Grace on Pace

Getting Dirty

Sunday January 21 – Our trip to Danli started with a very early morning at the bus station.  Weary of the long trip, I had decided to pull an all nighter to ensure I would have no trouble sleeping on the bus.  Before the bus was out of the parking lot, I was well into my first nap of the day.  At about 11:30, I awoke to the grinding of gears and shear fact my body had been thrown out of my seat.  For the next two hours, our bus crossed some terrain that would make smugglers notch look like a cakewalk.  We crept up the inclines and then flew down around the hairpin declines.  A little bus sick and thankful to be alive, we rolled in Tegucigalpa.  The capital city was set in a valley of rolling pine forests and bustling with activity.  Before transferring buses and heading out for Danli, we stopped and ate lunch at Wendy’s.  The next phase of our trip was more of the same terrain.  Steep mountain valleys with cactus plateaus made it seem like we were crossing through a mid western mountain landscape.  Upon our arrival to Danli, we made our way through the small town to the Granada Hotel.  Moments after we entered the door, a Hands For Honduras rotary service group welcomed us.  The group was from Rotary District 7870 and included forty volunteers from southern Vermont and New Hampshire.  Arriving in time to attend their end of the day meeting, we were able to introduce ourselves and take part in the discussion.  The mission is made up of medical, construction, and water volunteers to help in various locations around the area.  Our reason for attending the project was to make sure things went as smoothly as possible.  After the meeting, we were reunited with Dave & Lynn Fox, a couple we had met at Carolyn’s house in Rutland, VT.  The Fox’s are heavily involved in Pure Water For The World and were in charge of coordinating the water portion of the group’s trip.  After three weeks out of the country it was very exiting to meet other American’s.  Soon, I had met many people from central Vermont, including Dr. Bisbee from Stowe.  He had visited the area a few times on similar trips and had decided to bring his family and a few of his staff member’s along this time.  I decided to tag along with them to the local fair near the center of town.  Alex, a local Peace Corps volunteer, also came to guide us through the busy streets.  It seemed we had picked the best time to visit because it was the local municipalities patron saints celebration.  Soon, we were amongst a crowd of people in the Cattle Association’s fair grounds.  A huge rodeo stadium marked the center and many vendors were set up around a stage blasting loud music.  Everyone was very excited and I had fun catching up on local news from the Bisbee family.

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Monday January 22 – After a great night’s sleep in our swanky hotel, we grabbed some breakfast at the buffet.  Sitting and eating, I began to realize this was going to be a different week for us in Honduras.  The energy in the room was indescribable as we prepared for the day’s activity.  The tempo of our group was unlike anything I had been used to seeing in the time I had spent away.  “So, this is America,” I thought to myself.  Immediately following breakfast, people scrambled to gather supplies and then rushed to pile into transportation.  But, nothing goes smoothly here and soon we were behind schedule.  In Honduras there is Honduras time and for every task throughout the day there is waiting.  For instance, buses don’t really have a schedule.  They simply wait until they are full.  People rarely make appointments, reservations, or even plans.  Becoming accustomed to the lifestyle, I simply pulled out my book I began reading.  After, no longer than five minutes of down time, people in the group started to become restless.  Again, I had been reminded of my culture and how hard it was for me to adapt to a slower lifestyle.  Soon, we headed out for Las Crusitas to begin our week’s work of installing filters and educating the citizens on various health topics.  The two-hour trip into the community was a beautiful ride through the mountains.  Notched into steep hillsides and through narrow valleys, the road worked its way across eight river fords.  Upon our arrival into Las Crucitas, citizens gathered around our caravan filled with excitement.  Soon, we had broken up into three installation groups and one delivery team.  It was amazing to see the organization of the Danli workers.  The bags of aggregate for the filters were all color coated and stockpiles of buckets, diffusers, piping, and filters were all laid out carefully in the local schoolhouse yard.  Two trucks were loaded with materials and groups of people scattered around the village to begin their day’s work.  I worked my way around the village helping with each phase of the work.  In the morning, I worked with an installation group adding the aggregates to the filters and testing the flows for compliance.  In the afternoon, I provided a much needed helping hand to the delivery team.  Their morning had been spent delivering filters to the houses along the main roads.  When I arrived the crew was debating their decision of joining the water project as they pondered how to reach the other homes.  Houses dotted the hillside with nothing but rocky footpaths for travel.  The team decided to construct a device to allow six people to hoist the filters in the air and then carry them up the hills.  When I arrived, I joined the team and we were able to lug four filters up the hillside and into place before heading back to Danli.  Back at our hotel the rest of the groups were waiting for us to start their end of the day meeting.  People explained what they did and what their favorite part of the day was.  It was great to hear all of the stories from the different aspects of the project.  I especially liked the medical team’s tales of children and families coming from far distances to see them.  For dinner, I decided to join about half the group at a restaurant up the street from our hotel.  During our meal, I had the chance to talk with many of the Rotarians about their lives and how they had become involved with this type of project.  It was amazing to here their stories of achievement and I felt a little overwhelmed sitting among such successful people.  After dinner I met back up with Robert and Rasa in our room and we had a little time to speak about how our day had gone before going to sleep.

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Tuesday January 23 – After another enjoyable breakfast buffet, we met outside for the start of our day.  Following last night’s tales, our group had acquired a few new recruits from the other disciplines eager for a new experience.  Our three-car caravan had become completely full and we set out for our two-hour journey across the cactus-lined roads.  Eager for our arrival, children greeted us at the schoolyard with smiling faces and unparalleled excitement.  Our team wasted no time getting to work, tackling the hillsides with small groups of workers and huge mobs of children.  Again, I decided to help with installations in the morning and relieve the delivery crew in the afternoon.  The day seemed to be going very smoothly, but during our lunch break; I couldn’t help but feel a little tension amongst the delivery team.  Apparently, some of the workers were feeling unappreciated and were becoming overwhelmed by the task at hand.  Citizens lined the steep hillsides, starring as the men used every ounce of their energy to hoist the filters.  Understanding so, the men had become tired of being a spectacle and even at times a joke, as they struggled up the hill.  I tried to make matters better by giving some the community member’s things to carry up the hill.  This only made matters worse, because soon they had a donkey packed with supplies strolling gingerly up the paths.  “Are you kidding me,” said Ed, “they have had that damn thing the whole time.”  Tired, frustrated, and humiliated, the businessmen made there way back to the vehicles.  I felt bad for what had happened to them, but wondered what their expectations were.  Did they intend to work with the Honduran’s or did they assume they were supposed to be doing it for them?  Had anyone asked a Honduran the best way to tackle the issue or did they assume they knew the best way to deliver filters in Honduras?  I began to feel increasingly worse about the situation the more I thought about it.  The people on this trip had come excited to participate in a great cause, but I became weary of them leaving, wishing they had never come at all.  The men decided to do as anyone would do in this situation…hire six Hondurans to do it for them.  So, Rasa went around the community rounding up six workers, agreeing to pay them each five dollars for their help.  Not quite sure what to think about their solution, I jumped into the back of the truck and headed back for the hotel.  For dinner, one of the Rotarians from our water team treated us to local Honduran food.  His son had served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda and recently passed the Foreign Service exam.

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Wednesday January 24 – Right from the get go, I could tell it was going to be a good day for the water team.  The first two days had been hindered by a few problems, but everyone seemed to be slowly adapting to the lifestyle.  As we rounded the corner outside of Las Crucitas, everyone in the vehicles began peering out the windows wondering what type of excitement we were bound to cause.  Children chased the cars down the dirt path yelling the names of the people they had grown closet to over the past two days.  For the third day in a row, I stuck to my plan of switching tasks throughout the day.  Growing accustomed to the village and the tasks at hand, groups of people worked together with the locals to gather the day’s supplies.  Soon, we had installed five filers, more than the entire first days work.  Children led us from house to house skipping and playing along the way.  Members of our group had brought toys and used them for prizes as they quizzed the mothers on proper filter maintenance.  After lunch, I caught up with the delivery team.  They had decided to break up into two teams and tackle the job together.  I was amazed to here the Hondurans had delivered ten filters before lunchtime, tackling some of the toughest terrain in the entire village.  What had taken six of us to do, two Hondurans managed.  The six men alternated trips up the hillside, semi resting as they switched the items they carried.  After delivering only four filters in their entire first day, our delivery team could do nothing but watch.  Their ploy to laugh as the Hondurans struggled only left them speechless.  Honduras is a tough country to work in, hindered by the lack of good roads and access to proper equipment.  However, many of the things we spend hours to coordinate and organize in the States take minutes here.  Given the same time and resources, there is no doubt in my mind a Honduran can deliver a concrete filter in Honduras better than any foreigner can ever dream of.  Ingenuity, will, strength, and shear numbers are not the problem here.  Our problem has never been getting people to achieve shortsighted tasks.  The reason why we are here is to bring the whole project together, educating them on why it is important to use the filters and how to maintain them.  In America it might be hard to find somebody to deliver the filters with what they have available, but very easy to convey the reasons for clean water and hygiene.  In Honduras they are going to carry the damn filters up the hill just like they did everything in their entire house, probably laughing if anybody else came and tried to do it differently.

Happy our day had gone so well, we decided to go out with the local Pure Water staff to the town fair.  We strolled around the grounds, making our way over to a table set out in front of a food stand.  Wendy, the staff secretary, ordered some strange food and bottles of coke with glasses for everyone.  Pulling a bottle of rum from here purse, it was clear we were in for a long night.  Tipsy and adventurous, Rob couldn’t pass up the local turtle egg vender and soon I had the most disgusting concoction I have ever laid eyes on in front of me.  I decided to go first, gulping down the raw eggs (I guess you will have to see the video).  On the second bottle of rum, I decide to join the dance competition up on stage.  The announcer couldn’t get my name right but it felt good hearing Jack chanted during my routine.  Crazy Legs Magee ended up winning the competition, but they did give us another unneeded bottle of rum.  Not long after our third bottle had been cracked, I had to throw in the towel, giving in to my Honduran companions.  Getting to sleep was not hard; in fact, I started before we even got home.

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Thursday January 25 – It felt great to be able to finally have a day off after such a grueling schedule.  The three of us roamed around the hotel reading, e-mailing, sleeping, and eating.  In the afternoon, we decided to visit the taller to pick their brains about some of the problems we were having back in La Ceiba.  Danli has produced over seven thousand filters and is considered the most advanced site in the entire country.  It was astounding to see how methodical their process had become over the years and soon we had answered many of our questions.  Next, we wondered over to the cattle association to visit with Wendy.  Apparently, during all of our fun, I had voiced my desire to take part in the rodeo over the weekend.  Wendy had gone ahead and started to make plans for my bull riding experience and wanted to know if it was all right for them to promote the fact a gringo would be riding a bull with chili pepper up its anus.  I didn’t want them to go that far, but I promised her I would do my best to make it back to Danli by Sunday.  I couldn’t help but feel a little excitement as I strolled around the bullring surrounded by a circle of towering stands.  Back at the hotel, we ate dinner with some of the Rotarians before saying our farewells.

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Friday January 26 – Lynn, Dave, Jim, Rob, Rasa, and I met Ernesto in the lobby at 6:00 AM ready for our trip to Tela.  In the first leg of our journey we rode in Ernesto’s van back to Tegucigalpa to rent a car.  From there, we grabbed a quick bit to eat and headed to Siguatepeque to meet up with the other Pure Water volunteers at the CAWST training, Centre for Affordble Water and Sanitation Technology.  CAWST is an organization from Canada who specializes in the type of filter technology we are using for our projects.  They work all over the world instructing their clients on everything from filter construction to health education.  After our long drive over mountain, we were able to make it to the conference in time for the diploma presentation.  Pure Water has projects based all of Honduras and each project manager was able to send their staff to the CAWST seminar.  It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm of the students and how happy they were to be involved with the project.  As Rob shuttled the graduates back to the bus station, I was able to talk with Andrea Roach, a professional engineer and international technical advisor for CAWST.  Apparently, they have over seventy-five clients worldwide using their services and even more employing the technology.  Unable to give out her client list, she could only hint in the direction of other organizations to pursue this type of work in.  After our stop, we piled back into our Mitsubishi Montero and headed for Tela.  Soon after dark we found our way into the hotel district of downtown Tela.  Rob did a great job navigating, only faltering once to face oncoming traffic on a one-way thoroughfare.  Tired from our long car trip, we began searching the hotels for accommodations.  Try after try we came up short in our hunt.  Wondering why the town was so busy, I approached a group of Americans.  Coincidentally, the group happened to be from Vermont and on a Rotary service trip here in Tela!  According to the Williston native, their group was made up of ninety members of the northern Vermont Rotary district and they come every year to build schools and medical buildings.  Soon, I was dragged away from my fellow Vermonters as we continued our quest for shelter.  Finally, a little French bed and breakfast caught our eye and we were able to grab their last four rooms.  For dinner, Dave and Lynn treated us to a local seafood restaurant.

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Saturday January 27 – After breakfast, two doctors from the Tela Rotary Club met us at our hotel for an exciting event.  A new grant is currently in the works for Tela and the surrounding area.  To move the process along, two men had agreed to sign the appropriate paper work and then bring us to some of the communities in the area.  Jim Mcginnis, a Rotarian from New Hampshire, had made the trip to investigate the possibility of his club sponsoring the project.  After a few signatures and pictures, our group headed out to our first community.  We arrived in 15 de Septiembre, a small refuge community from Hurricane Mitch named after the Honduran Independence Day.  The citizens had been displaced from their homes and were now squatting on a huge parcel of land.  With more than three hundred homes, the community dwarfed towns we were used to working in.  According to the doctors, it was a community in dire need of clean water.  During the rainy season, the community is constantly flooding and most of the their time is spent serving the people with medical assistance.  At first, I did not agree with the community as a project site due to their financial situation.  However, I quickly changed my mind in debating the issue with the other people in our group.  The people may have money, but it is mainly due to their close proximity to a bustling beach town.  With access to clean water, the people might be able to make the next step towards a better quality of life.  However, with so many homes and many more popping up each day, the site would require almost the entire amount of grant money.

In the afternoon, we decided to visit another community just outside of Tela.  With the project site more or less determined, our trip to Miami Village would be essentially site seeing.  After cramming eight people into our rental car, we began our one-hour ride out to the peninsula community.  Shortly after leaving the village, the roads became sand trails weaving through palm thatched roofs and sand dunes.  Along the way, the doctors informed us about the Gurafuna inhabitants in this part of the country.  During the time of slave trading, many African’s were brought to Honduras to work in an economy dominated by fruit plantations.  Presently, the Garufuna have flocked to the coastline, seeking a Rastafarian type of atmosphere.  As we continued our drive along the sand path, the peninsula began to narrow.  With a lagoon to our left and ocean waves crashing to our right, the landscape left miniscule room for inhabitants.  Arriving in the village of Miami was a spectacular site, characterized by its simplicity and ideal atmosphere.  We strolled around the beaches chatting with locals and gazing out toward the islands.  Our doctors dipped in and out of homes questioning former patients and gaining census for their work.  They told of us stories of old Caribbean pirate hideouts and magnificent coves near by.  Sadly, we soon had to make our may back to the Tela and finish with our business technicalities.  On the way home, it was sad to learn about a multi million-dollar development project in the area we had visited.  Fifteen hundred hotel rooms are slated for construction, leaving the Garufuna no choice but to find new homes.  It’s sad to see such a beautiful place fall to development but it was inevitable do to how much it has to offer.  Back in Tela, we finished up our list bit of business over a bottle of rum (standard practice here).  For dinner, we joined Dave and Lynn at a restaurant over looking the water.  Discussing the week’s events and the future for Pure Water made for a great meal.

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Jeff Grace

I’d like to hope that when I leave this earth, my family and friends believe something about me giving as fully as I could. To the people I love and to the areas of culture that excited me to build things. Then a lot of dancing, loud music and talking about what an idiot I made of myself during that process.

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