So I'll be down here for 27 months. I have lots of wall space and would love to receive some postcards from you back home. If you send me a postcard:

1) I'll be very happy, 2) I'll show it to everyone that comes to my apartment, 3) I'll send you a postcard, 4) You can be 100% sure that I won't forget who you are during my time here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Big 1-Year Point

As I mentioned in my last post, in a couple weeks, it will have been a year since I arrived in Juticalpa. It hasn’t passed as quickly as I would’ve thought as I feel like I’ve been here for years now. I actually won’t be in Juticalpa to celebrate my one-year anniversary because I’ll be in Philly.

Anyways, looking back. Many things have changed since I got here from my living situation to work to social life. I spent the first two months with a host family, then moved to a nice little apartment for quite a while and about two months ago I moved to this sweet apartment that I’m in now which is probably nicer than anywhere else I’ve lived before. Since I moved out of my host family’s house, I’ve lived by myself. That’s a first for me and it’s great. Having roommates can be good too (College days…) but I’ve got no complaints about living by myself.

Work… I really had no idea what to expect of work when I first got to Juticalpa. I started off by doing topography surveys and designs for potable water systems…alone.  Being the seventh volunteer in a row to goto SANAA Juticalpa, I had an issue with this from the beginning. They weren’t learning anything from Peace Corps and are completely dependent on us to do topography and design (aka without us, it wouldn’t get done). Over the past year, I’ve sat down with my counterpart a few times and we’ve tried making a work plan. He always wants me to do surveys, designs and nothing more and I try mentioning working in trainings with water boards or with employees in the office so they can learn how to do what I do. With no help from him, I eventually gave a training to a few of them on how to use theodolite to do topography. I’m starting to teach some of the guys how to use GPS and for quite some time there’s been talk about teaching them how to use the program we use to design water systems. I’ve also recently switched from only working with the part of the office that deals with rural areas to working on the water system for the city that I live in. This should end up being more interesting and there are actually funds to do work.
I’ve worked with other volunteers in the area a few times, have been helping support a couple of groups of Engineers Without Borders that are doing projects in the area, translated for a medical brigade that came from Canada, tried starting work with a couple of other offices in Juticalpa (with minimal progress so far), helped judge a science fair at the bilingual school Santa Clara, and tried to offer being a tutor at one of the universities here (also with no success yet).
There was some time where I was not too happy with my work due to complete lack of support from my counterpart, but for a while now it’s been great and I’ve been keeping busy. Slowly but surely, I’m getting what I want done in the office and I don’t work on anything by myself anymore (in the campo that is). What would be cool though is to see some of the projects I’ve designed get built, but that’s difficult when there’s no funding. From the way things seem now, I’ll be staying busy for quite a while.

Social life. I’d say there have been spurts of time when we go out and party to times where there’s nothing going on for a while. But over the past year, the biggest change is that I have more friends and know a lot more people in the city then before. I guess part of that is what PC calls community integration.
Also, I feel like things are quieter now in Juticalpa. You could say that the murder rate was pretty high for a long time. Lucky for us, the murders were all targeted so we were never gone after…unlucky for the targets though. For some time, there weren’t even many people in the streets because people were scared. A few clubs closed down also. That was a bit strange, but the city is livelier once again.

Peace Corps Medical Officers (aka our awesome PCMOs) tell us that most PCVs will hit a down point at their one-year mark. They have a graph that shows us when we’ll be happy and when we’ll be sad. I’ll say that this week I haven’t wanted to work much and I’m ready to get out of here, but that’s only because I’m leaving Saturday to the US and am ready for my vacation, nada que ver with things not going well.

Looking forward to the next year (and it could be interesting to read in a year all my upcoming expectations at this point). I’ve thought many times about extending for a year longer or if I do finish at two years then going home to work for a bit before heading out to do something else (maybe study another language in another country?). For now, work is going well and after meeting the bosses of the bosses of my office, it seems like there are big plans for the next few years for Juticalpa. If work stays interesting and life is good, then why not stay a bit longer? PC is the only chance I have where I can go work in any project I want, can say no to any project, speak my mind without worrying of getting in trouble with a boss, or stay home if I don’t feel like working or just want to practice guitar or try cooking a new meal. And no matter what I choose to do whether it includes working or not working, I’ll get paid at the end of the month. At the same time, I wonder about all the things I could do back home. I feel like there’s more opportunity to learn new things back home. I’m not saying that I’m not learning here, but it’s just different, kinda tough to explain right here right now. There are also certain aspects of life here that are nice that you don’t find in the US. It will be a tough decision, but we’ll see what happens. This week all the Japanese volunteers from JICA are being pulled out of Olancho. No new PCVs are being sent to Juticalpa or anywhere east of here. Who knows if I’d even have the option of extending in a year?

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