Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Cost of Living

Several members of the ASONOG team have recently discovered a nearby house-come-restaurant that caters to a student crowd.  For 38 lempiras ($2) we can eat like kings and queens.  Delicious, home-cooked meals that come in big porportions and variety.  It's a sensation, because it's so affordable, and sooo tasty.  When I gave the lady 40 lempiras, she tried to insist on giving me my change.  Humble.

Even on a volunteer's salary, eating out here is an attractive option if you know local favorites.

To give you some idea of the prices and salaries in Honduras, here's some of my research to date:

20 lempiras ($1.05) - cost of getting 12 pairs of jeans washed by hand by an old woman.

100 lempiras ($5.25) - cost of a days unskilled labour by a man.

300 lempiras ($ 15. 75) - cost of a days skilled coffee-cutting labour, seasonal work. Done mostly by school-aged boys.

6 000 lempiras/ month ( $ 310)- woman accountant at a department store or teller at a bank*

12 000 lempiras/ month ( $ 620) - male technician, starting out with a local NGO

8 600 lempiras/ month + housing costs paid directly  = ($ 456 + up to $400 ) - CUSO International volunteer in Honduras.  Plus, we get $3000/ year deposited into our Canadian accounts.

I'm putting the genders down here, because it really matters.  There is still a huge discrepancy between what internal genitalia will get paid here, versus what external genitalia will get paid, to do the same job.

I have no idea what the top guys in ASONOG make.  I imagine that it's a lot closer to the kinds of salaries that middle-class Canadians enjoy. 

If you are now thinking that hey, food is cheap, so yah, the salaries are low but no big deal, the price of other stuff compensates.  Wrong.  Food is relatively affordable for people like me.  Gas is the same price as anywhere else.  Electronics tend to be more expensive.  There's no social safety net, so if you get injured or disabled or lose your job because you get pregnant, consider yourself f@#ked.  If you do get to keep your job, though pregnant, then you are entitled to 2 months maternity leave. It's not comparable in any way, shape or form, to Canadian priviledges that almost all of us enjoy and/or take for granted.  But remember, the next time you see Stephen Harper on your ballet box,  "if you ignore your rights, they will go away".

 *6000 lempiras/ month is considered a very good wage by my Honduran Spanish teacher. She had a dream of becoming a bank teller, until she went and worked at a bank and discovered that there is absolutely no employee protection. She told me the story of one teller who added an extra zero to a deposit of 3000 lempiras, making it a 30 000 lempira deposit instead. She was not allowed to leave the bank until she'd found the mistake. Finally, with an 11pm call to the depositee, she figured out the 27 000 lempira discrepancy. The manager got on the phone and told the depositee, that if he wanted to, he could keep the money, and the teller could pay for the mistake out of her salary.   Do the math folks, that's 4.5 months worth of salary for 1 extra piddly zero that GOT CORRECTED.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Water and What's In It: Building Poopers

 Every year, when rainy season hits, the little mountain town of Belen Gualcho in western Honduras has a Hepatitis A outbreak.  Many houses have no, or inadequate, latrines.  Fecal matter gets washed into the streams by the rain water and the folks below, who use this water directly out of the steams, get sick.  Basic right?  It's more complicated than you might think.

Here's a photo journal of a latrines project being carried out by my workplace, ASONOG,  with funding from the Sources youth leadership water project, of Canada World Youth.

 This household already has a latrine, but it's full, and there ain't no pump trucks in this neighbourhood.

The owner of this house does not want to sacrifice his peach tree to erect a latrine, shared between his household and that of his grandson (background).  Peaches would be a valuable asset too.  What to do?

Belen Gualcho means place of many waters.  So, it's no suprise that after digging the 3m needed for the new latrines, some beneficiaries hit water and must relocate if possible.
Houses on hills.  Water and what's in it, flows downhill to communities below.  When your upstream neighbours don't have latrines, and you drink the water directly out of the nearby stream...eww.

A kid herding mules on a mule. The pic is here because I love that shit.

Unloading the 40 of 100 toilet bowls in one of five neighbourhoods benefiting from the latrines project, funded by Canada World Youth, as part of the Sources water project.

More materials for the latrines.  Counting and recounting the metal sheets.  Everybody on the list gets two!

PVC tubing, bags of cement, rebar, and sheets of metal for the latrines. Overheard, "I'm just going to put this long tube directly into the stream." Oh man, that defeats the whole purpose dude!

The local municipal office.

Daniel leading a workshop for the beneficiaries of the latrines.  Why, where and how to construct their latrines. Cell phones on vibrate please.

Carrying off the materials up the steep hills to their houses.  The concrete and toilet bowls are awaiting them at the top.  Hopefully the materials get used for latrines and not improvements to the TV rooms in their  adobe houses (mud huts).  I'm not kidding about the TV rooms.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Uncensored Engagement Notice

I found a wedding dress design program on the web! So cool!

Thanks to my exceedingly helpful workmate Daniel, I have a meeting with a local dressmaker in just a few hours.  Apparently he's a nurse by day and a dressmaker by night.  He missed our last arranged meeting  because he was dealing with bullet wounds at the local public hospital.  I digress.

Another helpful CUSO staff member, Yeny, sent me the above guidebook.  It's an intimidating 262 pages of "Plan your wedding in No Time".  I wasn't 10 pages in when I discovered that I'd already put my nose up to accepted protocols, especially for those living in the Hamptons.  We did not put out a formal engagement notice, complete with the 4 Ws and the 1 H, repleat with personalized details.

Allow me to correct this oversight below.  I need the practice for Canadian immigration anyway (heh).

Humberto and I met on his family's mixed farm on May 7, 2011 at approximately 8:32:04 am.  Learning of my background and interest in agriculture, his father had invited me for a tour of the place. I had declined for  months, given the very low level of my Spanish at the time.  Little did I know that Jesus Alvarado had twin sons, both recently graduated with degrees in Agro-Industrial Engineering, and prepared to give me the royal tour of the dairy, beef, orchards, pastures, and horticulture all glorious day.  Soon after we started, it was just Humberto and I, and two delighted boys, enjoying the sights.  We hit the mango orchards and shared these sweet fruits as we cased out the situation regarding our respective marital/relationship statuses. "Do you have Facebook?"

Are you single? Yup.  Are you? Yup.  Sweet mangoes.

We went back to his family's house, shared a dinner with his Mom and Dad and brother Josue, then I pulled out a guitar and sang a few tunes.  At the end of the evening, Humberto asked me for my phone number and I, without hesitation, gave it to him. After a few dates we discovered that beyond agriculture, we share a love of community service, dancing, riding horses, learning, and adventure, not to mention eachother.

Humberto asked me to marry him after I told him to, on November 12, 2011.  You see, we had already started talking about wedding plans, down to what kind of  music the band should be playing, and what I was going to have to do to secure a Catholic ceremony.  I wasn't sure if the lack of proposal was a cultural difference or if he was waiting until Christmas to pop the question, but the practical side of me wanted to tell potential wedding guests about the upcoming event before they spent all this year's savings on Christmas gifts. 

Gaetane: "So, in Honduras, is it common for the man to propose to the woman?"
Humberto: "Si."
Gaetane: "Well, could you do that then please?"

He followed through beautifully in princely fashion and expressed himself with heartfelt, tear-inducing Spanish in a way only latinos are capable of. I responded in heartfelt Canadian Spanglish, "Yes, I will marry you."

We are thrilled to have found eachother, in unlikely circumstances, and to be starting our lives together.