Kathryn's Peace Corps Adventure

The opinions expressed and experiences described in this blog are mine personally. Any musings that you read here are not affiliated or endorsed by Peace Corps or U.S. government. Or Starbucks. And I'm not making any money from any of this, so don't send a lawsuit my way. Got it?

Friday, September 30, 2005

visions of my death?

I left the house a little earlier this morning (6:50ish) and I was walking to the training center. I was starting to walk down the main road and it's custom here to say buenos dias, buenas tardes, etc. to everyone that you pass on the street. I saw a man walking down the road and I said buenos dias and went on my way. He was walking kind of behind me and I stopped to fix my pants as he passed me. I continued walking and he said to me (in Spanish, naturally), "are you in the Peace Corps?" Yes. "Where are you from?" Chicago. "How old are you?" 24. After that question, what I thought was a walking stick in his right hand was actually a machete! (sp?) We continued to walk...
"Do you think you want to spend the rest of your life in Honduras?" Probably not, but I am going to be here for the next 2 years. (Please don't cut my stomach open with that rusty machete.) "You speak Spanish very well, are you from Mexico?" Sigh. No, I'm not. "Why do you think it's so hard to get a visa in the U.S.?" I'm not really sure. (Please don't raise that machete any higher.) "Are you a U.S. citizen?" Yes. (So do you want to marry me for papers? Will that prevent you from shoving that machete into me?) "Well, I hope you have a wonderful stay in Honduras. Have a wonderful day."

And he went on his way.
It's just one of those funny things that I am not accustomed to in Honduras yet. It is very common for men (especially if they are from Olancho) to walk around with machetes and guns at all times. I have seen men exit from trucks with shotguns strapped to their chests and it is just something that I have to adjust to.

I have to admit that after it happened, it was pretty funny. I was scared, but there was no reason for me to actually be scared.

Funny Incident #1 of many...

Santa Lucia, Honduras!!!

I am here! After a long but informative staging, I am actually in country. There are 35 of us in our group-about 15 are youth development, like me and the rest are municipal development. We left our hotel for the airport at 430 am (!) and we got into Miami around 11 am. From there, we took a VERY crowded 2 hour flight to Tegucigalpa (Teguc) which ended with a wild landing. It was pretty bumpy and the pilot had to use almost the entire runway to land. Everyone on the plane was clapping when we landed. We went through customs (a LONG process), were placed onto a yellow school bus, fed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and departed for Santa Lucia.

Santa Lucia is a town 18 km from Teguc, but is in the mountains so it is cool here. It is a colonial town so a lot of the streets are made of cobblestone. I live in a modern house in a neighborhood called "El Portillo", which is about a 20 min. walk from the training center. The only problem with where I live is that I am far from other trainees and the center of the town, so it is hard to spend time with them because the sun sets around 6 pm and I don't want to walk home alone at night. I have 2 sisters, Rina Maria, 17 and Naomy, 12 and a brother, Donaldo, 16. There is also a dog, Yiker, who is about the cutest thing I've ever seen. My mom, Rina Yanet, works for a NGO in Teguc. I have my own room and my window looks right into the mountains. I can't believe how I've lived w/o a mountain backdrop for so long. I have electricity, a flushing toilet (yea!), a working shower, and bottled water to drink. I make 48 lempiras (lps) a day, which is about 2.60 US. The internet cafe costs 25 lps/hr, which is super cheap compared to the US, but that's half of my allowance. Internet serices are very slow, so I'm not sure how ofter I can blog. I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to do so already! I haven't forgotten about you!!!! I will try to blog once a week. I hope everyone is doing well and don't forget to write!

I miss you!!!

And by the way, I started my malaria medication last week. I take Aralen once a week. From this point forward, my Thurdays will be known as Malaria Thursdays...but I haven't had any crazy or even overly vivid dreams yet!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

dick cheney's america

I am in Washington! I have just finished my two-ish days of staging and will be leaving for Tegucigalpa at 4 am tomorrow! Staging was not bad. I got to meet a lot of new people, many of whom I will be working with in Honduras. We were also mixed with a group from El Salvador which made our group 65 people (a lot for one trainer).

Yesterday, feeling incredibly tired and sad about leaving everyone and everything, I began to feel extremely homesick but I know that this is all part of the experience. The highs will be very high, but the lows will be very low too. I know that once I am in country I will be more excited and energetic because I can meet my host family and I'll be there!

One side note, I wrote earlier that my training was going to be in Siguatepeque but that has changed. I will be training in Santa Lucia, a town 20 km from the capital. It's kind of weird. My schedule kind of is set up like so:

Training in Santa Lucia: 5 weeks
Field Based Training in Siguatepeque: 4 weeks
Training in Santa Lucia: 2 weeks

I'll let you know how things are once I get down there. Take care!

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Before (and yes, that is Homer Simpson in the background)

And after

(well, minus the bag on the right exploding)

the list

Criteria: 2 checked bags not weighing over 80 pounds total and 107 linear inches. 1 carry-on bag.

Problem #1: Peace Corps takes one of your bags and puts it in storage (so I've read) and essentially, I need to pack one bag for three months.

Problem #2: Honduras is a country of mixed climate. In the mountains it can be cooler (mid 40s-50s) but in the flatlands it can be much, much warmer. (It is like packing for Chicago weather, minus the harsh winters.)

Problem #3: I am half Irish/half Filipina which means that my hair is a wavy, coarse, sometimes super curly crazy mess. I don't know what they have in Honduras which can help tame the mess!

bottoms: 4 pairs of cordoroys, 2 pairs jeans, 1 pair capri pants, 2 pairs of black pants, 1 pair of pj pants, 1 denim skirt
tops: 4 polo shirs, 1 sleep tank, 4 t-shirts, 3 button down shirts, 4 plain shirts (could pass for business casual), 1 shirt for working out, 2 tank tops
shoes: 2 pairs work shoes (brown, black), 1 pair teva sandals, 1 pair flip flops, 1 pair LL Bean Hiking Boots, 1 pair running shoes, 1 pair of retro-y sneakers (could pass for business casual), 1 pair of dressy shoes (for swearing in ceremony)
misc: various bras, panties, socks, bandannas
1 dress
1 fleece jacket
1 rain jacket
2 swimsuits
Cubs hat (you know I have to have one!)

*Toiletries* (And here's where the problems begin!)
eye: 2 bottles of contact solution, rewetting drops, 2 pairs of eyeglasses, 7 pairs of contact lenses
body: 2 cans shaving cream, 20 disposable razors, 2 bottles spray sunblock, 2 toothbrushes, 2 bottles Purell, floss, 2 bottles of nail polish, 5 tubes of lip balm, 1 small bottle of Heaven body spray
hair: 1 bottle shampoo, 1 bottle conditioner, 2 tubes of "secret weapon" (the best for my lion head of hair!), 20 hairties

20 gb iPod w/Charger (name: Gael)
Canon digital camera w/charger
2 memory cards
CD Player
Canon Film camera
8 rolls film
head lamp (looks like I'm on an expedition)
mini alarm clock

4 journals (I love Moleskine notebooks)
mini sewing kit
swiss army knife
smith and wesson pocket knife
mini flashlight
lots of AA and AAA batteries
deck of cards
postcards of Chicago
mini Hello Kitty in travel gear
flat iron (yes, I am totally a girly-girl with this item)

*gifts for family*
2 books on Chicago in spanish
markers, crayons, and colored pencils (if there are kids)

The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Central America on a Shoestring ed. Lonely Planet
Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran
Belletrist managing ed. Wancy Young Cho
LaRousse Spanish/English Dictionary

So there's the list, more or less. It could be different in the next 12 hours but this is mainly what I'm bringing. I'm possibly dropping 2 books because it didn't appear to be as many until I typed out the list!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

kathryn vs. her bags

Just to keep you up to date with my packing situation, the score is currently:

Kathryn, 0
Her Bags, 2

I'm going to try again tomorrow to try and fit everything into my two bags, which I have begun to truly hate.

A little more than a day left!!!

Monday, September 12, 2005

how I got here

This is a post for those who are interested in my journey into the Peace Corps (PC).

Feb. 2003: I worked at St. Benedict high school and my mentor teacher was a former PCV in Bolivia and told me it was the best two years of his life.

Dec. 2004: Really began to think about applying to PC. As part of my new year's resolution, decided to submit an application.

Jan 7, 2005: Submitted PC application on line.

Jan 17: Had an hour long interview at the downtown Chicago office. I was also fingerprinted for the gov't.

Jan 31: Nominated to PC. Leaving late June '05 for non-Spanish speaking South America/non-formal education (Suriname or Guyana)

Feb 7: Received medical and dental forms to fill out ASAP.

mid Feb-early March: Went to doctor, everything ok. Went to dentist, need my wisdom teeth taken out.

Mar 17: 3 wisdom teeth extracted (approx. 10,000 tears fell that day too)

Mar 23: Submitted all my medical paperwork through express mail.

Mar 26: Dentally cleared!

Mar 28: Notified recruiter that my availabilty date needs to change due to a wedding in August. I tell her that the earliest I can leave is August 15th.

April 7: Medically cleared!

June 28: Talked to a Placement Assistant in D.C. He wanted to make sure that all my info was correct and up to date.

July 14: Received a FedEx package. Invitation to Dominican Republic!!!

July 16: Call from D.C. Your program is being cancelled, but we have another offer for you in Honduras. (July 17: Return travel books purchaed day before about DR.)

July 22: Officially accept invite to Honduras.

August 18: Staging packet arrives. Called PC travel agent and made reservations to depart O'Hare on Sept 19th.

So it took me about seven months from interview to invitation. Not long really...but when your future is riding on every little decision it seems like a long time. Latin America was my top choice of regions (since I studied Spanish in college) but it is also the most competitive regions and I feel extremely lucky that I got it. So there it is in a nutshell. Minus the worrying and the nervousness after each step!

time keeps on tickin', tickin', tickin'

One week left in Chicago. Nine days left in the U.S.
Obviously, with these fragmented sentences one can see that my mind is not focused!
How do I feel?
Well, I have about 25 topics constantly running through my head. (Where are my glasses? Are 9 pairs of pants way too many? Do I really need 5 different dictionaries? What else do I have to buy? Is my iPod jacked to the max?, etc.)

...and then there are the real things to be nervous about....
Will I have enough training? Can I really be a "youth developer"? How hard will it be to live without my friends? my family? How difficult will it be adjusting in my community? Will they see me as a "spoiled American"? Will I return hating modern civilization?

I know that these are just jitters but they still constantly run through my head.
But for now, I just want to thank everyone for being so supportive and positive about my up and coming job. Honestly, your support means more to me than you'll ever know.

Wish me luck during this crazy week!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

a day in the life of a frappist*

This is in no way Peace Corps related. I have 8 shifts remaining. Why the countdown? Ever wonder what it's like to work in a cafe? You can read all about my Tuesday.

4:20 a.m.-Alarm goes off. As I am in bed, I think to myself, "WHY do I like to work in the mornings again?"

4:48 a.m.-Leave house. As I drive to work, "Bust a Move" by Young MC is on the radio. I take that 90s flashback as a good sign that my day will go by quickly.

5:40 a.m.-First customer of the day, a teacher going to school. Why do I want to be a teacher again?

6:20 a.m.-Explain for the 10th time that yes, we are out of grande cups, venti ice cups, sleeves, and regular lids. Is it our fault that Jimmy Buffett played at Wrigley Field? Is it our fault that his fanbase likes coffee a lot?

7:15 a.m.-10 minute break. I read my horoscope in the Sun Times to see if I am doomed for the rest of the day.

8:20 a.m.-Grande coffee in a venti cup, double cup with ice and hazelnut. He then begins to yell about the flat lid. We tell him there is nothing we can do until our paper order comes in later. He still leaves upset. And yet he will be here tomorrow around the same time.

8:35 a.m.-A look at the clock. 2 hours and 25 minutes until my shift is over.

8:50 a.m.-"What the world needs now is love sweet love" by Jackie DeShannon plays over the music system. Our paper order comes in and I almost want to marry the delivery guy. We finally have cups and lids like a normal functioning store!

9:02 a.m.-We're out of soy milk. (And the hits just keep coming!)

9:15 a.m.-A group of mothers come in after they have just dropped off their kids at school. They become a bunch of "spring chickens that won't stop clucking", (Homer Simpson) and hold up the line to the registers.

9:17 a.m.-Decaf grande skim latte. Yeah, she's still pretty scary. And on her cell phone the entire time.

9:45 a.m.-One hour and 45 minutes to go. Dang.

10:10 a.m.-Decaf grande roomy americano with a steamed soy topper. I deliver the bad news, "Sorry no soy". He walks right out the door.

10:30 a.m.-Our district manager makes a surprise visit. Great. Is my hair in a ponytail? Is my shirt tucked in? Am I chewing gum on the floor?

10:40 a.m.-I spill coffee all over my hand. Even after a year it still hurts as much as it did the first time.

10:45 a.m.-District manager has not left yet. Will I be able to leave on time?

10:47 a.m.-Iced venti vanilla latte. One of my favorite customers. We talk about how busy the neighborhood was yesterday. He makes me forget for a moment that I should be leaving soon.

10:55 a.m.-Hello? Can I count out my register yet?

11:04 a.m.-Still on the floor. This is crazy. I am ready to go home and pass out.

11:19 a.m.-Back in the car. Finally. Yes, this is why I work in the mornings because it's still morning and it's over.

Please don't think of these as complaints, think of these as musings and hilarous happenings in the daily life of a frappist*. So when you go into your next cafe, please don't take your anger out on the person behind the counter. They are not in charge of what they have and what they don't. I just wanted to share this hilarious day with you and one day, when I am deep in the jungles of Honduras, I can look back and think, "I thought THIS was hard work?"

I know that what lies ahead will be tougher than anything I've ever imagined.

*frappist is another term for barista coined by a friend of mine who said to me ,"Ms. Frappist, can you help me over here?" when I first started at Starbucks.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

bye bye Borders

Today was my last day working at Borders. (Has it been over 3 years already?) My co-workers were so sweet and got me a cake. Now it is finally beginning to get real. I've got some going away get togethers coming up and more goodbyes on the way. This is the hard part. This is the REALLY hard part. I keep telling myself, "if my friends are truly my friends, it won't matter how far apart we are..." but knowing what I'm going to miss out on makes it tough. But that's part of the Peace Corps challenge. The sacrifice is what helps make the experience worthwhile. Right?