectations meeting a passive Type B kind of reality...and a norteamericana no longer in Norteamerica.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

just some Johanna storytelling

Hello again everyone! I could just about write a post for everyday this past week because many many different things have happened. But let me just tell some stories…

Story #1: This past Monday we had the Siempre Unidos bi-annual conference where all the staff from Siguatepeque, San Pedro Sula, and Roatan came for training on the current trends in HIV research, the psychosocial aspect of treating HIV patients, and a workshop in “Calidad en el Servicio del Cliente” (Quality in Client Services). The first lecture on current trends in HIV research was I’m pretty sure straight out of my classes at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In fact, I think they stole some slides from an online lecture at Hopkins because a few slides were in English and resembled very closely the PowerPoint presentations of some of my previous professors…haha. It was great though because I felt really knowledgeable for my first time here, as if my school work now meant something. Having a public health degree hasn’t prepared me to take blood pressure or give injections like the nurses, it hasn’t prepared me to know the exact dosages or regimens of antiretrovirals that our doctors prescribe, but finally, I knew and could contribute when the conversation turned to research on the biology of the virus, issues of drug adherence and treatment failure, best practices on preventing mother-to-child transmission, and all that stuff…you know…(right Mom?) Many of the staff aren’t specialized in HIV (many have bachelor’s degrees in Administration or Business), so it was nice to be able to really see the avenues in which I could use my knowledge and background to help educate staff and patients, who for the last 3 weeks have been my educators.

The only difficulty was that everything was in Spanish so while it was very beneficial to learn the Spanish vocabulary of HIV research, I still ended up sounding like a 12 year old when I tried to communicate information I knew. Well…I’m still working on it.

Story #2: The other day one of my workers called practically in hysterics and was describing the bruises she had on her face and legs. She had called to say she didn’t think she’d be able to walk to work tomorrow and I could have sworn she said “me golpeó” which means “hit me.” This woman has had a lot of problems in the past regarding family and men and so I was inclined to think that someone had physically abused her. Well I immediately called the nurse and she said we would go to visit her tomorrow. Well as the day passed and the nurse had other patients to see, I still wanted to go make the effort to see my worker and bring her ibuprofen or something to help with the swelling or any pain she might have. So I made my first solo home visit. Well, not exactly solo because another woman who “knew the way” came with me, but she has a mental disability and forgot the way so I ended up having to navigate…but it was certainly a fun adventure with her :) Once we arrived to my worker’s home which was significantly far away, I gave her a big hug and we went inside to chat. I come to find out it was the floor that “me golpeó” and not a person, because she fell really hard while she was cooking and bruised herself up pretty badly.

I felt kind of pointless at first that I had made the long trip thinking that this women had been a victim of violence, when in reality she had just fallen down. But little by little I could see that my short-lived presence in her home meant a lot to her. She mentioned that the previous volunteer had visited everyone but her and how that had made her sad. She also was thrilled I could see her new home…she had just moved in 8 days ago and it is the first time she’s lived in a home with cement floors and light. Yep. Yet as I sat in this little home, filled with flies and dirty water tanks, surrounded by other little shacks and muddy dirt roads, I could still take one look out the kitchen window and the most beautiful mountain valley was right there staring back at me. A diamond in the rough. It was absolutely gorgeous and visiting her in her home has really helped me to better understand her on many different levels. I hope I get the opportunity to visit all the workers at their homes because it really is something special. I don't know, there's just something about being in someone's home, their place, that connects you more fully with their life and their dreams.

Story #3: I finally found friends to play soccer with!!!! I met this Honduran guy at the gym who told me I could play with him and his friends on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they picked me up and we went! It was sort of like indoor soccer but on really terrible “turf” and the guys were really macho-like players. One guy who must have been 30 years older than me kept on making comments to get in my head and mess with me. Boo…I shoved him later don’t worry. But the group of guys (and 1 other girl, yay!) I played with are super nice (and attractive, haha). They are also the first Hondurans I’ve met who know how to salsa dance, so I’m excited to go out dancing with them at some point in the future :)

Okay, well as my Mom would say, “That’s enough storytelling from Jo today.” So I’ll let you all go. But it’s been a pleasure sharing with you and I hope you didn’t get too bored. Miss you all!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Feliz Cumpleanos a mi!

Well yesterday was my birthday (22, ayyy que vieja soy) and it was definitely a good relaxing time! Though I did get asked questions like "Why are you not married yet?", I fortunately spent most of the day with my Siempre Unidos friends who are in their late twenties and not married which made me feel better about those inquiries. Also, THANKS SO MUCH to all of you who sent along birthday was sooooo wonderful to hear from you all and it definitely made my day...I miss you all so much!

Well, before I get to discussing my birthday celebrations, I spent this last weekend in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras where the Siempre Unidos headquarters are and I was able to go out with some of my friends from work, go to "la feria" which is an annual carnival on June 29 in San Pedro, and just relax. The feria/carnival was exactly likely the States it almost scared me. I mean, I wasn't sure what to expect. Carnival in the DR is very different from "carnivals" in the States. But here, their carnival was just the same...tons of little shops selling all kinds of knock off purses and clothes and random items, 5 huge rows of stalls for horses and cows and little chicks that you could pet and feed, a rodeo, games for kids and rides like the feris wheel. The only difference was that bachata and reggaeton were playing in the background as opposed to country music. But it was nice to just walk around...I went with my friend Geraldina and her family. She has 2 kids Carlitos and Andrea who are just darling and I got to play with them and take them around the carnival so that was fun.

For my birthday on Monday, el reverendo (and Siempre Unidos director) took me out to a typical Honduran breakfast (eggs, sausage, beans, tortillas, platanos) and we were able to discuss "business" as well which was actually very helpful. Then, he and the other staff surprised me later in the day with a "Feliz Cumpleanos" balloon and lunch at Pizza Hut (haha, I was actually quite okay with this...I had had enough frijoles and tortillas). A lot of the staff came and I had to dance merengue with the waiter in front of everyone as they sang me the feliz cumpleanos song...great, right? haha, well fortunately I am one americana that knows her merengue moves. They were all pretty surprised and totally loved it. They all agreed we were most definitely going merengue dancing next time I'm in town. No complaints here. Later that evening I had the fortune of finding an open computer with free internet at the place I was staying, so I pretty much spent the night on the internet and reading Paulo Coehlo, which seems like a LAME birthday evening but you have no idea how wonderful it was. I haven't had the opportunity to be online for more than a half hour/hour at a time, so to have a computer at my disposal with free internet for as long as I wanted was a fabulous birthday gift let me tell you. Plus it gave me a chance to see all your wonderful birthday wishes on my actual birthday! :)

Alright, well in other news, this week we have vacation from work, so I'm spending it getting better acquainted with the city, purchasing a mirror (haven't looked in one since I arrived...yikes), and joining the gym nearby because let's face it, tortillas/rice each day for lunch at the clinic does not serve my body type well. I'm just itching to get on a treadmill.

Thanks again to everyone for the birthday wishes and I hope all is going fabulously for you!!! Hasta luego!!